Kenley Jansen's criticism of Dodgers fans is a questionable response to a deep problem

4:15 | MLB
Rising Stars: Wil Myers
Monday July 3rd, 2017

The path to All-Star Game rosters is rarely a straight line from the top players to a spot on the team. A lot of that is thanks to the fan vote, which leaves the process of picking the league’s best of the best to a group that’s biased and fractious. Fans make mistakes. Fans stuff the ballot box—2015’s l’affaire Royals stands out there. Or in some cases, fans don’t show up.

That’s the issue at hand for Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. He’s an All-Star for the second time, but he’s incensed that a deserving teammate might not join him in Miami next week: Justin Turner, one of the National League’s better third basemen but one who lost the fan vote to the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado and the NL’s lone reserve spot to the Diamondbacks’ Jake Lamb; Turner has been relegated to a spot on the fickle Final Vote ballot. The snub of Turner, as well as Corey Seager’s failure to win the starting shortstop spot over the Reds’ Zack Cozart, left Jansen feeling none too pleased with Dodgers fans’ lack of effort in the vote.

“I’ll say it loud and clear again,” Jansen said. “It’s the Dodger fans’ fault.”

“[The Cubs’] Addison Russell got voted in [last year],” Jansen said. “Corey Seager was way better. It’s the same thing this year, I feel like.”

As far as winning people over goes, this is a bit of a curious strategy on Jansen’s part; I’m not sure how many fans have ever felt good about having a star come out and trash them for not being supportive enough. It’s not as if Turner or Seager languished toward the bottom of the pile in terms of votes, either: In the last ballot total made public before the rosters were announced, the former was third behind the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and Arenado, and the latter was polling a close second behind Cozart (and made the team as a reserve anyway).

But it’s clear this isn’t just frustration at this year’s results. Despite having won the NL West four years in a row (and well on pace for a fifth crown), Los Angeles has done rather poorly in recent All-Star Game fan votes. Since Jansen joined the team full-time in 2011, only three Dodgers players—Matt Kemp (’11), Yasiel Puig (’14) and Dee Gordon (’15)—have been selected as starters. The support hasn’t been there, either: In 2013, for example, just two Dodgers—Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez—finished within the top eight in the voting at their respective positions.

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It’s easy to understand, then, why Jansen is irked to see his teammates wither on the vote vine while an endless wave of Cubs and Nationals and other contenders seem to make the squad with ease. Despite a run of success that’s nearly unprecedented in franchise history, Dodgers fans seemingly haven’t turned out to vote in the last five years.

What makes that strange is that Dodgers fans are paying attention. Los Angeles leads all of MLB in both total and average attendance this season, just as it has every single year since 2013. Part of that is seating capacity—Dodger Stadium can hold 56,000 people, more than any other park in the majors—but it’s clear that the Dodgers have an active and engaged fanbase that wants to go to games.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

That’s part of the problem, though: Dodgers fans in southern California have to go to games, because they can’t watch the team otherwise. Since 2014, Dodgers games have only been available on TV in the greater Los Angeles area on SportsNet LA, a regional sports network created and owned by Time Warner Cable (which was then absorbed into Charter Communications). But most viewers in southern California can’t get SportsNet LA, which is only carried by Charter; other cable and satellite companies, most prominently DirecTV, have refused to pay the additional fees (or, rather, push the fees onto their customers) in order to get the channel. As such, for the last four seasons, Dodgers fans who want to watch the game locally have two options: Switch to Charter, or go to Dodger Stadium. Everyone else is blacked out.

With that in mind, it’s easier to understand why Dodgers fans may not be all that invested in players when, by and large, they can’t even watch them play. Without games available on cable or via MLB’s streaming service, MLB.tv (which blacks out local customers regardless of whether or not they have a viable TV option), there’s no real way for fans to make a connection—and without that, no real incentive or push to vote.

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Does that make Jansen right to call out the fans? Ultimately, they’re the only people he can blame, though it’s still a bizarre choice on his part to make those words public. The fans aren’t to blame for being unable to watch games from the comfort of their home or on the cable or satellite provider of their choice. All they can do is sit and hope that all sides involved in this greedy and stupid battle can come to terms on something reasonable and affordable before they lose out on yet another season of baseball.

Or maybe Dodgers fans just don’t care about All-Star Game voting. Other fanbases were equally absent: Take the Red Sox faithful, who failed to show up in any kind of force for AL MVP runner-up Mookie Betts in the outfield voting despite another stellar season; he made the team as a reserve. Red Sox fans have been able to watch their team on TV for ages, and yet they didn’t turn out for one of the league’s best and most telegenic young players. And yet there are no Red Sox players blasting the fanbase to the media, mostly because All-Star Game voting is a silly enterprise all the way around.

Ultimately, trying to figure out why a group of fans does or doesn’t do something is like trying to read tea leaves: You can make all the guesses you want, but there’s no definitive answer. After all, fanbases aren’t some monolithic block where everyone acts in perfect concert. And it wasn’t just the fans who failed Turner: The players and managers who choose the roster reserves also passed him over in favor of Lamb. (It doesn’t help that third base in the NL is probably the deepest and best position in all of baseball, either.)

But it’s hard to imagine the support being there for Turner, Seager, Jansen or anyone else in Los Angeles when fans only get a good look at them a few times a month. That’s not their fault, but it is unfairly their burden to carry.

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