Backstop battle tightens in AL balloting
Mauer, Varitek, Posada narrow Pudge's chances to start in SF
Robinson Cano's lead over Placido Polanco at second base is almost gone, Justin Morneau moved past Jason Giambi into second place behind David Ortiz at first base, and the four-way race at catcher got even more interesting as the American League voting updates were announced Tuesday by Major League Baseball.
Balloting for the 78th All-Star Game on July 10 in San Francisco predictably intensified after last week's first voting updates were made public, prompting many fans to use up their 25 allotted votes in the Monster All-Star Online Ballot at MLB.com and the 30 club sites. There were no actual changes among the leaders for AL starting positions, and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees saw his Major League-leading vote total soar to 1,058,907 -- setting the stage for what could be the largest All-Star vote total in history.
Rodriguez and teammate Derek Jeter have the largest voting leads in the Majors at third base and shortstop, respectively, but the possibility of extending Yankee dominance to the other side of the infield decreased. Cano's lead over Detroit's Polanco has shrunk from 40,743 last week to 8,214. Polanco leads Cano in just about every key statistical category, including errors (0 to 6), average (.335 to .272), runs (36 to 24), RBIs (30 to 26), OBP (.382 to .315) and strikeouts (8 to 39). And keep an eye on the second-base voting on Boston rookie Dustin Pedroia, who has been hot and just moved from fifth place last week to overtake B.J. Upton of the Devil Rays for fourth.
At a time when many people were debating whether Ortiz should be the Red Sox representative at first base instead of recently hot Kevin Youkilis -- Ortiz is a designated hitter and there is no DH on the ballot this year due to the NL park -- Big Papi only extended his lead at first base. The only difference is that Minnesota's Morneau is the immediate chaser. Ortiz leads him by 424,237 votes, seemingly safe. But remember that it was Morneau who surprised so many people last fall by crashing the Ortiz-or-Jeter buzz party and taking home the AL Most Valuable Player award.
Don't be surprised to see more and more focus on the catching race in upcoming weekly AL voting updates, because it somehow just got even tighter. Pudge Rodriguez of the Tigers saw his lead over Joe Mauer of the Twins shrink from 41,348 last week to 31,331. Only 25,212 votes behind Mauer is Jason Varitek of the Red Sox. Jorge Posada of the Yankees is 20,245 behind Varitek. Posada was only 4,014 behind Varitek last week, and the fact that the Yankees catcher remains about the same distance behind Rodriguez shows that Mauer and Varitek were putting on most of the pressure.
The starting outfield picture remained unchanged as well, led respectively by Vlad Guerrero of the Angels, Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox and Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners. But there was some notable movement behind that trio. Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon of the Yankees slid from fifth and sixth to seventh and eighth, respectively. Torii Hunter of the Twins remains in fourth about the same distance behind Ichiro; AL Triple Crown candidate Magglio Ordonez of the Tigers leapfrogged both Yankees and is fifth; and keep an eye on Grady Sizemore of the Central-leading Indians, because he just jumped from ninth to sixth.
With no DH on this year's ballot, and possibly because of the Youkilis factor, there also was a surge in the number of write-ins this past week. No write-ins are among the top five infielders or top 15 outfielders, however. Those who are so inclined might want to bring a writing utensil if going to the ballpark this month, and that capability also exists on the online ballot.
The Major League Baseball All-Star Balloting Program is the largest balloting program in professional sports. Throughout the balloting period, 21 million ballots are being distributed at the 30 Major League ballparks and an additional 1.7 million ballots to 95 Minor League clubs that are in-season during the balloting period. In-stadium balloting at Major League ballparks began no later than May 3, while balloting at Minor League ballparks began on May 7-17. Each Major League club has 25 home dates during which it is conducting balloting, while Minor League clubs have 15 home dates for balloting. The in-stadium program will conclude at Minor League ballparks by June 16 and at Major League parks no later than June 22.
In-stadium balloting at Rogers Centre in Toronto, sponsored by Rogers Personal TV, began on April 27 and will run through June 16. Balloting in Puerto Rico, sponsored by DirecTV, began on May 3 and will run through June 10. Pepsi, Frito-Lay and, for the first time, Quaker -- all divisions of PepsiCo Inc. -- are distributing 12 million Major League Baseball All-Star ballots exclusively at more than 3,400 Wal-Mart stores, where balloting began on May 13 and will conclude on June 17 across the U.S. Pepsi has been the title sponsor of the U.S. retail All-Star balloting program since 1997.
Since the advent of online balloting at MLB.com, this annual rite of fan voting has become a record-smashing proposition year after year. It was that way again last year with the overall voting numbers, and it seems very likely to be the case again based on the voting updates so far.
Fans can vote at MLB.com and all 30 club sites until 11:59 p.m. ET on June 28, and then they will resume voting immediately after the 2007 MLB "All-Star Game Selection Show" presented by Chevrolet, which will be televised by TBS on July 1. Baseball fans around the world will be able to select the 32nd and final player on each All-Star team via the Monster.com 2007 All-Star Final Vote.
Selecting the rosters isn't the end of the fun in 2007, either. Concluding the All-Star balloting process, fans will have the opportunity to vote for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the All-Star Game via the Monster.com 2007 All-Star Game MVP vote at MLB.com.
The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will offer extensive online coverage and MLB Radio will have exclusive play-by-play coverage of the game on the Internet.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.