The All-Star voting ends at the stroke of midnight Wednesday. Actually it ends at 11:59 p.m. EDT, but that's not nearly as romantic. I can't imagine Vincent Price intoning, "At the stroke of 11:59 p.m. ..."
But I digress. Right there in the lead.
I find as I get older that I become less and less exercised about the fan voting for the All-Star Game. It used to drive me batty that people insisted on voting Crusty Veteran X in when obviously Rising Youngster Y was a superior player having a better year and deserved to start. Nowadays, I feel like I have better things to worry about, like what to have for lunch.
If the people of this great nation want to see ol' Veteran X start at short in the Midsummer Classic, even though Veteran X has spent most of the year on the disabled list and is hitting .136 in the handful of games he has appeared in -- exclusively in left field -- then by gosh who am I to object?
For the last few years I've been thinking that my newfound equanimity was a product of fans making better choices, thanks to the way the Internet has made it so much easier than it used to be to keep up with teams other than the local nine. Those All-Star ballot travesties that were once so common have become pretty rare.
But of the eight players leading the American League voting in the latest totals, announced Monday, I only have three on my All-Star ballot. If the latest numbers hold up, Hideki Matsui of the Yankees, who I don't think is close to being an All-Star starter, will be an All-Star starter on July 13 in Houston. And I'll live. I'm leaning toward a quesadilla, by the way.
But it's still fun to fill out a ballot, an annual ritual. Major League Baseball will announce the starters on Sunday. In the meantime, here's my A.L. All-Star team, with the N.L. to follow Thursday. Voting results refer to the figures that were released Monday. All stats are through Tuesday's games.
Voting leader: Ivan Rodriguez, Tigers
My pick: Rodriguez
I-Rod is having a monster season. Any time you've got a catcher leading the league in hitting, never mind leading the league in hitting by a lot, something special is going on. Rodriguez is hitting .376, 21 points higher than runner-up Melvin Mora, with 103 hits, an on-base percentage of .416 and 10 home runs. Twenty-five-year-old Victor Martinez of the Indians is having a nice year too, his first as a regular. He's been a little better than Jorge Posada of the Yankees, who ought to get some lifetime achievement consideration. Rodriguez rightly leads the voting by plenty over Posada, with Martinez a distant fifth.
Voting leader: Jason Giambi, Yankees
My pick: Paul Konerko, White Sox
Giambi has about twice as many votes as the No. 2 man, Frank Thomas of the White Sox, who has played all of four games at first base this year. Giambi's been struggling in June, and Tuesday he was diagnosed as having a stomach parasite, which would explain why he says he's felt exhausted for the last three weeks. It doesn't explain why I feel exhausted, but you can't have everything. If the new round of antibiotics Giambi's taking works, he might end up being the best first baseman in the league by the end of the year, as usual, but right now that man is Thomas' teammate, Konerko, who has 19 home runs, one off the league leaders.
Voting leader: Alfonso Soriano, Rangers
My pick: Ronnie Belliard, Indians
Soriano has lapped the field here, leading the league in votes, which goes to show you what name recognition can do for a candidate. Coming up with the Yankees, hitting a big home run in the World Series as a rookie, getting traded for Alex Rodriguez and generally being talked about by TV commentators for a few years as a future superstar makes a guy seem pretty good.
In fact, Soriano is pretty good, though he'd be a lot better if he ever learned the dimensions of the strike zone. But Belliard and Juan Uribe of the White Sox are putting up better offensive numbers in ballparks much less friendly to hitters. Mark Bellhorn of the Red Sox also has nice numbers, though in a hitter's park. I'll take Belliard because Uribe splits time at second with Willie Harris, while also spending some time at short.
Voting leader: Derek Jeter, Yankees
My pick: Carlos Guillen, Tigers
I talk about shortstop before third base because that's just how I am.
Guillen, freshly signed to a contract extension, is finally having one of those years the Mariners kept hoping he'd have. As a card-carrying rider on the Tigers bandwagon, I'd vote for him no matter what everybody else was doing, but fortunately for me, nobody's doing anything that would make that vote look bad.
Michael Young of the Rangers is having a good year, as are old favorites Jeter of the Yanks and Miguel Tejada of the Orioles. But with Alex Rodriguez playing third and Nomar Garciaparra of the Red Sox missing most of the first half, the A.L. shortstop picture is pretty different this time around. Jeter has a healthy lead over Garciaparra in the voting, with Young third. Guillen is a fairly distant fifth, in the sense that Pluto is a fairly distant planet.
Voting leader: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
My pick: Melvin Mora, Orioles
Mora is just behind Thomas as the league leader in on-base percentage at .442, and he has a slugging percentage of .571. He's an error machine at third base, a position he managed to not play last year, when he punched the clock at six different spots. He has 15, more than twice as many as anyone else except Casey Blake of the Indians, who has nine. But I'm in a forgiving mood because of Mora's bat and because voting for him at third over A-Rod gives me a Yankees-free infield without stretching. Hank Blalock of the Rangers is in a three-way tie for the league home run lead with 20, and A-Rod is in the group of three with 19, but Mora's my guy. A-Rod leads Blalock by more than a million in the fan voting, with Mora fourth.
Voting leaders: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels; Manny Ramirez, Red Sox; Hideki Matsui, Yankees
My picks: Guerrero; Ramirez; Johnny Damon, Red Sox
Guerrero and Ramirez are way ahead of everyone else in the voting, as they should be, since they're easily the best right fielder and left fielder in the league. Matsui, speaking of name recognition and plenty of Internet voting from Japan, is an upper-middle left fielder, not an All-Star starter. Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners, a more deserving choice, is a close fourth.
With Guerrero and Ramirez set and no one close to them at their positions, I guess the thing to do is pick a center fielder. Damon is the leading vote-getter among center fielders, sixth overall, behind those mentioned so far plus Gary Sheffield of the Yankees.
The best center fielder in the league has been Carlos Beltran of the Royals, who is now Carlos Beltran of the Astros, over in the other league. (Beltran's votes were simply transferred to the N.L. race after he was traded.) You could make an argument for Vernon Wells of the Blue Jays and maybe even Bernie Williams of the Yanks, another lifetime achievement kind of thing, but neither of those guys is exactly lighting it up, and my goodness what ever happened to Torii Hunter? I'll go with the fans' view of the best center fielder and vote Damon to complete my outfield, even with that ridiculous beard he's sporting.
Designated hitter: With the game in a National League park there's no voting for designated hitter this year, which explains why Thomas is on the ballot as a first baseman. But if there were a D.H. spot I'd vote for him. I'd take the on-base percentage leader by a smidge over David Ortiz of the Red Sox, one of the home run leaders. Boston fans will argue that Ortiz is better because he plays first base a couple of times a week. But he's a lousy first baseman, so he gets no points for that with me. He'd be an OK choice, but I'll take Thomas.
Thursday: The National League.
Previous column: Washington Post on Bud Selig
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