Change likely in final week of voting
Online-only balloting often shakes up leaderboard
"I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will ..."
-- Sam Cooke
Oh yes it will, all right.
Change gonna come.
Baseball history says it will.
It is time again for the annual "surge vote," as the ballpark ballot closes now and millions of fans worldwide go online-only for the final week of voting exclusively here at MLB.com to determine the starting lineups for the 78th All-Star Game on July 10 at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Yet another Major League Baseball tradition is firmly in place, reflecting today's technology. You get up to 25 online votes here, and many, if not most, of you are going to use all of them to "get it right." Each year, there is some kind of big change in the final list of starters, as fans universally disagree on that last voting update and make it their personal missions to put the best 2007 players on the field.
It doesn't always happen that way. Debate will rage on somewhere. But there's always some kind of big change at the end. And it gets especially exciting in that final 24-hour surge next week, as the ballots close at 11:59 p.m. ET next Thursday. The American and National League rosters will be announced July 1 -- for the first time on TBS -- with the 2007 MLB "All-Star Game Selection Show" presented by Chevrolet, and right after that live telecast, you then will jump right back into full-intensity mode and decide the 32nd and final roster spots with the Monster.com 2007 All-Star Final Vote.
So first, let's finish up this matter of deciding the starters -- an annual process of empowerment that you have been working on since late April, when the largest All-Star balloting program in sports was launched seemingly everywhere.
Are you cool with the fact that neither league's batting leader (Magglio Ordonez of Detroit or Matt Holliday of Colorado) is currently in a starting position? Is Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox really a better American League outfield choice in 2007 than electric Grady Sizemore of the Indians?
What are you going to do about that royal battle at NL first base between Prince Fielder of the Brewers and Prince Albert of the Cardinals? And will Detroit's Pudge Rodriguez be passed at the wire by another AL catcher, like Yankees hit machine Jorge Posada -- the same way Rodriguez overtook Boston's Jason Varitek in the final week of 2006 voting? Is Russell Martin of the Dodgers really the NL's best catcher now?
You know what they say about the last week of online-only voting.
"Change gonna come."
Flash back just one year ago. Rodriguez, who had been a virtual AL All-Star institution back in his Texas days, trailed Varitek by about 40,000 votes entering the final week. The Tigers were tearing up baseball, and Pudge jumped past the Red Sox captain at the wire for the starting nod. The same thing happened with Mark Loretta, who got the Big Change Vote at AL second base just ahead of Robinson Cano of the rival Yankees. Fans cast more than 1.5 million ballots in the final 24 hours of that 2006 campaign at MLB.com, bringing the total ballots cast online to more than 11 million, with more than 141 million online votes. Offline votes are dumped into the big mix with those, and then the reserves are added by MLB personnel behind the scenes.
Maybe this year it will be a role reversal in both of those Big Change cases. Maybe this year Rodriguez will be overtaken by either Posada (who has an OPS of nearly 1.000 and leads Rodriguez in virtually every key category) or perhaps Varitek or Minnesota's Joe Mauer. Last year, Mauer made a dramatic charge in the final week of his batting-title season but fell short as a starter. He was added to the AL roster as a reserve for his first selection to the event. And maybe this time Cano will get a late spike from Bronx Bombers country, which has seen its team finally live up to billing this month. Then again, if anyone is going to overtake Detroit's Placido Polanco at second, maybe the best candidate is currently fifth -- Luis Castillo of the Twins.
You have your own opinion, and the majority is about to rule based on all the evidence. History shows that you are studying all of this very closely ... and about to make your final adjustment for everyone to see on TBS. Maybe this is the year that everything will stay status quo. If so, it will be as shockingly different as the sight of the National League (winless since 1996) actually beating the Junior Circuit.
The 2001 race would be considered way back in the day when it comes to online voting technology, and it was in that year that Cal Ripken Jr. passed David Bell at the wire for one last AL starting assignment. Ripken, of course, homered in his All-Star swan song at Seattle and was named Most Valuable Player on that magical night.
There was Hideki Matsui making that late run in 2003 as a "rookie" in the AL after those years of dominating in Japan, but the most noteworthy Big Change Vote probably was that same year in the other league. That's when Pujols, then an outfielder, headed into the final week ranked fourth among NL outfielders, according to your votes.
"Pujols has played unbelievable. He's doing everything," Sammy Sosa said during that final week, when he was with the Cubs and was one of those three outfielders who stood ahead of him. "There are guys up there with good numbers. Whatever happens, it would be better if they pick someone with better numbers."
Maybe those words spoken by the current Rangers outfielder had a big impact on baseball's voting public in general, because it sure became all about getting it right in the final week. Pujols not only jumped into the starting lineup, but by the end of that week he was the NL's top vote-getter by being named on 2,030,702 ballots. That included 1,386,818 online votes, earning him the All-Star Online Balloting Top Vote-Getter Award that year. In that year, total online balloting increased a spectacular 50 percent over the previous year, and thus did a tradition take firm hold.
"Change gonna come."
There are plenty of arguments to be made for certain individuals who are not currently leading at their positions. And few cases can be made more strongly than for the two players who lead their leagues in hitting. Just consider:
Where he stands: Presently seventh among NL outfielders with 512,317 votes. That is roughly half the number of votes as the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano, who is third. Outfielders Holliday would have to leapfrog include Barry Bonds of the Giants, Andruw Jones of the Braves and Carlos Lee of the Astros. Holliday is the only Colorado player to show up in the weekly NL update, which lists the top 15 for outfielders and top five for others.
The case: Holliday leads the NL with a .366 average to go along with 13 homers and 57 RBIs, and is having his best season in the outfield for the Rockies. Last season, Holliday busted loose with a .326 average, 34 homers and 118 RBIs, and was chosen as a reserve for his first All-Star Game, where he went 0-for-3. Current stats suggest it is unimaginable that he is not one of the three best NL outfielders this season, possibly due to lack of exposure on a Rockies team looking to get back to the postseason for the first time since 1995.
Where he stands: The gap is narrowing, and the Tigers outfielder is putting big pressure on the status quo of Vlad Guerrero of the Angels, Ramirez of the Red Sox and Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners. In last week's balloting update, Maggs was fourth, and about 130,000 votes behind Ichiro for that final outfield spot. In this week's update, that difference was down to about 78,000. Ordonez has 970,300 votes.
The case: Ordonez leads the Majors with a .383 average, and the guy trailing him in the AL is Ichiro at .356. Yes, Ichiro is on his way to yet another 200-plus-hit and 100-plus-run season and has led the Mariners back to contention. But Ordonez can say all of that as well in 2007, and he also has 13 homers and a whopping 67 RBIs for a Detroit club seeking a return to the World Series, which he put them into with a walk-off homer last October. Ichiro also brings 22 steals to the table, and Maggs has one error and a .992 fielding percentage in 132 outfield chances so far for the Tigers. The biggest argument so far is whether Ramirez, having a subpar season, is even top-five consideration based on performance ... but so far, the fans still love him.
Take another good look at the All-Star ballot. It's been fun punching those little holes these last several weeks out at the yard, and now it's just you and this electronic difference-maker. Use up all 25 of those votes, assuming you have any left in the first place. You decide, because you are the fan and you know that somewhere next week, change gonna come. Oh yes it will.
Selecting the rosters is an annual privilege, but it won't be the end of the All-Star fun for you in 2007. 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.