07/06/2004 7:02 PM ET
Final Vote alumni look back
Past winners recall elation upon being named All-Stars
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
It is the new-age way of getting selected to the All-Star team. Now in its third year of existence, the Final Vote, sponsored this year by Ameriquest, will remain open to online voters between now and 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
|Johnny Damon appreciated the way Boston fans stepped in and made him an All-Star in 2002. (Kathy Willens/AP)
Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon knows the type of nerves the 10 eligible players are going through right now. In 2002 -- the inaugural year of the Final Vote -- Damon went from being an All-Snub to an All-Star in a whirlwind span of 72 hours.
"It was definitely fun because that's the only time I've got to go, but it was definitely stressful," Damon said. "At the time, I was leading the league in runs scored and I was pretty high in batting average and hits and still, because we had so many players represented, [AL All-Star manager Joe] Torre couldn't make me a reserve."
But Damon, then in his first year with the Red Sox, suddenly realized how popular he was among his new fan base.
"That's the Red Sox faithful," said Damon. "They back you and they're computer savvy, so it worked out."
Still, Damon sympathized with his competitors on the ballot.
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
"Of course, there's a lot of people who do get left off," Damon said.
The American League's five Final Vote candidates this year 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.
Andruw Jones of the Braves joined Damon as a 2002 Final Vote selectee. Last year, Red Sox fans stepped up again, selecting Boston catcher Jason Varitek. The Brewers' Geoff Jenkins was the National League winner.
While Varitek is as team-oriented a player as you will ever find and doesn't like to contemplate individual glory, his trip to the All-Star Game is one he will never forget, even though he did not play in the game.
"I just tried to make sure that I came out of my shell more and talked," Varitek said. "More than I usually do. I made it a point to maybe talk to some guys and maybe be a little bit more out of my shell than I am in the beginning of things usually. I was trying to joke around and have fun and probably became a little bit annoying, but I had a lot of fun."
The Brewers had a little fun last year, giving Jenkins as much support as possible. They put a banner in left field, urging fans to "Vote Jenkins at MLB.com", and organized a media circuit for the outfielder that included prominent talk show hosts such as Dan Patrick and Jim Rome. The support helped, as Jenkins eventually passed Benito Santiago, who was the early leader.
"It got long. It was seven, eight things a day, all day long. But in the end it was worth it," Jenkins said. "The fans really enjoyed it and got to have a say, and that's good. You just hope that in the end they pick the right guy. They rallied around me, that's for sure. It was nice.
Two years removed from his one and only selection, Damon still has fond memories.
"It was special for me to be a part of it," said Damon. "Now I can go throughout my career saying I was an All-Star."
Jenkins appreciated the way fans of the Brewers went to bat for him.
"There's nothing I can say, just how thankful I am for them to do that, to think of me for as long as I've been here," he said. "It really meant a lot and it's something I'll never forget."
An unforgettable moment awaits two more All-Stars on Wednesday night.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Adam McCalvy, a reporter for MLB.com, contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.