Last night, on the night that balloting for the All-Star Game came to a close, Fenway Park essentially remained vacant. No votes were cast. The battered Red Sox happily accepted a day of rest to treat their wounds, rightfully proud owners of the third-best record in baseball.
And so, the question persists: why are we failing to celebrate this Red Sox team the way we have many of those in the past when, in many ways, the Sox actually deserve more recognition?
Barring a surprise, there will be no positional players from the Red Sox elected to start in the All-Star Game on July 13 in Anaheim, a surprising development given the recent history of the franchise. In recent years, the Red Sox have been one of the teams to dominate the All-Star balloting. That has been a reflection on the Boston fan base as much as the roster, if only because the Red Sox are routinely among the league leaders in attendance and because All-Star Game voting is frequently a competition of ballot-box stuffing.
But not this year, not now. Any Sox representatives on this year’s team will be at least partially appointed by league officials prior to the official announcement of All-Star rosters on Sunday. That is revealing on a number of levels. First, it suggests that the Sox are a true T-E-A-M, an assembly of fuses and cookie-cutter pieces with no real stars. (Somewhere, Theo Epstein is smiling.) Second, it further suggests waning interest among a fan base that has been as rabid as any in sports over the last 40-plus years – the last seven or eight in particular.
Think about it. The Red Sox rank fourth in the American League in attendance amid a record streak of consecutive sellouts, yet they won’t have a starting positional player in the All-Star Game. How can this be? Balloting is arranged so that every team in the league has 23 home dates to vote. Fans also could vote online (25 times per e-mail address) and in 1,700 Lowe’s stores scattered about the country. The most dominating teams with the most dominating fan bases are typically represented the most, explaining why the Red Sox had a major league-leading six All-Stars a year ago.
Last year, both Jason Bay and Dustin Pedroia were elected by fans to start. The Sox had four others players appointed by Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon – Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, Jonathan Papelbon and Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis and Pedroia certainly are worthy of serious consideration again this year – Pedroia’s injury came near the end of the voting period – and third baseman Adrian Beltre, too, has the numbers to be in the discussion. And yet, for whatever reason, Youkilis, Pedroia, Beltre and even David Ortiz (behind Hideki Matsui, among others, at designated hitter) have received a mere fraction of the votes as the vote leader at his respective position.
As such, any Sox representatives (Jon Lester? Clay Buchholz?) will be at least partially at the discretion of New York Yankees skipper Joe Girardi, meaning the Sox are likely to have a fewer number of appointees, too.
Given the never-ending nature of All-Star discussion – who should go and who shouldn’t? – let’s make something very clear. This really isn’t a question about whether the Sox are getting jobbed. Those kinds of All-Star debates are most often trite and pointless. Someone is always going to get snubbed. The bigger question is whether Red Sox fans care about this team as much as they have others, particularly at a time when we should be celebrating the Sox’ perseverance and resiliency.
Really, what does this all say about those of us who watch this team from the outside, who express our love for the team concept but seem relatively uninterested in this edition? Whether or not you believe long-term in Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, Bill Hall, and Scott Atchison, the Sox have been getting the job done despite trying circumstances. We should love this team. And yet, Manny Ramirez came back as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers and received as passionate a response as anyone who set foot in Fenway Park this year, which cannot help but make you wonder if maybe we need the superstars more than we think we do.
Say what you will, but Manny got us all to react more than this team has, which is pretty sad when you consider how deserving of praise the 2010 Red Sox really are.
Of course, there are numerous factors that could affect balloting. The Twins moved into a new stadium this year. The Angels are hosting the game. The Bruins played into mid-May and the Celtics into mid-June. Still, Boston is supposed to be a baseball Mecca where fans have great knowledge of the game and spiritedly support their team, perceived realities that are now being called into question.
If Sox fans don’t believe they have any true All-Stars on this team – and if they have been voting for opposing players as a result – then that is a credit to their objectivity and understanding. But if that is the reason the Sox have been poorly represented in the balloting, then how does one explain why television ratings are down?
In 2002, for the first time, Major League Baseball introduced the All-Star Final Vote, an election of a final player in each league to be conducted exclusively online. The winner was to be decided exclusively by fans. Sox players won the election in both 2002 (Johnny Damon) and 2003 (Jason Varitek), and a Sox player won it again in 2007 (Hideki Okajima). No other team has had as many as three winners in the Final Vote, which will be conducted again next week.
Maybe a Red Sox player will be on the final ballot, maybe he won’t.
But given what the response has been thus far, does he even have a sniff at winning?
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