There is only one stoplight in Rose-mount, Minn., a clean, bucolic village of 1,300 located just south of Minneapolis-St. Paul that truly might be said to be The Sweepstakes Capital of the U.S. Each year the sale of postage stamps increases, and in 1969 over $286,000 worth were sold. In a normal year more than 100 million pieces of mail move into Rosemount as advertising agencies and sampling outfits use the community—conveniently located close by the main airport of the demographically central Twin Cities—to count and record responses in different campaigns and contests. In most ways this is a normal year for Rosemount, with some of its citizens merrily counting away for RCA, Winston cigarettes and the Frito Bandito. In one particular respect, however, the year is not at all usual for Rosemount or its pipe-smoking postmaster, Pat Bohnert. Baseball is moving in on the town, and when baseball moves in on anything, look out!
Within the next two weeks Rosemount, its post office, assorted computers and men and women are going to receive and count votes for both the American and National League All-Star teams that are to play in Cincinnati's new Riverfront Stadium on July 14. This is the first time in 13 seasons that the All-Star teams will be picked by the fans, and already the process is acquiring the status of legend in the conservative little world of major league baseball.
In some quarters this attempt to return the All-Star Game to the people by distributing 28 million ballots at a cost of $2½ million is referred to as "Bowie's boo-boo," a deprecating reference to the wisdom of Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's idea of bringing fan voting back after it seemingly died a controversial death back in 1957. Other quarters refer to the entire thing as "Bowie's baby" and believe that it is a fine idea that will enhance Kuhn's reputation. One way or the other, the commissioner's stature will rise or fall from whatever position it is in now.
Angry words about the project already have been heard from Atlanta, where Rico Carty, currently hitting .428, may not be elected to the team because his name is not one of the 96 listed on the ballot at all despite a lifetime batting average of .311 and a smile as wide as the Savannah. In Detroit Governor Bill Mil-liken has added his name to those thousands of outraged Tiger fans who have discovered that Al Kaline, currently hitting .331 and a perennial All-Star selectee, is not among the 18 American League outfielders considered prominent enough to be placed on the ballot.
California's Alex Johnson is hitting .360 and is one of the major reasons why the refreshing Angels are contenders in the American League West. Yet he is not only not listed but two weekends ago, when voting forms were supposed to be passed out in Anaheim Stadium so that the thousands in attendance could write Johnson's name in and thus get him off to a running start, there were no ballots. They had not arrived and the team soon was to go on the road, far away from its most ardent supporters. By the end of last week 14 of the top 20 hitters in the American and National Leagues were not listed either. While voters can write in the names of their favorites, it is as true of baseball as politics that write-in candidates usually have little chance.
The ballots themselves are typical computer cards. On them are printed the names of six candidates for each position in each league, and a voter punches out a square next to his choice. (The pitchers and reserves are selected by the managers.) Among the missing names are Billy Grabarkewitz, presently hitting .359 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dick Dietz, batting .345 for the San Francisco Giants, Nate Colbert and Clarence Gaston, who are helping to lift the San Diego Padres to respectability by 1) hitting 17 homers and 2) batting .340. Vada Pinson of the Indians (.347) and Felipe Alou of Oakland (.338) are not on the ballot, but Ken Harrelson who broke his ankle in mid-March, is there, and so are many others who are either injured or hitting below .230
Most people believe that the ballots either should have listed 12 candidates for each position or none at all and that they should have been printed closer to the voting time. The Gillette Company, long a friend of major league baseball, agreed to pay for the printing, counting and placing of the ballots in 150 major and minor league ball parks and 80,000 retail outlets in the U.S. and Canada. During spring training this year the commissioner's office gave lists of possible candidates to each of the major league player representatives as well as to the managers. The six highest vote-getters for each position on the returned ballots became the candidates on the ballots distributed to the public. One problem was that four managers and eight player representatives did not vote. Another that might have been foreseen was that rookies were automatically discounted, just as were players who had been traded to the other league.
Only blind luck saved the commissioner's office further embarrassment. Tony Perez was hitting and homering so well at Cincinnati (.375, 20 HRs, 57 RBIs) that the outcry over the absence of two other third basemen, Grabarkewitz and Philadelphia's Don Money, was never as loud as it could have been. Still, to help Money, who was batting .356, the Girard Bank, with assets of over $2 billion, placed a color ad in The Philadelphia Bulletin, saying, "GIRARD BANK DIGS MONEY.... But Don Money's name isn't on the ballot for the National League All-Star team.... There's a place to write it in. Let's do it. All of us."
Nobody thought that there would be much writing in on the ballots, which began circulating around June 1. Of the first batches to go through the computers, though, 40% to 50% had write-ins and thus were spat out and will have to be counted by hand. Estimates on how many of the 28 million printed ballots will be returned to Rosemount range from eight million to 14 million and could go higher. That is a powerful lot of hand counting.
The very idea of an All-Star Game being played in Cincinnati with teams selected by the fans is about as appetizing to some as a breakfast of martinis, dumplings and knockwurst would be to a gourmet. It was Cincinnati's voting in 1957, in fact, that brought about the demise of elected All-Star teams. Bars, radio stations, the Red management and the Cincinnati Times-Star went out and campaigned zealously to get as many Red players as possible onto the team. (One fan admitted, "I voted 800 times myself.") In the week prior to the game the Reds, then in second place in the National League, had eight starters voted into positions. Left off the starting team were such players as Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst.
