The 2021 Major League Baseball All-Star Game has been through a lot. There’s been a change of venue and an atrocious jersey reveal. I mean, seriously, who thought those were a good idea? At least the game doesn’t determine home-field advantage for the World Series anymore — amirite?
Yesterday, the starters for the AL & NL squads were announced, and, as you’d expect, not everyone was thrilled about the selections. Mike Trout hasn’t played since May 17, and won’t be able to play in the All-Star Game, so being voted a starter takes that opportunity away from someone who... you know, would actually be able to participate. Aside from that, there have been some Dodger fans clamoring that Betts and Muncy should both be in. Orioles fans believe Cedric Mullins deserves a starting bid (I agree with that one). Rangers fans want Adolis Garcia in. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Everyone wants to see their favorite players representing their teams in the Midsummer Classic.
The most intriguing argument I hear is that the All-Star Game should be a celebration of baseball as a whole. That’s why every team gets at least one representative, and that’s why players like Betts should get the starting nod. It’s not about how well you’ve done; it’s about seeing the game’s best players come together in the name of baseball. I’ve heard that argument get thrown around for several players — Betts, Lindor, Yelich (although he’s been hurt), Bregman, etc.
Personally, I’ve never thought of the All-Star Game that way. I’ve always viewed it as a reward for having a phenomenal first half. That always seems to be how the reserves are selected. They don’t choose the big names; they choose the hot bats. I understand the point they’re trying to make though. Aside from the playoffs, Olympics, and WBC, the All-Star Game is the biggest stage baseball can offer, and trying to put forth a fantastic product filled with superstar names that fans want to see should be one of the focal points. However, I feel this argument falls flat for one reason: the fans do get to see who they want.
Fan voting has seen its fair share of criticism across all sports — mainly for being a popularity contest. Whoever’s got the most fans will likely come away with the starting bid. This argument isn’t incorrect. Despite playing less than five minutes per game and averaging in 2020, Boston Celtics’ forward Tacko Fall was among the leaders in fan voting for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game. The famous John Scott incident in the 2016 NHL All-Star Game prompted some of the higher-ups in that league to attempt to force Scott to give up his spot. The Pro Bowl has long been considered a joke. Yet, Major League Baseball has managed to avoid that same issue. Most of the time, the players whom the fans vote in are the most deserving. Even though Mike Trout won’t be able to play, is there any denying that he’s one of the best players in baseball? No, and the fact that fans voted him for a starting spot shows that even though he won’t play, fans wanted to see him play.
If fans really wanted to see guys like Lindor and Yelich, why didn’t they receive enough fan votes to become finalists for the starting positions? Why did guys like Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier, Cincinnati’s Jesse Winker, and Toronto’s Teoscar Hernandez earn starting roles? If everybody would prefer to see people like Betts, Albies, Seager, and Bregman why did the fans (you know, the people in question) vote for other people?
I think that by voting for guys like Frazier and Winker, the MLB has actually found a sweet spot, where the players that are stealing the show like Ohtani, Vladdy Jr., and Tatis Jr. will all take the field for the first inning of the game, but small market teams like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City still get to see their athletes represented on one of the game’s biggest stages.
If the fans always voted for the players with the greatest legacies, we’d rarely ever get to see new guys take the limelight. That’s not to say that some players deserve the spotlight even after their primes have ended. Cal Ripken probably didn’t deserve an All-Star nod in 2001, but it was his final season and he deserved a farewell tour. Same goes for Derek Jeter in 2014. The fans voted him in because of the legacy he was leaving behind, and he gave us a fantastic send-off as he delivered two hits (even if Adam Wainwright was ‘piping’ pitches intentionally). We never would have gotten that moment had the fans not voted him in.
While voting for players who’ve proven themselves in years past might seem like the right thing to do, doing so would prevent other stars from taking center stage. Are you going to tell me that Jason Bay deserved an All-Star bid in 2007 because he was great for the first three years of his career? 2013 Evan Longoria? 2012 Alex Rodriguez? Those were all players that were considered elite at their positions, but regressed and were no longer at the top. Just because somebody once was great doesn’t mean they always will be. Lindor could absolutely find a groove and become one of the game’s premier shortstops once again, but maybe this season with the Mets is a sign of things to come. Maybe he remains a sub-.240 hitter for the rest of his career. If that happens, then we would’ve wasted an All-Star slot this season on someone unworthy. Nobody wants that. So MLB fans, keep voting how you’ve been voting. You’re doing great!