All-Star selection process still needs refining

Dontrelle Willis and Rocco Baldelli aren't All-Stars? Baseball's selection process needs some refining.

Originally Published: July 6, 2003
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

No Dontrelle Willis. No Rocco Baldelli. No Magglio Ordonez or Frank Thomas, even in their own ballpark. No Pedro. No Mariano. No Yankees pitchers of any size, shape or salary.

Dontrelle Willis

These are the missing people (among others) on your 2003 All-Star teams. Well, our favorite commish, Bud Selig, told us we would have a new system for picking these all-stars. He never did promise we would have a perfect system. Now did he?

We have player voting now. We have two more roster spots. We have enough pitchers on these teams now (12 apiece) to play about 26 innings. All that is great.

But perfection? That we haven't got. Here would be just a few examples of that:

  • Is there any way Lance Carter ought to be Tampa Bay's representative on the AL All-Star team over Baldelli? Ehhhh, no. But the system gave Mike Scioscia no choice.

  • Even people who consider themselves Mets fans would no doubt rather watch the effervescent Willis pitch in this All-Star Game over Armando Benitez, a man who will be there for the sole purpose of reminding those Mets fans that their team hasn't been contracted. But Dusty Baker needed a Met. And he needed another relief pitcher. So, as the old saying goes, sometimes Benitez happens.

  • On a similar note, we bet even Mike Williams -- a closer with four blown saves, a 6.29 ERA and a mind-warping 61 baserunners in his first 34 1/3 innings -- was shocked to learn he'd been picked as the Pirates' mandatory all star over Brian Giles or Aramis Ramirez. But the system didn't give Baker much wiggle room there, either.

  • And under the old rules for picking these teams, when politics and managerial loyalty ruled, we can almost guarantee that Ordonez or Thomas -- or both -- would have been playing in this game, in front of their very own fans. But the players and coaching staffs didn't elect them. So there was no opportunity for their manager to step in and fix that -- or anything else.

    The new system allowed Scioscia to pick exactly one position player once all the fan and player votes had been cyphered up. And that position player, as it turned out, had to be the mandatory Tiger (in this case, Dmitri Young). Or else the Tigers' only All-Star might have been some pitcher with a record of 2-28. And that wasn't going to fly here in the This Time It Counts era.

    So even with those extra roster spots this year, and even though player voting was an excellent addition to the selection process, it's clear baseball is going to have to tweak this system down the road to correct some flaws that no one, obviously, foresaw. Here are three we would propose, absolutely free of charge:

    1. DON'T ELECT A BACKUP DH
    To get these rosters right, the managers have to have more flexibility to fill out their teams after the votes are counted. And in the AL, as the rules currently stand, there's more flexibility in the Green Monster than there is in this selection process.

    The fans, players and coaching staffs currently elect 27 of the 32 players. And that doesn't work -- not when the manager has to use four of the last five slots on pitchers but still has to make sure every team has a rep. One solution: Let the fans elect an American League DH, but have the players vote just on the other eight positions. As it turned out, the players wound up electing Carl Everett -- a guy with exactly eight at-bats as a DH all season -- as their DH. And that makes less sense than the Iraqi information minister.

    2. EVERY TEAM DOESN'T NEED AN ALL-STAR
    We've always tried our best to defend this rule. But it's getting tougher. And now that we've seen these rosters unfold before our eyes, we've finally lurched across the line into the camp of folks who think this rule ought to go the way of the Brontosaurus, AstroTurf and the Cleveland Spiders. Enough already. Dump it.

    Face it. A team with 21 wins at the All-Star break doesn't "deserve" an all-star. Teams that don't even draw 20,000 fans a game don't "deserve" an All-Star. No pitchers with ERAs over 6.00 should ever wind up on an all-star team because somebody has to be their team's All-Star. And that's especially true now, when we're actually being told this game is officially "important."

    Heck, Benitez is more likely to make Mets fans turn off the All-Star Game than turn it on. So either trash this rule entirely, except for the home team. Or establish cutoffs: Your team has to rank in the top two-thirds of the league in attendance and be within, say, five games of .500 on Selection Sunday to qualify for its mandatory All-Star.

    3. ESTABLISH A "ROOKIE-STAR" ROSTER SPOT
    There's nothing more fun at an All-Star Game than having the latest, greatest, 22-year-old charismatic phenom of the moment show up and try to digest the fact he's on an All-Star team with Barry Bonds and A-Rod.

    But fans almost never elect a rookie, because so few of them ever appear on the ballot. And the players didn't elect any rookies in their first shot at it, either. So if this is going to be the system, and it locks up almost every All-Star roster spot, we're about to head into an age in which just about no rookie position players will ever play in another All-Star Game -- unless they're fortunate enough to hail from downtown Yokohama.

    So either save a roster spot every year for a rookie. Or have a second election following Selection Sunday, along with the 32nd-man voting, to make sure the Dontrelle Willises and Rocco Baldellis of future generations get to make this trip. Voting for your favorite rookie-star is an idea whose time has come, if we do say so ourselves.

    Now we don't pretend this cures all the problems. It's impossible for every player having a good year to be on every single All-Star team every single year. And it probably would be even if we had 48-man rosters.

    But there's no reason not to strive to make this process as close to perfect as humanly possible. And if there's no Dontrelle Willis in this game, our pal Bud obviously has some work to do in his never-ending quest for meaningful all-star near-perfection.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

    Jayson Stark | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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