06/23/2004 11:05 AM ET
Dreaming up AL All-Star scenarios
Matchups, pairings part of the fun of voting
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
The first All-Star Game in 1933 was the result of a lot of what-ifs. What if you could assemble the greatest players in the American and National Leagues -- such as Babe Ruth, Frankie Frisch, Chuck Klein, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Charlie Gehringer -- and see what happens when they are on the same diamond together?
|Michael Young is in the running for an All-Star starting spot. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
What happened was a quick home run by an aging Bambino off the National League's Wild Bill Hallahan, and a tradition was born ... and later copied by other sports leagues because of its popularity. Now it is nearly time for the 75th rendition of Major League Baseball's All-Star Game, July 13 in Houston, and fans have less than a week left to play "what if" and decide who should start.
Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times with the Ameriquest All-Star Online Ballot, which is available exclusively at MLB.com and all 30 club sites. Online balloting ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on June 30, and recent history shows that dramatic late changes are common with monster-size voting numbers.
There is still time to make a difference and perhaps help make various fun scenarios come true. Want to see an all-Yankee infield? It could happen. Want to see every active member of the 500 Home Run Club in Houston? It could happen. Want to see Tino Martinez of the red-hot Rays starting at first base again for AL manager Joe Torre? Say it with us now -- it could happen. It's time for a wild final week, and that means crunch time for the what-iffers.
Here is a position-by-position look at the AL and intriguing scenarios to consider:
Let's face it: It can't get much more fun than watching Torre have the services of Ivan Rodriguez and then manage with him behind the plate against an NL team that is managed by Jack McKeon. Rodriguez caught for McKeon in the last World Series, which the Marlins won over Torre's Yankees. There are too many delicious possibilities not to wonder what that might be like on July 13.
Pudge was leading the Majors with a .360 average through Tuesday, and he is playing a key role in Detroit's rise from the ashes of a 119-loss season in 2003. Maybe the fans who have helped him to the top of AL catcher voting are thinking the same way.
There are plenty of other deserving candidates to find in the final week of balloting, such as Cleveland's Victor Martinez and Texas' Rod Barajas, who led all AL catchers with 10 homers apiece. It will be interesting to see if Baltimore's Javy Lopez, who also came over from the NL this year, can make a last-week run to keep Rodriguez out of the starting job for a second straight season. And someday -- maybe not this year, but one day soon -- it would be interesting to see a trio of Molina brothers behind the plate in the same All-Star Game, evoking images of the old days with the Alou brothers, Felipe, Matty and Jesus. Bengie and Jose Molina catch for Anaheim, and Yadier Molina was called up while Mike Matheny was injured in St. Louis.
Jason Giambi has led the entire way in a year when no American Leaguer really dominates at this position (rounding out the top five were Carlos Delgado of Toronto, Kevin Millar of Boston, Frank Thomas of Chicago and Rafael Palmeiro of Baltimore). Here's another name to consider as a fun scenario: Martinez. He was Giambi's immediate predecessor at first base in the Bronx, helping Torre's Yanks to those four titles from 1996-2000. Martinez is rediscovering youth with Tampa Bay and has been a key driver during the Rays' 12-game winning streak (through Tuesday). Martinez actually leads Giambi in homers (12 to 11), RBIs (37 to 31) and batting average (.282 to .250).
Or how about bringing all four active members of the ever-growing 500 Home Run Club to Houston? It could happen if Palmeiro gets a nod at first base. He has the hardest road to Houston, and is currently hitting .256 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs. Other 500 clubbies who seem likely to be at Minute Maid are Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and the newest inductee, Ken Griffey Jr. Also, this is the 10th anniversary of Fred McGriff's All-Star Game MVP Award, and fans could send some ballot love McGriff's way in advance of his possible 500th career homer later this season.
