Let the voting begin

All-Star voting is one of my favorite baseball traditions. The Major League Baseball balloting system has always had a special place in my heart.

Case in point: In lieu of a drink coaster, every morning when I sit down at my desk, I park my coffee cup on a classic 2001 Official Ballot.

The complexion of the midsummer classic has changed dramatically since that time, however. The 2001 All-Star Game was essentially the last truly enjoyable game of the old-school exhibition format. Thanks to the 11-inning stalemate of 2002, MLB commissioner Bud Selig decidedly scrapped the exhibition format that dated back to 1933 for the modern competitive format that exists today, in which the outcome decides home-field advantage in the World Series.

So too has changed the method I use to determine my All-Star votes. Growing up through the exhibition era, I would simply vote for the players having the best individual seasons. I rarely took into account past performance.

Case in point: In 2001, I voted for Rich Aurilia at shortstop for the National League. Aurilia was having a career year – he went on to hit 37 home runs to couple with Barry Bonds in breaking the all-time record for home runs by two teammates in the same season.

Aurilia did earn the starting nod that year, in what would be the only All-Star appearance of his career. Interestingly, he became only the second player in 19 years to start at shortstop for the NL who wasn’t Ozzie Smith or Barry Larkin. (The other was Walt Weiss with the Braves in 1998.) However, despite his 200-hit pace and prolific power numbers, Aurilia wouldn’t get my vote this year; not with the likes of Troy Tulowitzki in the field.

No longer do I weigh players’ performances based merely on the months of April, May, and June. Current performance is important of course. But now, formulating a well-balanced team is the goal. To do so, I equally take into account a player’s experience, past performance, and defensive prowess. Tulowitzki’s bat is comparable to the 2001 performance of Aurilia, but Tulo brings a breadth of experience and elite defense.

One other standard I’ve integrated into my annual balloting: I only select one player per team – at least initially. As the voting deadline draws near, I’ll be inclined to include as many as two players from the same team if they stand out head-and-shoulders above the other players at their respective positions. But parity in the game matters. One of the ways fans can insist on parity from top to bottom throughout MLB is to recognize team diversity come All-Star time. If you’re voting, let’s say, for eight Giants in the NL, you’re probably a homer, and/or you’re saying you’re OK with the Yankees’ strategy in recent decades of hording all the elite talent in baseball.

I’m pretty much OK with the homer element. However, at the end of the day, it is this school of thought that prevents a handful of teams from ever truly gaining the opportunity to compete for a World Championship which, thanks to the current system, goes hand-in-hand with how the larger baseball world approaches voting parity for the All-Star Game. In this area, the bottom line is: The better the variety of uniforms represented in the All-Star Game, the better it is in the larger sense for the game. So, at least at the outset of the voting season, I have a strict one-player-per-team rule.

Also note: When it comes to voting for outfielders, I try to stay true in choosing players at each respective outfield position. It’s an imperative to choose a true center fielder. There is nothing worse than seeing an outfielder who isn’t considered a good enough center fielder to play the position in the regular season who ends up representing his league as the elite player at the position. I’m a little less stringent on choices for corner outfielders, but not much.

Case in point: Justin Upton had never played a big-league game as a left fielder until the seventh inning of the 2009 All-Star Game. With the game tied 3-3 in the eighth, Upton took a bad route on a deep fly ball that turned into a triple for Curtis Granderson, who soon crossed the plate with the game-winning run.

Now that Upton is playing left field for the Braves, I am completely comfortable with voting for him as a right fielder, as he has plenty of previous experience at the position. But God help the NL if fans elect three current left fielders to play the outfield, which is entirely possible considering the hot starts of Upton, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Braun.

Also, I’m a National League guy. That means I tend to play the American League voting fairly loosey-goosey. For instance, the AL would probably be better served with the experience of A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate. Given a choice on a hypothetical NL ballot between he or Carlos Santana, I’d give the nod to Pierzynski. However, for the AL, I have no problem voting for the upstart Santana. As a fan, I’m rooting for the NL, so that’s the side I’m going to favor. I’m not saying I’d ever go as far as to sabotage the AL with my votes. But the thought has crossed my mind.

Which brings me to my last point: The practice of voting for an All-Star DH needs to be scrapped. If you must, throw the best DHs on the All-Star Game Final Vote, and let David Ortiz and David Robertson duke it out. But having an extra category for the AL throws the whole ballot out of whack. In protest, this season I will be writing in a vote for Edgar Martinez as DH. And I’m already looking ahead to next year’s odds-on favorite – Dave Kingman.

So let the games begin and the balloting fun commence. Listed below is my preliminary ballot. The official Fungo Lingo All-Star picks will be decided upon and previewed throughout June.

Preliminary All-Star votes

National League:

 C  – Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

1B – Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers

2B – Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

3B – Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants

SS – Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

OF – Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

OF – Shin-Soo Choo, Cincinnati Reds

OF – Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves

American League:

 C  – Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

1B – Mark Trumbo, Angels of Anaheim

2B – Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

3B – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

SS – Jed Lowrie, Oakland A’s

OF – Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals

OF – Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles

OF – Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers

DH – Edgar Martinez, Seattle Mariners

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