07/07/2004 9:00 PM ET
Matsui, Abreu win Final Vote
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
The rosters are set for Tuesday's All-Star Game in Houston, and fans have decided that outfielders Bobby Abreu of the Philadelphia Phillies and Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees will be part of the show.
|Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu won the 2004 Ameriquest All-Star Final Vote. (AP)
The three days of balloting in the Ameriquest All-Star Final Vote closed at 8 p.m. ET, and those two players received the most votes among five nominees in their respective leagues, and will be added to the rosters as the 32nd men. Votes, cast exclusively at MLB.com, came in at a predictably frenzied pace -- more than 9.5 million ballots were cast -- in this third annual program to complete the roster-selection process.
Abreu, with 2 million votes, is the National League pick. His vote totals bested third baseman Aramis Ramirez of the Chicago Cubs, outfielder Steve Finley of the Arizona Diamondbacks, catcher Jason Kendall of the Pittsburgh Pirates and outfielder Juan Pierre of the Florida Marlins.
Matsui won with 1.2 million votes in an American League race that included DH Frank Thomas and first baseman Paul Konerko of the Chicago White Sox, outfielder Lew Ford of the Minnesota Twins and DH/first baseman Travis Hafner of the Cleveland Indians.
"It's going to be exciting to go back to Houston as an All-Star," said Abreu, who broke into the Majors with the Astros in 1996. "I owe a lot to that organization. They gave me my first shot. That's going to be nice. Everyone wants to be in the All-Star Game."
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
"I am very honored to be chosen for the All-Star team," Matsui said through an interpreter. "I'll do my best to play well for the fans who voted me in."
It is the first All-Star selection for Abreu, and for Matsui it marks the second trip to the Midsummer Classic in as many seasons since coming over to the Majors from Japan.
Last year's Final Vote winners were outfielder Geoff Jenkins of Milwaukee and catcher Jason Varitek of Boston. In 2002, the first year of the program, fans voted for outfielders Andruw Jones of Atlanta and Johnny Damon of Boston.
Abreu, joining Jim Thome as the Phillies' representatives in Houston, pulled ahead of Ramirez in the final day of voting after a virtual dead heat between the two players. Abreu,, hitting .301 with 17 homers, 57 RBIs, 68 runs and 17 stolen bases entering Wednesday night's home game against the Mets, has been a fantasy player's dream as well as a key cog on his first-place club. The timing of this vote could not have been better for him; he was the NL Player of the Week last week, after going 10-for-24 with 21 total bases and 10 runs from June 28-July 4.
The Astros signed Abreu as a free agent in 1990. He played in parts of the 1996-97 seasons with Houston, and Tampa Bay picked him from Houston's roster in the 1997 expansion draft before dealing him to Philly for Kevin Stocker. Abreu has produced steadily superior numbers, though he's having one of the best first halves of his career. He has been regarded by many as an underrated superstar, with teammates such as Thome gaining most of the recognition.
"Sometimes those guys go unnoticed," Phillies manager Larry Bowa said. "People take it for granted he's going to hit .300. It's not easy hitting .300. It's hard to get 25 to 30 stolen bases. It's hard to get 100 walks, 100 RBIs, score 100 runs. He does it every year and people don't know about it. I know there's going to be people left off but to constantly leave him off every year isn't right. People should recognize what this guy has done."
Days after being bumped out of the starting AL outfield by Japanese countryman Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners, Matsui becomes the seventh Yankee on the AL roster. He joins three quarters of the starting infield -- third baseman Alex Rodriguez, shortstop Derek Jeter and first baseman Jason Giambi -- and outfielder Gary Sheffield, along with relievers Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera.
Matsui has had a flair for remarkable timing since coming over from Japan and hitting a grand slam in his Yankee Stadium debut. On Tuesday night, at the Final Voting entered its last day, Godzilla went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer. That not only raised his average to .282, it gave him 16 homers -- matching his 2003 rookie total in just 82 games -- and 54 RBIs.
"I'm glad that other people recognize what we understand every day watching him play," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, who is managing the AL team. "He's a very important part of our team, because he knocks in important runs and is a tough out, yet he does it without a lot of flair. The appreciation of Hideki is when you get to watch him every day, see how much he contributes in all areas."
