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.
Joe Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.