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Tuesday, June 26
Vote early. Vote often.

By Jim Caple

Dustin Hoffman: Why don't you vote?

Denis Leary: I voted that one time when Major League Baseball started the fan thing. I voted for Boog Powell for first base -- he didn't get in and it just depressed me. Stayed with me. It's futile.

-- from "Wag the Dog"

The problem with democracy is all those stupid people who vote for the wrong person. By that, of course, I mean they vote for someone we don't support.

Cal Ripken Jr., a fan favorite throughout his career, needs to do more clad-handing to start in his final All-Star Game.

Every year, baseball turns over the All-Star vote to fans. And every year, there is a controversy. People who haven't voted in a real election since Bush the Elder first ran for President suddenly clog the phone lines to complain at length about the injustices and loopholes of the All-Star vote. They may not be able to explain how the electoral college works but they'll go on for 15 minutes about how the All-Star vote is screwing their favorite player.

Which is not to say there aren't injustices. There are. Every year. They're as much an All-Star given as Ken Griffey Jr. complaining about the cross-country plane flight.

Earlier this year the complaints were about Cal Ripken leading American League third basemen when he was barely over the Mendoza Line. And there were complaints about Mark McGwire leading at first base when he spent much of the season on the disabled list. And about Griffey being among the top four outfielders even though he didn't get his first hit until two weeks ago.

Now the complaint is that all those Seattle fans pushed David Bell and his .250 average into the lead among AL third basemen.

This is nothing new, though. Every year someone gets voted into the starting lineup when he really shouldn't be allowed past the velvet rope at FanFest.

The new wrinkle to this old debate is the international vote.

In addition to the 51 million ballots distributed in the U.S. and Canada, baseball also distributed approximately 12 million ballots in other countries. Five million in Japan, two million in Mexico, two million in the Dominican Republic, two million in Venezuela and 1.1 million in Puerto Rico.

Judging by the vote totals so far, their ballots are not rigging the vote for other foreign-born players. Mexico's Vinny Castilla is not among the league leaders at third base and Venezuela's Andres Galarraga is more than a million votes behind Edgar Martinez at DH. While Sammy Sosa is among the top three National League outfielders, he also was in past years when there were no ballots in the Dominican Republic.

And if Japanese voters were stuffing the ballot box as if they lived in Cook County instead of the other side of the international dateline, then Tsuyoshi Shinjo would be among the National League leaders as a write-in candidate. He's not even remotely close.

True, Ichiro Suzuki has received more votes than anyone else, but he also leads the majors in hits (14 more than anyone else) and stolen bases, leads the American League in batting and runs, is a terrific fielder and the most exciting thing to hit baseball since bobblehead dolls. While his vote total obviously is boosted by Japanese fans, he would make the team without their support.

He also would make it without the Internet. Take away Ichiro's 400,000-some Web votes and he still leads Manny Ramirez.

Actually, Ichiro is slightly handicapped because his name is listed on the ballot as "I. Suzuki." While the first initial, last name style is the same for every player on the ballot, it may so confuse some fans looking for the name "Ichiro" that they could wind up voting for Pat Buchanan instead.

David Bell
David Bell may not be the best third baseman in the American League, but he has a 33,000-vote lead in All-Star balloting.

The major beneficiaries of the Japanese votes probably are the other Mariners, including Bell. With virtually every Seattle game being broadcast in Japan and with those broadcasts so popular that Japan League games are losing popularity, the Mariners are practically the home team in Japan. So when those fans start punching their ballots, we can only assume that many cast their votes for Mariners.

But is there anything wrong with that? Of course not. At last glance, Atlanta and the Cubs beamed their games around the country, gaining fans in so many far-flung areas that Atlanta boasts itself as "America's team."

Those two teams have enjoyed that voting advantage for years. With their tremendous attendance over the past decade, so have Cleveland, Baltimore and the Yankees. Again, that's just the way it works. Teams that draw a lot of fans wind up with their players receiving a lot of votes.

"That's part of the benefit," said major-league spokesman Patrick Courtney. "And some clubs do a tremendous of passing out ballots. We sent something to the clubs yesterday, to make sure the broadcasters are telling people to vote online, to push the vote."

The Seattle propaganda machine is working so hard there is even a radio station campaigning to have the Mariners simply play the National League. And as giddy as Seattle fans are this summer, just be grateful they haven't voted Al Martin into the starting lineup.

At least not yet.

Does Bell deserve to be on the All-Star team? Probably not. But it's not like there's a lot of qualified candidates at third base, the weakest position in the American League. Certainly, he won't be the first undeserving All-Star and he won't be the last. Short of allowing only one ballot per fan -- an impossible regulation -- this is an unavoidable part of giving fans the vote.

Besides, it's just an exhibition game. And the vote is still close. If you care that much, get on the Web and vote against him.

Remember, as we all learned last November, no voting system is perfect.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for

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