07/04/2004 12:01 AM ET
Voting's over, but fans' work isn't
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
The fans have had their final say to determine the starting position players for the July 13 All-Star Game in Houston, but recent history shows that the fun is only just beginning. In fact, this could be the best Fourth of July ever.
|Geoff Jenkins (left) and Jason Varitek were Final Vote selections for the 2003 All-Star Game. (AP)
At 7 ET tonight, the starters, pitchers and reserves for the American and National League teams will be revealed on ESPN's Major League Baseball All-Star Game Selection Show Presented by Pepsi Edge. Immediately after the live, one-hour telecast, the fireworks continue with the start of the Ameriquest All-Star Final Vote. It will be your chance to help decide which player goes to Houston with that 32nd and final roster spot for each league.
A record 10.6 million ballots were submitted in last year's Final Vote, with fans sending Boston catcher Jason Varitek and Milwaukee outfielder Geoff Jenkins to their first Midsummer Classics. Once again, fans will be able to go to MLB.com or any of the 30 official club sites and choose from among five names in each league. The Final Vote will end Wednesday night and MLB will reveal the 32nd men that evening at 9 ET.
"Every year when the All-Star teams were announced, it was the same old story -- who should have made it, how could so-and-so not be on the roster," said Gregg Klayman, manager of fantasy and interactive games for Major League Baseball Advanced Media and the creator of the Final Vote concept three years ago. "The media would then spend the next couple of days stirring up nationwide debates over which excluded players were truly the most deserving. Because the All-Star Game was created for the fans, it only made sense that they should be the ones to put an end to these yearly debates.
"The success of the All-Star Final Vote program the past few years shows that baseball enthusiasts all around the country want to have the final say when it comes to deciding the outcome of these yearly debates."
There is no debating that the entire process of filling Major League Baseball's All-Star rosters is more all-inclusive, more elaborate and more fun than ever. Now that the vote for starters officially closed as of 11:59 p.m. ET Wednesday and you are waiting for the Selection Show and the next chance to vote, here is a primer on the entire process and what still lies ahead for today's active fan:
Fan Vote, Part I: Starters
The Major League Baseball All-Star Balloting Program, the largest in professional sports, encompasses Ameriquest In-Stadium Balloting at all 30 Major League ballparks and Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Ameriquest Online All-Star Balloting at MLB.com, the Official Web Site of Major League Baseball; Pepsi Retail Balloting at Wal-Mart stores; International Retail Balloting throughout Canada, Dominican Republic, Japan, and Puerto Rico; and online in Spanish and Japanese at MLB.com.
Balloting began April 21 with in-game voting at Minute Maid Park and with the launch of the Ameriquest All-Star Online Ballot. The official close of in-stadium balloting was June 28 in Pittsburgh, and a final week of exclusive online balloting ended Wednesday night. Fans voted again around the world in English, Japanese and Spanish, and they easily shattered the online record for All-Star voting. MLB.com announced on Thursday that baseball fans around the world cast a record 10.6 million ballots and 141 million votes online in the 2004 Ameriquest All-Star Online Balloting Program.
While the final week of online voting was under way, the ballpark and retail votes were being compiled so that they could be added to the final online balloting to determine those eight starting position players in each league. Recent history shows that fans are not only prolific in the way they vote, but savvy as well.
The Player Ballot
During the final week of fan balloting, the Player Ballot was under way behind the scenes. This separate ballot of managers, coaches and players is conducted by Major League Baseball for the purpose of selecting an additional eight position players and eight pitchers (five starters and three relievers) in each league. There is no designated hitter in this year's event because it is an NL park. If the top vote-getter at a position in the Player Ballot is already chosen to start by fans, then the player with the second-most votes at that Player Ballot position is chosen. This brings each roster to 24 men.
The two All-Star managers -- Jack McKeon of the Marlins (NL) and Joe Torre of the Yankees (AL) -- and Major League Baseball then select seven (four pitchers and three position players) of the eight remaining spots on each team. That brings each roster to 31, and those players' identities are announced on the MLB All-Star Selection Show presented by Pepsi, televised live by ESPN tonight at 7 ET.
"At that point, you've made some very tough decisions because you only get so many choices," said Cubs manager Dusty Baker, recalling what it was like for him at this time last year as the NL manager. "When you're rounding out the roster, you still have to choose one player from each team, you've got the players' votes and the fans' votes. So you don't have that many choices, actually. And you still have to round out your roster with one player from each team. If you're going to make it one for each team it makes it harder. The hardest part is that somebody every year deserves to go and doesn't go; you're always going to have some discrepancy."
Fan Vote Part II: 32nd men
As Klayman noted, that is why the Final Vote was invented: To give the All-Star managers and fans everywhere one more opportunity to help a deserving player into this showcase event. In 2002, the first year of the Final Vote, outfielders Johnny Damon of Boston and Andruw Jones of Atlanta were selected as the last roster members. Last year, the rosters were expanded to 32 and the Red Sox made it 2-for-2 in this process. Jenkins benefited from the kind of campaigning by the Brewers and other grassroots supporters that fans probably will see again with the 2004 Final Vote nominees.
McKeon and Torre, in conjunction with Major League Baseball, will provide the five names of players for each league. "It's not easy to come up with those five players for each league, either," Baker said. "You're deciding, but MLB recommends people."
Fan Vote Part III: The MVP
Even after the Final Vote winners are announced on Thursday, the fans are not done voting for All-Stars.
For the second year in a row, you will be able to help decide the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player the night of the All-Star Game, through the online ballot also sponsored by Ameriquest. Voting will begin exclusively at MLB.com in the sixth inning and will continue until the MVP is announced immediately following the end of the game. The online fan vote will count 20 percent, with the other 80 percent coming onsite from the Baseball Writers Association of America and the announcers from the All-Star Game's three broadcast rightsholders: FOX Sports, ESPN Radio and MLB International. Last year, fans helped select the Angels' Garret Anderson as the Ted Williams All-Star MVP.
It all adds up to a heavy responsibility for everyone, to carry on a grand tradition in the most technologically and all-inclusive way possible. Baker said that after the rosters are decided and before that MVP is decided, the thing that makes it all worthwhile is seeing the intensity on the players' faces as the winning league gains World Series home-field advantage for the second year in a row.
"I remember when I first went there (to the All-Star Game as a Dodger in 1981), Pete Rose told me, 'We haven't lost this yet since I've been playing and we're not gonna lose.' That's the first thing he told me," said Baker, whose '82 NL teammates made it 11 consecutive All-Star victories. "Back in those days, there wasn't as much movement and camaraderie between players on both leagues. But one thing I really noticed last year was that these guys don't need raised stakes now to win. It was refreshing to see the competitive nature of these All-Stars when they got together to play."
It is almost time to play again, for a 75th time since they staged that first gathering of the greatest at Chicago's Comiskey Park in 1933. The process of deciding who to take along is more elaborate than ever, and it can be a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. The reward comes with that first pitch by an NL pitcher on July 13 in Houston.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.