The All-Stars: Popularity Contest or Fair Game?

Every season, you can find some player, somewhere that doesn't get voted onto the starting all-star lineup even though he is head and shoulders above the rest at his position. This season, it looks like that player could be a member of our own Philadelphia Phillies. Jim Thome ranks just fourth among National League first basemen in balloting.

Ladies and gentlemen, let the game begin! Wait a minute, not so fast. As the annual All-Star Game draws closer to its July twelfth start there is frustration, and some confusion, growing on the part of many baseball fans. Okay, make that Phillies fans specifically. With first baseman Jim Thome at 404,032 votes he registers on the all-star radar in fourth behind Sean Casey (Reds 541,516), Jeff Bagwell (Astros 925,869) and the top vote getter Albert Pujols (Cardinals) clocking in so far at 1,149,068 votes. Yet Jim Thome is the major league leader in homeruns with 25 (he is on his way to being the first Phillie to join the fifty-homerun season club; hall of famer Mike Schmidt topped out at 48). Thome leads the national league with a 1.174 slugging percentage and is hitting .391 with three doubles in seven games and a recent National League Player of the Week honor. So, how is this guy fourth?

Second place vote-getter Jeff Bagwell is hitting .255 with 11 homeruns and 38 RBI. And even he is beating Pujols batting average. It really begs the question of who qualifies here and what makes a winner in this race for a position on the team. Are people voting on the basis of merit? Or are they voting for whom is most well known? It is possible that some fans of teams are not getting out there and getting their votes in for their team's candidates. That would be a shame considering those stellar numbers Jim Thome is putting up. So that brings me to my next question. Is the system working?

The All-Star ballot process has changed over the years since it's inception in July of 1933 in Chicago, an idea thought of by a local sports editor. Originally the voting was done by managers and fans. From 1935 to 1946 they were chosen by managers. From 1958 to 1969 it was done by managers, players and coaches and then returned back to the current system in 1970 with all voting done by fans. This popular way of doing things, I would venture to guess, will continue. It is truly a contest for and by the people.

However, when a man with league leading results is lagging far behind others who aren't putting up the numbers that he is - with the exception of Sean Casey who has the same number of RBI as Thome - it can leave one puzzled. There are obviously examples of those who have gone beyond being famous ball players and are just plain famous and those who have been popular for so long they just instantly top people's list. Certainly this is making a difference over in the American League. As Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter battles a slump that Sports Illustrated felt was so disastrous they did a recent cover story on it, he safely slides onto the starting American League roster with 1,019,599 votes. Obviously those who are voting for him are not doing so on the basis of his numbers this season: he is batting .257 and has hit (gasp) just ten homeruns! But fairness is not in order here then. To say that it is only the men with the most success in the season who get named as an all-star is simply not accurate, because it is inconceivable that a man with 25 homeruns is hanging out at fourth over here in the National League.

If Phillies fans want to give it the good fight for gentleman Jim, continue to put your votes in; you have until June 30th. We can balk at the system for being unbalanced but ultimately the fans are the ones who hang on and stay devoted to their team's players through thick and thicker - Phillies fans are "All-Stars" in that area - and should be the one's to have the final say.

Recounts anyone?

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