And how about a last-minute voting battle between Thomas and Paul Konerko? There is no designated hitter when the All-Star Game is played in NL parks, so this could be interesting. Both players are having big offensive years for the contending White Sox -- Thomas with a .296 average, 18 homers and 47 RBIs, and Konerko with .262, 15 and 41. Thomas has been primarily the team's DH, but he was listed on the ballot as their first baseman, so fans would have to give Konerko some big write-in support at the wire. Of course, the same is true with other 2004 DH standouts such as Boston's David Ortiz (.297, 16, 65) and Kansas City's Ken Harvey (.352, 8, 30).
Alfonso Soriano was traded by the Yankees to Texas before the start of the season, and if there are no changes on top of the voting leaderboard in the final week, then once again he would be starting in an infield surrounded by Yankees at first, third and short. That's a fun scenario if you like pinstripes. If you don't -- and there is no middle ground, of course -- then you also have a week to do something about it.
Boston's Pokey Reese is still second in the voting with a .259 average, three homers and 26 RBIs, and hoping to make his first All-Star appearance. There is still the possibility that he could make a quantum leap to a starter job at second, and what a curious scenario that would be. Mark Bellhorn has been Boston's regular second baseman this season because Reese has had to move over to replace injured shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. Of course, now that Nomar's back, Bellhorn is filling in at third for injured Bill Mueller and Reese is at second, it will be interesting to see how much attention fans give in the last week to who plays where.
No offense to Rangers fans, but perhaps the most intriguing scenario of them all involves keeping Hank Blalock right where he is in the AL third base vote standings -- behind Alex Rodriguez. Why? If fans vote Blalock into the starting spot, then there is no chance for an All-Star rematch between him and Eric Gagne. It was at last year's game in Chicago that Blalock did the unthinkable and hit the game-winning homer off the Dodgers' closer extraordinaire -- still the only save Gagne has blown since 2002, albeit an unofficial one. Those kinds of All-Star rematches just don't come along very often, and starting position players don't tend to be around to face closers in this game.
Not that you couldn't argue for Blalock to merit a starting gig this time, though. He was hitting .301 with 17 homers (one shy of A-Rod) and 48 RBIs. Either way, it would be fun to see both of them in the same Midsummer Classic again, in an entirely different way. Last year they formed the left side of the Texas infield, and this time A-Rod has the voting lead after converting from shortstop to third base.
Derek Jeter has had a mind-boggling month, and if he starts next to A-Rod, then it would be exactly the scenario Yankee fans had in mind after the latter's big trade. But here is another interesting possibility: Michael Young jumping into the starter role, which would put a Ranger at shortstop right beside the player (A-Rod) he replaced at short in Texas. Young, converted from second base, was one away from the Major League hits lead with 97 on Wednesday and could be turning All-Star double plays with the person whose acquisition made him move: Soriano. Throw Blalock onto that same diamond and it could be a serious Texas look in the Lone Star State.
Although Garciaparra has missed the majority of the first half, he remains on Jeter's heels in the shortstop voting. It would be fun for many to see Nomar starting next to the man who just last winter was on the brink of replacing him at short in Boston: A-Rod.
Vlad Guerrero of the Angels and Manny Ramirez are a couple of Triple Crown threats who are currently well in front of the pack, but there are still some interesting combinations that fans could determine.
How about some Royal-ty in the outfield? Johnny Damon of Boston, Carlos Beltran of Kansas City and Jermaine Dye of Oakland are among those players pushing Gary Sheffield of the Yanks for that No. 3 outfield spot, and any Royals fan can see the potential irony. Imagine an AL outfield consisting of Damon, Dye and Beltran -- two ex-Royals and one (Beltran) whose remaining days as a Royal are expected by many people to be few.
Hideki Matsui of the Yankees and Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners rank fourth and sixth, respectively, in the latest voting, and here's a dream scenario for fans of players from across the Pacific Rim. Let's say you have Kaz Ishii of the Dodgers pitching against Matsui, and suddenly Ichiro swipes second -- safely under the tag of Kazuo Matsui, the Mets rookie who is fourth in voting among NL shortstops.
It could happen. Unlike in 1933, when Philadelphia A's manager Connie Mack hand-picked the best available dream team, fans get to decide the starters for Midsummer Classic No. 75. There's less than a week left, so it's time to turn those what-ifs into important online votes.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.