The nominees were presented to fans by All-Star managers Jack McKeon (NL) and Torre (AL) in consultation with Major League Baseball. Voting began Sunday night, immediately after the Major League Baseball All-Star Selection Show Presented by Pepsi Edge, and concluded Wednesday. Last year, a record 10.6 million votes were cast in the Final Vote.
The Final Vote was instituted in 2002, and each year campaigning gets more imaginative. Abreu likely benefited from an aggressive campaign by the Phillies, who put the outfielder in radio appearances and backed him with on-air and stadium announcements -- and contacted people in his native Venezuela to help get out the vote there.
"The last few days have been exciting," Abreu said. "I've gotten a lot of support from people. I am so happy to be going."
One of the most notable grassroots movements this year came from North Dakota, where Gov. John Hoeven got behind Hafner, a native son from Sykeston (pop. 160), and appealed to all the state's residents to vote for him.
"Travis is a native son of North Dakota, and he's batting with the best of them in the Major Leagues," the governor said Tuesday after voting for Hafner. "He's already a North Dakota All-Star, so let's make him an American League All-Star, too."
Hafner said he knew his campaign was going to be an uphill fight even with his home state behind him.
"To me, it's just a big honor to be one of the five guys considered," said Hafner, who was hitting .310 with nine homers and 52 RBIs. "I'm just thrilled I was considered." As for how he will spend his All-Star break, Hafner said, "I don't have anything planned. Most people go home or find something to do. I'm just pretty happy right now doing nothing."
Chicago was literally "second city" in this year's Final Vote. Ramirez, who has been a stabilizing force for an injury-ridden Cubs team in the first half, continues to be listed as day-to-day by the Cubs while taking time off to rest an injured groin, and was not in the lineup for Wednesday night's game against Milwaukee. Ramirez, hitting .326 with 15 homers and 56 RBIs, likely would have been available to play in the All-Star Game.
"I'm just going about my business as usual," Ramirez said as word arrived of Abreu's victory.
Ramirez knows at least one person who voted heavily for him. "My wife voted 32 times for him yesterday, she told me," said teammate Moises Alou, an All-Star reserve.
And once again, Thomas also will be doing something other than appearing in an All-Star Game. The Big Hurt was hitting .271 with 18 homers and 49 RBIs, and hoping for his first Midsummer Classic since 1997, but a recent cold spell may not have helped his chances with voters. He finished just ahead of his teammate, Konerko, who was tied for second in the AL with 21 homers.
"If I just can finish where it's not embarrassing, then I would be happy with that," Konerko said right before the announcement. "That's almost like a win. If I actually won the thing, it would be like the 1980 U.S. hockey Olympics upset." Konerko said he knew of friends who voted at least 300 times for him, and he was in a joking mood about the race. "Cranston, Rhode Island," he said of the city where much of his family still lives. "If I can win the Rhode Island vote, I have a shot."
Ford called it a "bonus" to be nominated and said he will spend the break in Minnesota with his family to rest. "It was great to be a part of it," he said. "Congratulations to Matsui. It's who the fans wanted to see in there."
In Los Angeles, Finley crushed his 21st homer and then shrugged off the news of his third-place finish. "I knew I was handicapped from the beginning, when you've got Philadelphia and Chicago and we're on the road," said Arizona's two-time All-Star.
The Marlins pushed hard for Pierre, handing out "Vote for Pierre" posters at Pro Player Stadium Monday and Tuesday. Teammate Dontrelle Willis campaigned openly by phoning friends and urging them to vote for his teammate. But Mike Lowell, one of four Marlins going to the All-Star Game, said Pierre might have been bypassed because he is not a power hitter.
"He's an All-Star-caliber player," Lowell said. "But I think numbers-wise, power numbers are what catch your eye. All those fantasy baseball team guys like the big numbers. I think it's a good thing he made it to the last final five. I think it's a testament to what he brings to the table."
Now that fans have voted for the starters and the 32nd men, the third leg in the Year of the Voter comes on Tuesday, with the Ameriquest All-Star 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. Anaheim outfielder Garret Anderson won last year, the first time fans could participate.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.