It's deja coup all over again.
The digital takeover of the 2015 American League All-Star team by Kansas City fans is not so unprecedented after all. Think back to 1957, when the Cincinnati faithful submitted so many paper ballots that seven Redlegs were voted starters for the Midsummer Classic at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis.
The lineup was so stacked, in fact, that Commissioner Ford Frick felt he had to intervene, so he replaced outfielders Gus Bell and Wally Post with two guys named Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
"I was 6 years old at the time, so I don't remember much about it," said Chicago White Sox assistant general manager Buddy Bell, Gus' son and someone who knows a little something about All-Star Games. He played in five of them as a third baseman for the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers. "But I do know my dad didn't take it to the grave with him. How can you complain when Willie Mays replaces you?"
If current Commissioner Rob Manfred has his fingers crossed that a few Kansas City Royals are overtaken in the voting, he isn't saying. But he might find it instructive to look back on the most recent time civic pride ran amok -- to the point that an effigy of Ford Frick was dragged through Cincinnati's Market Square. It was little wonder Frick then decided to eliminate fan voting altogether.
It was truly the stuff of legends. The 1957 All-Star voting kerfuffle involved the Oprah Winfrey of Cincinnati, a tavern called the Z-Bar, a supermarket chain and a former swimmer who became synonymous with one of the biggest banking scandals in history, not to mention Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Stan Musial, Mays and Aaron.
The fire started with paper: a daily ballot in the Cincinnati Times-Star that was set against a blue background to make it easy to see and sponsored by Kroger Supermarkets. Headlined "
That they did. The Redlegs -- as they were known then because they didn't want to be associated with the Red Scare -- were good but not that good. George Crowe, playing first base because Ted Kluszewski was hurt, was having a nice year, but he wasn't nearly as good as St. Louis' Stan Musial, who would go on to hit .351 that season. Even though Musial overtook Crowe toward the end of the voting, Frick had already ruled Stan would be the Man.
The Queen City did take the cake when it came to civic pride, though. Professional baseball, after all, started in Cincinnati. Many ballots were filled out by viewers of "The 50/50 Club," an immensely popular morning program hosted by Ruth Lyons, who is often credited with inventing the daytime TV talk show. As recounted by Mary Beth Ellis for the Redleg Nation website, Lyons was a prototypical lady; she covered her mic with flowers and insisted her female guests wear white gloves. But she was also a die-hard Redlegs fan who urged her viewers to send in their ballots. Her efforts were aided by Waite Hoyt, the Reds broadcaster and former Yankees pitcher who often reminded his listeners on 700 WLW to show their true Reds colors.
Burger Beer, a team sponsor, also supplied ballots to local bars. Legend has it filling out a ballot was a prerequisite to buying a brew, and one local establishment, the Z-bar, accounted for 10,000 ballots. One young woman allegedly filled out 1,400 all by herself, and one former ballplayer, Cincinnati native Nellie Pott, voted 820 times -- 818 more than the number of games he pitched in the majors.
As the voting results poured into the commissioners office, Frick and the league presidents realized they had a problem: Ballots originating from Cincinnati outnumbered those from every other precinct combined. Frick was afraid fans would elect Redlegs to the eight MLB starting spots eligible for vote if he didn't do something.
In announcing his decision, he said, "I took this step in an effort to be entirely fair to all fans and with no reflection on the honesty or sincerity of the Cincinnati poll. ... [We] feel that the overbalance of Cincinnati ballots has resulted in the selection of a team which would not be typical of the league."
Gus Bell took the decision in stride. "The fans are supposed to run it," he said at the time, "but I'm not exactly burned up about being replaced by Willie."
In a wire to the commissioner, though, Redlegs general manager Gabe Paul wrote: "Since you have seen fit to disregard the fans' vote in three instances, it is the position of the Cincinnati club that the least that should be done is to include Bell, Crowe and Post on the All-Star squad."
A Reds fan named Harry Washer was so incensed Bell would not be on the team that he hired Charles Keating Jr., a local attorney and former University of Cincinnati swimmer, to sue the office of the commissioner. The suit was dropped when Bell was named to the team, but Keating went on to make his name elsewhere.
Post and Crowe, however, were left out in the cold. They were both promised a "memento" by the National League in lieu of an All-Star roster spot, but it's unclear if they ever received those. In the meantime, an effigy of Frick was dragged through downtown Cincinnati on the back of a truck festooned with signs condemning his decision.
The actual game was played July 9. With two men on, one out and the National League trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the seventh, Gus Bell was sent in to pinch hit for Frank Robinson. Facing future Hall of Famer Early Wynn, Bell doubled down the left-field line to score Mays and Reds catcher Ed Bailey. Take that, Ford Frick. The American League hung on for a 6-5 victory.
The fans wouldn't vote again until Commissioner Bowie Kuhn restored the plebiscite in 1970. Since then, there have been a few instances of ballot stuffing, including one in 2001 involving, of all people, David Bell, the Mariners' third baseman who was Buddy's son and Gus' grandson. Seattle fans had Bell neck-and-neck with somebody named Cal Ripken Jr., and when people complained, Bailey, his grandfather's old teammate, jumped to his defense:
"If the people elected [David], let him on there," Bailey said. "Who's ahead of him? Cal Ripken? He's not hitting that good."
Ripken overtook Bell, and David never did make an All-Star Game in his 12 seasons. In 2001, All-Star manager Joe Torre named Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Roberto Alomar and Cristian Guzman as his backup infielders, so the Bells missed out on having three generations in the Midsummer Classic.
"Don't get me wrong: It's a real honor," Buddy Bell said. "But it doesn't define you as a player. There are 10 guys who aren't named each year who are just as good as 10 who are. It's the real games that get your heart started. And our family has had plenty of those."
Actually, counting Gus' 1,741 regular-season games and three World Series games, Buddy's 2,924 games as a player and manager, David's 1,403 regular-season and 35 postseason games, and brother Mike's 19 games with the Reds in 2000, the Bells have 6,125 major league games to their family name.
So what's the big deal about one All-Star selection?