How long will baseball let the All-Star Game be a joke?

Eric Hosmer currently leads Miguel Cabrera in voting at first base for the All-Star Game.

Eric Hosmer of the Royals currently leads Miguel Cabrera in voting at first base for the 2015 All-Star Game.

Are you ready to watch the Kansas City Royals take on the St. Louis Cardinals in the All-Star Game next month? I hope so. That’s what we’re going to get.

And it’s a joke. But baseball’s All-Star Game has been a joke for a long time. The question is: will MLB do anything to fix it?

The Royals currently have seven players in the top spot on the All-Star ballot and in line to start the Midsummer Classic. The Cardinals have four with two or three more in striking distance. The Royals could have as many as eight starters in the game if Omar Infante is able to overcome Houston’s Jose Altuve at second base. Infante is hitting .209 with exactly zero home runs and three walks this season, Altuve, who won the batting title last season, is hitting .290 and leads the league in stolen bases. He’s clearly the best second sacker in the AL and very popular. He deserves to start in the All-Star Game. But something funny is going on with the ASG balloting. And not “funny ha-ha.”

No one knows for sure if Royals’ fans are stuffing the digital ballot box by using fake email accounts or not. Or if KC fans are simply voting more often than any other team. There are two more possibilities: fans in other cities love the Royals so much that they’re voting for their players; or NL fans are stuffing the ballot box to ensure the AL team has an all-KC look for some reason.

But given the fact that the Cardinals have so many players in line to start, I think what we are seeing is a Missouri ballot box stuffing in grand “Show Me” fashion. The good fans of the Cardinals, some of the best in sports, are “crossing lines” and voting for the Royals too. Before long I fully expect every spot in the AL lineup, except maybe one (Mike Trout’s) to be manned by a Royal player.

That’s just stupid. Most of the players in first place right now don’t deserve to start the All-Star Game, in fact many of them don’t deserve to be on the team at all. Eric Hosmer is currently leading Miguel Cabrera at first base. Cabrera is hitting over .330 with 13 home runs, 44 RBIs, a .577 slugging percentage, and a league-leading .440 on-base percentage. Hosmer is hitting .300 but has only seven homers, 36 RBIs, and he has 22 fewer total bases than Miggy. No one thinks Hosmer is a better player, and even if your criteria for the ASG is “stardom”, Cabrera, a two-time MVP and Triple Crown winner, bests his Royal counterpart there too.

Ballot box stuffing is bad for baseball even if the All-Star Game were still an exhibition game with only bragging rights at stake. But several years ago MLB made the dopey decision to determine home field advantage in the World Series by which league won the All-Star Game. Thanks, Bud Selig.

That decision was made after the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a tie when both teams ran out of pitchers. It was a huge public relations disaster for baseball, and Commissioner Selig (in a typical knee jerk reaction) instituted the home field rule. But each league still approaches the game like an exhibition, with managers doing their best to get every player into the game. Starters usually go three innings, which means the lesser players are often determining the outcome. The game is a farce and this year it’ll be even more so when the lineups are dominated by players from KC and St. Louis.

There is precedent for this. In 1957 fans in Cincinnati voted seven of their position players to starting spots. Only Stan Musial (first base) was elected from another team. The commissioner at the time was Ford Frick, a fairly humorless man who ruled that only four of the Reds were deserving and named Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson to the squad in place of the Cincinnati outfield. He also stripped fans of their right to vote for All-Star teams, a rule that stayed in place through 1970. A message had been sent: ballot stuffing was not to be tolerated.

But back then the game was taken far, far more seriously than it is today. The National League, the first to widely integrate and employ Latin players, had a competitive edge and they dominated the Midsummer Classic for two decades starting in the early 1960s. They really wanted to beat the American League. When Pete Rose first became an All-Star, as a young Reds’ second baseman in the mid-1960s, he was told by Mays and Robinson that the NL wanted to “clobber” the AL. Later, he passed that fiery attitude on to young NL All-Stars.

But by the late 1980s there were problems with the game. Managers were bending to criticism and doing everything they could to get every reserve player in the game. The writing was on the wall — it was apparent that eventually a team would run out of pitchers if a game went deep into extra-innings. That “perfect storm” happened in 2002 and fans in Milwaukee booed the commissioner when he called the game a tie that evening. The debacle was broadcast live on TV to the big audience the game draws. You knew something would be done, and that’s why we got “This Time It Counts” — MLB’s marketing ploy to make us feel like the game is ultra-important now since it gives the winning league one extra game in the Fall Classic.

Will MLB do something about the lineups for this year’s game? Will they put the deserving All-Stars in the lineups or will they allow the Royals and Cardinals to play essentially an interleague game? The league office is careful to stress that fans deserve the right to vote in the players they want to see, but if that’s the case, why does the game determine home field in the World Series? Shouldn’t such an important thing be determined by something other than a popularity contest?

Currently a fan can vote up to 35 times (per email address) online. The voting at the ballpark, with the punch-ballots, has been eliminated, which irritates many fans. Most fans are outraged that each “email address” can vote 35 times. But if you think MLB will alter that possibility, you’re fooling yourself. MLB Advanced Media, the money-grubbers who run the MLB digital world, have never met a promotion or sales opportunity they didn’t like. The 35 times rule is set up precisely because it lures fans to the website for a long time. If they happen to buy something while they’re there, all the better. MLBAM cares about one thing only – the bottom line.

The Tigers will have at least one representative at the All-Star Game on July 14, in Cincinnati. Cabrera will be there, but will he start? He should. David Price and Ian Kinsler deserve consideration, and probably Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria too. But if 4-5 undeserving Royals are voted in, that will mean the players like Cabrera who deserve to be starters will gobble up the reserve spots. The rosters will be a joke.

Just like the game itself.

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