At first glance, this may seem like an odd take for a Clemson website, but just hang with me. I’ll make sure to bring it back to the Tigers in a moment.
I love being a fan. I am particularly fond of what happens when a team’s supporters gather in a place to share an experience. The passion and camaraderie makes being a fan worthwhile.
This is precisely the reason fans should not wield absolute authority when it comes to bestowing honors and awards upon athletes. The ESPYs is an exception because those awards are a little vague, and I’m not entirely sure athletes care much about them or have incentives for winning them. But in general, fans have no business deciding who wins awards in any way, shape, or form.
Yes, this list includes All-Star selections in baseball.
I say this as a guy who likes to vote on things like All-Stars. I enjoy watching the MLB All-Star Game more than any of the others. It is fun to watch because there are no funky rules (two-hand touch, no rushing the passer, etc.) and both offense and defense show effort all game long (looking at you, NBA). I want to see the best players play in the game because I appreciate how difficult it is to consistently play it at a high level.
In the past, fan voting was not as much of an issue. When the Midsummer Classic was merely an exhibition—serious enough to maintain credibility, but not so serious that guys like John Kruk and Larry Walker should feel bad about batting with their helmets on backwards.
Now, however, the game counts. We decide who gets home field advantage in the World Series on Tuesday. There is no time for foolish shenanigans anymore. The stakes are too high.
In addition, the incentives in player contracts for being selected to participate should be considered. Giving an unworthy player a spot and denying a worthy one could mean a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary in either direction.
Yet, the amplification of fan voting continues, and now the set of standards by which All-Stars are judged has virtually nothing to do with on-field performance. Players who play in major media markets, have catchy marketing campaigns, or find themselves on the tips of the tongues of Sportscenter anchors on a daily basis get in, while deserving players without these perks are left behind in some cases.
A perfect example of this is the #VoteFreddie campaign going on right now to elect Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves to the final spot on the National League All-Star team. I am a Cincinnati Reds fan in the South, so I’m already behind the eight ball on this issue, and I’m sure I won’t make any friends today based on this stance. But the idea that fans can vote for a player hundreds of times for no reason other than “He’s cute” or “He’s a great guy” is a joke.
Freeman is a very good player. In fact, I think his numbers are probably deserving of a selection. (Note: I voted for Ian Desmond, but I see it as basically a toss-up.) It just bothers me that Freeman (or one of his competitors) may win based on the reactions of fans who care nothing for stats and ability.
A look at this county-by-county map of voting patterns tells the story. The entire southeastern United States (AKA “Braves Country”) has penciled in Freeman, and the same is true for his competitors across the country in their respective media markets.
I hear a lot of complaining about straight-ticket voting during election season, but isn’t this the same thing on a much smaller, less serious scale? Isn’t this essentially casting a ballot because the candidate has “My Favorite Team” beside the name instead of “R” or “D”?
I’m not necessarily complaining about straight-party voting. I also don’t want to paint all Braves fans with a broad brush or criticize Braves fans in any way (although I’m sure a few will see it that way). Some people have very good reasons for choosing who they choose. My issue is with voters who don’t have good reasoning and muck up the process.
With fans now getting a representative vote from the Heisman Trust, this logic is becoming more pervasive in the race for college football’s most prestigious award. Those of us who are into this stuff will have serious decisions to make about who to choose now because those decisions could have consequences.
If Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, or another Clemson player finds himself among the leading contenders for the Heisman next year, I would urge Clemson fans to not just vote the jersey, to refrain from valuing personal popularity over performance. I have often stated my desire for teams and players I cheer to not just do the best, but to be the best.
There is a distinct difference in winning an award and earning an award. It stinks, but sometimes it can be hard to tell which is which.