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In baseball All-Star voting it's not always 'may the best man win'

Fans do pick the most deserving players in many cases. But sometimes — too often, critics contend — it comes down to which teams run the most effective promotional campaigns. Pablo Sandoval, anyone?

July 02, 2012|By Lance Pugmire

If All-Star voting determined league championships in Major League Baseball, the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants would be heading to the World Series.

The support for Texas, which had seven players named to the American League team with an eighth still being considered, is understandable. The Rangers, coming off consecutive World Series appearances, have the best record in baseball and, in pitcher Yu Darvish, a player who has international appeal.

But the Giants, who have three starting position players on the National League team?

Well, apparently they run a really good campaign.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval rallied from a voting deficit of more than 400,000 to pass David Wright of the New York Mets, who is batting 54 points higher and has twice as many runs batted in. The other Giants starters are Buster Posey, whose .303 batting average is third-best among NL catchers, and outfielder Melky Cabrera, who is batting .352 but is relatively unknown on a national scale after spending last season with the small-market Kansas City Royals.

The Giants' success can be traced to a late surge in voting sparked by a promotional campaign that made each fan who voted 20 or more times online eligible for a prize of two game tickets, a meet-and-greet with the team's All-Stars, the opportunity to watch batting practice from the field, dinner for two at McCovey's restaurant, and two $50 gift cards.

The team also pushed for votes by playing a video on the AT&T Park scoreboard at home games. In it, Bay Area rapper E-40 and a young girl urge fans to use their mobile phones to vote for Giants players.

It was a cheesy — and effective — production.

"The Giants are the top team in thoroughly organizing their passionate fan base," MLB spokesman Matthew Gould said. "They encouraged activation at every turn and through whoever had a platform to talk to its fans — sponsors, rights-holders, social [media], etc. In terms of the Dodgers and Angels, they both would be in the top half."

Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier, who was never in the hunt for a starting spot and finished ninth among NL outfielders in the voting despite leading the league in runs batted in for much of the season's first half, says such stumping for votes is "a little out of hand."

"It should be more of a representation of the player's performance," he said, "not how the former class president's intern for the team . . . can run a campaign for the organization."

The best evidence of the Giants' promotional power involves two players who didn't make the All-Star game but received an unusual amount of voting support.

Brandon Belt, who was batting .269 with four home runs and 29 RBIs in only 171 at-bats when the final ballots were tabulated, finished second in the voting among NL first basemen. And Brandon Crawford, who is batting only .232, was within 306,000 votes of finishing first among shortstops.

"Our fans are crazy," Belt told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We now officially have the best fans in baseball. If they can put me second, that's unbelievable."

Credit Texas fans for placing catcher Mike Napoli, third baseman Adrian Beltre and outfielder Josh Hamilton in the AL's starting lineup.

Hamilton, who leads the majors with 73 RBIs and is second with 25 homers, was the leading vote-getter for the game. And Beltre is batting .323 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs.

But Napoli? He was batting a paltry .238 when voting ended — 47 points lower than A.J. Pierzynski of the Chicago White Sox, who also had two more homers and 15 more RBIs but didn't make the team.

"I know how it works," a disappointed but not surprised Pierzynski told the Chicago Sun-Times.

How it works is far different from the old days, when voting was handled one way: by punching out chads on paper ballots at the ballpark. This year, a record 39.2 million ballots were cast online.

Among Dodgers and Angels, only Matt Kemp, who has missed more than a month of the season because of hamstring injuries, was voted a starter. So are L.A.-area fans simply too laid-back and apathetic?

"That's the perception, I know, that we're all on a beach somewhere with a pina colada in hand," said Erik Braverman, who supervised the Dodgers' voting campaign.

The Dodgers opened a suite where fans could punch out paper ballots during home games, and the team lobbied hard for catcher A.J. Ellis, but it wasn't enough.

"It's going to take more national TV games and more success for A.J. to become a household name," Braverman said.

Or, as Kemp playfully suggested, a vote-Dodgers campaign fronted by Snoop Dogg or Dr. Dre next season.

As for the Angels, they might want to consider what Texas did by investing in an "All-Star voting center" of computer terminals at the stadium.

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