Pity poor Alex Rios.
When the Kansas City center fielder looks to his left, to his right, to anywhere, really, all he sees are other Royals on track to start in the MLB All-Star Game.
Seven other field positions; seven teammates leading the voting.
Rios is the only Kansas City starter trailing, 2 million votes behind some guy named Mike Trout, who just happens to be the best player in the game today.
For years, observers wondered whether big-market teams with their huge fan bases and national appeal would commandeer the All-Star voting. Lineups stacked deep with Yankees and Dodgers appeared inevitable.
Of course, that never happened, notwithstanding the occasional curious fan choice or two.
What did occur, though, is that Kansas City — that smallest of small-market teams — has run away with the 2015 balloting. Royals lead in seven of eight spots.
Many are deserving; a few others not.
The current lineup would include Royals second baseman Omar Infante, who sports a .547 OPS, well below the .718 of second-place vote-getter Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros.
Indeed, the entire Royals infield is of questionable All-Star merit.
Josh Donaldson of the Jays, not Mike Moustakas, should be the starting third baseman. Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera and shortstop Jose Iglesias are easily the best players at their respective positions in the AL this year, and both have hit extremely well.
So, how did this happen?
MLB changed how fans could vote for its starting All-Stars. Prior to the 2015 season, fans had the ability to vote online or with a paper ballot at ballparks. That was removed, and baseball transitioned to a 100-percent online voting system, with the hope that doing so would create more fan interaction and drive up votes.
It did, especially among Royals fans.
Are fans of Kansas City simply better organized that those in other locales? Or is there something more sinister going on here? After all, online voting, where each fan can vote up to 35 times, is not exactly an airtight system.
It’s not as if ballot stuffing hasn’t been an issue in the past, either.
MLB All-Star starting participants used to be selected by the managers of their respective teams, based on strengths and performance leading up to the halfway mark.
In 1947, fans were permitted to vote for the starting position player of their choice.
Cincinnati Reds fans stuffed the ballot boxes in 1957 and voted all but one of the team’s starting position players to the starting eight (Cincy’s Wally Post and Gus Bell were voted in over Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.)
The commissioner stepped in and removed those two Reds from the ballot after it was reported that Cincinnati bartenders refused to serve patrons until they filled out their ballot with all Reds.
The ability for fans to vote for position players was removed and not reinstated again until 1970, when MLB thought fan interest was fading.
MLB routinely tosses out votes that are in excess of that limit or raise other questions. Sixty-five million have been rejected so far.
Some suggest the flush of Royals will lead to changes in the voting process, perhaps a system where the mangers select several finalists from which fans to choose.
That could prevent a situation where seven Kansas City players line up opposite as many as four Cardinals, as could be the case this year.
After all, the All-Star Game matters. The winner gets home-field advantage in the World Series, a significant prize.
Then again, maybe the system is working. Fan interest is sparked. A back-burner June issue is now front page. And people are debating the merits of players. Isn’t that the goal?
Right now, the only way to beat them is to join them. If you don’t like the Royals slated to start, vote the rascals out. Get online by July 2 to vote 35 times.
Otherwise, poor Alex Rios may be the only Royal not starting.