The Royals never have had more than five players on an All-Star Game roster. They have had three starters once.
Only one Royal, George Brett, has been voted into the starting lineup more than once, and the team hasn’t had a player voted in as a starter since 2000. The Montreal Expos, who have not existed for more than a decade, have had two starters voted in since then.
All of which makes Sunday’s unveiling of the All-Star Game starting lineups the most eagerly anticipated in Royals history.
When it’s over, Royals fans should take a bow.
If you haven’t heard, Royals fans have done quite well in All-Star voting this year. In Monday’s final voting update, five Royals had gained enough votes to earn American League starting positions for the game on July 14 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
In the first year of exclusively online voting — no paper ballots — Royals fans helped create a ballot bonanza for baseball. More than 500 million ballots have been cast, crushing the record of 391 million set in 2012.
“Back in the old days, when they did voting at the stadium, there was a lot of stuffing the ballot box,” Royals and American League manager Ned Yost said. “This is just a different form of it. I don’t think any fan base has responded the way ours have.”
After the starting lineups for the American and National League teams are announced at 6:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPN, the pitchers and reserves for both squads — selected by players and the All-Star managers — will be unveiled at 6 p.m. Monday on ESPN.
Soon after the Royals-Twins series finale on Sunday, five Kansas City players will learn whether they maintained their leads based on the final voting totals: catcher Salvador Perez, shortstop Alcides Escobar, second baseman Omar Infante and outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon.
Perez was the second-leading vote-getter, with nearly 11.7 million ballots. Escobar, Cain and third baseman Mike Moustakas, even though he was not leading at his position, have more than 10 million votes.
Voting totals have slowed for some Royals and accelerated for other American League players over the last few weeks. Infante’s edge over the Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve was down to less than 300,000 out of about 15 million combined ballots.
But if the final updated vote totals hold up, the Royals would join the Cincinnati Reds’ “Big Red Machine” of 1976 to have five fan-elected starters. That team, led by Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose, is considered one of the greatest in baseball history.
These Royals, coming off a World Series appearance and leading the American League Central, could write All-Star voting history — or at least their fans could — and that has created some hard feelings around baseball.
“We need to take this more serious when it comes to picking guys for the All-Star Game,” Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz recently told Boston radio station WEEI. “Let’s pick the best of the best. All-Star, that’s the name of it. You don’t pick a guy hitting .230 for the All-Star Game.”
That was a shot at Infante, who entered Saturday’s game with a .233 average, although he’s been one of the Royals’ top hitters recently with a .313 average in the previous 18 games.
Earlier in the month, the Toronto Blue Jays’ José Bautista criticized the process.
“I understand loyalty from Royals fans and wanting to have their players there,” Bautista told Yahoo Sports Radio in June. “But as a baseball fan, not just a Royals fan, you have to want the best players starting the All-Star Game. I don’t know what’s going on, if there’s a 14-year-old computer whiz creating all these fake accounts, who knows?”
Many stories criticizing the All-Star voting published online that allowed comments followed the same pattern. Fans of other teams agreed with the outcry. Royals fans who chimed in supported their players and didn’t disagree that the process was flawed.
“I’ve voted the max,” said Lawrence Pfeffer, a Royals fan who lives in the St. Louis suburb of University City. “I also like bringing down the broken system that is All-Star Game voting.”
Calls for reforming the voting process were voiced over the last month. Should baseball fans have the unequivocal say in determining the starting lineups?
The system is one of the dynamics that created the conditions for the blue wave. A confluence of energized fan base, a voting process that went online only for the first time, and a roll-up-the-sleeves response to the blowback is how a team in baseball’s second-smallest media market drummed up so much support that All-Star Game voting will set a record this year.
The support is visible on both the radio and TV sides of game broadcasts from Kauffman Stadium.
Royals games were Kansas City’s top-rated programs in prime time, and ratings are up more than 120 percent over last year, when the team set a viewing record.
Beaten down by bad teams though most of a 29-year playoff drought, Royals fans are invigorated — a baseball-best 11,549 average attendance increase over last year — and empowered.
With the opportunity to vote 35 times from a single web address, many fans of the Royals and individual players told The Star and other Kansas City media outlets they voted the maximum amount of times.
The baseball-driven would borrow email addresses of family and friends to vote again.
In Kansas City, fans weren’t just voting 35 times for their favorite players, but were casting as many as 70, 105, 140 ballots and more. Those habits, and not voting irregularities, explain the Royals’ totals baseball officials have said.
Reading criticism of their voting habits only seemed to inspire more voting from Royals fans. That’s how the Royals went from five starters in the first balloting, with Moustakas leading but not Infante, to seven in the second (first baseman Eric Hosmer and designated hitter Kendrys Morales) to eight (Infante) in the third.
The criticism rose to a crescendo, and in the next update, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera had overtaken Hosmer. A week later, the Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson passed Moustakas and the Mariners’ Nelson Cruz passed Morales.
No matter Sunday’s outcome, the Royals and their fans dominated, and some might say tainted, the process. But there are no apologies from the Royals’ clubhouse.
“I want to say to Royals fans, thank you for the votes,” Escobar said. “Every day they give support to us.”
This time, by the millions.