By Barry Millman
It struck me as I've read all the reactions to baseball's All-Star Game voting controversy that no baseball fan or writer for any other team has had the balls to do what I'm about to do, and that needs to be rectified, so here goes:
Congratulations and a tip of my Yankees cap to the Kansas City fans -- however few or many are responsible -- for putting seven Royals players in the lead on this year's All-Star game ballot. You guys rock and have done your team and your fellow fans proud. If there was an All-Star game for fans, you'd get all my votes this year.
By all accounts, no rules have been broken and the voting system is working exactly as it was designed to work. I'm rooting for those fans the rest of the way to reach their goal because fan excellence on that level deserves its due and needs nurturing.
I know and can appreciate the magnitude of their effort because when the ballots first came out, I launched an all-out campaign to get my own small corner of Yankee Universe on Twitter and Google+ enthused and voting for the one Yankee on the ballot who was #ASGWorthy; consistently generating offense and raising all boats in the lineup; exciting the fan base and, statistically, was a lead-pipe, no-brainer choice to win his All-Star spot by any objective measure.
Alex Rodriguez was leading, tied for the lead or a close second in virtually every traditional, counting and sabermetric stat that matters among the American League's qualified full-time designated hitters for much of the first two months of the season. Of all the races on the ballot, the race for DH was the only one that wasn't even a race at the time. Alex owned it, and I kept posting updated The Case for All-Star ARod stories nearly every day and during games for weeks and weeks, meticulously documenting his superior performance in relation to the other candidates with direct links to the official ballot.
By and large, they got treated like spam. A lot of views -- almost anything with Alex's name in the headline will get you that -- but only a few favorites and almost no retweets or click-throughs to the ballot. The team's public relations and social media departments were no help, treating Alex's amazing comeback season like a bug on their corporate windshield. Had it not been for the home run milestone controversy and the marketing bonus controversy, you'd think I was asking my fellow Yankee fans to vote for some guy who won a radio contest and first prize was two months DHing for the Yankees.
Maybe I underestimated the contagious effectiveness of the team's bug treatment. Maybe too many of our good fans relied too much on the size of our fan base to do their heavy lifting for them. Maybe the team's rocky start stifled their desire to look ahead to summer. Or maybe the cheers I was hearing for him at home games and seeing on social media were simply mirages. Whatever the reason, after more than a month of intensive effort and very little positive feedback, I gave up the campaign. And here we are with KC winning in a blowout and our position players likely shut out. Not even Alex can save them in this game.
I'm as serious a fan as you'll find when it comes to the great game of baseball. But I try not to let the serious get in the way of the fun part of the game, and let's face it: the All-Star game was conceived as a purely fun popularity contest to increase fan interest and attendance, and it was never -- repeat never, ever -- intended to be a reward for players for a half season of statistical excellence, the very idea being absurd on the face of it. Players become favorites for many reasons and you could populate the rosters of an entire division with the names of statistically-challenged All-Stars who were voted in, not just by fans, but by managers, coaches and players alike to play in the midsummer classic.
That was the whole point of letting fans -- and only fans -- vote for the thing in the first place for the first 24 years. Voting for the first All-Star-Game in 1933 was done by pre-printed ballots published in newspapers across the country. And nobody had a problem with the process until 1957 when Commissioner Ford Frick decided Reds players were just too popular with the fans in Cincy and -- even though no voting rules had been broken -- decided to break the rules himself by arbitrarily intervening to play some real-life fantasy baseball and tweaked the roster so it was more to his liking.
If somebody wants to change the rules so the voting goes differently next year, that's fine by me. But I sure hope Commissioner Manfred gives more of a frick about ethics than his predecessor did and doesn't taint the integrity or intent of this year's game by stepping in to arbitrarily circumvent the will of those dedicated Royals fans who persevered through untold nights wearing out untold keyboards and untold email addresses to carpet the heavens with ballots supporting their guys.
In recent days, I've seen a few embarrassing attempts to play catch-up by the Yankee PR department and some Yankee writers. To them, I would urge caution. This is a fight you're not remotely equipped to win and, even if you somehow pulled it off and managed to suddenly load the team with Yankees at this late date, the results would only be seen as twice as illegitimate as KC's -- and rightly so.
Like the official Esurance-sponsored All-Star Game ballot blurb on every MLB team's website says, voting early and voting often was the clearest path to a victory in this contest, and it's way too late for that. Voting began less than a month after Opening Day and one fan base got there earliest and voted most often. They should be applauded, not penalized.
So I for one am taking a cue from our streaky, freaky first-place Yankees team who've lost to the worst and beaten the best while carrying its balls in five-gallon buckets all year and unashamedly tipping my cap to the KC fans who beat us fair and square. Good win, Royals Nation. Enjoy watching all your favorite players in the All-Star game. You earned it.
Speaking on behalf of Yankee Universe, we'll just have to console ourselves with the memory of our All-Stars sweeping yours in games that counted.
You can email Barry Millman firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.