07/05/09 2:00 PM ET
A-Rod, Manny notable by absence
Fans and players got voting right after PED controversies
A record 223.5 million votes were cast for the 2009 All-Star Game selections. Without pandering to the audience, this process had both quantity and quality. And it was notable not only for which players the fans elected, but which players the fans did NOT elect.
In the latter category, the most prominent names would be Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez. Both were linked this year to performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez was forced to admit his usage of PEDs during Spring Training after a Sports Illustrated story first reported that usage. Ramirez just returned from a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy.
The voters are to be congratulated for not turning a blind eye to these offenses. Certainly, habit alone would have led to voting for both players. Manny has been in a Major League-leading 11 straight All-Star Games, while A-Rod has been in the last nine straight.
Both had voting support that could be categorized as considerable, which is not at all surprising given the fact both play for teams -- the Yankees and the Dodgers -- with large, built-in fan bases. But neither came close to winning this election. Both the fans and the players voted in other directions. By omitting this pair, the fans and the players have essentially taken a stand against the use of PEDs.
In the case of Rodriguez, his circumstances made his omission increasingly plausible. He missed considerable time due to hip surgery and, when he returned, he struggled atypically until late June.
Ramirez had put up impressive numbers prior to his May 7 suspension. His popularity among Dodgers fans had been unquestioned after he led the team into the postseason last year. And, in fact, in the early All-Star balloting he ranked third, which would have been good enough for a starting outfield position on the National League squad.
But you can point to the moment when this part of the election turned. It came on May 28, when Dodgers manager Joe Torre was asked if he thought Manny deserved to be on the All-Star team. Torre flatly and unequivocally said "No."
This was not a punitive kind of "No." Torre acknowledged Manny's popularity, but the manager also indicated that it would be difficult to justify an All-Star appearance by someone who had missed 50 games of the season's first half. Between Torre's honest objectivity on this issue and his standing and credibility throughout the game, these comments could have had considerable effect. It was likely no coincidence at all that, after Torre made these remarks and they were widely reported, Ramirez's standing in the election dropped.
The All-Star Game has historically been baseball's showcase for individual achievement, wrapped in a package of competition between the two leagues. Both baseball fans and baseball players spared the Midsummer Classic a distraction and a detraction by electing not to elect Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez.
If they prove capable, both players are eligible to help take their clubs to the World Series. But the individual acclamation that an All-Star start or even an All-Star appearance connotes did not need to be handed to them this year. And it wasn't.
An argument could be made that All-Star voting is now more objective, more balanced and simply better than it used to be, since the advent of online voting. When the election was based on ballpark voting, the process was obviously tilted toward big-market teams with large attendance figures.
Now, with a much broader and, it appears, more objective voting base, the way has been cleared for small-market stars to get the support their performance deserves. In this context, there would be, for instance, shortstop Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins, a richly deserving choice, but someone who could not possibly win on the strength of his team's attendance.
Among the position players elected, the fans' voting and the players' voting were in agreement in 10 of 16 cases. That again can be read as a tribute to the fairness and objectivity of the current process.
In fact, as you examine the fans' All-Star selections, you find only one position in 16 where a serious argument might ensue. That would be the case of Rangers' outfielder Josh Hamilton. Injuries have limited Hamilton to 35 games this year. He is currently on a Minor League rehab assignment. And when he has played, his numbers have been far less-imposing than statistics he compiled last season.
It may be that Hamilton's personal story, with his comeback from drug addiction, is so compelling that people pull for him in any case. Or it could be that his prodigious display of power in last year's Home Run Derby has made him a perennial All-Star selection in the minds of many. Either way, he prevailed over some outfielders who are having much better seasons.
But that's one selection of 16. Elsewhere, there can always be arguments about All-Star voting, but the quality of the fans' judgment at the other 15 positions is beyond dispute. Baseball's annual exercise in global democracy works.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.