But today, we're much closer to a situation in which merit rules. One promising piece of evidence in that regard is the Tampa Bay Rays. For the first time in their history, the Rays have two starters voted in by the fans. This is a small-market franchise that doesn't draw particularly well, but that doesn't matter. And who could argue reasonably against the selection of either third baseman Evan Longoria or outfielder Carl Crawford? Not me.
The Rays also had starting pitcher David Price named to the squad. They could argue with justification that another member of their rotation, Jeff Niemann, and closer Rafael Soriano should also have been honored. But the Rays were supported, not shorted, in the fan balloting.
This year, fans cast 220 million ballots in the online portion of the All-Star voting. Yes, these fans could vote more than once. Insert your own Chicago election one-liner here, but it makes no difference. The fans voted, it is apparent, not as a bloc of fans following one or two clubs, but as baseball fans.
There are always going to be arguments about voting and selections. Despite All-Star roster expansion, the number of worthy candidates still greatly exceeds the number of All-Star openings. The evidence for that can be found in the Final Vote candidates. Each and every one of these players, five from each league, is fully deserving of a spot on an All-Star team. But eight of them will be disappointed. This is the nature of the event, and it beats the alternative, which would be a game where there weren't enough outstanding performers to fill two squads.
Individual arguments will break out, as they must. For instance, at first base in the American League, Minnesota's Justin Morneau wins, ahead of Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, despite the fact that Cabrera has slightly better power numbers. An injustice? Not if you compare the defensive work of the two, given the fact that Morneau has, over the years, transformed himself defensively, and has become an all-around player.
In the National League, there are certainly outfielders with more impressive overall numbers than Atlanta's Jason Heyward, who was elected by the fans. Heyward is currently on the 15-day disabled list, a situation that further muddies the waters. But what you had here was recognition by the baseball public of a 20-year-old with remarkable personal and professional maturity, who made an impact with a team that is currently in first place. There were certainly other viable alternatives at this spot, but the election of Heyward is understandable.
In the same vein, some of us argued, in public, for the inclusion of the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg on the grounds that he had captured the public's imagination in a way that no other player had this season. I still maintain that position. But NL manager Charlie Manuel's argument about the pitcher having only six big league starts was the argument that you sensed was going to carry the day. There will be other All-Star Games for Strasburg; given good health a bunch of them. It will be a privilege to watch him go against the AL's best hitters.
At the end of this All-Star selection day, the story is not in the arguments but in the consensus. The two players who led the leagues in votes received were Joe Mauer of the Twins and Albert Pujols of the Cardinals. And these are the two players who can readily be defined as the best, or the most valuable, or the most responsible choices.
They are honored here, as All-Stars will be, not only for their work this year, but for the body of work that their careers represent. Pujols' offensive numbers are incomparable, and he has made himself a splendid defensive player. Mauer has won three batting titles, while no other catcher in AL history had won any. And his all-around prowess at a demanding defensive position further lifts the level of his greatness.
Neither of these players is from the world's largest franchises. Both got to the top of the voting lists because they were recognized by baseball fans, baseball fans with votes, as deserving. That sort of thing not only speaks well of Mauer and Pujols. It also speaks well of the All-Star electorate, a group that has become not only larger, but along the way, more objective.