|I'll be honest with you. I don't care much for Allan H. "Bud" Selig, who's now been baseball's commissioner for nearly a decade. His specialty is extorting taxpayer money for new ballparks, yet he can't seem to figure out how to get teams into markets that could presumably support them, like North Carolina and northern Virginia and Portland and north New Jersey. As near as I can tell, the only truly smart move Selig has made in eight-and-a-half years was hiring Sandy Alderson. Now, if Alderson could somehow mount a bloodless coup and take over, then we'd really have something.
In the meantime, though, we're stuck with old Uncle Bud. In another week or so, he may have a chance to do something right for a change, something that will take a lot of guts. Before we get to that, though, let's suppose that Joe Randa -- he's currently batting .261 for the last-place Kansas City Royals -- were leading American League third basemen in the All-Star balloting ... wouldn't you want to know where all those Joe Randa votes were coming from? If not, then I'm afraid that you don't have a curious bone in your body, and frankly I'm surprised that you've bothered reading this far.
Well, Joe Randa's having a better season than David Bell. Randa's got a higher batting average than Bell, along with more games played, a higher on-base percentage, more walks, more RBI, more doubles, more stolen bases, fewer strikeouts and fewer errors.
Of course, Joe Randa does not lead the American League third basemen in the latest All-Star voting. David Bell does. I don't know exactly where Randa ranks, actually, because he doesn't make the top five, which are all that MLB reports. However, we do know that Randa has pulled fewer than 213,936 votes, the total for No. 5 man Tony Batista (who was just waived, but that's another story).
But hey, Batista made the All-Star team last year, and wound up hitting 41 home runs. You can certainly understand why people would vote for Tony Batista.
No. 4 in the balloting is Scott Brosius. He's having a heckuva year, on balance probably the second-best third baseman in the American League this season. Plus, he's now spent three-and-a-half seasons playing for the most famous baseball team in the world.
No. 3 in the balloting is Cal Ripken. As you might remember from last week, he's no starting All-Star, at least not in my mind. But gosh, it's certainly no surprise that fans are voting for him. Cal's certainly among the five or six most famous players in the game, right up there with Big Mac and Sammy and A-Rod.
No. 2 in the balloting is Troy Glaus, who has merely established himself as the best third baseman in the American League. Sure, he's slumped lately. And sure, Brosius might even be playing slightly better this year, all things considered. But if you could have one AL third baseman for your team, you'd take Glaus without a second thought.
And No. 1? Why, David Bell, of course. Bell's not as good as Glaus, or Brosius, or Randa, or even Eric Chavez or Jose Macias or Corey Koskie (Bell is, I hasten to add, better than Shea Hillenbrand, Batista and Ripken). David Bell's never played in an All-Star Game, nor has he deserved to. He did enjoy a solid 1999 season with the Mariners ... as their second baseman. Since then, Bell's been so weak at the plate that the Mariners -- remember, this is a club winning roughly 75 percent of its games -- are anxious to replace him.
Everybody seems to have his or her own definition of "All-Star," but Bell certainly doesn't fit any definition that I've ever heard. And I don't mean any disrespect to Bell, his devoted family, or his fans. Shoot, he's probably one of the 25 or 30 greatest third basemen in the world ... he just isn't an All-Star.
So how has his happened? Before you answer, let me first dispose of one popular theory.
I've been to a dozen games at Safeco Field this season, maybe half of them during the Mariners' 25-game voting period (which has ended). I've sat in three different locations, and I can tell you, without even a tinge of equivocation, that the Seattle Mariners organization is not pumping the vote for their players.
At one point during the middle of the game, the Mariners would make a brief announcement about the All-Star voting, accompanied by a graphic on the scoreboard encouraging fans to vote for Bret Boone. A few minutes later, ushers passed out ballots ... but not the stack that I remember from my youth at Royals Stadium. Rather, there might have been roughly one each for everybody in my row, though an individual fan might end up with two or three because of disinterest around him. At Safeco Field, it simply isn't possible to stuff the ballot boxes with the ballots provided. Now, it's possible that one could have acquired a stack of ballots by request, but I've never seen it happen, or heard of it happening. To the best of my knowledge, the voting at Safeco Field was on the up-and-up from Game No. 1 to Game No. 25.
So what does that leave?
Internet voting, of course. As far as I know, anybody anywhere can vote on the Internet, and up to 25 times (but how does MLB keep somebody from switching computers and voting 25 more times with a different e-mail address, and 25 more after that?). No fans are more wired than those in Seattle, and no fans are more capable of figuring out how to electronically stuff the virtual ballot box.
