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Election season almost over in Major League Baseball

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The campaigns are over. The votes are in. All that remains is to declare the winners.

While the big elections are next year, one involving sports has made big news. Welcome to the modern day selection process of Major League Baseball’s All-Star teams.

Baseball fans play the major role in determining the rosters for the 85th All-Star Game at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark on July 12. Between May 1 and July 2, fans could cast votes to determine the 8 starters for both leagues. Those starters will be announced Sunday night.

While the game itself is clearly the most meaningful and fiercely contested of the four major sports, it has lost some of its former luster. With the glut of pitchers throwing between 95-100 mph on the respective pitching staffs, many of the games have become snooze-fests.

Not since 1998 has any team reached double digits in runs and that was in Denver’s Coors Field where a ball in flight can mingle with hot air balloons. Two of the past three games have been shutouts and four of the past five have seen the loser blanked or score only once.

Like the other sports at All-Star time, the skills competition is the highlight of the three-day extravaganza. Baseball’s Home Run Derby is now the marquee event.

As Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine said in the old Nike ad, “Chicks dig the long ball.” So do most of the guys.

The All-Star Game needs some kind of a jolt to move it back into the sport’s public consciousness. Perhaps a controversy or two?

As we have learned over the past two decades, few things are more controversial than elections. Thanks to the Kansas City Royals and their fans, complaints of ballot box stuffing have more people talking about the All-Star Game than usual.

A concerted get-out-the-vote effort on behalf of the 8 Royals starters has gendered hand-wringing among commentators and fans of other teams. The Royals are a collection of players that play well together, not a team of All-Stars.

The last vote totals prior to Sunday’s announcement show five Royals leading at their position. Two others are in second place within striking distance.

One of those in second place, third baseman Mike Moustakas, has All-Star-caliber numbers with a .308 batting average, but he may come up short.  Second baseman Omar Infante was leading the voting with a .231 batting average, while Houston star Jose Altuve trailed Infante despite a .300 average.

An exception is one of the leaders in the outfield, Madison County, Florida’s Lorenzo Cain. While other Royals’ players may not make the grade, Cain’s accomplishments show he belongs in the All-Star Game. For those unaware of his life story, it is worth reading.

This is not the first time teams and communities have sought to influence the vote. In 1957, Cincinnati Reds’ fans launched a massive campaign that voted in 7 of their 8 starters.

Commissioner Ford Frick, by executive order, removed two Reds outfielders and replaced them with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Fan voting was banned after that year and would not return until 1970.

Through the years, almost all teams try to get their fans to vote for the local players. Fans would take multiple paper ballots and vote for their favorite players.

Today, it is much easier to vote. Paper ballots were replaced with online or mobile telephone balloting. Fans can vote (just like in 20th century Chicago) 35 times! The Kansas City “stuffing” campaign is merely taking advantage of the ease in which technology permits such an effort.

We should not be surprised if the late focus on the Royals spurred other clubs to hustle for their players. For example, look for Altuve to earn the start over Infante.

If five or six Royals start the All-Star Game, so be it. Royals fans played by the rules as silly as those rules are. If that happens, expect a rules change.

At this rate, players like Altuve and the Houston Astros could next year hire Karl Rove to get out Altuve’s vote. The Royals could counter by engaging Rush Limbaugh, one of their former employees. Maybe David Axelrod could help some of the Rays’ players.

That is silly, but so is this All-Star voting process. One person, one vote doesn’t seem too ridiculous, does it?

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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