Baseball’s midsummer classic is the last bastion of competitive all-star games. Today, the NFL and NBA versions are nothing more than ridiculous, 200-point offensive spectacles with three-player alley oops and players standing around and watching. (Though it’s worth noting that the NHL is doing some interesting things to their all-star game’s format.) It’s entertaining, I guess, but isn’t the point of the all-star game to see the world’s best compete against the world’s best? It’s difficult to get much out of it when players don’t even try. I want to see the unstoppable force take on the immovable object! I want to see Randy Johnson intimidate the hell out of John Kruk! It’s a game, and the point is to play the game at a high level. In baseball alone, we can still get that. Moreover, in baseball alone there’s an incentive to win the all-star game, and that incentive is an issue of significant contention that deserves a separate and lengthy article of its own.
The issue of note in this article is the all-star game’s voting structure, the system devised to determine who will represent the game as the aforementioned “world’s best.” The world’s best, however, are not always represented, and that problem was exacerbated last year when voting took place entirely online—further proof that the Internet is ruining the sanctity of everything.
Before we dive into that, we should talk about how all-star game voting works. Like most other things, it’s a work-in-progress. From 1933 – 1946, the all-star teams’ managers chose their own lineups. Not until 1947 were fans given the ability to choose. It only took 10 years for Reds fans to ruin it for everyone, though; in 1957, they were caught stuffing ballot boxes, prompting commissioner Ford Frick to step in and replace Reds Wally Post and Gus Bell with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Things did work out pretty well after that, but last year, the issue of ballot stuffing reared its ugly head again—this time digitally.
A month before the 2015 all-star game, eight Kansas City Royals led in the polls. Eight. Had things ended there, the American League all-star game would have been the Royals starting lineup plus Mike Trout. That couldn’t be right, could it? Admittedly, some Royals legitimately deserved the honor, but among those players were Alex Rios, an outfielder who was hitting .214 and had missed half the season, and Omar Infante, who was in most respects the worst offensive second baseman in the entire game. This wasn’t your “let Derek Jeter be the starting shortstop every year because he’s going into the Hall of Fame and I love him so much” kind of situation—this was something different. But what was it exactly?
The Royals communications director Mike Swanson called it “the perfect storm.” As he told ESPN, “In years past, when the votes were counted off ballots at the park, we’d have 13,000 to 14,000 people voting on some afternoons. But now that the paper ballots have gone by the wayside—and you throw in the pennant, the TV ratings, the attendance and the popularity of the club—things have changed. People like these guys because they’re likable guys. And when you take the paper out of it, you end up leveling the playing field.”
In essence, people may be lazy, but they really do care. And the Royals resurgence certainly did account for some of the irregular voting results. KC hadn’t had an all-star starter since Jermaine Dye in 2000. They were understandably famished. After coming off an unexpected World Series appearance the preceding year and then rolling into the all-star break with the best team in baseball, it made sense that the Royals should have a number of all-star candidates. But these results were unprecedented. 620 million votes were ultimately cast, shattering the 2012 record of 391 million. That’s twice the population of the Unite States! How is that possible, you ask? Because people were (and still are) allowed to vote 35 times.
In the words of Jim Caple, “Whatever happened to the concept of ‘one man, one vote’?” Truly, what is the reason to give people more than one vote? It’s equally fair, theoretically: everyone getting 35 votes is no different than everyone getting one vote. By offering 35 votes per person, all the MLB did was create a system that practically begged to be exploited. As it turns out, that seems to have been the point.
Given the egregious results of last year’s initial polls, SB Nation’s HookSlide decided to hack the all-star voting page and see just how easy it was to manipulate the system. It only took 20 minutes, and he was armed with only cursory coding skills. A troubling discovery awaited him: “There is zero verification surrounding the most important piece of information supplied in the voting process: your email address.”
That means that, after I get done voting 35 times, I can use your email address to vote another 35 times, and then after that I can use every single other email address that I know to do the same. If voting were capped at one vote per person, people wouldn’t spend so much time accumulating votes. You’d have to spend time entering email address after email address, all for just one additional vote. And as we’ve already established, people are lazy. But what if you can vote in chunks of 35 at a time? That’s a game-changer.
The MLB does investigate dubious voting patterns, and that ultimately led to more than 60 million votes getting cancelled, and when things were all said and done, only four Royals started the all-star game. But the question remained: why can you vote 35 times in the first place?
The only answer that makes any sense is in the numbers. 620 million sounds a hell of a lot better than 17.7 million (one 35th of the total votes cast). And it means you can spend 35 times longer on MLB.com. And 35 times longer viewing their advertisements. And 35 times longer talking about how you voted 35 times on MLB.com. It’s propaganda, and individual teams are availing themselves of it in ways that extend far beyond traditional all-star campaigns.
“This combines the worst of modern politics—hard-core, extreme partisanship with the corruption of vote buying,” Caple said. And the worst of modern politics is surely not far removed from the worst of humanity in general. So what can be done to save the sanctity of baseball?
In regard to the vote cancellation, then-first-year commissioner Rob Manfred said: “What I would say is, I hope over time that what people come to think about the commissioner’s office is when we have a situation such as this, this is one example, that we are responsive and open to change if in fact it appears we get a result that is not consistent with the goals of the system that is currently in place.”
If the goal is to ensure that the world’s best baseball players represent the league, and if the goal is to create a fair voting system that makes the selection of those players democratic, then this current system must be changed. The solution, as it turns out, is simple: one person, one vote.
The 2016 all-star game takes place in San Diego on July 12. Anyone going? Let us know in the comments.
Featured Image: Fox