Except Bell's support isn't coming from the Internet. Major League Baseball does release the Internet results, and the totals through June 20 are quite instructive ...
|2001 SEASON STATISTICS|
Troy Glaus 177,600
Cal Ripken 150,542
David Bell 147,245
Scott Brosius 115,168
Tony Batista 67,947
Same guys, same order ... except Bell is No. 3 in the Internet voting rather than No. 1. In fact, Bell has received fewer of his votes via the Internet than any of the other American League leaders. Here are the percentage of Internet votes for all eight of them, in ascending order:
Bell Mariners 24%
Olerud Mariners 25%
Ichiro Mariners 29%
Martinez Mariners 30%
Boone Mariners 30%
I Rodriguez Rangers 32%
Gonzalez Indians 35%
A Rodriguez Rangers 35%
Ramirez Red Sox 38%
Anybody else notice a pattern here? Far from dominating the Internet vote (presumably due to Japanese or Seattleites), the Mariners are benefiting less from the Internet than their peers. Hackers? Hardly.
So if Mariners fans aren't stuffing the ballot box at the ballpark, and savvy computer users aren't doing the same electronically, then what's going on? Is it simply the Mariners' great home attendance (coupled with civic pride), along with the team's new-found national fame? Well, the M's do lead the AL in home attendance ... but they're not far enough ahead of the Yankees or Indians to make that much difference. As for the Mariners' success, I'm not sure that it's having a major effect on voters in other cities. In 1998, the Yankees were 56-20 at the end of June, yet not a single Yankee started that summer's All-Star game. Fans don't vote for teams (other than their own), they vote for players.
So what does that leave? After exploring the other possibilities, one might turn to the following note, easily found at MLB's web site:
Major League Baseball's All-Star Balloting Program, the largest in professional sports, encompasses Claritin in-stadium balloting at all 30 Major League ballparks, RadioShack online balloting at MLB.com and RadioShack.com, Pepsi retail balloting at Kroger Grocery Stores and international balloting throughout Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Japan and the Dominican Republic.
The italics are, as they say, mine.
Now, a few readers were upset with me last week when I responded (in a chat session) to the question, "Do you think the Japanese are the reason there are four Mariners leading at their positions in the All-Star ballots?" with "I don't have any idea, but I certainly hope that MLB clarifies the situation at some point. Baseball has a responsibility to its fans, and so we have a right to know where the votes are coming from."
That was before David Bell's ascendancy. Is it discriminatory to suggest that when apparent voting anomalies crop up, we try to figure out what caused them? I'm not begrudging Japanese baseball fans the right to vote for Major League Baseball's All-Stars -- well, maybe I'm a little begrudging -- but is it fair to the non-Mariners on the ballot, when nearly every game played by the Seattle Mariners -- alone among the 30 major-league clubs -- is telecast back in Japan?
Doesn't seem so fair to me. So let's at least find out just how many of David Bell's votes -- and Dan Wilson's (he's second at catcher) and Mike Cameron's (he's fourth among the outfielders) and Al Martin's (he's eighth) -- are coming from across the Pacific, and then we can make up our own minds.
In 1957 (as the official Baseball Guide and Record Book reported the following spring), "A deluge of 500,000 late votes from Cincinnati resulted in all of the Reds' regulars except First Baseman George Crowe being the leaders at their respective positions. Because of the 'overbalance of Cincinnati votes,' Commissioner Ford Frick ordered Outfielders Gus Bell and Wally Post of the Reds dropped from consideration."
That was it. Forty-four years ago, everybody knew something was fishy, and so the commissioner took a drastic step (Bell -- David's grandfather, by the way -- was actually named to the team as a backup, but Post didn't make the team at all). No, this year's situation isn't exactly the same as what happened in '57, but let's be honest, sports fans ... there's something mighty fishy going on in 2001, fishier than the fresh salmon you can purchase at Seattle's Pike Place Market. I don't know if Bud Selig has the power that Ford Frick had, though, and I sincerely doubt if Selig even has the guts to find out.
So, what if Selig can't, or won't, figure a way out of this mess? The Internet voting booth remains open for five more days, friends. Vote for Troy Glaus, and you can save Commissioner Bud (and the American League All-Star team) from his own willful negligence.
Rob Neyer is a Senior Writer for ESPN.com. His column runs Monday through Thursday. You can e-mail Rob at email@example.com.