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June 25, 2014

EXTRA INNINGS: All-Star voting push has gone overboard

OPINION — Clear the deck!

But it’s not a cannonball that’s comin’.

It’s yet another volley from the Pirates’ ill-advised barrage to get center fielder Andrew McCutchen and second baseman Neil Walker elected to this year’s stuff-the-ballot-box exercise known as All-Star game voting.

No Pirate fan doubts the worthiness of McCutchen and Walker as NL starters, and if Pittsburgh fans are going to cast a ballot, can you imagine them NOT voting for those two?

But what about other Pirates? Should a team focus on campaigning for one or two players and ignore the rest? What does Josh Harrison or Russell Martin think about it, especially when one considers their importance to the team?  Not sayin’ that they don’t support McCutchen and Walker, but isn’t baseball a “team” sport?

And what does it say if such a heavy-handed campaign fails to land one or either as a starter?

Like those cardboard billboards stapled on crooked sticks at election time, “Vote For” signs are inescapable anywhere Pirates fans might look. Several times during each televised game, we are shown action shots of Cutch and the Pittsburgh Kid, each one ending in a reminder to vote for the dynamic duo.

Look anywhere inside PNC Park for additional reminders—from the gaudy signs dancing from the railings of the left-field rotunda, to smaller placards visible at every turn.

Announcers gently imply that it will your fault if McCutchen and Walker aren’t starters.

Go on the website, where you are greeted with “Vote Pirates,” a direct link to the on-line ballot, a free-ticket-for-voting offer, and a countdown until it will be too late to cast your 25 on-line ballots—as well as the inside scoop as to how you can “earn a one-time bonus of 10 additional online ballots”!

Paper ballots at ballparks allowed you vote as many times as you wanted, limited only by the stuffing room in your pockets.

In my own exercise in civil disobedience, I once protested the entire fan voting farce by filling out 362 paper ballots. I can’t remember the year, but it was the time Ronny Cedeno collected a total of 362 votes.

All-Star teams were originally selected by managers and fans for the first two all-star games in 1933 and 1934 games. From 1935 through 1946, only managers selected their league’s roster. From 1947 to 1957, fans picked the team's starter line-up and the managers chose the pitchers and the remaining players. From 1958 through 1969, managers, players, and coaches made the All-Star team selections—what would they know? How ridiculous to have the league’s all-stars selected by their peers. And Since 1970, fans have voted for the starters for each team with the managers picking the reserves and pitchers.

If baseball allows fans to pick the starters, why doesn’t it allow us to vote for the pitching staffs, too? Is Aunt Louise smart enough to pick a third baseman but not a left-handed reliever? MLB should dump this typical half-baked plan and go full steam ahead: Form the team with the top three vote getters at each position to form the roster and add the nine starting pitchers and three relievers with the most votes and be done with it.

While voting at ballparks has ended, you can still vote online or on a mobile device at mlb.com and all 30 team sites until 11:59 p.m. next Thursday, July 3.

But fan voting doesn’t stop there.

Immediately after the 2014 teams are announced next week, fans can begin voting from a list of five players from each league to select the 34th and final player.

And the voting doesn't end there.

The final phase of voting will allow fans to vote for the game’s most valuable player award and will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that picks the winner.

Come to think of it, why should it stop there?

Don’t bother to play the game at all—just let the fans vote for the winner.

Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for The Allied News.

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