The most recent ballot-stuffing suspicions came in 2012, when a late 2 million vote surge from the Bay Area boosted Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval into the starting lineup over the Mets’ David Wright. Sandoval ignored the uproar and delivered a first-inning, three-run triple off Justin Verlander.
That year, MLB announced that a record 40.2 million ballots were cast. The vote totals are tabulated and authenticated by the Boston-based TMC Group.
“We are very confident in the integrity of our All-Star balloting system,” MLB spokesman Matt Bourne said in an e-mail. “There is a limit on the number of times a fan can vote online and numerous layers of security to prevent any issues.
“TMC also monitors ballots and has ways of detecting mass punching. If we see a major swing in results, we will investigate the reason. However, the cause is usually a result of a major campaign conducted by the club to vote for one of their players.”
Seeking votes — plural
The marketing campaigns are part of the fun, said Twins senior director Kevin Smith. In recent years, the Twins have handed out buttons for fans with slogans such as, “Step up to the plate; vote Mauer & Morneau in ’08.”
In 2006, when the White Sox were trying to get catcher A.J. Pierzynski elected, they handed out T-shirts that said, “Punch A.J.”
“It’s no-holds-barred, if you want,” Smith said. “You don’t have to stick to any type of protocol or procedure. You can come up with any wacky idea that you think might work. The whole goal of all of these is to excite the fan base.”
Smith said the Twins staff has even invited fans to “ballot-punching parties” on the deck outside the team offices, overlooking left field.
“They can sit here and watch the game and have a couple of beers and punch ballots,” Smith said. “I think one year we even gave a prize to the person who punched the most ballots in an inning or something like that.”
Twins players have long felt the odds were stacked against them in voting because of the Twin Cities’ market size.
In 1987, Kent Hrbek vented his frustrations. He had been an All-Star as a rookie five years earlier but became incensed when nobody besides Kirby Puckett got selected in 1986 and 1987. Notable snubs included Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky.
“I’m peeved, not just for myself, but because it shows nothing for the whole team,” Hrbek said at the time. “I accepted not making it when we weren’t doing well. This I don’t accept. If those guys ask me to go again, they can kiss my ass.”
‘The fans’ game’
Last week at Target Field, two fans from Lakeville — Darin Stotz, 44, and Mark Wegner, 48 — said they fill out All-Star ballots, hoping to give their favorite Twins a boost.
Wegner said he submits eight to 10 printed ballots at the ballpark each year. Stotz said he votes about five times per year, with a couple of those coming online.
Reminded that the voting would begin Friday, Stotz said, “That’s a little early. You don’t know for some of these guys how their seasons are going to turn out.”
Baseball rules state that each team gets 23 home dates for voting. And then there’s the online rush.