07/04/2004 11:45 PM ET
You're up: Cast the Final Vote
Each league's 32nd roster spot to be chosen by fans
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
|League leader Craig Leshen lost the services of Frank Thomas to a broken left foot. (Brian Kersey/AP)
Now comes the reality show that everyone loves.
The contestants are 10 Major League Baseball players, and the grand prize is one of two trips to the July 13 All-Star Game in Houston as the final man on a roster.
And it's up to you to decide their fate.
Balloting is under way now to determine the 32nd roster spot for each league with the hugely popular Ameriquest All-Star Final Vote, available exclusively at MLB.com and all 30 club sites. Voting is open until 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and the last names for the 75th Midsummer Classic will be announced shortly thereafter.
2004 Final Vote
American League winner:
Hideki Matsui, Yankees
(in order of finish):
Frank Thomas, White Sox
Paul Konerko, White Sox
Lew Ford, Twins
Travis Hafner, Indians
National League winner:
Bobby Abreu, Phillies
(in order of finish):
Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
Steve Finley, D-Backs
Jason Kendall, Pirates
Juan Pierre, Marlins
The five American League nominees are Lew Ford of the Minnesota Twins, Travis Hafner of the Cleveland Indians, Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees, and Paul Konerko and Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox.
National League nominees are Bobby Abreu of the Philadelphia Phillies, Steve Finley of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jason Kendall of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Juan Pierre of the Florida Marlins and Aramis Ramirez of the Chicago Cubs.
"It should be an interesting few days," Abreu said, and recent history shows that it most certainly will. A record 10.6 million votes were cast in this balloting program last year, sending Boston catcher Jason Varitek and Milwaukee outfielder Geoff Jenkins to their first Midsummer Classic. In the inaugural 2002 program, fans rounded out the rosters with outfielders Johnny Damon of Boston and Andruw Jones of Atlanta.
Managers Joe Torre of the AL and Jack McKeon of the NL, in conjunction with Major League Baseball, provided the 10 nominees after adding All-Star reserves and pitchers to both rosters. The 31-man rosters were announced on Sunday night, and this is the next step in a process that already has seen online voting records shattered (10.6 million ballots and 141 million votes cast) with your selection of the starting position players.
This marks the first time a player has appeared on the Final Vote ballot twice. Thomas was among the choices last year, but he was denied the chance to play in an All-Star Game at home because fans chose Varitek. This time, Thomas' competition includes his own teammate, Konerko, and it will be interesting to see how fans respond because both players have been major forces behind the team with the Majors' top slugging percentage and, through Saturday, a division leader.
All 10 nominees can make strong cases for why they belong at Minute Maid Park on July 13. Here is a quick look at your reality-show candidates for 2004:
Ford: Called up early this season when Torii Hunter was injured, Ford has remained a formidable presence for the defending AL Central champs. Ford had hit safely in 30 of his past 34 games, and he has had hitting streaks of nine and 13 games. He was hitting .312 with nine homers, 40 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Ford mentioned in a June 29 chat here that he grew up around Houston; he's hoping you send him back home.
Hafner: Part of the young nucleus that suddenly has Indians fans thinking playoffs. Hafner, a left-handed-hitting slugger from North Dakota, was batting .304 with nine homers and 49 RBIs. He was tied for third in the AL with 25 doubles and ranked sixth with a .403 on-base percentage. Only David Ortiz had more RBIs on the AL DH list, and he also has played errorless ball (90 chances) at first base.
Matsui: Showing just what he has meant to the Yankees so far, Godzilla's 239 consecutive games played to start his Major League Baseball career represents the longest run since Ernie Banks' first 424 games as a Cub from 1953-56. With 15 home runs, Matsui was only one homer shy of his total last year as a Yankee rookie. Although Japanese countryman Ichiro Suzuki nudged him out of the starting outfield this time, Matsui is beginning to show more of the power that helped him to a record 60-homer season back in Japan.
Konerko: The White Sox are on pace to break franchise records for homers, doubles, runs and slugging percentage, and they lead the Majors with 5.72 runs per game. Here's a big reason for it. Konerko was hitting .276 with 20 homers and 54 RBIs through 72 games, compared to .183 with four homers and 18 RBIs at the same stage last season. He was not on the All-Star ballot because Thomas was listed at first base and there is no DH in an NL park. So far he has two doubles in two All-Star at-bats (a lone 2002 selection), and it's up to fans this week whether he steps in again.
Thomas: Of course, here's another big reason the White Sox were leading the Majors in slugging percentage and leading the AL Central through Saturday. The Big Hurt is the club's all-time home run leader with 436, and before anyone starts talking about his 500 Home Run Club chances, it's time to talk about whether he goes to a sixth All-Star Game -- and his first since 1997. Thomas was hitting .275 with 18 homers and 49 RBIs, and had reached base in 34 of his last 35 starts and 66 of 70 overall.
Abreu: The Phillies' outfielder is looking for his first All-Star selection, and his offensive numbers this season already rival his full-season numbers from the past. Among NL outfielders, Abreu ranks second in times on base (154), second (tie) in extra-base hits (38), third in on-base percentage (.446), fourth in steals (17), fifth in game-winning RBIs (6), sixth in batting average (.304) and slugging percentage (.567). You rarely find a player with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) over 1.00 that isn't in the Midsummer Classic.
Finley: Barry Bonds isn't the only 39-year-old left-handed slugger in the NL West who has swung a big bat this year. After homering once in his first 80 at-bats, Finley had 18 in his next 234 over 58 outings. He is the only active player with at least 300 doubles, 200 homers and 100 triples, joining 17 other big leaguers, 16 of whom are in the Hall of Fame.
Kendall: With just 25 more games behind the plate, Kendall will pass George Gibson and become the Pirates' all-time leader for most games caught. He has been a constant presence, and maybe the most impressive thing about his .312 batting average is what he has done at the top of the Bucs' order. Kendall had appeared in the leadoff spot 44 times this season and gone 60-for-184 (.326) with 26 runs scored.
Pierre: NL (and Marlins) manager Jack McKeon no doubt would love to have this guy on his roster, and it's up to you. Pierre was the leadoff catalyst for a Marlins club that shocked everyone and won last year's World Series, and this season he has helped the club remain in contention atop the NL East. He was hitting .298 and ranked third with 18 stolen bases.
Ramirez: After being traded by the Pirates and helping the Cubs down the stretch last year to a near-berth in the World Series, Ramirez has become the long-lost answer to the Cubs' search for a third baseman. He has been a stabilizing influence (along with Alou) in a Cubs first half that has been taxing with injuries to key players, hitting .326 with 15 homers and 56 RBIs.
The Ameriquest All-Star Final Vote was conceived in 2002 as a way to let fans have the final say in a process that traditionally led to water-cooler debate about players who were not selected and had strong cases. After last year's expansion of rosters to 32 players and with this decision for the final roster spots in the hands of the populace, there can be no debate now.
If last year is any indication, you will see plenty of grassroots campaigning, not only by clubs representing the nominees but also by their fans. MLB.com will provide voting updates during the proceedings. It's a tough call, but it's yours.
The ultimate baseball reality show is here, and 10 contestants are waiting to see if they will survive as All-Stars.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.