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All-Star voting by fans weakens credibility

There are people old enough to vote who barely recall a time predating "This Time It Counts," that dark, pre-2003 epoch before MLB and Fox sought to revive the All-Star Game by tying it to home field in the World Series.

A decade later, here we are, with the concept well established and managers and players indeed seeming to take the game a bit more seriously than they had around the turn of the century.

Fox's Joe Buck cited the classic, 15-inning Midsummer Classic of 2008 at Yankee Stadium as an example.

"A lot of the starters were still in the dugout at the end of that long night, cheering on their teammates, and that was a huge change from before 'This Time It Counts,"' he said on a call Monday to promote next Tuesday's game. "I think it's brought a competitive fire back to this game that for a while was lacking."

Commissioner Bud Selig said, "I think it's worked well, and it worked well right from the beginning."

Let's concede that the added stakes have fostered at least some sense of significance. The problem is baseball and Fox want to have it both ways. The game counts, but the fans still vote for starters, meaning the count can be as fickle and arbitrary as ever.

Speaking of which ... a wave of late ballot-stuffing by Giants fans — following a wave of late promotion by the Giants — caused vote totals of their players to skyrocket, and lifted Pablo Sandoval over David Wright as the starter at third base.

"Our fans are crazy," first baseman Brandon Belt told the San Francisco Chronicle after getting 3.9 million votes, second only to Joey Votto. "We now officially have the best fans in baseball. If they can put me second, that is unbelievable."

Whether or not they are the best fans in baseball, apparently their proximity to Silicon Valley has taught them how to expose flaws in an Internet-based voting system.

At least Belt finished second. Not so Sandoval. He pushed out the more deserving Wright, who made the team as a reserve.

When I asked Selig on Monday whether he feared such results de-legitimize the game, he recalled the case of the 1957 Reds, whose fans stuffed the ballot box so shamelessly that commissioner Ford Frick had to step in to add Willie Mays and Hank Aaron — and fans lost the right to vote for more than a decade.

Selig said no such action is required now because of "safeguards" that were not in place in the past, such as fans, players and managers all having a hand in the roster. He also cited the voting as a function of the Giants' consistent sellout crowds, and of excitement over the process in general.

"On balance, look, I'm not unhappy about it, because what it shows, along with the incredible year we're having, is the fact that 40 million votes were cast," he said. "I think for the most part the lineups are really, really good."

Tim McCarver also credited the Giants' "extraordinary fan base" and said: "These guys are so good, I don't think that lowers the quality of play because (Buster) Posey, Sandoval and Melky Cabrera are on the team.

"Realistically, the Mets have not won for a long time and the Giants are off a World Series championship two years ago, so therein lies the popularity of the Giants."

Mets fans might get at least one small last laugh: Posey's "reward" for starting likely will be catching R.A. Dickey. What might that be like for a knuckleball novice?

"It could be a problem," said McCarver, a former catcher. "Buster could have his hands full with Dickey."

McCarver said Fox plans to show footage of Rich Gedman trying — and failing — to corral Charlie Hough's knuckler late in the 1986 All-Star Game.

Despite Gedman's struggles, the American League won that night, 3-2. But that one didn't count.