As I’m typing this sentence, the American League voting for the All-Star Game makes it look like ballots were only handed out in Kansas City — even though ballots aren’t handed out anywhere any more.
Eight of the nine starting spots in the AL lineup are populated by Kansas City Royals, with only Los Angels Angels center fielder Mike Trout — the pride of Millville, New Jersey — breaking up a vast sea of blue.
The top overall vote-getter when the most recent numbers were released Monday was Royals catcher Salvador Perez, who had just over 7.2 million votes. Trout, the defending AL MVP having another stellar season (.297, 13 2B, 18 HR, 39 RBI, 47 R, 8 SB), is second in voting among outfielders and nearly 700,000 votes behind KC’s Lorenzo Cain (.287, 11 2B, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 38 R, 11 SB). Royals outfielders sit third and fourth in voting, meaning Trout’s the only thing preventing a sweep of the defending AL champs in the starting lineup.
Over 300 million votes have been cast at mlb.com, the only place voting now occurs for the Midsummer Classic. Kansas City fans have obviously hit the internet in droves to figuratively stuff the ballot box with their players, even someone like second baseman Omar Infante who’s barely hitting above .200 and is by more than a few measures the worst everyday second baseman in the league. Diminutive Houston Astros second sacker Jose Altuve (.290, 11 2B, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 27 R, 17 SB) is running a close second, and is a much better candidate.
Altuve is one of the only players seemingly to have any shot of catching one of the runaway Royals before the voting deadline at 11:59 pm July 2. Detroit Tigers perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera (.344, 13 2B, 14 HR, 47 RBI, 37 R, 40 BB, 1 SB) is within half a million votes of KC’s Eric Hosmer (.296, 13 2B, 7 HR, 37 RBI, 34 R, 25 BB, 3 SB), and Nelson Cruz (.317, 7 2B, 18 HR, 41 RBI, 34 R) trails the Royals’ Kendrys Morales (.275, 18 2B, 7 HR, 41 RBI, 33 R) at designated hitter. No one else is within a million votes of second, and Perez stands nearly four million votes ahead of Oakland’s Stephen Vogt (.281, 7 2B, 12 HR, 45 RBI, 31 R, 35 BB).
There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this situation, with only a cursory nod to the Kansas City fans and what they’ve accomplished. Most stories point out the 1957 All-Star Game, when Cincinnati fans went to the park in droves and voted seven Reds into the starting lineup. The reaction from baseball was swift, as commissioner Ford Frick replaced two of those players and then took the vote away from fans the following year. They didn’t get it back for a dozen years.
This is the first season that voting has been exclusively online, a sign of the changing times and also likely at least part of the explanation for the skewed vote totals. MLB has stated that it’s investigated the anomaly and found no signs of wrongdoing on the part of Royals fans, but it’s really ticking a lot of people off. If I were a fan of an AL team that was being slighted due to this, I probably would be too.
But I’m not, and I’m really not. By the end of the All-Star Game, most if not all position players will have played and I love that of all teams achieving this utter imbalance that it’s the Royals. There were a lot of people wondering how on Earth Kansas City got the Midsummer Classic in 2012, and then the city put on one of the best shows in recent memory with huge fan turnout and support that almost made you forget how MLB has done everything it could to make the game “count” and yet devalue it at the same time.
I would certainly like to see Altuve overtake Infante at second base so the worst player at the position isn’t recognized purely due to where he plays. But a) there will be growing pains as the league transitions to online voting only, b) after seeing the love for the Royals when they faced the Giants in the World Series last October this can’t be all that surprising and c) if you want to see a different player voted in, GO VOTE. It’s easier than ever, which Kansas City fans have taken advantage of better than anyone else.
There’s still two-plus weeks of voting left, and Cabrera and Vogt already seem to be making up ground while the Astros have started a campaign to get Altuve voted in at second. Maybe this Royals takeover at the (online) ballot box will spur a renewed interest from fans that perhaps should have been more involved but weren’t until the desire to dethrone Infante, Hosmer or Mike Moustakas hit them.
And while Kansas City isn’t New York, LA or Chicago and is part of flyover territory, how many players might see this outpouring of support from the re-energized fan base in the middle of the country and perhaps hope that some day they can be Royals?