Fueled by the Fans
The 1999 All Star Game
Major League Baseball's first All-Star Game, matching the best players in the American League with the best in the National League, was held on July 6, 1933. Since then controversy has surrounded the selection of players to their respective squads.
This year's edition is no different. If you turn to your local sports radio station, you're bound to hear someone whining about a selection or omission right now. All-Star Game starters are voted in by fans —itself a risky proposition— while reserves and pitchers are selected by the two All-Star Game managers (managers of the two World Series teams from the previous year).
Cleveland vs. the National League
This year, four of the nine starting American League positions will be manned by Cleveland Indians. The Indians are a loaded team and hold a double-digit lead in the admittedly weak American League Central Division. But four starters?
Cleveland is aided by the fact that they sell out every game; their marketing department has also initiated an aggressive campaign to persuade their fans to vote for Indians as often as possible. This vaulted first baseman Jim Thome over the more deserving Rafael Palmeiro of Texas, and made catcher Sandy Alomar a close runner-up for the starting catcher slot, despite playing in just 22 games this year.
The voting so infuriated Texas slugger Juan Gonzalez that he decided he wouldn't play at all unless he was voted in by fans. He wasn't. Three Indians were chosen ahead of him despite Gonzalez's two MVP awards in the past three years. All-Star manager Joe Torre succumbed to Gonzalez's takeoff on former player Garry Templeton's rant, "If I ain't startin', I ain't departin" and granted him his wish by leaving him off the team. His decision cost him a $50,000 bonus that would have kicked in had he made the team.
Nomar vs. Jeter
One ambitious Red Sox fan, Chris Nandor from Carver, Massachusetts, developed a computer program to circumvent Major League's Baseball's 22-vote per person limit Internet ballots. He recorded 40,000 votes for hometown shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, setting his program to vote repeatedly and then wandered off with friends to a nearby barbecue.
He also submitted huge numbers of votes for three other red Sox players, one of them catcher Scott Hatteberg, who has caught in just 11 games this year and is likely out for the rest of the season. Unsurprisingly, Nandor was caught by computer personnel at Major League Baseball and CBS Sportsline (which hosted the voting), and the votes were nullified.
Nandor refuses to give up, however. "If they claim their system is foolproof, they're wrong," he said. "I'll prove it to them next year."
At the beginning of July, Garciaparra trailed Yankee star Derek Jeter by over 30,000 votes. In fact he even fell behind Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel (see previous section). But despite Nandor's votes being nullified, Garciaparra flew by Jeter in the last week. New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani cried foul, claiming Red Sox fans of stuffing ballot boxes and positing illegal voting conspiracies. Baseball officials claim that none of the internet votes had been counted until the last week, and that's what propelled Garciaparra to the top.
Other Voting Controversies
In 1957, Cincinnati fans stuffed ballet boxes to the point at which seven members of their hometown Reds were voted in as starters. Then-commissioner Ford Frick replaced two of the starters with non-Reds (Hank Aaron and Willie Mays) but left five in place. The scandal, however, led to the suspension of fan voting until 1970.
Another embarrassing moment for baseball occurred in 1989, when fans voted in Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt as the National League's starting third baseman. Schmidt is a Hall of Famer and possibly the greatest third baseman of all time, but there was one problem - he had retired 42 games into the season.
A Game for the Fans
Ken Griffey, Jr., the game's top vote-getter, never disappoints in center field. Last year's home run heroes Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa will try their hand at launching balls over the fabled Green Monster and onto unsuspecting motorists driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike during the anticipated Home Run Derby.
If fans can somehow manage to overcome the empty feeling left by Gonzalez's absence, they should be treated to a spectacular show. And that's what the game is all about - fan entertainment. If they want to see future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. start at third base for the American League over the near-.400 hitting Tony Fernandez, so be it.
The Home Run Derby will be shown live from Boston's Fenway Park on ESPN, Monday, July 12 at 8 PM (EST). The 1999 All-Star Game is on Fox, Tuesday, July 13 at 8 PM (EST).