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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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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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