Before Paul Goldschmidt became a seven-time All-Star himself, he grew up in the Houston area, going to Astros games and voting for his favorite All-Stars: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, from that great generation of the 1990s and early 2000s. Astros players.

“The hard part was deciding how many homers you were going to make,” Goldschmidt recalled Monday. “I remember going to games and getting pamphlets and punching holes in them and turning them in. We loved voting on them and talking to our friends about who was eligible and who wasn’t.”

The St. Louis Cardinals first baseman is still nostalgic for those blue-and-white paper ballots with punched holes next to each player — National League players on one side, American League players on the other. And it turns out he’s not alone.

Seattle Mariners first baseman Ty France and New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole both grew up in Southern California and attended Angels games.

“I’ll take a big stack, and the whole game I’m just going to hole up,” France said.

Cole said he did the same.

“I wish we still had punch holes,” he said. “I’ll take a bunch of ballots and use a pen and punch in Tim Salmon and Garrett Anderson and Darin Erstad and those guys.”

New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil has a similar memory.

“Oh, yeah, little punch cards,” said McNeil, who insisted he never let his affinity for the Los Angeles Dodgers affect his voting. “I don’t think I did, because I knew a lot about baseball when I was a kid, so I think I voted correctly.”

right Nearly 90 years after the first All-Star Game, the same debate continues: What makes an All-Star?

The players, of course, relive those childhood memories now that they are part of the All-Star voting process, selecting backups after fans select nine position player starters. There are statistics to consider, advanced metrics to use, and personal preferences for factors.

Some take their voting responsibility very seriously.

“It’s tough,” Goldschmidt said. “War is kind of inclusive, but I try to look at a few different things. Offensively, you can look at OPS, try to figure out where they adjust the ballpark, like OPS+ or weighted runs produced plus. … You spend. Can do it day in and day out, so I tried to focus on base running and defense. It’s tough when you can only vote for two guys at each position. That’s what makes it so special: You know how hard it is to get here. .”

And every player has a personal preference when it comes to eligibility statistics. McNeil, who is one of only 21 eligible hitters with an average of .300 or better at the All-Star break, is keeping a close eye on that mark.

“I’m an average hitter, so I like average hitters,” he said. “Even without power, it’s extremely difficult to hit for average in games these days. I was talking [Miami Marlins first-time All-Star] Garrett Cooper and said to him, ‘You got my vote. I’d love to see what you’re up to; You’re hitting over .300, you’re putting together some great at-bats.’ That’s huge for the team. “

Maybe McNeil is onto something; 15 of the 21 players hit .300, either on the original roster or as replacements, making the All-Star team. It’s not a comprehensive stat like WAR, and it’s a bit old school, but .300 is still a number players care about — especially in a year when the overall major league average is just .242.

Still, it’s not as simple as saying, “Pick the players with the best seasons.” Cardinals infielder Tommy Edmon, despite ranking third in the majors among position players in WAR, did not make the roster despite all the extra additions.

“He stinks because of how valuable a player he is,” Goldschmidt said of his teammate. “I think the offensive numbers are pretty high. I had no idea his WAR was that high, but I know he’s a great player. There’s no right answer.”

But on one thing almost all the players agreed: the selection should be based on the best performance of the year, not as a lifetime achievement award.

“It’s the 2022 All-Star Game,” McNeil said. “A player’s career has some kind of correlation, but it has to be the best year.”

But what it means to have a “best” year can be as complicated as it sometimes seems Everyone Finally comes. Consider all the injuries and pitcher replacements, as well as the need for each team to get a rep and a few other things (like Atlanta Braves part-time catcher/DH William Contreras getting an All-Star start for an injured Bryce Harper, say Freddie Freeman or Pete Alonso). This year, we ended up with 81 All-Stars, including 37 first-timers.

That seems high — but it turns out it’s not a record. Last year, there were 42 All-Stars for the first time. Nine of the 10 highest totals by All-Star rookies have come since 2010 (1988 and 2003 also tied for 10th), with the exception of the first in 1933.

The idea that current year value trumps career value or name recognition has evolved over the past two decades in both how players feel and how fans vote for starters. In the past, many of the same players were voted starters year after year — regardless of the season. Rod Carew started 15 All-Star games — sure, most of them when he was winning batting titles, but some late in his career when he wasn’t an elite first baseman. Wade Boggs started 11 consecutive All-Star games at third base for the American League. Cal Ripken Jr. started a 16-game hitting streak. Once you were an All-Star, you were an All-Star for the rest of your career.

There is actually an easy way to measure this. Since 1970, the first year umpire ballots were distributed at the ballpark, I added the number of previous All-Star starts for each player in the lineup, not including the starting pitcher.

The most “veteran” lineups in each league are the 1972 National League team, with a total of 46 All-Star starts, and the 1999 American League roster, with 48. Take a look:

1972 National League

C — Johnny Bench (4)

1B — Lee May (1)

2B — Joe Morgan (1)

3B — Joe Torre (6)

SS — Don Kessinger (4)

LF — Willie Stargell (3)

CF — Willie Mays (14)

RF — Henry Aaron (13)

1999 American League

C — Ivan Rodriguez (7)

1B — Jim Thome (2)

2B — Roberto Alomar (8)

3B — Cal Ripken Jr. (16)

SS — Nomar Garciaparra (1)

LF — Kenny Lofton (4)

CF — Ken Griffey Jr. (8)

RF — Manny Ramirez (1)

DH — Rafael Palmero (1)

Sure, in both lineups, a player or two with long streaks skews things a bit, but that gets the point across. In 1972, Mays hit .233 with four home runs. The fans still voted for him. Compare his fan philosophy to that of more recent future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, who has made just one start since leaving the Cardinals in 2011.

Gone are the bloated opening sums of the past. In 2021, the American League had just 16 career All-Star starts, with Salvador Perez leading the way with the sixth. The National League total was 14, and seven of the nine position players were first-time starters.

In 2022, the AL totaled only 17 career All-Star starts; Aaron Judge leads the way with his fourth career start. The NL has 20, also leading Mookie Betts with four starts.

It’s fair to suggest that this sea change is due to the young talent in the game, but it also speaks to how difficult it is to stay at the top of the game in 2022. Perhaps Wladimir Guerrero Jr. and Rafael Devers, both starting their second-place careers, will be voted into the next decade. But Dodgers first baseman Freeman, who started the past three All-Star Games and made the team this year only as a replacement, said he didn’t do enough to warrant an automatic selection.

“I only have 12 seasons,” he laughed. “Maybe after 20 seasons, I’ve had enough of that.”

MLB has fixed this in a small way, adding “legends” spots chosen by the commissioner’s office, with Pujols and Miguel Cabrera joining the team this year — the 2022 version of fans voting for an aging Willie Mays.

“I love that tradition,” Yanks hurler Cole said. “It’s amazing. I’ve played against Miggy for a long time. It was great to sit with him on the bus and chat with him, because usually we’re talking on the way to the field. Unless you’re [Justin Verlander], at the end of your career you might not be putting in an electric first half to get a quality vote, but there’s a lot of knowledge that those types of players can impress some young players, first-timers. Specifically, meeting some of their heroes. That circle of information will only be good for production.”

And of course, there will always be a fandom element to All-Star voting. Certainly more votes are tallied each summer from fan bases like Atlanta, New York or Boston — and, it turns out, in the player category, too.

Mets slugger Alonso aptly described his philosophy: “I voted for me and all my teammates.”

Freeman laughed at that. “To be honest with you, I voted for all the Dodgers,” he said. “I promise you, we all voted for our colleagues.”