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In case any of you Sox fans have noticed, and judging by the votes, you haven’t, the 2010 MLB All Star game is fast approaching. But for anyone expecting to see a Red Sox player jog out of the dugout in Anaheim for the start of this year’s Midsummer Classic, be prepare to be anywhere from slightly to marginally disappointed (depending on how little you care about the game).
Unless the Red Sox PR team pulls off a ballot box stuffing campaign of Tammany Hall like proportions, the MLB All Star game will not have a starter from Boston for the first time since 2000, way back when Manny Ramirez was still wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform.
Since the turn of the millennium, Sox players like Ramirez, David Ortiz and Jason Varitek had been perennial All Star game starters. Now, no Boston player is even close to being voted into the top spot at his respective position. Kevin Youkilis currently sits in 4th place, with not even half the amount of votes of leader Mark Teixera. Dustin Pedroia is the closest of any Sox player, ranking 2nd amongst 2nd basemen, but still over 300,000 votes behind leader Robinson Cano. Adrian Beltre is nearly 700,000 votes behind the leader at 3rd base. Victor Martinez is nearly a million votes behind Minnesota’s golden boy, Joe Mauer. Not one Boston outfielder cracked the top 15, which isn’t all too surprising considering that Ellsbury and Cameron have been hurt most of the season and that J.D. Drew is probably the most disliked baseball player in Boston that hasn’t worn Yankee pinstripes.
Even Ortiz, who’s recently re-discovered his swing (or the benefits of using performance enhancing drugs) still ranks 4th in votes among AL designated hitters behind Vlad Guerrero, Hideki Matsui and get this…Ken Griffey Jr. Yes—that is correct—that Ken Griffey, not his kid or anything. The Ken Griffey who had his own N64 videogame back in like 1998. The Ken Griffey who was in a deep slumber in the clubhouse when he was needed to pinch-hit this season. The Ken Griffey who is so washed up that he pulled the rare, “I suck so bad now that I’m not even going to bother finishing the season” move when he announced his immediate retirement in a team statement Wednesday night. Yup, that is the guy who is beating perhaps the most beloved Red Sox player in the past decade by about 10,000 votes.
And yes, I am fully aware that All-Star voting is more of a popularity contest than it is a referendum on the season’s best performers. But doesn’t that make the count even more perplexing? Aren’t we the Boston Red Sox? One of baseball’s most popular teams? A team with a PR and media reach second to none? Home of the mighty Red Sox Nation, the most rabid baseball fans in all the land? We’re supposed to send two or three starters to the All-Star game with regularity.
Hell, we voted Mark Loretta to a starting spot in ’06. Yes, Mark Loretta. Remember him? Of course you don’t—because he’s Mark Loretta. But because he happened to play for the Sox in ’06 and had a decent year, we made him an All-Star starter. And how about Varitek in ’08? Christ, the guy barely hit north of the Mendoza line that year and we still sent him to the game.
So why are guys from smaller market teams like Minnesota, Detroit, Tampa and Texas, teams with fan bases nowhere close to that of Boston’s, beating out our guys? It could be because Boston fans have been preoccupied with the playoff runs of the Bruins and Celtics to the point where baseball took a backseat for a while. Perhaps it’s because online voting requires you to enter your email address and opens the floodgates for a torrent of irritating emails from MLB.com promoting their sales on batting practice hats, MLB.tv, fantasy camps and asinine contests. The Sox slow start could have contributed to it. Or maybe it could be that some of the Sox players have been hurt or seen limited playing time.
But more often than not, the best answer is the simplest answer. So when you wonder why Red Sox players aren’t doing well in a popularity contest, the reason is probably because they just aren’t that popular. Which is odd. Guys like Youk, Pedi and Ellsbury, while perhaps not as admired to the extent Manny, Ortiz and V-Tek were in their prime, are still viewed as baseball gods in these parts. We voted in short term players like Jason Bay and the aforementioned Loretta. So why haven’t we rallied behind Adrian Beltre, a guy who has played well and met (or in my case exceeded) most expectations?
Do we not care as much about baseball as before? Are we not supporting our team as much as we use to? Well…yeah, I think so.
The presence Sox fans have at road games, while still fairly strong in places like Tampa and Baltimore, isn’t nearly the home-like atmosphere many road games have had in recent years. I’ve noticed that the seats in Fenway aren’t always filled. There have even been whispers that our long-standing home sellout streak is at risk of ending in the near future. And now our fans aren’t even spending a couple minutes to ensure that their guys will start the All Star game. All signs are pointing towards the honeymoon and amorous infatuation some people had with the Sox following the ’04 and ’07 title runs is now coming to an end.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I’m viewing this wane in popularity as a way of cleansing our team of all the extraneous, non-baseball fat we’ve feasted on since winning the World Series in ’04—a franchise colonic if you will, which, while uncomfortable, will ultimately rid us of crap such as pink hats, bandwagon jumpers, Fever Pitch, Red Sox themed musicals, shows like Sox Appeal, hard-to-acquire tickets and disdain from non-Yankees fans. And trust me, we’re much better without that crap in our system.