A look at our choice of the stars that light up baseball.
Fans having the power to select starters for the All-Star Game is an idea that has been around since the game’s invention. All 18 starters for the first and second All-Star games (1933 and 1934) were selected by fans. In the following decades, the All-Star selection process shifted a few times between fans and managers. Since the 1970 All-Star game, baseball fans have selected 8 of the 9 starters for every team (starting pitchers are not selected by fans).
As a fan, having the opportunity to vote for All-Star starters is a fun opportunity. You get to vote for the players that you enjoy watching most. You also get to play a part in deciding baseball history. Just as we look back at a player’s number of All-Star appearances to understand a player’s impact on baseball at their time, future generations will likely look at the number of All-Star Game appearances for today’s players.
The fan voting put in place by the MLB allows for a lot of options as a fan. You can vote for whoever you wish. You could vote for your favorite player or a guy that only has 30 at-bats on the year. Regardless of whatever strategy someone takes for their individual ballots, the total of all votes usually ends up selecting players regarded as the best for their position in that season. In other words, fan voting usually selects worthy players for the All-Star Game. This, however, has not always been the case.
I said that 1970 began the current string of decades where fans vote for the All-Star Game. That year, the voting process was shifting from 12 straight years of managers voting for the All-Star Game, a move that was taken in response to the 1957 All-Star Game voting.
The method of fans voting for the All-Star Game takes the same approach as a crowd of concert-goers singing along to a song. I can sing along at the top of my lungs and be completely out-of-tune but, as long as there are enough people, the group as a whole will sound good. Individual voting decisions are essentially unimportant because the entire group of voters should give more votes to worthy players. In 1957, this logic completely failed.
The 1957 National League All-Star Team
The Cincinnati Reds had a solid start to the season and entered the All-Star break with a 44-36 record. The team had been in first place in the National League for all of June and a few days in July. They only lost their lead in the last week before the All-Star Game. They were a good team, but the bigger story around their team may well have been the All-Star voting. Cincinnati fans had gone all out in voting for their team. Their enthusiasm in the voting led to 8 Reds players being selected as starters for the All-Star game. The voting results looked like this:
C: Ed Bailey (Cincinnati Reds)
1B: Stan Musial (St. Louis Cardinals)
2B: Johnny Temple (Cincinnati Reds)
3B: Don Hoak (Cincinnati Reds)
SS: Roy McMillan (Cincinnati Reds)
OF: Frank Robinson (Cincinnati Reds)
OF: Gus Bell (Cincinnati Reds)
OF: Wally Post (Cincinnati Reds)
As you can imagine, not all of these Reds players were deserving of an All-Star Game spot.
The voting upset the league Commisioner, Ford Frick, and he responded with two moves. First, he removed Gus Bell and Wally Post from the starting lineup. Bell would enter later in the game while Post would not play at all. In their places, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays received starts. They would go on to finish the year as the top 2 hitters in the National League. Their spot on the team was highly deserved and, in a more common vote, they likely would have topped the list of starters. Second, Frick handed the voting over to the managers for the next 12 years.
The 1957 All-Star voting displays a lot of the same issues we still consider in today’s voting. The most glaring of these issues is deciding whether to vote for the players we think have been the best for the first half of the season or to vote for the players we most want to see in the All-Star Game. Is starting the All-Star Game an honor for the players that have been the best over the first half of the season? Or, is it a recognition of the players that we have had the most fun watching over the first half of the year? The answer could vary slightly for everyone that fills out a ballot.
For me, this year’s voting for the National League outfield could be particularly interesting. The first round of voting still has two weeks left and things could change a lot and the case for certain players will likely improve or decline. Let’s imagine, though, that we were voting based on current stats. I think Mookie Betts deserves a spot as a starter and I think he will get it. After that, it gets a little more open-ended. Joc Pederson has a pretty strong case with the highest OPS. His numbers against lefthanders are pretty poor but his numbers against righthanders more than make up for those struggles. For the last spot, there are a bunch of players you could choose. Kyle Schwarber, Mike Yastrzemski, and (if you like defense) Jurickson Profar or Brandon Nimmo all have possible cases.
The thing is none of them are seen as superstars throughout baseball and, when the running is close, popularity among fans often becomes a deciding factor.
Will Stars Reign Supreme?
While these players on the bubble of being All-Star starters are not quite seen as elite level, a couple players not too far below them have already solidified themselves as faces of the sport.
We will start with Ronald Acuña Jr., who I think has a better shot as of now.
Ronald Acuña Jr. has had a successful year so far. In fact, I believe his OPS and averages are indicative of an All-Star starter, but he has missed nearly half of the Braves’ games this year. As I write this, Acuña Jr. has only played 35 of the team’s 64 games. By the time the All-Star break arrives, he will likely have played in 2/3 of the team’s games. Assuming he continues to play well and makes it through the first round of voting, he likely becomes the frontrunner for that last spot.
The other player in this conversation is Juan Soto. Juan Soto has struggled so far in the season. To give credit where it is do, Soto has retained his artistic qualities from previous seasons. He still knows how to draw a walk. Unfortunately, Soto has more walks than hits in 282 plate appearances. His power is still very impressive. He just needs to get some more singles and doubles. Soto is still regarded as one of the best hitters in baseball and could easily raise his stats to meet those of other players on the bubble over the next few weeks. A quick look at his Baseball Savant page seems to show he is suffering due to bad luck. He has been making contact quite often. That contact just isn’t falling for hits. With his walk numbers, he should have an on-base percentage among the top 10 players in the league. He is currently 30th.
Being a star player grants certain advantages during a fan voting process. Soto and Acuña have name recognition with casual fans that many of the other outfielders do not. This can make them easy default picks when people cannot decide who to vote for. Being a star also means your successes are often publicized more than the success of other players. Most importantly, a lot of people would rather see Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr. start the All-Star Game. We know what they are capable of even if it has not been fully displayed this year.
If I had to submit a final vote today, I would not vote for Ronald Acuña Jr. or Juan Soto. That being said, I think it is completely okay to vote for them solely because you want to see them in the All-Star Game. Is voting for 8 players from your team excessive? Maybe, but the fact that you want to vote for 8 players from your team should be a cause for celebration as well.
The All-Star Game voting has always been a mix of rewarding the best players in baseball and selecting players we want to see. It doesn’t fit neatly in either box. Sometimes popularity wins and sometimes it loses to better stats. Yet, whatever the results of this year’s voting may be, the game will be enjoyable as it always is. Players from both leagues will put on a show for the fans and baseball will celebrate one of its greatest annual events.
Here is a reminder of how fun last year’s All-Star Game was: