SPORTS

Giving the fans a vote

HAL QUINN July 21 1986
SPORTS

Giving the fans a vote

HAL QUINN July 21 1986

Giving the fans a vote

HAL QUINN

Major league baseball’s midseason all-star break is a time for reflection. It is a time for managers and players to ponder what has gone right and wrong, and to assess their chances in the season’s second half. But it is also a time for the fans’ reflections on the first half of the season. Last week, after the tabulation of votes by fans for the 1986 all-star teams, the league announced the starting lineups for the 57th annual game on July 15 in Houston. For many fans and players the voting proved once again that there is some right, but much wrong, with the way the starters are picked: many of the season’s best performers lost out to “brand-name” players for starting positions. Said Toronto Blue Jays executive vice-president Pat Gillick: “Basically, it is a popularity contest. The fans just vote for the household names.”

The result is that many top players either did not make the National and American League teams or had to depend on the managers to name them to the roster after the vote results. As the week began Blue Jays outfielder Jesse Barfield had a .296 batting average and 21 home runs, but he finished ninth among outfielders — and more than 500,000 votes behind secondplace finisher Dave Winfield of the New York Yankees, who was batting .226 with 13 home runs. Although American League manager Dick Howser named him to the team later, Barfield said: “It’s not fair. The players and managers should pick the starters and let the fans pick the backup players.”

Another player not picked for the starting lineup was Montreal Expo Tim Raines. The left fielder claimed a .336 batting average, the National League’s leading on-base percentage, 40 stolen bases and a top-five rating in five other offensive categories. Still, he finished fourth in the ballot-

ing. Said a restrained Raines: “When you put the starting lineup in the hands of the fans, you get a lot of surprises.”

Between the 1930s and 1970, the major leagues alternated between all-star teams picked by fans and by the participants. Then, baseball settled on the current system in 1970.

Worried that pro football was usurping baseball as the U.S. national pastime, then-baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn returned the selection process to the fans in an attempt to spark their interest and involvement. Now, despite the controversy, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth insists that the fans should retain the power to pick. “It is the fans’ game,” said Ueberroth.

The Blue Jays and Montreal Expos suffer from what Ueberroth calls “the Canada factor.” Though the top Toronto and Montreal players are well-known to fans in Canada, in the major all-star voting centres of New

York, Los Angeles and Chicago they are in town for only six to nine games a season. Toronto’s outstanding shortstop, Tony Fernandez, finished more than one million votes behind Cal Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles. While the final votes were being tallied, Fernandez was hitting .306 and Ripken .291. Said Jays manager Jimy Williams: “I think Tony is the best shortstop, and I haven’t heard anybody say any differently.” Later, Howser selected Fernandez

and Blue Jays outfielder Lloyd Moseby to play. But Toronto’s George Bell, who finished 12th in the voting for outfielders despite a stellar season, failed to make the team.

The slights to the Jays were matched by those to the Expos. Shortstop Hubie Brooks, hitting .327 and leading the National League in slugging percentage, finished more than 450,000 votes behind Ozzie Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals, who is having an average season. Said Brooks: “I have never been the type that everybody said was going to be the next Ted Williams or Ty Cobb. But the guys who are billed as ‘the next Williams,’ they go to the game even if they hit .280.” But the Jays and Expos are not alone. In the American League the 1985 batting champion and this season’s batting leader, Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs, lost again to George Brett of the Kansas City Royals. Because of injuries, however,

Boggs was expected to replace Brett.

Because the big leagues are not likely to return the vote to the players and managers, the controversy about starters is destined to continue. As for the overlooked Jays and Expos, Gillick says that the only way their talents will be recognized is through increased exposure on U.S. network television. Added Gillick: “The best way to get that is by qualifying for the World Series.” And that is a feat that has eluded the Jays for the past nine years—and the Expos for the past 17.

BRUCE WALLACE