As usual, the baseball public nearly scored a clean sweep in the just-concluded All-Star balloting. Out of a possible 16 positions up for grabs, the fans picked the wrong man for at least 11 spots, probably 12.
With the exception of Rickey Henderson and Robin Yount in the American League and Dale Murphy in the National League, every other starting player in Tuesday's All-Star Game will not--repeat, will not--be the man who's having the best season at his position in 1982.
Some All-Star winners--such as Fred Lynn and Tim Raines--probably are outright embarrassed to be selected during seasons they'd rather keep a family secret.
Others, such as the three Philadelphia starters--Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt and Manny Trillo--all honestly admit that they don't have the best '82 stats at their spots.
"I don't want to get something just because I'm 41 years old and have 3,800 hits," said Rose last week, somewhat chagrined at his .291 average (through Friday's games).
"I haven't done a thing all year," said Schmidt, who has only 10 homers. Said Trillo: "Steve Sax and Johnny Ray both have better numbers than I do."
Plenty of other big names ought to feel queasy about their elections.
The game's No. 6 vote-getter, Rod Carew, who always gets several times his due, will start at first base for the AL ahead of a vast number of more qualified gentlemen; first base is a run-production position, pure and simple. With 20 RBI in 273 at bats, Carew ranks last among all the first basemen in baseball; in fact, he has less than half as many RBI as half of his counterparts. As a first baseman, he's a fraud. Give us Cecil Cooper, Kent Hrbek or Eddie Murray.
At third, George Brett certainly can't think he's contributed as much to the Royals this year as Toby Harrah (.328) has for Cleveland. Proud Reggie Jackson must know that his .249 average and 43 RBI don't stack up against Gorman Thomas' or Ben Oglivie's numbers, not to mention red-hot Dave Winfield. Even the eminent Carlton Fisk probably realizes that Lance Parrish has had a better half-season in Detroit than he has in Chicago.
And that's just a list of the American League miscarriages of justice.
Philly's Bo Diaz (52 RBI), in Schmidt's words, "should be the league MVP if they had the voting today." But glamor-boy Gary Carter, who's had an excellent year, too, will be the NL catcher. And shortstop Dave Concepcion hasn't pulled the Reds up the way Ozzie Smith has helped invigorate St. Louis.
Of course, the height of this year's madness was the fact that, until the final days, New York's Bucky Dent, who had lost his job and was hitting .138, was leading Yount, hitting .330, for the shortstop spot.
Dent said he'd renounce the position if he won it. He finished as the seventh leading vote-getter in the entire American League. But what can you expect? Rick Cerone hasn't played in months and he outpolled 13 healthy AL catchers.
So, once again, we see the utter inanity of giving the ballot to fans, who prove year after year that they can't keep abreast of their sport.
Let's abolish the . . .
Everything that's been written in this column so far is, in a certain sense, true. Yet, in a larger perspective, it's all wrong, all backwards.
The present system of All-Star voting isn't a bad joke or an institutionalized injustice. It's an excellent system that's worked very well again this season and doesn't need so much as a wit of revamping.
Okay, all together, everybody scream.
And then, listen to a reason. Or, at least, a different line of reasoning.
The All-Star Game is, above all, a midsummer showcase for baseball. It's a parade, a circus, an exhibition aimed at what remains of the star-struck 12-year-old in all fans. The All-Star Game is only tangentially what it pretends to be--a midseason reward for the players in the midst of having the best partial seasons.
In short, the All-Star Game is for the proven stars, not the half-season hot shots. It's a night dedicated to getting as many future Hall of Famers on the field as possible.
And, in a richly talented era that has as many mortal lock Hall of Famers (plus a slew of young "probables") as any period in history, the current balloting system does a first-rate job of highlighting the game's two dozen or so personalities with historic weight.
It's supposed to be a popularity contest, not a clinical examination of statistics.
Anybody who wants to see Al Oliver, Ray Knight, Toby Harrah, Kent Hrbek and Lance Parrish starting the All-Star Game--as was hypothesized above--instead of Rose, Schmidt, Brett, Carew and Fisk, must have several baseball screws loose. Yes, and who wants to see Winfield starting in the outfield when even George Steinbrenner knows "Winfield is no Reggie Jackson?"
Quoting Bowie Kuhn in baseball circles is hardly an assurance of having your viewpoint applauded. However, on the All-Star question, the commissioner is armed with the better arguments. After all, the thing was one of his better ideas.
"One gets used to the criticism," said Kuhn last week, with his best patrician yawn. "Yes, indeed, I like our system as much now as when it began. I don't mind the controversy at all. It's exactly the sort of debate that's good for a sport."
"Love the cheap thrills?" asked a wise guy.
"Yes, what's wrong with that?" said the amused commish. "People criticize this system, but they can't even remember what the previous system was. Well, nobody will forget this one.
"There are some miscarriages," added Kuhn. "There's a little drag in recognition. Some players get the votes a year or two later than they should, and, perhaps, keep getting votes a year or two after they should, but that's hardly a problem."
Because they have their greatest marquee value then? "Exactly," said Kuhn. " . . . and there are cases like the one with Bucky Dent this year. But, when it all shook out, Yount had won by 600,000.
"I'll never be the one to say that Pete Rose shouldn't start the All-Star Game . . . When they started the game in '33, a fading Ruth was in the starting lineup. He wasn't what he had been, but how could you have an All-Star Game without him? Well, he won the game (with a home run). The All-Star Game is for the Ruths and Roses."
In the 21st century, when we flip back through the Baseball Encyclopedia to recall this week's All-Star Game, so full of names bronzed by time, we'll think what a high old time it must have been.
And, fair or not, hardly anyone will shed a tear for Toby Harrah.