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May 30, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

All-Stars

by Joe Sheehan

Two weeks ago, at the Angels/Orioles game in Anaheim, I filled out my All-Star ballot. Two, to be exact. When I was younger, I used to fill out as many as I could before the sixth inning, when the ushers at Yankee Stadium--back when they had ushers--would come around and collect them. There were "favorites" ballots, all-Yankee ballots, all-current-big-season ballots...heck, I may have had a ballot that represented just the guys on my Strat-O-Matic team.

Nowadays, I fill out one or two at each game I attend during the voting period, and they tend to have a sameness to them. To me, the All-Star balloting is about selecting the best player at each position; in most cases, that's a fairly simple call.

There's a moderately heated debate right now on a Usenet newsgroup about what makes an All-Star. The arguments break down roughly along the lines of "best proven player" versus "best player this season". I say "roughly" because the term "best proven player" can be defined in a couple of different ways, and a few people in the discussion have proffered their definitions.

Regardless of how you define the term, though, it seems obvious that this is what the All-Star Game is about: seeing the best players in baseball, not merely the players who played well in the first half of a particular season. I personally give my All-Star vote to the player who I consider to be the best in the league at that point in time, based on their entire career to date. I consider current-season performance, but I don't let a slow start by the best player at a position--or a great six weeks by a proven mediocrity--overly influence my choice.

This leads to All-Star ballots that can be highly similar from season to season. I can't remember the last time I voted for anyone but Barry Larkin at shortstop in the NL, or for anyone but Mike Piazza behind the plate, although there have been players who had better statistics though the second week of June than those two. Those guys are All-Stars, even if Walt Weiss or Mike Lieberthal is really hot when I punch out the little holes.

I'm not ridiculous about this, either. Sometimes the performance level of a perennial All-Star--we'll call him "Frank"--slips to the point where a vote for him is inexcusable in light of the other talent at that position, even though the long-time All-Star has a tremendous curriculum vitae. And at some positions, the All-Star is a young player--we'll call him "Troy"--whose performance and ability are clearly superior to other players, even other former All-Stars.

This week, I'll run through my All-Star ballot. Yes, this is much sooner than just about any baseball columnist around, but that's my point. My All-Stars aren't going to change much from May 15 to June 30, because being an All-Star starter is about a body of work, about a proven level of performance, not a good half-season. Leave it to the leagues to populate the benches and pitching staffs with people who should only get into the All-Star Game with a ticket.

Sorry, Ricky.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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