This Week in the National League -This One Counts?

Pete Khazen has a beef with the fans' selections for National League All-Star Game starters.

The 2002 All-Star game debacle resulted in Commissioner Bud Selig's executive decision to end the prolonged contest in a tie. To avoid a repeat of the fiasco on that fateful night, Major League Baseball decided to make what was once an exhibition game more interesting. The powers that be decided to put the all-important home field advantage for the World Series on the line. The American and National Leagues previously alternated years that their champion team would host four of the seven World Series games. That was no more. The All-Star game would now be venue where the top players from each league would duke it out for the prize of home field advantage in the World Series. And so the "This One Counts" slogan was born.

It's been two seasons now, and the American League has won home field advantage both times. In the first year, home field advantage didn't help the Yankees, as the Marlins became World Champs. During last year's World Series one could argue that home field didn't matter since the Red Sox swept the Cardinals, but being able to play the first two games at Fenway Park instead of Busch Stadium was a huge advantage.

So if this game really "counts", why in the world do they still let the fans pick the starters for the All-Star game?

Here's the problem…

The second week of All-Star balloting results were released on June 6. If the polls were to close with those results, this would be your starting line-up for the National League:

1B Albert Pujols
2B Jeff Kent
SS Nomar Garciaparra
3B Scott Rolen
C Mike Piazza
OF Carlos Beltran
OF Jim Edmonds
OF Bobby Abreu

Not a bad lineup, right? But do these guys really deserve to start, and are they the best players that the National League can put on the diamond to win home field advantage in the 2005 World Series?

Let's start with the outfield. Jim Edmonds and Bobby Abreu have definitely proven they belong at the top of the list, but Carlos Beltran? Sure, he tore it up down the stretch for the Astros last season and in the Playoffs, but the off-season's biggest prize is sitting 7th of all NL outfielders in batting average (.295), 17th in HRs (9), and 16th in RBIs (29). With Beltran leading all NL outfielders by more than 125,000 votes (672,050), clearly fans are voting based on last season's performance. Miguel Cabrera (.340, 10, 35), Cliff Floyd (.289, 14, 39), and Pat Burrell (.310, 10, 35) are more deserving than Beltran, but are sitting 5th, 8th, and 10th in balloting. Carlos Lee who is leading everyone with 53 RBIs isn't even in the top 15. At least Barry Bonds isn't getting enough votes to start this year – he's sitting 15th with 170,748 votes.

Moving up to the catcher spot, it's hard to argue against Mike Piazza. But the 579,502 votes, he's leading all NL catchers by at least 200,000. With that stellar .254 average, Piazza is a far cry from Michael Barrett's .292, Ramon Hernandez's .289. Oh, and Hernandez has matched Piazza with 6 HRs and is outpacing him 31 to 28 in RBIs. Defensively… let's not go there.

Moving to the left side of the infield, fans are currently voting in two guys who have spent a lot of time on the Disabled List. Scott Rolen, last year's deserving top vote getter, currently has 539,087 votes – more than 150,000 ahead of Chipper Jones. Though Rolen's glove is still as good as any, his .257 average, 5 HRs, and 20 RBIs is nowhere near where he was a season ago. Nomar Garciaparra, on the other hand, has only played 14 games this year. And he wasn't exactly tearing it up before getting injured. His .154 average and 4 RBIs have the Cubs cheering Neifi Perez's Nomar-like output. Even if Nomar comes back before the All-Star game, does he deserve to start and does the NL really want him out there over Perez (.317, 7, 26), Cesar Izturis (.316, 1, 20) or David Eckstein (.315, 2, 19)? At least the voting is tight – only 52,000 votes separates the top four, which doesn't include Perez, but does include Rafael Furcal (.227, 4, 22).

On to the second base position… Here the fans are finally getting one right. Jeff Kent is leading the NL with 506,272 votes as he commands a .288 average with 12 HRs and 49 RBIs. He's well-ahead of Craig Biggio (.269, 8, 24), who carries 322,126 votes. But why is Biggio up almost 50,000 votes on Mark Grudzielanek, who has a .320 average, 3 HRs and 26 RBIs?

Finally, we have the first base position. It doesn't get much tougher than this one. Albert Pujols is one of the best players in the league, if not the best. Pujols is batting .332 with 14 HRs and 47 RBIs, but Derrek Lee is having a season for all to gawk at. Lee currently sits with a .382 average with 17 HRs and 52 RBIs. He's one RBI off the Triple Crown pace and is leading the league in slugging percentage (.700) and OPS (1.164). Though Pujols is definitely deserving and will clearly be someone the NL wants in their lineup, Derrek Lee belongs there too. So why does Pujols command a 748,844 to 435,404 lead in voting? I guess that's what the DH is for. Thank goodness the All-Star game is in Detroit this year.

The All-Star game is definitely for the fans. But if this game really counts, the starters shouldn't be picked solely by fan balloting. Such a system favors big market cities and players on teams with big promotional bankrolls. It can also tie the hands of the coaching staff now responsible for developing a strategy that wins their league home field advantage in the World Series. With so much on the line, a system without the players', managers', and coaches' input doesn't count for much.

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