The All-Star Game selection is, in a lot of ways, the ultimate in democracy. Fans vote for the starters. If they want David Ortiz at first base -- Ortiz is a first baseman like I'm a Pulitzer Prize winner -- he starts at first base. It's a beautiful thing, really. The founding fathers would be pleased.
After that, players and managers (Detroit's Jim Leyland and St. Louis' Tony La Russa) and some people from Major League Baseball fill out the rosters, then the fans get to vote in the final player on each of the 32-man squads. Just about everyone that belongs makes it. But not quite everyone, of course. What fun would an election be without some controversy?
Already, the fans have spiced up the process with some early picks that, based on sheer merit, don't seem to have a lot of it. But, seriously, we're not deciding on the leader of the free world here. We're picking sides for a game. And what's a real election, anyway, other than a barely disguised popularity contest?
Let's look at some of the voting quirks thus far and take a guess at where we might end up when the online ballot box closes next Thursday at a minute before midnight.
Coasting on His Reputation Pudge Rodriguez is the voters' pick at catcher so far, but his numbers suggest he's no longer anywhere close to the best at his position. His numbers have been sliding for quite a while. (This year his .304 on-base percentage is especially bad.)
Rodriguez's backup undoubtedly will be the Yankees' Jorge Posada, who's been fantastic this season and leads all AL backstops with a .345 batting average and a .969 OPS. Pudge could be on his way to his 14th All-Star Game, which is fine if the fans want him. But if he goes, that sure screws up some other things.
Most Deserving Player Who Could Be Left Out That catching Catch-22 means that the Indians' Victor Martinez may be left back in Cleveland when this is all done. Martinez, a switch-hitter, has had a very good first half, though he's currently a distant fifth in the fan voting. His 13 homers are tied for the league lead among catchers, his 57 RBIs lead them, and his .919 OPS is third.
His only chance at going to San Francisco may be Posada overtaking Rodriguez in the fan voting, which is still a possibility (Rodriguez led by about 155,000 as of Tuesday). Or someone stuffing a million votes with his name on them in the virtual ballot box.
The Strangest Use of a Vote Given the fact that nearly 2 million votes have been cast his way, Alex Rodriguez evidently is not the hated Yankee he's made out to be. That number, the most for any player in either league, isn't all that strange, though. I don't even mind the 1.4 million for Ortiz at first base. Hey, fans clearly want to see Big Papi on the team somewhere, and that's where his name has appeared on the ballot. (There's no DH because the game is being played in an NL city.)
The strangest vote total? Detroit's Sean Casey, though he's more of a first baseman than Ortiz is, is third in fan voting with nearly half a million. Yet he was the only qualifier at this power position without a home run until he went deep on Tuesday against the Nationals. The Mayor must have a big family with a speedy DSL connection.
Some Lone Reps Every team has to have at least one player in the All-Star Game, a quaint and some say antiquated rule that I just happen to like. The miserable White Sox are going to be represented by either DH Jim Thome or closer Bobby Jenks. I can't see both of them making it.
The same is true for many of the other dreadful teams in the league; the Royals (either John Buck, another very good catcher and, by far, K.C.'s best semi-everyday player, or pitcher Gil Meche will make it), the Orioles (second baseman Brian Roberts or, more likely, pitcher Jeremy Guthrie), the Rangers (first baseman Mark Teixeira or maybe reliever Akinori Otsuka) and the Devil Rays (first baseman Carlos Pena and second basemen B.J. Upton both have the best OPS at their position in the league, though both could miss out if pitcher James Shields is picked). I see only one Blue Jays player in San Francisco, third baseman Troy Glaus. Pitcher Dan Haren may be the only Oakland rep, but he's got a good shot at starting the game.
I'd Like to See (but probably won't) A lack of a single position will likely cost Oakland's Nick Swisher a spot in this game, though he definitely belongs. He has split time almost evenly between the outfield and first base, two places loaded with talent. Players will be hard-pressed to find a spot for him in either place. So it'll be up to Leyland to try to squeeze him in.
Swisher can play; he had a .913 OPS, with 10 homers and 15 doubles, before Tuesday's games. Plus, he's a hoot to have around and, heaven knows, his versatility would help Leyland out.
The Angels' Casey Kotchman deserves to be in, too, after his sickness-filled '06 and his comeback of the first half, but because DHs and first basemen are lumped together (something that hurts Swisher and Pena, too), there's little chance he'll make it.
Coasting on His Reputation Carlos Beltran. The Mets' centerfielder has more than 1.3 million votes, more than anyone in the NL, and he's not among the 10 best outfielders out there this season. In fact he's not even close. His .786 OPS is 22nd. He's tied for 15th in homers (with nine).
Fine, the fans want to see him. But the man better sign autographs from now until 2009 in return for all those votes.
Most Deserving Player Who Could Be Left Out If Beltran goes in -- and he will -- someone like the Rockies' Brad Hawpe will be stiffed. OK, so Hawpe probably doesn't go anyway, unless players start to pay attention (not likely) or La Russa suddenly finds an empty spot. It's important to note, though, that Hawpe's .935 OPS ranks fourth among NL outfielders.
My other choice here is at first base, where some combination of Milwaukee's Prince Fielder, St. Louis' Albert Pujols and Chicago's Derrek Lee will land in the game. That leaves San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez, Colorado's Todd Helton and Philly's Ryan Howard at home. And some other good first basemen, too. They're all deserving. And they're all probably out of luck.
The Strangest Use of a Vote I have to give Dodgers' fans credit. They've punched out enough votes for second baseman Jeff Kent, first baseman Nomar Garciaparra and shortstop Rafael Furcal to put all three of them in the top three vote-getters at their respective positions -- and none should be anywhere close to the top three. Not by the numbers, anyway. The only reason L.A. fans haven't pumped up a third baseman is that they don't have one.
Some Lone Reps I see only one Washington player in San Francisco, either Dmitri Young (he's in that logjam at first base, though) or closer Chad Cordero. Edgar Renteria deserves to represent Atlanta -- he leads all NL shortstops with a .911 OPS -- but with all the talented middle infielders, especially at short, I could see Renteria getting stiffed and John Smoltz as the only Braves player on the team.
If Lee's not picked by the players or La Russa -- there's a decent chance of that, with Fielder and Pujols at first -- then Alfonso Soriano (currently third in fan voting) will be the only Cub. It's either lefty Tom Gorzelanny or righty Ian Snell for the Pirates. Probably either Roy Oswalt or, possibly, Brad Lidge for Houston. I can see the Reds' Ken Griffey Jr. being voted in by the fans as the Reds' only rep, and slugging outfielder Adam Dunn left off.
I'd Like to See (but probably won't) Injuries have stolen away his at-bats, but when he's healthy and swinging -- and he is, for the most part, right now -- Atlanta's Chipper Jones is still one of the smartest, best-hitting third basemen in the NL. Though he doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify, his OPS (1.027) is the best in the league at third base, better than either Miguel Cabrera of the Marlins or David Wright of the Mets, the two third basemen most likely to go. Jones hasn't been to an All-Star Game since 2001, before his ill-fated trip into left field. If he had stayed healthy this year he would've been a contender again.