Something is rotten in the state of baseball

By Tim Sullivan
Updated: July 7, 2010

SAN DIEGO — You realize, of course, that this means war.

The announced alliance of the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds, designed to monopolize the last roster spots in the All-Star Game, creates a baseball cartel that is anti-competitive, anti-American and just plain mean.

It needs to be stopped. The Red Sox and Reds are ganging up on the poor Padres and their Final Vote candidate, reliever Heath Bell.

Worse, their sneaky scheme seems to be working.

Boston’s Kevin Youkilis and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto were leading the American and National League balloting for the 34th All-Star roster spots as of Tuesday’s totals, and while both players are doubtlessly deserving, both are also diminished by the organized vote trading taking place on their behalf.

“I don’t think it’s illegal,” said attorney Len Simon, a member of the Padres’ board of directors. “But it stinks. I don’t think it’s fair play.”

When two big-league clubs make common cause at the expense of their competition, they invite suspicion, scrutiny, rebuke and retaliation. When such skulduggery succeeds, as it did last year when the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies joined forces for the Final Vote, it underscores the impropriety of marketing considerations outweighing merit in a game that is supposed to mean something.

Were the All-Star Game still just a glorified exhibition, with nothing riding on the outcome, promotional gimmickry like the Final Vote could be easily dismissed. But with the winning league now gaining home-field advantage for the World Series — suddenly a vital interest in San Diego — the popularity contest component of roster selection should be reduced, if not eliminated.

Any election in which individuals are eligible to vote more than once is of dubious validity. Any baseball competition in which two clubs can conspire for mutual advantage runs contrary to the notion of the level playing field.

Sure, it stinks. Like a skunk’s diaper after a Limburger lunch.

Former Padre Shane Victorino shoulders some of the blame for the stench. The Phillies outfielder was so eager to win last year’s Final Vote that he knocked on doors and lobbied customers at a local McDonald’s in the company of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

On Victorino’s suggestion, and seizing on the popularity of Clint Eastwood’s film, “Gran Torino,” the Phillies partnered with the Tigers on a “Vote Bran Torino” campaign to promote Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge and Victorino as a straight ticket.

Both Inge and Victorino rallied from behind to win spots in the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis — Victorino wound up starting the game in place of the injured Carlos Beltran — and the success of this joint venture has prompted other clubs to imitate that initiative.

Besides the Reds/Red Sox pact, the Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals are pushing a “Third Base Ticket” featuring Michael Young and Ryan Zimmerman. Before Tuesday’s game against the Padres, Zimmerman taped a message in Washington to be aired on the Rangers’ scoreboard in Arlington, Texas.

Young was to offer reciprocal support.

“I know in the past teams have formed an accord with one (team) or another to get their players voted in,” Reds spokesman Jamie Ramsey said Tuesday. “It was basically something where we knew (Boston’s) Youkilis was a Cincinnati boy, so it made sense for us to push him as well as Joey (Votto).”

To provide the Red Sox with motivation to promote Votto, Ramsey dangled a tantalizing dollop of revisionist history.

“I promised Red Sox Nation they could think they won the 1975 World Series in six games,” Ramsey said. “I might send them a part of the trophy. It’s in the Reds Hall of Fame. I plan on sneaking over there after hours, maybe breaking off one of the flags.”

Because Votto is a native of Ontario, the Reds have also sought the support of the Toronto Blue Jays, who have no Final Vote candidates of their own. Independently, Toronto Sun columnist Steve Buffery on Tuesday urged readers to “get off your lazy asses” to vote for the Reds’ first baseman.

On the local level, the Reds are staging a “Vote Votto” lunch today in their press dining room, furnishing free food and computer access for zealous fans. The Gaslamp Quarter Association will be sponsoring a similar effort tonight on Bell’s behalf at Dick’s Last Resort.

Market size notwithstanding, Cincinnati is a formidable force when it comes to electoral overkill.

Efforts to rig the 1957 All-Star vote resulted in seven Reds being elected to the National League’s starting lineup — two of them were replaced at the insistence of Commissioner Ford Frick — and the suspension of fan balloting until 1970.

The Padres have explored the possibility of a mutual interest pact, but their smallish fan base and a schedule that finds the team on the road would not seem to be strong selling points. They are relying, instead, on social networking initiatives and enterprising fans like Steve Adler of

Adler organized a “voting blitz” for Bell on Tuesday night and has sought to align himself with the largest online reservoir of Red Sox antipathy to defeat the Youkilis/Votto ticket.

Much as Padre fans might loath the New York Yankees, it’s sometimes smart to align yourself with the biggest bully on the block.

“If Hitler invaded hell,” quoth Winston Churchill, “I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”

Along those lines, George Steinbrenner’s Evil Empire has an American League Final Vote candidate in outfielder Nick Swisher, and no official National League ally.

“If (Reds owner) Bob Castellini feels comfortable ‘drafting’ Red Sox Nation, I’m the Steinbrenners’ best friend,” Padres CEO Jeff Moorad said via e-mail. “Bell and Swisher, or broke!!!”