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great column by david shribman on jason bay and ballot stuffing

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by Herbert Anchovy, Jul 8, 2006.

  1. Herbert Anchovy

    Herbert Anchovy Active Member

    Now this is a good piece of writing.


    PITTSBURGH -- Tuesday is baseball’s All-Star Game, the midsummer classic that this year is being played here in maybe the most beautiful ballpark in the land. There will be fireworks, a Pittsburgh specialty, the three rivers will be choking with boats, and the town will be lighted with floodlights and excitement.

    And out in left field for the National League will be Jason Bay, the greatest Canadian import since Mario Lemieux, or maybe Molson.

    Mr. Bay, 27, is a lovely young man — shy, unfailingly polite, modest, and effective with men on base, though in this summer of Bucs despair that doesn’t happen quite as often as it might. More than this I cannot say with authority because I am a fan, and most of the time, like most fans, I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

    Now let me say a word about how Mr. Bay was selected for the National League outfield, because that involved an election, and elections are things I do know about. Mr. Bay won his spot — actually he came in first in balloting among all outfielders in the National League — in a fan election. He beat out Carlos Beltran of the Mets and Alfonso Soriano of the Nats. At press time, Mr. Bay was batting .282, which, as political people say, ain’t beanbag, but he is no threat to Ted Williams, the last man to hit over .400, or even to his teammate, Freddy Sanchez, who at press time was batting .358 and was not selected as a starter for the 77th All-Star Game.

    Because baseball is a game of statistics, I’ll mention one more. Mr. Bay got 2,635,930 votes. This is the vindication of an old motto from another great political and sports town, Chicago, where the byword has always been: Vote early and often. Mr. Bay’s achievement is a slight variation on the theme, for the voting for him was late and often. Really, really often, it turns out.

    Mr. Bay is a baseball player of unusual grace and achievement. To watch him ply the ocean of grass in left field in PNC Park is evocative of the way my childhood hero, Carl Yastrzemski, did so in those Fenway seasons of my long-ago youth, the Jack-and-Jackie summers that seem to get sweeter in memory every year. But the truth is that Mr. Bay’s election was not a grass-roots movement. It was, to employ a sports and gardening metaphor, an Astroturf movement. Which is to say: It was completely artificial and manufactured.

    The funny thing about the Astroturf ascension of Mr. Bay to All-Stardom is that there was no secret about it. The Pirates and some publicists engineered a campaign and urged people to vote, as many as 25 times a day, for Mr. Bay. Some people with nothing better to do actually did. This is what people talk about when they speak of the untapped potential of the American people. Imagine what the country would be like if that kind of energy could be mobilized to fight hunger. Or, speaking as a newsman, to fight ignorance.

    Let me say that all of this is perfectly legal, and in a way understandable.

    If you were running a baseball team that is streaking toward its 14th consecutive losing season, you’d look for ways to improve the mood around town, too. Long ago, Annie Dillard, one of Pittsburgh’s many literary laureates, said the Pirates were in the cellar for so long that they began to believe they were trolls. Here, in Mr. Bay, is not a troll but a treasure.
  2. Herbert Anchovy

    Herbert Anchovy Active Member

    -- cont'd --

    There is, of course, a danger, both philosophical and logical, in denouncing public opinion in a democracy. But it is important to realize that polls of the public sometimes are not public opinion. Three examples, in areas far from baseball, make my point.

    The first was a 1996 poll undertaken by the BBC to determine the top figure in the news for that year. The Labor Party took to the phones like crazy, and the winner was Tony Blair. Four years later, Time magazine conducted a reader poll to determine the most influential person of the 20th century.

    Turks saw this as an opportunity to win recognition for the founder of modern Turkey, flooded the ballots and nearly prevailed. Winston Churchill came in first with 33.84 percent of the vote. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was in second with 33.19 percent of the vote. Franklin Roosevelt polled only 12.25 percent, and Lenin, whose revolution provided much of the politics of the century, finished with only 2.95 percent.

    But perhaps the best example comes in another BBC poll, when the British radio network sought to determine the most influential philosopher of all time. You might have guessed that Plato would win, but no, he polled only 5.65 percent. Maybe Socrates, but he came in with only 4.82 percent. St. Thomas Aquinas? Nope. He got only 4.83 percent. The winner was Karl Marx, with 27.93 percent. Guess who stuffed the ballot?

    That’s what happened here in Pittsburgh. The campaign for Mr. Bay began when he was batting .302 at the end of May. He was ranked 19th in fan balloting then. By the time he won the sweepstakes, attracting more votes in the National League than anyone but the very best player of his generation, Albert Pujols, who plays first base for St. Louis, Mr. Bay was batting .279.

    So on Tuesday night, let’s take a moment to salute Mr. Bay, who already and completely unwittingly is comeback player of the year. Let’s pause in our hurry and celebrate the quiet beauty and elegiac leisure of our summer game, played by those who do so best. Let’s watch the beauty of the Pittsburgh skyline, shimmering against the hills that slope down to the Monongahela as dusk comes to the Allegheny.

    But let’s remember, too, that while baseball is the most honest of games, the All-Star Game is not quite.

    David Shribman is executive editor of the the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  3. markvid

    markvid Guest

    Spoken like a true executive editor of a paper with whom their direct competition has aligned themselves in a marketing agreement with the Pirates.
  4. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    Yeah, and Jason Bay is the only player whose team urged fans to "vote early, vote often."
    When each person is allowed to vote 25 times on-line, MLB All-Star voting is about ballot-box stuffing and nothing else.
    And there's nothing smarter than knocking your readership for being fans and doing what fans do. ::)
  5. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Exactly.. the whole reason the balloting was taken out of the fans' hands like 50 years ago was because Cincinnati fans stuffed the ballot box... nothing new here
  6. Oz

    Oz Well-Known Member

    Liriano and Hafner not making the AL roster are the two biggest crimes in this All-Star Classic. Liriano lost in the vote-off, too, because the White Sox fans voted A.J. in -- like Bucs fans did with Bay.
  7. cougargirl

    cougargirl Active Member

    This was a good read. Very good logic that transcended/supplemented the notion of ballot-box stuffing and PR manipulation - what really wags the dog.

    Here's how this situation should be handled by MLB in the future: MLB should designate one player from the host city to be a starter.

    But would that be too progressive for Bud Selig and friends? ::)
  8. KP

    KP Active Member

    The choice for Liriano should never have come down to the fans to begin with.
  9. Oz

    Oz Well-Known Member

    I'm sure the AL would love to see someone from the Royals start when home field in the World Series depends on who wins the All-Star Game in Kansas City. (The home field thing is another joke.)

    And KP, you're absolutely right.
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