The All-Star selection process can be frustrating. Obviously, almost any system will be open to 2nd guessing, however the current system – where starters are chosen based on fan balloting – can be particularly troublesome. For one, balloting begins just a few weeks into the season, so clearly MLB is encouraging fans to vote based on popularity more than performance. For a good example, look no further than the Yankees’ own Mark Teixeira. Teixeira, while certainly an excellent player throughout his career, has been having a pretty terrible season. In fact, it was just a few days ago that his OPS+ finally went above replacement level and for a 1B and #3 hitter, that is a real detriment to the team. Yet Tex has been holding his own in All-Star balloting throughout. He probably won’t win, but that he’s even one of the leaders shows how little fans look to reward just this season’s performance.
The real question though, is should this process change? Should the All-Star game only reward this season’s performance? Personally, I think the current system rewards fan interest and lets fans see who they want and that is the point of an exhibition game like this one. The fans choose the starters they want, then the players and coaches choose the rest and try to make sure no top performer falls though the cracks. Yes, you could end up with a guy like Teixeira getting in and you could end up with some pretty egregious snubs. But baseball is entertainment and allowing fans to vote in who they want to see should provide the greatest entertainment.
So fine, keep the system as is. Inherently, the system does achieve what it sets out to do. However, perhaps you noticed the word “exhibition” in the previous paragraph. Exhibition games don’t count but, as we all know by now, the All-Star Game counts. So it’s only partially an exhibition and that’s where it becomes important that each league actually has the best players on the field. Rather than revamp the selection process, it seems to me like it would make more sense to simply change the game so it does not decide home field advantage in the World Series; instead just let the team with the best record have home field (or any one of a number of possible solutions that base home field on a team’s actual performance). The whole reason why MLB decided that the game should count was to avoid having another tie debacle. But rather than change the incentive – which assumes that there was a tie because the players weren’t really trying – why not just change the rules of the game? Come up with a tie breaker or sudden death or the team with the most hits wins or whatever. Who cares – it’s an exhibition game! It’s supposed to be fun.
The 2nd important impact the All-Star game has is in evaluating a player’s career, for Hall of Fame voting in particular. “So and so was a 9-time All-Star: or “so and so only appeared in 1 All-Star game.” Is being an All-Star though really a great measure of excellence? Only sometimes. But as long as media members keep referring to All-Star appearances, it will remain an important benchmark for players. Really though, as we see year after year, selection to the game is incredibly biased.
What I am getting at here is that since MLB has clearly found a good system in terms of marketing and generating fan interest – the final vote for the last man on the roster is a nice touch – then what needs to change is the way we process the All-Star game. It doesn’t tell us which league deserves home field and it doesn’t tell us who the best players are. It’s simple fun and that’s how it should be treated.