Published July 8, 2017
They were the most renowned hanging chads outside of Florida’s 2000 presidential election.
Before I go any further, this is officially a “get off my lawn, kids!” alert. An old person is about to reminisce, so the millennials are allowed to sit this one out. My feelings won’t be hurt. Actually, maybe they should stick around and learn something for a change. Just keep it zipped.
OK, fellow old-timers, are you ready to dish?
Now, on to those chads (I promise, they’re coming; please bear with me).
I’m talking about voting for the baseball All-Star Game here, and it doesn’t involve keyboards, laptops or mobile devices. Those things were the trappings of a Jules Verne novel in the days of which I’m referring.
The 2017 ASG is nigh, so I figured this would be a good time to rant about today’s online voting methods as compared to “my day” of the 1970s.
When I was a young boy (no, I didn’t vote for Babe Ruth, you wisecracking millennial in the back), if you wanted to vote for your favorite players to make the All-Star team, you got your butt down to the ballpark and you exercised your right in person. None of this namby-pamby convenience of being a “click” away. There was nothing electronic about the process other than the machines that tabulated the votes.
The ASG ballots were located in MLB ballparks across the country, and in a few participating retail outlets. Either way you chose to vote, it involved bumming a ride from your parents.
Gillette, the razor company, annually sponsored the voting, so their name was splashed on the ballot, which was a baby blue/white card of two columns: one for each league, each column separated horizontally by position. The ballots measured approximately six inches tall by three inches wide.
You know how we complain today about living in a society of “participation trophies”? This wasn’t the case in ASG voting of yesteryear. Not every player on every team got his name on the ballot. In fact, part of the fun was when the ballot was announced every spring training.
Which Tigers would be on the ballot? And why did some of them not make the cut?
The lack of a Norm Cash or a Mickey Stanley on the Gillette card was enough to send a nine-year old boy into bouts of depression.
Today, the so-called snubs occur when the All-Star teams are announced. Back then, the snubs happened in March, when certain players’ names were left off the ballot entirely. Steve Garvey of the Dodgers actually made the NL squad in 1974 as a write-in candidate, but that was literally the exception; not being on the ballot virtually killed a player’s chance of making the team. Rarely did a non-ballot player get chosen for the team by that year’s manager.
The ballots began appearing in ballparks in May, as a rule. This is where it gets serious. This is where “stuffing the ballot box” was a literal term.
The Gillette-labeled cards were located inside large cardboard displays placed sporadically around the stadium. You could grab as many ballots as your tiny hands could snag, but you’d have to be prepared for the tedium of voting.
Typically we’d vote while the ballgame was being played before us. Mom or dad gave you a pen or pencil and you went to town.
The directions were simple but crucial. Breaking the rules would disqualify your ballot.
You could vote for no more than one player per position in each league (except for pitchers, who were selected by the managers, and outfielders, for which you could vote for three).
The pen or pencil was used to poke out the microscopic squares next to your players of choice, thereby creating the aforementioned chads. This was the tedious part of the process. The chad was created but then also had to be pulled free from the card. No one wanted to cast a ballot with hanging chads.
You could maybe punch out two ballots’ worth of chads at once, if you lined up the cards perfectly, but more than two was a major challenge. Besides, I remember feeling satiated after casting just one ballot, anyway.
But you could, indeed, “stuff the ballot box” if you were so inclined. And I do mean “stuff,” because the same displays where you procured your ballots also contained a slot through which you inserted the cards, and those slots couldn’t handle more than a few ballots at a time.
Today, local telecasts of games, Internet ads and signage around the ballparks implore fans to go online and repeatedly vote for the home team’s players. There’s not a chad in sight.
Convenient? Sure. Gratifying? Hardly.
After punching out chads for 16 players and walking your ballot back to the box and inserting it, you felt like you had accomplished something. It was a child’s civic duty, done. On the ride home from the ballpark, there was an extra glow from not only having seen a game, but for participating in the All-Star voting as well.
How can you get that sense of fulfillment with a mouse click? Or even with dozens of mouse clicks?
The in-person aspect of the voting provided a check-and-balance to the process, because big TV markets couldn’t necessarily provide an automatic advantage to their teams. Fans had to go to the games to vote, so ballpark attendance was more of a factor. Playing in Chicago wasn’t going to help you as a White Sox player if only 10-12,000 fans went to the games at Comiskey Park, for example.
As I mentioned earlier, some retail outlets had ballots available, but come on—real fans voted at the ballpark, not in the shoe section at a department store. Besides, the retail store ballots had to be mailed in. You missed out on the fun of the slot at the stadium.
If you think I’m aggrandizing the Gillette ballots, how come they’re going for $6 each on eBay?
ASG voting always had, and will always have, a popularity contest component to it. That’s why I was never more proud of my fellow voters than in 1976.
The Tigers were pretty lousy as a team in ’76, but three Bengals were in the midst of having outstanding individual seasons—two of whom could be voted on.
Ron LeFlore had a 30-game hitting streak in May and was batting close to .400 as June drew near. LeFlore headed into 1976 as a third-year, nondescript player and even though his story was unique because of his being discovered playing baseball as a felon in prison, Ronnie was hardly a star—until his hitting streak.
Rusty Staub was established, but he was playing for the Tigers, and for the first time in the American League. Staub got off to a jackrabbit start as well, his BA far exceeding .300 through June.
And, of course, there was Mark Fidrych, who electrified the baseball world as a 21 year-old phenom.
The fans, bless them, voted LeFlore and Staub into the ASG as starters, and Fidrych was named by AL manager Darrell Johnson as the starting pitcher.
The 1976 Tigers, 38-41 at the All-Star break, nonetheless had three players on Johnson’s starting lineup card.
So why am I going into old fuddy-duddy mode? Why not accept change? Internet voting is hardly a new thing.
Because nostalgia is cozy. It gives comfort in a world filled with discord and a constant feeling of being on the brink of something cataclysmic.
And because sometimes change stinks.
I don’t attend ballgames as often as I did as a kid, for a variety of reasons. So it’s not like I’m espousing something that I’d be participating in if only things were different.
But that’s hardly the point, ya know?
Lots of things are better now, with today’s modern conveniences. I’ll give you that one. Technological advances have provided countless benefits. Lives have been saved. Change isn’t a curse word, for the most part.
I make my living using a computer, so who am I to complain?
I’ll give you all of the above, except when it comes to voting for the MLB All-Star Game.
It was better with chads. It just was.