The All-Star Game has a long and ignoble history of voting fiascos. Heck, the vote was even taken away from the fans by commissioner Ford Frick in 1957 because of a scandal that resulted in seven Redlegs getting elected to the starting lineup. Reds management had arranged for a local newspaper to pre-print the names of Reds players on the ballots. The only one omitted was first baseman George Crowe, out of deference for Stan Musial, who was playing first for the Cardinals that year. Seven Reds were elected — second baseman Johnny Temple, shortstop Roy McMillan, third baseman Don Hoak, catcher Ed Bailey, and outfielders Frank Robinson, Wally Post and Gus Bell. Commissioner Frick ordered Hank Aaron and Willie Mays into the NL lineup, replacing Bell and Post.
Since fan voting was restored by commissioner Bowie Kuhn in 1970 (Frick had turned it over to managers, players and coaches), there have been numerous results that have caused criticism — and snickers. My favorite happened in 1989, when Mike Schmidt and Jose Canseco were both voted into the starting lineup. Schmidt is a Hall of Famer, and Canseco was coming off his MVP season in 1988, so that doesn’t sound unreasonable, right?. Except that, uh, Schmidt had retired in May. And Canseco had spent the entire season on the disabled list with a wrist injury. (Scmidt suited up, was introduced to the crowd, but didn’t play; Canseco wanted to play but wasn’t allowed to by the A’s.)
Other outrageous selections, which I listed in a 2001 story I did on All-Star balloting: Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar won the American League’s catching job in 1991 desite an injury that kept him out most of the season. In 1985, the Mets’ Darryl Strawberry missed seven weeks with a broken thumb and still won a starting spot. In 1980, the Dodgers’ Davey Lopes was elected NL starter at second base despite a .214 average. One year, Paul Molitor was voted the AL’s second baseman despite not playing a game at the position. Oakland catcher Terry Steinbach was voted AL catcher in 1988 despite a .217 average — and then vindicated voters with a home run and two RBI to win the game’s MVP award.
I bring this up, of course, because Manny Ramirez, currently serving a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy, is in serious All-Star contention. He received 442,763 votes in the first balloting released by MLB earlier this week, placing him fourth in the outfield — just 34,080 behind the Mets’ Carlos Beltran for the third and final starting job. Predictably, fans who apparently are motivated by the good, clean fun of watching commissioner Bud Selig get caught in a public relations nightmare, have started websites urging voters to cast a ballot for Ramirez. I’d say there’s a pretty good likelihood that Ramirez is elected, which would cause Selig his most embarrassing All-Star moment since he had to declare a tie in Milwaukee in 2002.
If that happens, I don’t really think Selig would have any choice but to allow Ramirez to play. Manny would have served his suspension, which ends on July 3 — 11 days before the game in St. Louis. Selig could invoke his “best interest of the game” hammer, but I don’t necessarily think this is an issue on which he wants to challenge the union. (But don’t be surprised if they negotiate a rule in the near future forbidding anyone suspended for drugs from being eligible to play in that year’s All-Star Game).
No, I think Selig’s best hope is that Ramirez will voluntarily pull himself out of the game. There is certainly precedent for this. In 2006, Mo-Ram was the leading vote-getter and opted not to play because of a sore knee — even though he had played in 77 of the Red Sox’s 81 games at the point he was scratched. In 2003, he pulled out of the All-Star Game with a sore hamstring. And in 2000, while with the Indians, Ramirez skipped the game because of a hamstring injury. In each case, there was suspicion that the injuries weren’t really serious enough to keep him out of the game; it was just Manny being Manny.
Is Ramirez really going to want to go to St. Louis and subject himself to the scrutiny and scorn that is guaranteed to greet him? I think not. Perhaps the Dodgers, at the behest of MLB, will ask Manny to stay home — and he certainly owes them a favor after the mess he caused. Perhaps Manny will come to his own conclusion that this is a hassle with which he doesn’t want to deal. My hunch is that somehow, someway, Ramirez will quietly announce, at some point, that if nominated, he will not accept; if elected, he will not serve.
Ramirez’s role model in this regard should be the old Cardinals’ shortstop, Garry Templeton. In 1979, the switch-hitting Templeton was on his way to a season in which he had 200 hits — 100-plus from each side of the plate. Passed over by voters, he declined a spot as an All-Star reserve with the immortal words, “If I ain’t startin’, I ain’t departin.’ ”
Manny needs to step up and say, with regards to a possible All-Star appearance, “If I’ve been ‘roidin’, I must be avoidin’.”