There are two constants to the All-Star voting. One is that there are always more deserving players than there are spots on the All-Star team.
As Jim Leyland, manager of the Detroit Tigers and manager of this year's American League All-Star team puts it: "It's a slam dunk that somebody who belongs on the team is going to get left off."
The other constant is that the selections always provoke arguments, because of that surplus of deserving talent and that shortage of available roster spots. The disappointment for worthy players is real, but the debate is a reflection of a healthy concern.
"Every year, there's going to disappointment and there's going to be excitement," says Ron Gardenhire, manager of the Minnesota Twins. "And right after they make the announcements, the debates start. There are going to be arguments for everybody and there's really no way to argue against it. There are going to be guys, it happens every year, there are going to be guys who don't make it who probably deserve to be All-Stars. But you can't take them all."
Too true. Let's review some of the notable choices, and some of the debatable omissions, starting with the National League, because it's the Senior Circuit and because it has become, in the Midsummer Classic, the Underdog League.
At first base, the fans' selection of Milwaukee's Prince Fielder over the usual Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, perfectly illustrates the notion of the voters spotting the current trend. Pujols may have been the best all-around hitter of the last six seasons. But Fielder is having the better year.
It's the same thing at catcher, where the Dodgers' Russell Martin won over more recognizable names. But Martin's season deserves more acclaim than that of any other NL catcher.
The voting at shortstop, where the Mets' Jose Reyes and the Brewers' J.J. Hardy were one-two, indicates the same phenomenon. These are the two NL shortstops having the best seasons. They're young, but they're genuine All-Stars.
The one area of most potential controversy in voting occurs when this trend was not followed. In the outfield, the electorate made Ken Griffey Jr. the NL's highest vote-getter. That was a fitting tribute to a worthy career. The other two spots went to Barry Bonds and Carlos Beltran. It could easily be argued that Colorado's Matt Holiday is having a better season than any other NL outfielder. And the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano is deserving as well. Both Holiday and Soriano made the team as reserves.
The selection of Bonds indicates that the Giants' "Vote Bonds" campaign was a big success. And it also might say that voters were willing to overlook the steroid allegations, and give a nod to the weight of Bonds' career, thus allowing him to start the All-Star Game in his home park. A sentimental vote for Barry Bonds? What a concept.
In the American League, making Alex Rodriguez the leading vote-getter in the entire balloting was perfectly understandable, given the overwhelming season he is putting together.
At second base, the Tigers' Placido Polanco is not the biggest name, but again, he's having the biggest season.
In the outfield, another Tiger, Magglio Ordonez, got the nod from the voters over names with more star power. But Ordonez is having a terrific season. If you had to vote for the AL MVP at this moment, he and A-Rod would be the leading candidates.
Now, who got shorted in this process? Even cyberspace would become crowded with full extent this debate. Pick your own favorite players left off these rosters and let the griping begin. But let's take one slice of the argument and say that who got shorted can be summed up in three words -- the Minnesota Twins.
Justin Morneau could have been the starter at first base over Boston's David Ortiz, particularly since Ortiz doesn't actually play first base that much. Part of this is the result of the quirky situation that occurs when the All-Star Game is played in a National League city and the designated hitters arbitrarily are turned into first basemen. Hey, Boston's own Kevin Youkilis, the actual Red Sox first baseman, also got the short end of this situation. Morneau was the 2006 AL MVP, but at least he has a spot on the All-Star team.
Not so for Joe Mauer, the only catcher ever to win an AL batting title, and a superior defender to boot. He missed time due to injury and that undoubtedly made him a less attractive candidate for voters looking at the raw numbers. But he is an All-Star, whether he is on this roster or not. And Minnesota's second baseman, Luis Castillo, remains a truly valuable all-around talent and he also remains, it appears, under-appreciated. The Twins will still have Morneau, Johan Santana and Torii Hunter on the squad, so it's not as though they've been ignored. They've been slighted, but not ignored.
But what we're looking at here, in general, is an election with really reasonable results. Between the fans' voting, and the players' voting this was a reasonable, workable show of democracy. There were, as usual, more deserving players than roster spots. That's difficult to swallow for the players to deserved to make these All-Star teams, but didn't, but this beats the alternative of an All-Star Game without enough talent to fill out the two squads. And at the end of the process, the vast majority of All-Star positions went to players who fully deserved the honor and the recognition.