He's not a fan of this selection process

By Kenneth Broder
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
July 10, 1988

Baseball fans in Oakland and St. Louis still have a few tricks to learn about ballot-box stuffing if they're going to make a serious run at the record set by Cincinnati fans in 1957.

That was the year an overzealous city got behind its team and stacked the National League starting lineup with Reds like Wally Post, Don Hoak, Ed Bailey and Roy McMillan. After punishing the fans by disenfranchising them for a few years, the leagues finally relented, reformed the system a bit and gave them back the vote.

And a grateful fandom has responded by acting almost as inanely now as it did then. For sure, the reformed system, or a nagging sense of guilt, managed to keep the most obnoxious fan abuses from perverting this year's starting lineups, but what twisted sense of fair play compelled A's fans to thrust upon the public consciousness Terry Steinbach (No. 1 Catcher), Mark McGwire (No. 1 1B), Glenn Hubbard (No. 3 2B), Walt Weiss (No. 3 SS) and Dave Parker ( No. 7 OF) in the balloting?

St. Louisians were hardly less culpable, shamelessly lobbying for Tony Pena (No. 3 Catcher), Bob Horner (No. 5 1B), Terry Pendleton (No. 3 3B), Vince Coleman (No. 3 OF) and Willie McGee (No. 5 OF). Over 24,000 self-styled baseball aficionados even wrote-in Luis Alicea on their ballots for second base, and really, who but a Cardinal devotee has even heard of him.

Well, since this is my first such annual All-Star assignment, and perhaps my last, I thought I'd take a shot at all three. But, in deference to my editor who would like to squeeze a story or two besides mine into the Sports Section, I'll contain my analysis to hitters only. And, as usual in the space, fielding will get the short shrift it deserves.

The measure of the men will be taken sans such esoteric embellishments as ball park influence, and will be based on how many more victories than losses a player theoretically contributes to his team. That number, which we'll call Player Offensive Wins (POW), is based on sundry Bill James formulae and is computed thusly:

1) Figure how many runs a hitter contributes to his team by using a formula that takes into consideration his total offense (hits, walks, total bases, stolen bases, etc.); 2) Figure out how many run a team would score if it had nine players like that hitter in its lineup: 3) Compute the theoretical won-loss record of the aforementioned hypothetical team by comparing the runs it would score t o the league average; and finally 4) Determine how many more wins than losses such a team (aka the player) would have.

By my calculations, Andre Galarraga led the majors as of Tuesday with a 5.63 POW while his team's record was 40-41. Theoretically, if the Expos had an average player at first, they'd be six or seven games under .500.

POW is a positively diabolical way to rate players, undermining at once our faith in the conventional wisdom and our own powers of observation. But nobody said it would be easy. That's why we call it Hardball.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Firstbase: Mark McGwire gets the nod as starter on the All-Star and All-Overrated teams thanks to Bay Area buffoons and an early-season surge. The fan salute to perennial All-Star Don Mattingly was touching, but it's a shame it comes at the expense of All-Underrated team captain Dwight Evans, who is quietly fashioning an elegant finale to a Hall of Fame career.

Secondbase: Can't really complain about Paul Molitor being listed at second base on the ballot; that's where I pegged him in my Rotisserie League, And he is having a great year. There really are no standouts, with Lou Whitaker's injuries and power outage cramping his game, but that's no excuse for Willie Randolph and his .209 batting average finishing second in the vote. Only his history as arguably the best AL second baseman of the past 10 years nudges him off the All-Overrated team for Glenn Hubbard.

Shortstop: Trammell, Ripken, Fernandez, Stillwell, Fletcher, Guillen, Gagne. With such a bounty of riches why do we even have to know who All-Overrated Marc Weiss is? Ronald Blum of Associated Press says either Ripken or Guillen will replace injured Trammell as starter. I wonder who'll get the nod.

Thirdbase: I think if I played third for the Blue Jays I would hit .300. First it was the unholy platoon of Mulliniks and Iorg; now it's All-Underrated Kelly Gruber, whom even Toronto fans chose to ignore as a write-in candidate. Of course, we're only talking backup to the best hitter in baseball, Wade Boggs.

Catcher Has there ever been a worse crop of catchers? If Oakland hadn't stuffed the ballot box for All-Overrated Terry Steinbach, we might have had to resurrect Bob Boone. But, if you're going to pick someone who has missed half the year, why not All-Underrated Don Slaught and his incredible 9.08 Runs Per Game Average?

