Kansas City fans are only the latest to stuff the ballot box for the All-Star Game.
The fans were given the opportunity to vote for All-Stars starting in 1947 – and it was taken away in 1957, after Cincinnati fans elected a Reds player to every starting position except first base. Ford Frick stepped in and disallowed two, and the fan vote was suspended for 13 years.
People even complained about the Indians doing it in 1999.
The All-Star Game featured at least one player from every team. And there were years in the dark days (defined as the period between when Willie Mays caught Vic Wertz’s long drive at the Polo Grounds and the day Jacobs Field opened 40 years later) where the only reason an Indians player was on the American League All-Star team was because someone had to be. In 1964, it was Jack Kralick. In 1976, it was Dave LaRoche. Three years later, it was Sid Monge. In 1987, it was Pat Tabler.
But by the mid 1990s, it was a new ballgame in Cleveland. Jacobs Field had replaced the decrepit Cleveland Stadium as the Tribe’s home, and there was a team befitting the shimmering new ballpark. By the end of the decade, the only thing the Indians hadn’t done was win a World Series. They’d appeared in two, and won every American League Central Division title since each league realigned into three divisions. Jacobs Field had even hosted an All-Star Game of its own, in 1997. It seemed like everyone in Northern Ohio was an Indians fan.
And it really seemed like it as All-Star ballots started to come in. When voting started that May, the Indians held a pregame ceremony. Paper ballots were available at the ballpark or at several team store locations – and new that year, you could vote on the internet too!
By the time balloting ended on June 26, the Indians had four starters voted in: outfielders Kenny Lofton and Manny Ramirez (David Justice finished fourth in the voting), first baseman Jim Thome and second baseman Roberto Alomar. Omar Vizquel was named a reserve, a distant third behind Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, but close behind second-place finisher Nomar Garciaparra, the hometown candidate. Charles Nagy replaced Mariano Rivera on the roster, bringing the total to six Indians on the American League All-Star team. It was the second most in team history (there were seven in the Midsummer Classic of 1952).
Unsurprisingly, some people had a problem with that. Juan Gonzalez, the defending American League MVP, finished fifth in outfield voting. And he wasn’t happy about it. “The system is not fair,” Gonzalez said, adding that he’d stay home even if he was named as a reserve.
Justice was sanguine about it. “You’ve got players that have been voted in that have not deserved to be there every year, but that’s just the way baseball is,” he said. “That’s just the way the system is. If you want to change the system, then change the system.”
Additionally, the Indians at that time were so flush with talent that seven FORMER Indians were named to the All-Star team. Tony Fernandez was on the American League squad, while Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey, Paul Byrd (who was drafted by the team but at that point had never played for the Tribe), Matt Williams, Jay Bell and Jeff Kent were named to the National League team.
The game was at Fenway Park, and pregame festivities included Jim Gray accosting Pete Rose (which seems tragically ironic in retrospect) and one of the final public appearances of Ted Williams. During the game, Lofton and Ramirez each scored, and Thome drove in a run. Pedro Martinez was named MVP, but while the game belonged to the Red Sox, the Indians were able to claim a big part of it too.