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4 Cases of All-Star Voter Fraud

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When Major League Baseball announced the early vote leaders for the 2015 All-Star Game, something seemed...off. Of the nine available starting positions for the American League, eight first-place spots were held by Kansas City Royals players. If this stands, Angels outfielder Mike Trout will be the only starter for the American League all-stars without a "KC" on his hat.

While many people were quick to call "fraud," Major League Baseball came out and said the results are on the level. This marks the first year that voting is held completely online, and each person is allowed to cast up to 35 ballots. Kansas City fans have taken advantage of this more than their rivals, meaning the secret to their team's dominance on this front is no more complicated than hitting "send" over and over again.

Although the very nature of all-star voting invites trickery, All-Star Game lore is littered with examples of particularly egregious and actual frauds. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. The 1957 Redlegs Become an All-Star Team

cincinnati-redlegs.jpgFans of baseball history would probably know what to expect on a National League All-Star starting roster from the 1950s. Willie Mays and Hank Aaron will be patrolling the outfield, right? Not if the fans had their say in the 1957 game's starters. When the votes were tallied for the game at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, the NL's starting roster included Cardinals first baseman Stan Musial and seven members of the Cincinnati Redlegs. Sure, the Redlegs had a potent offense that included future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, but were they almost an entire All-Star team?

Of course not. You have to give the people of Cincinnati credit for one of the most well-organized All-Star campaigns in history, though. Since all of the voting was done on paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer printed filled-out ballots and distributed them with newspapers. All fans needed to do was gather some copies of the pre-marked ballots and turn them in. Rumors swirled that bars in Cincinnati wouldn't serve customers without the patron first filling out a ballot. A commissioner's investigation supposedly learned that over half of the votes cast for the National League's roster originated in Cincinnati.

Sensing something was seriously amiss, Commissioner Ford C. Frick quickly stepped in to rectify the situation. He booted Redlegs outfielder Wally Post from the team entirely and moved Gus Bell to the bench. In their places, Mays and Aaron got starting nods in the outfield. Frick went one step further, too; he stripped the fans of their all-star voting rights entirely. From 1958 to 1970, managers and players chose the rosters with no input from fans.

2. Hacker Gets Behind Nomar

nomar-si.jpgAs the Web spread, the need for those annoying paper ballots where you knock out the chad with your pencil tip started to wane. Tons of fans enjoyed the relative simplicity of sitting down at their computer and casting a ballot or two. Or, in the case of computer programmer and Red Sox fan Chris Nandor in 1999, several thousand. With then-beloved Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra trailing Derek Jeter in the AL voting, Nandor took matters into his own hands. He whipped up a little computer program in the programming language Perl that could inundate Major League Baseball's online ballot with votes for Sox players. Within minutes, Nandor cast over 25,000 ballots for Nomar and fellow Sox like Scott Hatteberg and Jose Offerman. MLB eventually figured out Nandor's tomfoolery and disallowed his votes. That didn't matter to Nandor, though; Garciaparra ended up getting enough votes to start the game.

3. Vote for Rory

During the 2007 NHL season, hockey fan Steve Schmid had the idea that it would be fun to see a non-star play in the All-Star Game. He wanted to find just an average old hockey player and try to vote him in. He chose Rory Fitzpatrick, a journeyman defenseman who had enjoyed a long, if fairly unremarkable, career. Since all of the all-star voting was online, it seemed easy to start a grass-roots movement behind Fitzpatrick. And it was. On the strength of the website voteforrory.com and a series of funny YouTube videos endorsing his candidacy, Fitzpatrick's vote total surged. The people were finally getting their say!

vote_for_rory.jpg

Actually, the people and a clever computer program were getting their say, and the computer program was doing most of the heavy lifting. After the debacle of Nandor's voting spree in 1999, leagues had started to crack down on vote hacking, but as usual, the hackers were one or two steps ahead. The NHL tried to ward off fraud using CAPTCHA to verify each vote as coming from a human user, but the league only used a handful of phrases in its verification. Each phrase had an easily identifiable file name, so hackers were able to build the Rory Vote-o-Matic, a program that could automatically cast thousands of write-in ballots for Fitzpatrick while still making CAPTCHA happy.

Ultimately, Fitzpatrick finished in third place in the voting behind Scott Niedermayer and Nicklas Lidstrom, so he didn't make the All-Star Game. However, he received an impressive 550,177 votes, and some observers, including Daniel Engber of Slate, thought maybe the NHL monkeyed with the vote totals to keep Fitzpatrick at home.

4. The WNBA Revels in "Punch Parties"

If anyone ever tells you the WNBA doesn't have any fans, show the 2007 all-star voting numbers. Thousands and thousands of votes were cast for various WNBA stars, and you should be able to prove just how beloved the WNBA is. Thanks to the always-intrepid investigative work of Dan Steinberg of the D.C. Sports Bog, though, you can look beyond the numbers. Steinberg picked up on a piece from the Detroit Shock's website advertising a "Punch Party" in which fans would come together to punch Detroit players' names on all-star ballots. Fans who punched 15 ballots were given the chance to meet and get autographs from Deanna Nolan, and filling out 100 ballots got them the right to meet Kara Braxton and head coach Bill Laimbeer. Everyone who filled out ballots got entries into a raffle for Shock memorabilia.

While teams usually encourage their fans to vote early and often, it's tough to find much precedent for outright bribery to get them to do so. Whatever your stance on the tactic, it worked: Nolan, Braxton, and Shock forward Cheryl Ford all got starting nods for the game.

A version of this story was originally published in 2008.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
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Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
iStock

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Kids knocking on a door in costume.
iStock

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

Sugar skulls with decoration.
iStock

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
iStock

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
iStock

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''

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