The All-Star Game was a big deal for me when I was a kid. As a fan of a bad team, I didn't have much to look forward to and the game was a real treat in the middle of the summer. The stars were larger than life. In a literal sense, however, they were smaller: Johnny Bench, Mike Schmidt and Eddie Murray look like shrimps next to Joe Mauer, Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard. Bigger is not necessarily better.
One thing that is better about contemporary All-Star games is the fan voting. The fans have selected the starting lineups for the past 40 All-Star Games. Back in the 1970s and 1980s the fans didn't do such a good job. Big names won out over merit. The ballots might as well have been pre-punched for Cal Ripken. This trend continued into the 1990s.
Two developments ushered in a new era of sophisticated fan voting. The internet gives fans an online ballot alongside convenient access to stats. Fans are able to check the numbers and cast well-informed votes. The other big factor is fantasy baseball. Fantasy fans are familiar with players in small markets, in both leagues and at every position. The depth of knowledge has never been better. Fantasy baseball deserves a lot of credit for educating the voters. It's a pity voters in political elections are not nearly as knowledgeable.
This season the fans once again did an excellent job choosing the starters. Some choices were easy (Albert Pujols and Chase Utley). Some choices were harder (Mauer over Victor Martinez). Some philosophy was even required: Is it OK to vote for injured players (Raul Ibanez and Carlos Beltran) that had great first halves? Yes.
I can complain about only four of the 16 fan selections (for worse). Only two selections are clear mistakes (Josh Hamilton and Dustin Pedroia) while the other two are minor complaints. The other 12 choices were right on the money and a few of them were inspired choices (for better).
Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals: Molina will get the start in front of the hometown fans on Tuesday. He is having a fine season (.281, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 25 runs, 4 SB) at a paper-thin position. The only other name in the conversation is Brian McCann. The Braves' catcher has better numbers (.304, 8 HR, 33 RBI, 24 runs, 3 SB) in spite of a slow start due to eyesight problems. McCann was hitting.195 when he went on the DL in April. The bespectacled McCann has hit very well since returning and is the best fantasy catcher in the NL. Defense does not count in fantasy, but since it does in real life, Molina deserves the start. He is a far superior defender. Molina is available in about half of fantasy leagues.
Raul Ibanez, OF, Phillies: Ibanez was having a monster season before landing on the DL. His first half contributions are better than any other NL outfielder. Ibanez leads all NL outfielders with a 1.027 OPS, and is tied with Adam Dunn for the most HR (22) and RBI (59). Ibanez is eligible to come off the DL before next Tuesday's game assuming the rehab goes according to schedule. Ibanez can make history: At 37 years old, he would be the oldest non-pitcher to make his All-Star debut.
Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays: Longoria (.290, 16 HR, 64 RBI) seems like a no-brainer. But lets give the fans props for keeping Alex Rodriguez home watching Raising Helen on DVD. Longoria garnered two million more votes than A-Rod.
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees: I hate to admit it, but Jeter is the right choice at shortstop for the AL. I hate to admit it because I make a habit of tearing Jeter down as overrated. This year he's earned his spot. Jeter leads all AL shortstops with an .850 OPS, a .316 average and is tied with Alexei Ramirez with 10 homeruns. Chalk up the last number to the Yankee Stadium jet stream if you want, but they still count. Munch, munch, munch -- that's the sound of me eating crow.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers: Hamilton came off the DL Monday, and will start next Tuesday in St. Louis. He should politely decline and let a more deserving outfielder play. The Angels' Torii Hunter is having a terrific season, hitting .304 with 17 HR, 63 RBI and 13 steals. These stats dwarf Hamilton's numbers: .240, 6 HR, 24 RBI and 3 SB. Hunter finished fourth in the voting among AL outfielders.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox: Toronto's Aaron Hill would have been the better choice at 2B over last season's MVP. Pedroia is having a nice year (.290, 3 HR, .761 OPS, 14 SB) but it does not compare to Hill's season (.299, 20 HR, .841 OPS, 3 SB).
Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees: Teixeira edged out Kevin Youkilis on a few hanging chads. Both are having excellent seasons but the best first baseman in the junior circuit is Justin Morneau. The Twins' slugger has more homeruns, more RBI, more runs scored, a higher average and higher OPS than either Youkilis or Teixeira. It's a small consolation, but Morneau apparently finished third in just-completed Minnesota Senate recount.
David Wright, 3B, Mets: Wright was leading the NL in hitting for much of the past month. Now Wright is not even the top hitting third baseman. That distinction goes to the Giants' super rookie Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval has 12 HR to Wright's 5 HR and .954 OPS to Wright's .884. The one area where Wright has an advantage is in steals (20 vs. 3). Wright is a decent choice, but Sandoval is the better choice. The fans have a second chance to make it up to Sandoval. He is on the ballot for the "final roster" spot. Go to the MLB site and do the right thing.