There is one week left to vote for the starters in the 2014 MLB All-Star Game. Each week Michael Brantley has risen higher and higher in the balloting among outfielders, going from out of the top 15 to 9th place, to 7th, and now to 6th. There's a good case to be made that Brantley deserves to start, but despite his great first half, and his improved voting results each week, there's no chance he actually finishes in the top three of the voting. No other Indians player is anywhere in the top five at their position, which means the Indians won't have anyone voted in to start in the game.
This news isn't surprising, given that the team has the very worst attendance in baseball (which means there aren't many paper ballots getting filled out at Progressive Field), they play in a small market (which means they have a relatively small fan base with fewer people voting online), and they don't have any players with major name recognition (which means the average fan in other ballparks isn't punching their name).
This news also isn't anything new. While the team regularly had multiple players voted in as starters during the late 90s, during the 2000s it's been a rare occurrence, one that hasn't happened in years.*
*The pitchers for the game are not chosen by fans, so while Cliff Lee started the 2008 ASG, it was because he was chosen by Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
Who was the last Indian voted by fans to start the All-Star Game?
- It wasn't Jason Kipnis, who may have been the best second baseman in the first half of 2013.
- It wasn't Asdrubal Cabrera, who may have been the best shortstop in the first half of 2011, though Cabrera did actually start the game, due to elected starter Derek Jeter being injured.
- It wasn't Shin-Soo Choo, who may have been one of the three best outfielders in the first half of 2010 and 2009.
- It wasn't Jhonny Peralta, who may have been the best shortstop in the first half of 2008.
- It wasn't Grady Sizemore, who was certainly one of the three best outfielders in the first half of 2008 and 2006, and may have been in 2007 and 2005 too.
- It wasn't Victor Martinez, who was certainly the best catcher in the first half of 2007.
- It wasn't Travis Hafner, who was certainly the best player listed as a first baseman in the first half of 2006 (there was no DH on the ballot that year), and certainly the best DH in the first half of 2005.
- It wasn't Coco Crisp, who may have been one of the three best outfielders in the first half of 2005.
- It wasn't Ronnie Belliard, who may have been the best second baseman in the first half of 2004.
- It wasn't Milton Bradley, who may have been one of the three best outfielders in the first half of 2003.
The correct answer: Juan Gonzalez, way back in 2001, when he narrowly squeaked out the third outfield spot. He hit .329/.374/.659 in the first half that season, with 22 home runs and 74 RBI, and the Indians were still one of MLB's marquee teams, so it's not a surprise that he was elected. Thirteen years have gone by since then though.
How long has it been since each AL team had someone voted in?
- The Angels, Blue Jays, Orioles, Red Sox, Tigers, Twins, and Yankees all had someone voted a starter in 2013.
- The Rangers had someone voted a starter in 2012.
- The Mariners and Rays had someone voted a starter in 2010.
- The Astros had someone voted a starter in 2008 (when they were still in the National League).
- The Indians had someone voted a starter in 2001.
- The A's and Royals had someone voted a starter in 2000.
- The White Sox had someone voted a starter in 1997.
So, the Indians dry spell isn't quite the worst in the league, but it's close. The A's are set to break their streak this season, as Josh Donaldson has a commanding lead at third base, and Yoenis Cespedes is in 4th place among outfielders, and gaining on 3rd. Meanwhile the Royals don't have anyone in the top five at their position, though Alex Gordon has as at least good a case for the third outfield spot as Brantley. The White Sox are sort of close to getting their first player elected in 17 years, as Jose Abreu (1B) and Alexei Ramirez (SS) are each in 2nd place at their position, but neither is anywhere close to 1st, so their streak isn't going to end this season either.
Looking to the future, is there much chance the Indians will end their streak in the next year or two?
Hypothetically, a player can come from nowhere and get enough votes, but the only way that tends to happen is with a ton of home runs (like Chris Davis last year), and the Tribe doesn't have anyone who profiles to do that. If Grady Sizemore in 2008, who'd been an All-Star twice already and was having a monster year couldn't build up the name recognition to get in, I don't see anyone on the current roster doing it. Catcher is a weak position in the AL right now, so if Yan Gomes keeps things up, maybe he wins the voting there next year, or perhaps Francisco Lindor is as great as we hope next year, and wins the vote in 2016. If not one of those two, I don't know who it might be.
We might be waiting a while yet.