07/06/2004 11:39 PM ET
Final Vote races to the finish
Abreu, Ramirez in dead heat in NL; Matsui leads AL
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
The race is down to its final day, and 10 hopeful Major Leaguers -- not to mention millions of fans -- had better brace themselves for another wild online finish.
|Hideki Matsui was leading AL Final Vote balloting as of Tuesday. (Osamu Honda/AP)
The balloting continues until 8 p.m. ET Wednesday in the Ameriquest All-Star Final Vote, your chance to select one nominee from each league to go to Houston, for the July 13 All-Star Game, to fill each league's 32nd and final roster spot.
Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez and Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu were in a virtual dead heat for first place in the National League after two days of balloting, while Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui was leading White Sox teammates Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko in the American League.
The AL's other nominees are Twins outfielder Lew Ford and Indians DH/first baseman Travis Hafner, while Diamondbacks outfielder Steve Finley, Pirates catcher Jason Kendall and Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre round out the NL.
More than five million votes already had been submitted exclusively through MLB.com and its 30 official club sites, and recent history indicates that returning to the site and voting for the two most deserving players is a good idea. It was just last week that 11th-hour online votes made their mark on the 2004 All-Star Game, pushing Edgar Renteria of St. Louis past Houston's Adam Everett into the NL starting shortstop position and bumping Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki past Matsui into the AL starting outfield.
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 10 players' clubs have been running the same kind of grass-roots campaigns that seemed to help make a difference in the two previous Final Vote programs. At Pierre's home, Pro Player Stadium, large "Vote for Pierre" fliers are being handed out to fans, and the Marlins Mermaids are walking through the stadium carrying placards and reminding people to log on and vote.
"I was joking about it with him," said Pierre's teammate, Dontrelle Willis, who went to the All-Star Game a year ago as a rookie. "I said, 'I'd get a sign, pin it to my jersey and walk around the concourse.' I'll do it. He just doesn't realize how big it is. How big an honor it is to be one of the best in this great game."
The Phillies have backed Abreu's candidacy with stadium and on-air announcements, as well as radio appearances, and they even have been in touch with contacts in Abreu's native Venezuela to get out the vote there. Through Monday, Abreu was hitting .305 with 17 homers, 68 runs, 57 RBIs and 17 stolen bases, and he was named the NL Player of the Week for the week of June 28-July 4.
"Bobby has been a huge part of our success," Phillies general manager Ed Wade said. "He's the most underrated player in the game today. I've felt Bobby deserved to be an All-Star for a long time now. It's good that he's finally getting the recognition that he deserves. It's also about time he deserves to be talked about in the current context as an All-Star."
Abreu said he would love to make the team, but he won't vote for himself. He has plenty of friends who have done that for him, like Phillies broadcasters Larry Andersen and Scott Graham, who both estimated they had voted at least 20 times. "They're going to have to stop me," Graham said.
There's no need for anyone to stop. The votes will come in at a frenzied pace right up until the 8 p.m. deadline, and the 32nd men will be announced on MLB.com one hour later.
Kendall, hoping to join Boston's Jason Varitek (2003) as the second catcher to be chosen with the Final Vote, played it low-key Tuesday and said he had not talked to any teammates or friends who might have voted for him. He was playing in Florida -- against Pierre's team. While their main focus was on the Marlins' contest against the Pirates, everyone else was enjoying the competition within the competition.
"You want to be part of it," Kendall said. "But it's nothing you have any control over. Plus I've got some other things to worry about -- the Marlins have a good lineup over there."
Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said he was not sure how much support Kendall is getting, but he knows one thing: "My son (16-year-old Bo McClendon) voted for him."
Thomas is on the AL Final Vote ballot for the second year in a row, and hoping to end a long All-Star hiatus. White Sox fans, though, have to decide between him and Konerko. The question is whether one of them -- or Ford or Hafner -- can make a late run to overtake Matsui, who is sure to continue receiving good online support not only from Yankee fans in the U.S., but also those from his native Japan.
"If I'm chosen, I'd be honored to be a part of the All-Star team," Matsui said. "I don't think everybody in Japan will vote for me, but a certain number of them probably will."
Ford began the season in Triple-A, so he was not on the All-Star ballot. But now leading Twins regulars with a .317 batting average and among the team leaders in homers (nine) and RBIs (41), he found his way onto the Final Vote ballot and said, "It seems like a lot of players are saying they voted for me a few times. That's a great feeling."
Hafner, hitting .310 with nine homers and 52 RBIs through 74 games, joined fans for a chat on the Indians' web site Tuesday afternoon, and one of the questions was how he felt about being up for the Final Vote. "It's an honor just to be up for the final spot. It's nice to get some recognition," he said. "I'm flattered just to be considered for it."
Ramirez, who finished second in fan balloting among NL third baseman to the Cardinals' Scott Rolen, is hoping to join Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou and Carlos Zambrano as the Cubs' fourth All-Star. As for Zambrano, he said he has been doing some campaigning to get his infielder to Houston.
"I talked to my brother in Minnesota, I told him to get online and vote for him," Zambrano said.
Ramirez, like other nominees, said he didn't vote for himself. "They all deserve to be there," he said of his competition. "That's a great thing for a player, but if I make it, good, and if I don't I'll go home."
The Final Vote was instituted in 2002 as a way to let fans round out All-Star rosters. All-Star managers Joe Torre (AL) and Jack McKeon (NL), in consultation with Major League Baseball, presented fans with this year's nominees right after the 31-man rosters were announced Sunday night.
It did not take long to see just how exciting the Final Vote could be. Going into the last day of voting in 2002, Boston outfielder Johnny Damon had a 5,551-vote lead on Jim Thome. Thome, then Cleveland's first baseman, was tied at the time with Alex Rodriguez for the AL home run lead with 24.
"I finished sixth in the All-Star voting for outfielders, so I think that's a positive thing," Damon said entering that last day. "The fans are definitely out there in my corner. I know Jim Thome has good backing too. However it turns out, somebody is going to be slighted and somebody is going to be very happy."
Damon was the happiest, surviving that close race and joining outfielder Andruw Jones of Atlanta in Milwaukee as the first two fan selections for a final roster spot.
Fans had made a notable last-minute move that same year in voting online for the starters. The Mets' Roberto Alomar was some 17,000 votes ahead of Montreal's Jose Vidro at NL second base heading into the final week, but fans pushed Vidro into the starting lineup with more than a 41,000-vote cushion.
Throw in this year's late online surges by Renteria and Suzuki, and it's plain to see that anything can happen.
It's down to the final day, and the final say, in the Final Vote. In the Marlins' clubhouse, Miguel Cabrera taped a Pierre flier on his jersey and walked around in front of the media. "It's good if guys think high of me, and to want to see me in that game, it's an honor," Pierre said. "I've said it before. Whatever happens happens."
But whatever happens Wednesday night, the fun for fan voting doesn't end there.
After deciding the starters and 32nd men, fans will have yet another opportunity to make themselves heard with the return of the Ameriquest All-Star Game MVP Vote. Beginning in the sixth inning of the All-Star Game at Minute Maid Park, fans can cast their vote for the player they believe is most deserving of the Ted Williams Award for being the game's Most Valuable Player. The fan vote counts for 20 percent of the decision, with the media vote accounting for the other 80 percent.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. Mark Feinsand, Joe Frisaro, Charlie Nobles, J.R. Radcliffe, Mark Sheldon and Joseph Santoliquito contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.