The reason why the Cincinnatians succeeded so easily was that voter interest had been waning. In 1955 five players had pulled over two million votes each, but by the next year the highest vote-getter was Mickey Mantle, with slightly over 200,000 votes. The way was open for '57 and the apparent election of George Crowe at first base, Johnny Temple at second, Don Hoak at third, Roy McMillan at shortstop, Frank Robinson in left field, Gus Bell in center, Wally Post in right and Ed Bailey as catcher. On the Friday before the results were to be announced Ford Frick, then the Commissioner of Baseball, declared that Bell, Post and Crowe were disqualified as starters. As the last votes trickled in from around the country Musial did surpass Crowe's total, but Mays—hitting .308 at the time—was 170,000 votes behind Bell, and Aaron was 110,000 short of Post.
People laughed and screamed, and some in Cincinnati even threatened lawsuits. In announcing his decision Frick said, "I took this step in an effort to be entirely fair to all fans and with no reflection on the sincerity or honesty of the Cincinnati poll. A restudy of the ballots had to be made on the percentage of ballots cast in all cities.
"The rules as set up provide that the eight men receiving the largest number of ballots would constitute the starting lineup and remain in the All-Star Game for three innings. The National League, while recognizing this rule, feels that the overbalance of Cincinnati ballots has resulted in the selection of a team which would not be typical of the league.... Aaron and Mays had no chance in view of this late rush from Cincinnati."
Both Gillette and Commissioner Kuhn insist that this year the ballots cannot be maneuvered into positions favoring one candidate over another. Gillette is using a sales force of 150 men to check and see that the ballots are prominently displayed and that people are not picking them up by the fistful to vote for a certain player. With the 28 million ballots spread across the U.S., Canada and overseas with servicemen, it is conceivable that the policing could go well and that the ballot boxes will be stuffed only occasionally. But there also could be some big swings. If baseball is lucky the largest one will be to the deserving Rico Carty and not to the entire starting lineup of, say, the Milwaukee Brewers or the new, young Phillies.
Among ballplayers, Carty is generally considered to be the Latin-American version of an Oscar Meyer weiner. He puts on tremendous exhibitions of friendship toward fans, throws balls into the stands and sometimes does little dances on the outfield grass. In the trade he is said to have a pair of hands like the Venus de Milo, but he can hit. Early this season Carty went on a 31-game batting streak, the second longest in modern National League history, and two weeks ago, in Atlanta Stadium, he slugged three homers in one game. Carty has played 50 games this year and has hit safely in 45 of them. Should he not make the All-Star team, this would make it the second time in two years that he would have been seriously overlooked. After spending more than 160 days in a hospital bed with tuberculosis in 1968, Carty came back in 1969 to hit .342 as Atlanta won the Western Division championship, but he did not win the National League's Comeback of the Year award. That went to Tommie Agee of the New York Mets.
When Carty was 13 he worked in a sugercane field in the Dominican Republic. Following work one day, he ran to try to get one of the baseball gloves that had been sent by an American firm. "They were so pretty," he recalls. "I never see a glove before and I grab a left-handed one, but my Uncle Louis told me to put it down because I would never make it as a player. I ran home and cried."
In 1958 Carty was one of 18 selected for the Pan-American Games from a try-out of 500. He was so good and so obliging at Chicago during play that he signed more professional contracts than a Chicago policeman could shake a stick at—four with American clubs, four with Dominican clubs. It was finally decided that he should be the property of the Braves and receive a bonus of $2,000. Carty maintains that he struck out 45 times in a row at a minor league camp, but he quickly overcame that, and in his first major league season he hit .330.
Last week Henry Aaron asked his 13-year-old son to take a ballot to his room and select his own All-Star team. Young Hank punched out the names of three National League outfielders and then came and asked his dad, "Now where do I write in Rico's name?"
Henry, when asked what he thought of the idea of returning the vote to the fans, said, "I know the commissioner has tried hard to get the fans involved in the All-Star Game, but eventually I think he will have to give it back to the players. I also think that Rico's chances of making the starting team are very slim, because All-Star voting is often a sentimental thing. People want to see the players who have been in it before. In places like San Francisco, for instance, they are going to write in their own favorites, and newspapers in various towns will write about and bring attention to those local players who have not been put on the ballot. It is a shame that it is Rico Carty's dilemma this year, and it will be someone else's dilemma this time next year."
Through the years the All-Star Game has been the vehicle for some of baseball's most legendary accomplishments. In 1934, at the Polo Grounds in New York, Carl Hubbell of the Giants struck out in order Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin, each a Hall of Famer. Ted Williams helped win a game for the American League in 1946 by hitting a homer off Rip Sewell's famous "eephus ball." Four years later he broke his elbow in the All-Star Game at Comiskey Park while making a catch and did not know it was broken until the following day. In 1956 Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams all hit homers. In 1967 Tony Perez, who probably will draw more votes than any other player on the ballot this year, ended the longest All-Star Game (15 innings) with a home run, and last July, in Washington, Spiro Agnew, working in long relief of President Nixon, threw out the first ball and hit nobody at all.
There is a fine tradition behind the All-Star Game and sometimes a wacky one. If those computers in Rosemount can somehow keep their digestions straight the Grand Old Game may yet escape the comic fate of Leo Durocher's sacrifice bunt in the 1938 game at Crosley Field. Jimmie Foxx's throw went into the outfield and Joe DiMaggio's return went over the catcher's head as Durocher scored. Quite a bit grew out of that little thing. It remains to be seen what will happen in Cincinnati this time.