Outfield As long as Rickey Henderson's numbers stay respectable, I can't quibble with having the best leadoff hitter in history start the All-Star Game. Hopefully, All-Underrated Mike Greenwell will get a chance to showcase his considerable talents. I was kinda hoping manager Tom Kelly would yield to popular demand and slip All-Overrated Dave Parker on the team to highlight the folly of venerating over-the-hill ex-stars at the expense of the game's integrity.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Firstbase: Is Will Clark (1,128,048 votes) really twice as good as Andres Galarraga (670,909 votes)? Galarraga lost out to a fine ballplayers, but still would have made the All-Underrated team if Gerald Perry hadn't finished 12th in the balloting. All-Overrated Keith Hernandez, who finished second, was having his worst year in recent memory before being injured.

Secondbase: Ryne Sandberg's reputation and Wrigley Field help give him a deserved edge, but All-Underrated Robby Thompson is having as good a year.

Shortstop: If ever fielding could make a difference it's here. But smoothy Barry Larkin has created 10 more runs for his team than Ozzie Smith while making 20 fewer outs. Did Smith's glove really save that many runs?

Thirdbase: When Stu Nahan was asked recently on KABC's SportsTalk what was wrong with the Reds this year, he unhesitatingly snapped off, "The problem is the young players like Larkin and (All Underrated Chris) Sabo." The Dodgers should have such problems. It won't seem like an All-Star game without the best thirdbaseman in history, Mike Schmidt, there, though the fans tried hard.

Catcher: From 1981 to '83 the Tigers won a higher percentage of games and the pitchers had lower ERAs when Lance Parrish wasn't catching. That changed in '84 and I don't know what his story is these days. But even with a bad back he's had a better year than All-Star Gary Carter, and if All-Underrated Alan Ashby had a little more playing time I'd give him the nod over both of them.

Outfield: I devoted most of a column last week to the sins of All-Star and All-Overrated Vince Coleman and the running game; he wasn't worth the ink. The last few years he's raised his game to an average level and deserves to collect a major league paycheck, but this ... this is too much. It's a shame All-Underrated Kirk Gibson chose to sit this one out and subjected us to the spectacle of free-swinging Willie McGee. But at least midseason MVP Darryl Strawberry received his due. In the preseason, I predicted he'd win the MVP and then in the infinite wisdom that later inspired this column, I proceeded to pass him up in my Rotisserie League draft for All-Overrated Eric Davis.

ALL-EVERYTHING TEAMS
American League
All-StarsAll-DeservingAll-UnderratedAll-Overrated

1BMcGwire3.8Brett4.9Dw. Evans2.6McGwire3.8
2BMolitor3.2Molitor3.2Barrett0.5Hubbard-2.0
SSTrammell3.3Trammell3.3Stillwell1.1Weiss-2.9
3BBoggs4.1Boggs4.1Gruber3.4Pagliarulo-1.9
CSteinbach-1.0Slaught2.1Slaught2.1Steinbach-1.0
OFCanseco4.4Winfield4.9Greenwell4.7Bell1.2
OFWinfield4.9Greenwell4.7Burks3.2Parker0.3
OFHenderson3.1Canseco4.4Yount3.2Jackson2.1
National League
All-StarsAll-DeservingAll-UnderratedAll-Overrated

1BClark4.5Galarraga5.6Perry2.6Hernandez2.0
2BSandberg1.9Sandberg1.9Thompson2.0Lind-2.4
SSSmith1.4Larkin3.3Larkin3.3Uribe-1.6
3BBonilla4.7Bonilla4.7Sabo3.8Schmidt-0.4
CCarter-0.2Parrish0.7Ashby1.0Carter-0.2
OFStrawberry5.1Strawberry5.1Gibson4.2Coleman1.5
OFDawson4.0Gibson4.2Van Slyke3.7Davis1.4
OFColeman1.5Dawson4.0Daniels3.4Gwynn-0.2

CHART FACTS
* Hitters' ratings are Player Offensive Wins. POW uses a four-step mathematical process to determine how many more wins than losses a player's offense contributes to his team.
* All-Stars are the fans' choices.
* All-Deserving are players favored by POW, with some subjective tilt for defensive prowess and career achievements.
* All-Underrated are players who garnered fewer fan votes than they deserved.
* All-Overrated are players who received more fan votes than they deserved.
* Stats are computed based on games as of Tuesday.