For the 12th consecutive year, MLB fans have been given the keys to the All-Star Game, not only voting for the starters for each league, but also getting the opportunity to vote for the last player left on the playground who gets to represent his city in the Midsummer Classic.
Since 2002, five players from each league have been put into a gimmicky "last player in" vote to make the All-Star Game. When it started, the Final Vote was actually a pretty great idea to get fans more involved and create a few days of buzz leading up to the game. Now, MLB needs to come up with something new or reboot what they've created.
The Final Vote has become a bit of a joke.
Yes, the Final Vote does have a positive result, as the process gets another player on the All-Star team for each league, which is an incredible honor for two men…or three or four or six men. Hell, why doesn't MLB just let them all in this season? It seems like it's getting closer to that every year anyway.
In 2012, the Final Vote became so ridiculous that six of the 10 players in the Final Vote process ended up on the All-Star teams, either by vote or selection as a replacement for an injured player.
Last season, MLB allowed fans to vote online or by text, then opened up a free-for-all-style vote via Twitter hashtag with a few hours left in the process, essentially so MLB could boast that 50 million votes were cast during the contest.
None of the votes really mattered last year, especially not in the National League, where David Freese won the vote, but four of the five players still made the team. Let's not forget that Freese won only after Chipper Jones—in his last season in the majors—was pulled from the vote to replace an injured Matt Kemp while the voting process was still in full swing.
Where did all of Chipper's votes go? Oh, right, it's all a marketing ploy; the votes probably don't really even matter and the entire process feels horribly rigged even though it's sadly not.
This season's Final Vote is as ridiculous as any year that's come before it. For the fifth time, MLB has put two players from the same team on the Final Five ballot, essentially splitting the vote between a fanbase to all but guarantee that neither player makes the team.
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has publicly thrown his weight behind outfield phenom Yasiel Puig for the Final Vote, which could help the rookie make a push to win the vote and make the game. Of course, that may not mean much, as the previous four times two players from the same team have made it to the Final Vote, none of them have won a spot in the game.
For anyone who questions the notion that splitting the vote hurts a team's chances of getting one player on the All-Star team, remember that Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko both lost to Hideki Matsui in the 2004 Final Vote. The following year, Matsui and Derek Jeter lost to Scott Podsednik. Repeat…Derek Jeter lost a popularity vote to Scott Podsednik—while Phillies pitchers Billy Wagner and Brett Myers lost to Roy Oswalt.
Last season, Michael Bourn and Jones lost to Freese, which, of course, meant nothing, as all three players ended up in the game anyway.
Will Puig and Gonzalez end up in this year's game, no matter who wins the Final Vote?
The American League has already seen two injury replacements this season, with Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox and Jesse Crain of the White Sox being replaced by Bartolo Colon of the A's and Glen Perkins of the Twins, before the Final Five vote began.
If there was any indication of the overall ridiculousness of the MLB All-Star voting process, it has to be that 35 players are on the American League All-Star roster and just one is from the first-place Oakland A's, and he was an injury replacement.
Rather than include a member of the A's in the Final Vote process—like, for example, closer Grant Balfour, who has 22 saves in 22 opportunities and better numbers in almost every category than Mariano Rivera—MLB chose five middle relief pitchers for the American League vote.
Talk about your gimmicky nonsense.
What, exactly, is the Final Vote if not an opportunity to right an All-Star wrong by adding a player who was snubbed by the public and team votes?
How is choosing a middle reliever for a team with two already named to the roster (granted, Crain is injured) creating any buzz? I'll credit my friend and ardent baseball fan Mike McKeeman for sending an unsolicited email about this that included the line, "I've been more excited about local tax collector elections."
I wonder what his local tax collector's WHIP is this year.
To be fair, until this year's ho-hum American League choices, if the purpose of the Final Vote is to continue the All-Star buzz after the rosters are announced, then certainly MLB has succeeded in doing that year after year.
Counting hashtags as votes, however, so a news release can say more than 50,000 people "voted" for the final participants in the All-Star Game seems unnecessarily desperate.
(Note: Coming up with arbitrary and random rules and changing them every year does give fans more reason to talk about the vote and people like me, frankly, reason to write about how ridiculous it has become. That helps baseball too. You reading this helps baseball. We're all part of the gambit.)
There's more to this than just looking at how many hashtags were used for a couple of days in July. It doesn't make sense to have a contest in which the winner gets the incredible reward of making the All-Star Game, only to award the losers of the contest the same prize too.
In 2012, six of the 10 Final Vote participants made the trip to the All-Star Game, including one who was removed before the vote was finished. In 2010, the same thing happened, as one of the Final Five was taken off the ballot before the vote was finalized. That year, five of the 10 players in the Final Vote made the All-Star Game.
Since 2002, 40 players who were part of the Final Vote have been voted in or named to the All-Star Game, heading into this season's vote. That's nearly four players per season.
That number doesn't include the other players named to the All-Star Game as injury replacements before, during and after the Final Vote process. The American League Final Vote is all relief pitchers this year, but what if a position player gets hurt? The league will replace him with another player, not from the Final Vote.
This happens almost every year. Since 2002, 18 Final Vote losers have made the All-Star rosters as replacement players.
Since 2010, there have been 241 Major League Baseball All-Stars, 37 more than the number of players initially selected in that span, or more than a dozen additional All-Stars per season.
Since the Final Vote program has been used, MLB has added 74 players to its All-Star rosters, nearly seven additional All-Stars per year. What is the Final Vote really accomplishing, then?
Why don't we get to vote for all those replacements?
Why does MLB arbitrarily decide which years will include pitchers and which years won't, or which "deserving" players from the same teams get on the list the same years?
If each group is truly chosen by each league's manager, why is MLB allowing Jim Leyland to give us a choice of five middle relief guys when he already has plenty of relievers to use during the game?
Why is Bruce Bochy allowed to choose two Dodgers, thereby giving his guy, Hunter Pence, a better chance of beating both of them and making the team?
It's clear that MLB wants to get the fans involved in the process, and the Final Vote has been a fun addition to the All-Star festivities, but it's time to revisit the plan when we get to the point that counting tweets with a hashtag can get a guy into the All-Star Game over a guy who will probably also get into the All-Star Game.
Baseball needs to figure out a way to make the All-Star selection process seem like something special again.
Baseball can't stop players from getting injured, not even the best players who deserve to make the All-Star Game. But MLB could shrink the rosters back down to 30 or 32 players per league (from the current 34), making the honor mean more to those who get selected and limiting the potential for injured players to be included in the initial rosters.
As for the fans? Well, the fans still get to vote for the starters, a tradition that should never change.
If MLB really wants to get the fans more involved in the process, it shouldn't leave it to just letting us vote for which middle reliever makes the American League roster this year. No, MLB should let us vote for which middle reliever takes the mound this year.
Sound crazy? Why not give the fans a chance to manage part of All-Star Game by giving us full control over the roster for one inning. Fans can vote online or use a snazzy Twitter hashtag to decide which pitcher will come into the game in the seventh inning and which batters he will face.
We get to vote on who plays the first inning, so why not an in-game vote to decide who plays the seventh?
Why, because the game counts? Because home-field advantage in the World Series is tethered to which league wins the All-Star Game?
It's been clear for some time there might be more to fix with the All-Star Game than just the Final Vote. Baseball should start somewhere.