Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Most Unrecognizable MLB All-Star Leading Vote-Getter

When filling out ballots to select players for the National or American League rosters, the names of the players who garner the most votes are the most popular players of their sport. Alex Rodriguez led all position players in 2008, Albert Pujols topped the voting the year after that, and Joe Mauer was the people’s choice last season.

Being the leading vote getter has never been about picking the best player that year, but more about choosing the guy that everyday people find most synonymous with baseball.

That standard has now taken a complete 180-degree turn after the results were tallied up for the 2011 Major League Baseball All-Star rosters.

While Milwaukee Brewers OF Ryan Braun taking in the most selections for the National League is an extraordinary feat, it was the American League’s leading vote-getter that stole the show. Toronto Blue Jays OF Jose Bautista not only snagged the most votes for his side, but he inherited a new claim as the top All-Star vote-getter of all time.

For the past seventeen years, the great Ken Griffey Jr. has been able to hold that title as his own since the public tabbed over six million votes for him in 1994. Having the former Mariner hold that title isn’t shocking; he has always been regarded as one of the most popular players during his tenure in baseball.

What makes Bautista stripping the title away from Griffey so unique is that his path to where he is now never appeared to be leading him to the super-stardom. He didn’t start out as a heralded talent or a prospect with a high ceiling like Griffey and other previous All-Star leading vote-getters were; he was merely an unwanted journeyman who was having trouble just cracking a team’s roster.

After being the Pittsburgh Pirates pick in the 20th round of the 2000 Amateur Draft, the 30-year-old power hitter spent his rookie season packing up his bags more so than smacking balls out of the stadium. He played for four teams in his debut season and participated in less than 25 games for each franchise he landed on that year.

The years that followed his tumultuous and well-traveled rookie season were not much of an improvement, even after he found a squad that kept him around for multiple years.

Bautista was traded back to Pittsburgh for in late June of 2004 and was able to finally settle in with them until August 2008. During his tenure there, he never crushed more than sixteen home runs or hit over .255. He was used mainly as a player who got called when they needed to plug a position and finally became the starter at third base in 2007-2008. His numbers began to decline during his final year in Pittsburgh and he was optioned to Triple-A prior to being traded to Toronto.

At this point in his career, All-Star consideration was far from his thoughts as he was just hoping to stay significant enough to remain in the Majors.

His first full season with the Blue Jays was no different to his previous years with the Pirates. He continued to showcase modest numbers and appeared destined to be nothing more than a serviceable utility player with the talent of playing multiple positions.

No one could have envisioned the output he would display in the next two years.

He would end up setting career records in average, hits, runs, at-bat, games played, and home runs in 2010. Not only would Bautista lead the league in round-dingers that year, but he was also selected as a reserve to the All-Star game. That season ended up being his breakout year, but also brought up significant questions about his future.

Was the public witnessing a one-year wonder whose abilities would return to what his previous six years were or was this a star just beginning to reach the heights he had worked so hard to get to?

The latter seems to be the answer at this point, with the native from the Dominican Republic continuing forward with an impressive season that was capped off by fans selecting him more than they had any previous All-Star in the history of baseball. This is a seemingly unbelievable task, given what he has gone through since he broke into the league in 2004.

Not only should the Blue Jays outfielder be given the kudos he’s received this season, but applause should be given to baseball fans who voted.

It’s easy to look at the big names on the ballot and pass up players who spilled their blood, sweat, and tears for years just to be as great as Bautista has been in the past two seasons. There are the sexier names that fans are more accustomed to voting for.

One prime example is at the starting shortstop position for the American League.

Derek Jeter was selected to play in his twelfth All-Star game and will get the starting nod for his league this season, despite having paltry, career-low numbers and having been injured for a good portion of the first half of the season. Although Asdrubal Cabrera is having a break out season and will be on the bench for the American League, all baseball pundits would banter that he is more deserving to start than the New York Yankees captain is.

So, while the public will occasionally make the right choices for players deserving to start the mid-summer classic, they obviously will still punch in votes for superstars who are the most popular names of the sport.

No matter the questionable choices and decisions fans make on who they select as All-Stars, never has a player reached such heights after numerous pedestrian years in the league. Popularity usually overshadows effort and statistics in All-Star voting; but for the first time ever, fans rewarded a player who has finally reached greatness after an elongated and turbulent ride through professional baseball his whole career.

His name is Jose Bautista, and he is...

...the most unrecognizable All-Star game leading vote-getter of all time.

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