Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Grumpy Oaf, or Whiny Mutton-Head?

Today Sandy Alderson, Mets general manager, moaned on Twitter about Pablo Sandoval being voted into the All-Star Game starting lineup instead of David Wright, who, really, is a better candidate. Why I’m writing about this and not, say, Matt Cain’s perfect game, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because Cain’s accomplishment pleased me, and Sandy Alderson annoys me virtually every time he opens his mouth (or types anything); and when you’re pleased, why write and complain?

Yesterday Alderson sour-graped about how “a city of 800,000 outvoted a city of 8,000,000,” obviously implying (or, rather, pointing out a certainty) that more Giants fans stuffed ballot boxes than Mets fans did. To Sandy I say: “Whaaa!” “Whaaaaa!” I say. Has this man ever stopped grumping about the Giants since his years as the A’s general manager?Back then the gist was, “We’ve won more championships and drawn more fans! Why do people like the Giants better than the A’s? It’s not fair! It’s not fair! EEEEEE!” (This, of course, makes him sound a hell of a lot more like my kind of Giants fan than anything else, but that’s beside the point, which is that hey, maybe the Giants are simply way more interesting and likable. Well, no, that’s not really the point either.)

Today’s post (or “tweet,” which I’m reluctant to call anything, including a vocal noise coming from an actual bird) posits that if there’d been one on the ballot, Giants fans would’ve voted in a balldude. I’m pretty sure Alderson thinks this is clever and, somehow, not whiny. What I suppose bothers me most about this is that Alderson blames Giants fans for what actually is a fundamental problem with the All-Star Game vote: the fact that the fans have a lot of say. (But hey, Alderson should take heart: He was the A’s GM when Tony LaRussa managed the club; LaRussa, though retired, is managing the NL All-Stars this year, so is it impossible to imagine that—if only to appease his former boss—LaRussa would pull Sandoval after four innings anyway, giving Wright most of the playing time at third?)

It’s not exactly new, this ballot-box-stuffing thing. How, for instance, do we explain—just off the top of my head—Davey Lopes leading all National League second baseman in All-Star voting in 1981? He was having a brutal season to that point, and even he acknowledged it. Lots of guys have been voted into the starting lineup despite not deserving it. That’s what happens when fans stuff the ballot box. The Sandoval vote isn’t exactly a travesty—he’s having a terrific year, though he’s lost 40 games to injury—but I have to think most people were surprised at the voting results. (Maybe Alderson is bothered that the Giants have as many fans as they do. I’ve always felt that MLB in general would be bothered by that.)

Cincinnati fans, you should know, mounted a voting campaign in the late 1950s that resulted in eight Reds players being voted into the starting lineup. National League officials said “I don’t think so” and substituted a couple of non-Reds (such as Stan Musial), but apparently nobody thought, “Gee, this could happen every year. Maybe we should consider a different system.”

I’m not saying the fans should have no say, but—as much as I’d like to see any given San Francisco Giants team start every All-Star Game—I can’t think of anything good that comes from stuffing ballot boxes. The All-Star Game is a low-level example, but a highly visible, highly risible one. Giants fans who wanted to take the time followed KNBR’s lead and voted, over and over, for Our Boys. Each e-mail address, apparently, is limited to 25 votes, but how difficult is it to use multiple e-mail accounts? If each address could vote only once, the same principle would hold true, but it’d be an awful lot more inconvenient and annoying to keep having to create new e-mail addresses just to place votes, so maybe that approach is worth thinking about.

Years ago Bill James suggested “precinct” balloting, wherein the country would be divided, more or less, into Major League Team-centric areas, and players would be ranked in terms of how many votes they received; precincts eventually would be combined, such that if Sandoval got eight billion votes in San Francisco, it wouldn’t help him a lot if he finished eighth in New York. I’m not sure this is any solution either, though, since fans are going to vote for “their guy” anyway, and Sandoval is going to be a lot of Bay Area people’s “guy.”(Not only that, but these days, rooting interest isn’t defined as clearly by geographic boundaries as when James made his suggestion.) In other words, it’d be Giants fans voting for Sandoval, Mets fans voting for Wright, Brewers fans voting for Aramis Ramirez, etc.—and the winner would be based on whose fans filled out the most ballots.

Perhaps the “one e-mail address, one vote” approach would be a good first step—or even “one IP address, one vote.” And since coaches and players vote, why not combine the results, perhaps weighting the proportion toward the fans (since this is supposed to be “the fans’ game” after all)? How about, geez, I dunno, giving two-thirds of the vote to an overall fan tally (bearing in mind that since only one vote could come from an IP address, it’d be much harder to stuff the box)? Or even maybe 60% or a little less—I’m just spitballing.

Should the media get a vote? Why not? I don’t know who would count as “media” these days, but hey, what about 30% coaches, players, and managers; 30% media, and 40% fans? Would the fans really feel that they weren’t being heard? More to the point, could a system like this really be worse than the one in place right now?