Guerry Clegg

These Braves players are the reason to cast MLB All-Star ballot

Atlanta Braves right fielder Nick Markakis (22) is shown in action against the San Diego Padres during a baseball game Thursday, June 14, 2018, in Atlanta. The Braves won 4-2. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Braves right fielder Nick Markakis (22) is shown in action against the San Diego Padres during a baseball game Thursday, June 14, 2018, in Atlanta. The Braves won 4-2. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

A few days ago, I did something I haven’t done since I was in high school. I cast an official Major League Baseball All-Star ballot.

See, I’m still a bit old school, and one of the sacred tenets of becoming a sportswriter is no longer thinking like a fan. There’s no cheering in the press box. One of the perks of being a sportswriter or broadcaster is getting to vote on some cool stuff. Hall of Fame ballots, All-America teams, the Heisman. MLB All-Star ballots are for the fans.

But even though I still write about the Atlanta Braves now and then, I’ve gravitated back to my fan roots since leaving this gig full time. For the most part, I pay my own parking, admission and overpriced concessions like everybody else for Braves games. College football is a different matter, as I try to balance coverage among Georgia, Auburn and Alabama.

Anyway, this MLB All-Star ballot looked quite a bit different than the ones from my youth, and not just because it was done online. What was different was this one had just two Braves and one Baltimore Oriole — my beloved American League team for as long as I can remember.

The latter should be obvious. Any American League All-Star ballot that doesn’t include Manny Machado should be investigated by the FBI. But that’s it. As a kid, there’s no doubt I would have loaded it up with Orioles — Trey Mancini, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, Jonathan Schoop. To be honest, I might have even found a way to justify including Chris Davis, who’s not even hitting the bat boy’s weight, let alone his own.

That’s where years of self-imposed objectivity changed my mindset. Machado is the only Oriole deserving of the All-Star team.

The National League portion of my ballot of my youth would have been loaded with Braves. Eh, that Johnny Bench guy is overrated. Biff Pocoroba has a four-game hitting streak.

This ballot contained two Braves — first baseman Freddie Freeman and right fielder Nick Markakis. And in fact, those two guys were what prompted me to vote in the first place.

As of now, Freeman, Markakis and second baseman Ozzie Albies are on track to start for the National League as leading vote recipients as their positions. Yeah, Markakis is second among outfielders behind Washington’s Bryce Harper, but the top three make the team.

It’s good to see that Freeman and Markakis are finally getting the love they deserve outside of Braves country.

Freeman is simply one of the top players in the game and the National League MVP of the first half. Admittedly, I’m a little biased — not so much as a Braves fan but as someone who watches Freeman every day. The stats, as good as they are, don’t tell the whole story. His defense is superb. I still think he could have made an above average third baseman. But it’s the whole package. His clutch performances. His base-running, his dugout and clubhouse presence. He’s reminiscent of two of the Braves’ all-time greats -- Chipper Jones for his hitting and Dale Murphy for his intangibles.

Freeman has been overlooked the past few years, partly because the Braves have been bad and the National League has been loaded with first basemen — Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt and now Eric Hosmer, Cody Bellinger and Brandon Belt.

Yet, despite often having no threat in the cleanup spot to protect him, Freeman has consistently produced.

One of the reasons that he has produced this year is having Markakis — an unlikely cleanup hitter — hitting behind him. Markakis has had a solid career and will likely finish in the top 100 all-time in hits, doubles and RBI. His fellow players have voted him the Heart and Hustle Award four times — twice with Baltimore, twice with Atlanta.

Yet, Markakis has never made an All-Star team.

This is his best season yet. Teams have to make the tough choice between pitching to Freeman or walking him and taking their chances with Markakis.

So why not Albies? Because I like to be consistent. I’d like to see the most deserving players start. Cincinnati’s Scooter Gennett has been the best second baseman in baseball this year, Jose Altuve notwithstanding. At times, Albies has been dynamite. Other times, he reminds us that he’s still just a 21-year-old rookie.

Voting is open until July 5. I can vote 34 more times, but probably won’t. I don’t believe in ballot-stuffing. Old school, you know.

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