— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) July 9, 2014
To show our appreciation, we had Larry Hoff throw out today's ceremonial first pitch. pic.twitter.com/YZqXmSNDdJ— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) July 9, 2014
I have to confess to being somewhat in two minds about this.There's no doubt that Paul Goldschmidt absolutely and fully deserves his position as the starting first-baseman. He's the best in the league, and it was great to see him being recognized as such. But does the very laudable end justify the means? It's one thing to imagine Goldschmidt elected due to a nationwide (or even global) appreciation of his skills, charm and good looks. But when you realize a single, highly-focused household was responsible for virtually 10% of his support, it does kinda take some of the sheen off the achievement.
Does it set a dangerous precedent, with the team itself not just tacitly nodding at stuffing ballot boxes, but actively encouraging it, and rewarding those who do so? Because it's very much a double-edged sword, that works just as well to promote players who shouldn't be selected as, in this case, one who should be there on merit. And, as ever, it's a tool which will only benefit the bigger markets like Los Angeles and New York if they choose to leverage it too. It's an arms race which we can't hope to win. On a personal level, it pretty much killed my interest. I mean, what's the point of filling out one ballot or even a hundred, with people like the Hoffs turning it into an industrial process?
Of course, you could argue it's an entirely harmless bit of fun. To which, I reply with one of of Bud Selig's worst ideas: "This time, it counts." Now that home-field advantage for the World Series is at stake - hardly a trifle, as we experienced ourselves in 2001 - getting the best team on the field for your league actually matters. Rather than, say, one selected by by a combination of rampant homerism with behavior that borders on the obsessive-compulsive. As an aside, it doesn't help that voting opens in April, with teams having to submit player names for ballots earlier than that. Unexpected stars like A.J. Pollock, or Gerardo Parra in 2011, don't have a chance as a result.
Admittedly, ballot-box stuffing is positively an American tradition, especially in some districts of Chicago, and other All-Star Game voting has been vulnerable to rigging efforts. In baseball, this goes back more than half a century. Aided by pre-printed ballots in the local papers, the 1957 balloting created a starting line-up of seven Cincinnati players and Stan Musial; the campaign there also allegedly including bars reportedly refusing to serve alcohol to customers until they filled out a ballot. There's an idea to file away for next year, Mr. Hall. Commissioner Ford Frick replaced Gus Bell and Wally Post, and voting was entirely taken away from fans for more than a decade.
In the modern, technologically-savvy age, the problem is multiplied (though the Hoffs' eschewed any of that new-fangled online voting, doing it the old-fashioned way, involving a slightly-pointed object and a hanging chad). We saw the potential issues earlier this year, with the Twitter-based Face of MLB contest, which saw Eric Sogard (who?) of the A's make his way through the bracket, defeating All-Stars Anthony Rizzo, Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista, plus St. Buster of Posey, before going down by the narrowest of margins, to David Wright in the final, a result seen as suspect by some in the Bay Area. Goldie was eliminated in the second round.
In a world where "fan engagement" is seen as the Holy Grail of marketing, this kind of thing is seen as laudable: witness the promotion of the Hoffs and their quarter-million ballots. But it's also a cautionary tale with regard to the future of fan voting. I'm not sure what the solution might be. Perhaps reward those who actually attend games: print a 16-character code on the back of tickets, which must be entered in order to vote online? Otherwise, there's a risk that the whole things will implode, and become little more than a joke, ripe for exploitation by 4chan or the darker corners of Reddit. Never mind Kung Fu Panda, maybe your starting 3B for the 2015 NL All-Stars will be Pedobear...