Here’s what you need to know about the run-up to the 2015 All-Star Game next month in Cincinnati: Omar Infante of the Kansas City Royals is hitting .204, has the worst on-base-plus slugging percentage of any American League second baseman, and could eventually be benched in favor of a prospect. Yet currently, he would be the starting second baseman in the midsummer classic.
This isn’t an isolated incident, some sort of fluke. The Royals are in first place in the American League Central and are coming off a franchise-altering, pennant-winning season. Now, they appear intent on taking over the All-Star Game. They haven’t had a starter voted in by the fans since 2000. This year, they could have – get this — eight.
The latest AL voting updates were released Monday afternoon, and if the balloting ended now, the starting lineup would include Eric Hosmer at first base, Infante at second, Alcides Escobar at shortstop, Mike Moustakas at third, Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain in the outfield, Salvador Perez at catcher and Kendrys Morales at designated hitter.
What an outcast Mike Trout must feel like. The Angels outfielder is the only non-Royal who would be a starter as of now.
How is this happening? Consider that Monday, just after noon Eastern time, the Royals sent the following from their Twitter account (renamed, temporarily, #VoteRoyals):
— #VoteRoyals (@Royals) June 15, 2015
Remember those days of sitting in a ballpark and taking a pen to poke through five or 10 All-Star ballots, stuffing the box for your favorite players? Those are gone. This is the first year Major League Baseball went to exclusively online voting. And the Royals, more than any other team, have pounced.
“Other teams were very good with engaging fans to get out the vote on paper ballots,” said Toby Cook, a Royals vice president and spokesman. “We weren’t particularly good at it. And frankly, we weren’t used to having more than one player either in contention or in the game. We could just work and work and work to promote the paper ballot, and it wouldn’t move the needle.
“The online comes along, and the crazy, wonderful fan base in Kansas City jumped on it. People kind of said, ‘I remember the Royals. That was a fun thing last year.’ It just really took off for us. We focused on saying, ‘This is really easy. You don’t have to come out to the ballpark. Go online and vote – and then vote again and vote again and vote again.”
Which, apparently, is what Kansas City fans have done. MLB’s system allows for one person – in this case, one email address – to vote a maximum of 35 times. And teams are openly encouraging their fans to vote not once – but 35 times. The league’s data showed that more than 80 percent of ballots cast last year were online, and some 16 million paper ballots went unused.
So here we are, essentially preparing for a Royals-vs.-the-National League event on July 14, which at best will be odd and at worst will be unjust in a game that will determine home field advantage for the World Series.
Infante’s case is the most egregious. Indeed, his .496 OPS isn’t just the worst among AL second basemen who have enough plate appearances to qualify to be among the league leaders, but it’s the AL’s worst OPS – period. Yet since last week, Royals fans have pushed Infante into a 308,000-vote lead over Jose Altuve of the Astros.
But go further and take the case of Hosmer, one of the breakout stars from last year’s postseason run. He is having a fine enough season, hitting .298 with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .842 with seven homers and 36 RBI. Second in the voting? Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, who’s hitting a cool .341 with a 1.036 OPS and has 14 homers and 45 RBIs. He leads the AL in on-base percentage (.444), slugging percentage (.592) and OPS. And yet he trails Hosmer by 476,147 votes.
So the Tigers, naturally, are countering with a #VoteMiggy campaign, and Detroit lefty David Price – a likely all-star himself – complained on Twitter last week that the process was “kind of a joke.”
Which, of course, it is. Perez, who has the most votes of any player (more than 7.2 million), leads the way as a viable candidate at catcher. But the next three vote-getters are also Royals: Cain at more than 6.6 million, Moustakas at more than 6.5 million (and more than 1.6 million ahead of MVP candidate Josh Donaldson of Toronto) and Escobar at 6.3 million. Shoot, Alex Rios – who has played all of 18 games because of injury – is fourth among AL outfielders, more than 700,000 votes ahead of Baltimore’s Adam Jones.
This is not to pick apart each Royal. But there’s a trickle-down here, too. If seven or eight Royals are indeed voted into the games as starters – voting concludes July 2 – could that affect some Royals who actually deserve to get into the game. Kansas City Manager Ned Yost will run the AL squad (no, no, not because of fan voting, but because he won the pennant last year), and surely he thinks setup man Wade Davis and his 0.33 ERA are worthy of inclusion. But given that each AL team must have at least one representative on the roster – which is exactly how many the Royals had each summer from 2004-12 – could Yost actually construct a roster with Davis on it and still fill spots from every team?
“I think that from a Royals standpoint, we’re not taking anything for granted over the next few weeks,” Cook said. “We’re just voting and voting and voting. We’re not taking our foot off the pedal in terms of asking our fans to get out and vote.”
The irony here: In 1957, fans of the Cincinnati Reds supported their home team so vociferously that seven Reds were voted into the game. The culprit, then, was the Cincinnati Enquirer, which published ballots that had already been filled out, easing the process for Reds fans. An investigation ordered by Commissioner Ford Frick showed that more than half the ballots cast had come from Cincinnati, and he replaced two Reds with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Fans weren’t allowed to vote again until 1969.
Now, with the game back in Cincinnati, here come the Royals, spurred by their fans, ready to take over the midsummer classic.