Sam Mellinger

Despite worry, All-Star Game voting is validated

Four Kansas City Royals players have been voted by fans to start the 2015 All-Star Game on July 14 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. They are (from left); catcher Salvador Perez; left fielder Alex Gordon; shortstop Alcides Escobar; and center fielder Lorenzo Cain. The four gathered for a photo Sunday at Kauffman Stadium after the Royals’ 3-2 win over the Minnesota Twins.
Four Kansas City Royals players have been voted by fans to start the 2015 All-Star Game on July 14 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. They are (from left); catcher Salvador Perez; left fielder Alex Gordon; shortstop Alcides Escobar; and center fielder Lorenzo Cain. The four gathered for a photo Sunday at Kauffman Stadium after the Royals’ 3-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

The process worked.

Somehow, the process worked. Somehow, after a month of worry and complaints about Royals fans turning All-Star voting into their own cheap toy, the process worked. Somehow, a deeply flawed, poorly constructed, awkward system turned out nine deserving All-Stars for the American League.

Baseball should change the way this is done. Just as a starting point, it should bring back in-stadium voting, and lower the limit for each email address. But if the sport does alter the way the All-Star teams are chosen, it won’t be under a cloud of embarrassment from, say, Omar Infante being voted in on a wave of support from what is surely the loudest per capita fan base in baseball.

Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez will start the All-Star Game for the American League. Also voted in: Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, Josh Donaldson, Mike Trout and Nelson Cruz.

Cabrera is injured and will need to be replaced, and we can have an intelligent debate about a spot or two — Jose Iglesias is having a better year than Escobar, for instance — but these are good picks. This is not the disaster people worried about. Infante will watch the game on TV, just like the 700 or so other big-leaguers not good enough to be an All-Star.

Baseball can claim victory here, a good starting lineup selected with — by far — the biggest voter “turnout” in history and the biggest voting discussion in at least 58 years. For a sport in need of buzz and creating younger fans, this is a terrific outcome.

Royals manager Ned Yost has known the results for a few days, but with the announcement on Sunday said he “would’ve loved” to have more than four starters. He means this in the way that any manager wants his players to be rewarded, but actually, this is the best possible result for the Royals.

Infante’s selection would’ve verified the entire process as a joke. That he was leading Altuve late in the balloting became a talking point for everyone making the (easy) argument for voting overhaul.

Eric Hosmer may or may not have ended a slump with a walk-off double on Sunday, but his numbers have dipped well below other first basemen like Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols. Mike Moustakas is having a tremendous year, particularly in the context of his career, but Josh Donaldson is an MVP candidate. Kendrys Morales is having a nice year but should never have been leading Cruz.

Gordon is a good hitter, a four-time Gold Glove winner, and that catch in Chicago boosted his national profile. Cain leads all AL outfielders in hitting, made a star turn last October and is a regular on highlight shows.

Perez is now a three-time All-Star and widely regarded as the league’s best catcher, even as Stephen Voigt is hitting better.

Escobar is the easiest to argue against, but no AL shortstop has great numbers, and Sunday is one more example of a game the Royals could’ve lost without his defense.

The point is that by not seeing the balloting turned into some strange combination of ballot stuffing, fan passion and old-time Chicago mob elections, the focus will be more about the Royals’ success and less about vote manipulation.

The incredible turnout from Royals fans can be more about hometown support, and less about hijacking a system that, because of marketing, helps determine homefield advantage in the World Series.

So in that way, this is the best result the Royals could have had. This can be a celebration now, instead of some convoluted flash point about whether the voting results should stand.

The Royals have four All-Star starters, with a few more likely to be named when the rest of the roster is announced on Monday. That’s more than the franchise has ever had, even in the days of George Brett and Frank White and Willie Wilson. This is a proud day for the franchise, and one that now comes without baggage.

We can all guess about how many of those votes were cast by a relatively small number of people using multiple email addresses, and how many came from Royals fans vs. other fans who appreciate their players. But that’s all guesswork, and besides, the answer would not change a fundamental point that’s being broadcast from coast to coast.

This team is loved by its fans as much as any in professional sports. Part of that is 29 years of pent-up passion spilling out all at once, part of it is a homegrown core that fans have gotten to know over the years, and part of it is an aggressive and energetic way that makes obvious they enjoy playing and playing with each other.

This is a team that, at one point, even their hyper-positive manager knew was spooked by big crowds. This is a franchise that, at one point, was a little sheepish about All-Star selections because everyone knew it was undeserved.

All of that is so different now. They have four justified All-Stars, with Wade Davis and likely a teammate or two adding to the list on Monday.

An American League pennant that some viewed as a fluke is being backed up with a 4-1/2 game lead in the division. Attendance is up nearly 50 percent, and a lock to break the franchise’s all-time record. Local TV ratings are the highest in baseball.

People under 30 cannot remember a more fun time to be a Royals fan. Everyone else has only vague memories that match the fuzzy standard definition broadcasts of the time — Bo Jackson’s folk hero years, George Brett’s pursuit of .400 or the constant winners of the 1970s and 1980s.

That point has been plenty clear here locally for a while. That story is still building and clarifying around the country, and national perception has always been a little more important to Kansas City than it probably should.

The All-Star Game is baseball’s single biggest platform, other than the World Series. That the story of their rise can now be told and consumed without the clutter of a flawed voting system should be welcomed by the Royals and their fans.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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