The idea that every team must be represented at the All-Star Game died a quick death with the selection of Bobby Abreu as the starting NL right fielder over the weekend.
What does one have to do with the other? Well, first as a Phils fan, I can assure you that Abreu is about as popular with the local yokels as OJ Simpson at a Brown family reunion. Abreu is arguably the best player the team has had since Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt, and yet until last season Abreu couldn't buy a cheesesteak in this town. Using the highly technical jersey surveythat is how available and how prevalent a jersey for a given player isAbreu's ranked somewhere behind Ryan Howard's Clearwater Thrashers uni. Last year, when Abreu was clearly the best player on the team, his jersey was less prevalent than at least a half dozen other teammates, many of which were far inferior (Rollins, Thome, Wagner, Millwood, Lieberthal, Bell, Burrell, etc.).
The animus of Phils' faithless is a fickle thing. One could point out that Abreu is a minority and Philly is a notorious bigoted townask Curt Flood. But one would then be hard pressed to explain the fans' devotion to African-Americans Donovan McNabb and Dr. J and their frostiness toward Ohio-American Mike Schmidt. Former player and current African-American Mo Cheeks was handed the Sixers coaching job as basically a sop to the fans. And of course, there's the undying hatred toward inferior (to Abreu) right fielder J.D. Drew, who is whiter than Edgar Winter. Phils fans hate showiness, ostentation. They love players who they perceive as trying and caring. Schmidt and Abreu though superior offensive and defensive players are perceived as lackadaisicalthey lollygag around the bases, they lollygag on defense, they lollygag getting to first on bases on balls. The fans love Pete Rose, Jim Thome, Larry Bowa (as a player), Lenny Dykstrasupposed hard working, blue-collar types. Of course, it doesn't hurt that certain stereotypes for certain minorities align well with these negative perceptions that the fans have.
Anyway, who did vote for Abreu then? I'm convinced that if you broke down his vote geographically, he would have the smallest hometown bias. I think that the fans in general picked Abreu.
But if Cubs fans, Dodger fans, and M's fans voted for Abreu, why would they pick a player from another locality rather than the local outfield denizens? I think that fantasy baseball has evened the playing field. Of course, the fan vote is still far from perfectwitness the Beltran and Rolen selections this year. But it's leveled the playing field to a certain degree.
But the selection of Abreu points out that fans have more knowledge, at least superficially, on the better players in each league today than they have had historically. Which begs the question, how can Mike Sweeney, though a fine player, be appearing in his fifth All-Star, as many as Frank Thomas and one more than Jeff Bagwell, two arguably Hall-of-Fame caliber first basemen? Of course, Mike Sweeney has the dubious honor of being the best Kansas City Royal, or at least the easiest to hide on an All-Star roster, for five years running.
Do Royals fans really need the annual Mo Rivera pinch-hit appearance by Sweeney at the All-Star Game? Aren't Royal fans if they are likely to watch baseball this late into the season given the dismal state it is in in Kansas City, likely to look for guys on their fantasy team from outside of the Royals organization rather than the odd Ken Harvey sighting.
So why require team reps anymore? At least the Royals have a decent player to represent their moribund franchise on an annual basis. Other clubs have been required to pony up sub-par relievers (think Mike Williams in 2003) or a stray outfielder in order to fill out a roster. Oftentimes these reps are not the best player from the inferior team, just the most convenient.
The end result is that the quality is not just watered down to expand the teams represented, but they are more watered down than necessary. I won't even go into the lunacy of trying to represent 16 teams in the NL to only 14 in the AL when the game now "counts".
It's time for baseball to do away with the anachronistic mandatory representative rule. MLB should put the best product on the field. That will appeal to baseball fans in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay more than a seventh-inning appearance by Lance Carter.