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All-Star polling earns fans a hand

A look at the numbers shows that baseball fans' diligence in voting

July 05, 2009|Mike Fitzpatrick

Give the fans applause for an All-Star performance.

Albert Pujols, absolutely. Joe Mauer, right on the money. Chase Utley and Evan Longoria, no doubt about it.

Fan balloting for All-Star game starters has been a contentious issue in baseball for years. Some complain the process is merely a popularity contest that often puts big names on the field at the expense of more deserving players.

This season, however, a look at the numbers shows fans were hitting for their highest average in years.

When vote counts were released early in the week, with only a few days of balloting left, most of the players leading at their positions merited those spots.

Pujols was the top vote-getter, as he should be. The big first baseman has been the best player in the game all season and he figures to own the spotlight July 14 at his home ballpark in St. Louis.

But it wasn't just Pujols, an easy selection. Fans were throwing strikes all around the horn.

Utley at second base, Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, David Wright at third for the National League.

Over in the AL, it was the same thing: Mauer behind the plate, Longoria at third, Jason Bay in the outfield.

Even a couple of close races made sense. Kevin Youkilis vs. Mark Teixeira at first base, though Justin Morneau shouldn't be forgotten. Ian Kinsler was neck and neck with Dustin Pedroia at second, though Aaron Hill was getting overlooked.

Unlike previous years, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs weren't dominating the votes. And big stars who were suspended (Manny Ramirez) or slumping (Alex Rodriguez) were on the verge of getting left out.

That's a good thing, because their spots figure to be filled by worthy and exciting newcomers such as Justin Upton and Brandon Inge.

Of course, fans don't get to vote for the pitching staffs. But after such an astute performance this season, maybe it's time that changed. After all, there are tough decisions to be made on the mound.

Zack Greinke or Roy Halladay starting for the American League? Francisco Rodriguez or Trevor Hoffman closing for the NL? Does 42-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield make his first All-Star team?

"The players are the show," AL manager Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays said. "My basic job is to pretty much get out of the way."

Rosters were expanded from 32 to 33 players this year, with the extra spot going to a 13th pitcher in each league. But every team must be represented, so the choices remain difficult.

For example, try finding a legitimate All-Star on the scuffling Cubs this season. Not so easy, which is quite a surprise for a talented team coming off consecutive division titles.

The American League is 11-0-1 since the NL last won in 1996 at Philadelphia's old Veterans Stadium, the longest unbeaten streak in All-Star game history.

Pujols and his pals would love to end the drought -- with the world's most famous Chicago White Sox fan on hand. President Obama plans to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Busch Stadium.

"I'm really looking forward to it," said Philadelphia's Charlie Manuel, who will manage the NL squad. "It's important that we go in there with the mind-set that we're the National League and we're trying to win it."

Without regard to fan or player balloting, here are our picks for the 80th All-Star game -- the first in baseball-loving St. Louis since 1966. The teams will be revealed today, and the league that wins gets home-field advantage in the World Series again.

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AL starters

First base -- Morneau's big numbers for Minnesota earn him the start, barely edging Teixeira and Youkilis. Russell Branyan is having a surprise season with Seattle. Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera and Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena also make it at a power-packed position. Youkilis, Branyan and Cabrera all have extensive big league experience at third base, so one or two of them could come off the bench and play there.

Second base -- Kinsler is the leadoff man with pop that makes Texas' offense go. He gets a slight nod over Hill, who is having a terrific year for Toronto after missing much of last season with a concussion. Ben Zobrist of the Rays earns a spot here too. Enjoying a breakout season while filling in for injured second baseman Akinori Iwamura, Zobrist can also play the outfield. Pedroia, the 2008 AL MVP, falls short this year.

Shortstop -- Even at 35, Derek Jeter remains a consistent offensive force for the Yankees. His backup is Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett, previously a light-hitting glove man who has suddenly developed a dangerous stick.

Third base -- Last season's rookie of the year, Longoria makes it all four Rays infielders on the All-Star team. The Tigers finally moved Inge out from behind the plate for good and let him play third every day. He's rewarded them with great defense (as expected) and plenty of pop (more than expected).

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