Siberian Baseball

Friday, July 04, 2008

And another thing...

In what is becoming a rite of summer, my mind drifts to the All-Star Game and what a mess fan balloting creates with the skewed popularity contest consuming the league for a week or so as the voting window closes.

I'm hesitant to pin it all on being a baseball snob who feels those fans who don't spend inordinate amounts of time feeding a blog don't deserve a vote, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little worried about the impact of fans stuffing the hometown ballot box. On the other hand, I was once a little guy, furiously punching out circles of all the players on the Cubs - even Shawon Dunston - when we'd head to games in the pre-Internet era.

Know what the difference was? Those games didn't matter.

Now with the home field advantage hanging in the balance, the games count and it's a different story. While it's not the end of the world to lose the All-Star Game, especially with the recent World Series drubbings that aren't seeing seven games, it does have an impact it didn't have in the past and it's unfair to shoehorn the fan balloting into this new setup.

How does MLB go about fixing this? Let's take a look at the short list of problems (aside from the obvious of making the All-Star Games exhibition games again).

* Fans pick the starting lineups without picking the best lineups. Favorite players aren't necessarily the best players and no thought is put into picking the best starting nine within the constraints of a team sport. This is strange and counterintuitive.

* How do you solve the DL problem? In a National League ballpark, David Ortiz and his power hitting brothers are listed as first basemen to get them onto the ballots. The effectively cuts the talent pool for the AL when playing in an NL city.

* Every team needs a representative. This isn't summer camp. Everyone doesn't deserve to play. No, I don't care how many All-Star jerseys are sold to fans of all teams. Plus, if you don't have a player who can make the team on his own, chances are no one from that town is watching the game anyways.

* The best players are not always available. Injuries or the fear of injuries always plays a role. Players who need the days to rest should be allowed to take them in lieu of the dog and pony show.

* The whine of fans that the team's manager is out to get their players. Say Terry Francona leaves Mariano Rivera in a little too long. Is he trying to secure home field for the AL, or trying to cook the Yankees closer to keep him benched a day or two? There's no good answer here.

* If teams are really out to win, why are players used in an arbitrary manner? Starting pitchers asked to enter for an inning in the fourth and exit by the fifth. Part of the reason starters can't be used as cogs in the bullpen as conditioning - both mentally and physically - to plan for the long haul. Again, this is not summer cap - let your pitcher work a full game. Let the other starters practice their Oscar speeches about how it's an honor to be nominated.

So, are there any solutions? For some aspects, yes, but in the big picture, MLB needs to decide what is more important to the game - a competitive game with a real bearing on the season, or a showcase of the league's talent and an opportunity to sell crappy mechandise.

Here's my bare bones proposal:

* Fans pick their favorite nine players using the current voting system. You then have a record of the fans' favorite players for that season and they can go out and be presented with a plaque or gilded piece of baseball equipment. There's the gold glove, silver slugger, why not a bronze hat?

* Once those nine are picked, it's up to the manager to either sit or start from that list. In theory, fans could vote in three right fielders - currently they vote solely for "outfielder" on the ballot - which obviously doesn't equate to the best team on the field.

* Not every team needs to be represented.

* Pick two possible starters a few days early to allow their home clubs to adjust their rotations accordingly. This allows to Cubs to figure out how to best use Carlos Zambrano and the Diamondbacks to do the same for Dan Haren in case they are "the guy" for the game. The other starters can certainly ride the pine, but it keeps one game from depleting the league's pitching staffs. This also allows teams to load up on relievers for the late innings.

* Always use the DH. No one will complain if the NL's pitchers don't get at-bats. It makes the games more entertaining and we don't need to hear about how the NL manager is a great strategy guy for three or more innings.

* Finally, add at least one more off day for the players after the game to allow the stars to unwind, head home for a day, rest after the circus of the game. With the World Series now dipping into early November, it's not going to kill anyone to wait another day or two before diving into the second half of the season.

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