BALTIMORE — When asked to vote for the All-Star team, Baltimore Orioles fans do not engage in the tasteless custom of stuffing the ballot box. That explains why Mickey Tettleton is sixth in the voting among American League catchers, not that it matters.
Tettleton is fully expected to be chosen as the backup catcher when Oakland A's Manager Tony LaRussa completes his All-Star roster, and Cal Ripken Jr. appears a lock to win the fan voting at shortstop and earn his sixth straight start.
Two Orioles pitchers, starter Jeff Ballard and reliever Gregg Olson, also are candidates for the team. Ballard's chances are fading, and Olson's seem slim, but it will be interesting to see how LaRussa treats the upstart Orioles in his selections.
The eligible Orioles don't expect special treatment because of their first-place standing. "If that's the case, why don't you have the two first-place teams play, or the four first-place teams play?" Ballard said. "It really should be based on performance, whoever's doing best."
In any case, the fan balloting resumed Tuesday when the Orioles began a seven-game homestand against the Toronto Blue Jays. The A's Terry Steinbach leads American League catchers with 531,235 votes. Bob Boone, Lance Parrish, the injured Matt Nokes and Carlton Fisk also rank ahead of Tettleton, who leads major-league catchers with 17 home runs.
Every year reveals new flaws in the selection process, and it is rare when the best 28 players make the team. One problem is that each of the 14 American League clubs must be represented. Another is that fans annually bypass deserving players in favor of big-name stars.
Monday's update revealed that the A's Jose Canseco still ranked third among American League outfielders even though he hasn't played this season due to a wrist injury.
It's an age-old argument, but most players believe they should pick the teams themselves. That would eliminate certain biases and create others, but baseball isn't about to deprive fans of punching those beloved ballots. The problem is, some fans are more enthusiastic than others, depending on where they live.
According to Orioles records, only 28 percent of the fans that attended home games during the voting drive last year turned in ballots; the league average was 35 percent. The commissioner's office refused to release a team-by-team profile, but suffice it to say that Oakland had three starters, the Yankees two.
Last year marked the first time since 1982 the Orioles had only one All-Star; Ripken finished second in the voting, but was named the starter after the Detroit Tigers' Alan Trammell was injured. The last time three Orioles made the team was 1986 ( Ripken, Eddie Murray, Don Aase).
Why the fan indifference to the voting last year? Bob Aylward, the Orioles' vice-president of business affairs, cited two possible reasons: The Orioles' poor season and misleading attendance figures. The American League calculates attendance by tickets sold, not turnstile count. It doesn't account for no-shows.
Aylward made the educated guess that the club's 0-21 start contributed heavily to fan apathy. "When your players aren't performing, you're less apt to vote for them," he said. "Oakland last year did a lot of voting -- it brings the average up when you're winning. I suspect that probably has more to do with it than anything."
It stands to reason that the Orioles' stunning rise from last place should boost the chances of their players this season. Alas, that's not the case. Voting records are not yet available, but Tettleton, a virtual unknown entering the season, trails Steinbach, last year's starter, by nearly 350,000 votes.
Ripken, an established superstar, has no such problems -- he leads second-place Walt Weiss of the A's by nearly 200,000 votes. The pitchers, of course, are another story, since they will be chosen by LaRussa. An All-Star roster consists of eight elected starters and 20 other selections. The latter total includes 10 pitchers.
Orioles Manager Frank Robinson said, "If Ballard doesn't make it, then certainly Olson would be deserving. One of those two guys should be on the staff." Ballard, however, has failed four times to earn his 10th victory, pitching three innings or less in three of those games. The All-Star Game is currently the least of his concerns.
But before Sunday's crushing loss to the California Angels, he said, "It's a big thing. I realize what I have to do to be on the team -- I have to get a couple of more wins, pitch well my next few starts. Then it's up to LaRussa. It really would mean a lot. It would be beyond my wildest expectations."
Olson? He's 3-0 with a 1.90 ERA and 11 saves, but he's just a rookie, and 10 pitchers have earned more saves. Still, Olson has allowed only 27 hits in 42 2-3 innings, a better ratio than the American League's three top relievers -- the Milwaukee Brewers' Dan Plesac (25 in 33 2-3), the Texas Rangers' Jeff Russell (21 in 31 2-3) and the Cleveland Indians' Doug Jones (27 in 28).
Olson's opponents are batting only .178, and he is averaging nearly one strikeout per inning -- Plesac and Russell are slightly above that. But even if LaRussa wants Olson on his staff, logistics may force him to choose others. Olson is on the bubble, and the rule that each team must be represented often squeezes such players.
Asked about making the team, Olson smiled and said, "That wouldn't be too bad, but my chances are probably slim to none. You never know. It's hard not to think about it. You just kind of look and compare. You know what the All-Star Game means. These guys are the best in the world."