07/06/08 9:15 PM ET
Newcomers make waves in ASG voting
National League roster inundated with first-time players
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
The starting eight for the Senior Circuit, announced Sunday by Major League Baseball, includes the first rookie catcher -- Geovany Soto of the Cubs -- to start a Midsummer Classic for the NL. The 79th All-Star Game on July 15 also will see the first pair of NL rookies in the lineup in Soto and Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome.
Soto and Fukudome are part of a wave of young NL stars heading for New York that also includes two other starters who will make their All-Star debuts: shortstop Hanley Ramirez of Florida and outfielder Ryan Braun of Milwaukee.
They'll have plenty of company.
Other first timers named to the NL roster are San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, Pittsburgh outfielder Nate McLouth, St. Louis outfielder Ryan Ludwick, Cincinnati pitcher Edinson Volquez, Colorado's Aaron Cook and San Francisco's Brian Wilson and Tim Lincecum. At least 35 percent -- and possibly more pending the outcome of the Final Vote -- of the players on this year's 32-man National League All-Star team will be first timers.
Houston first baseman Lance Berkman, Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley, Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones and Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano are the other elected NL starters for next week's Midsummer Classic in New York.
Utley, an All-Star starter for the third consecutive year, is the only returning NL starter from last year's All-Star Game in San Francisco.
The 29-year-old leads the Major Leagues with 24 home runs and led the NL with 3,889,602 votes. No Phillies player had finished with the most votes since fans were given back the ballot in 1970.
Berkman ranks among the top five in baseball in batting average, home runs and RBIs. An All-Star for the fifth time, Berkman is the sixth Astros player to win the fan balloting at any position. He joins Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent, Cesar Cedeno and Lee May.
Jones, who leads the Major Leagues with a .385 batting average entering play on Sunday, made the All-Star team for the sixth time and will be making his fifth start. It will be Jones' first All-Star appearance since the 2001 season. The Braves also will be represented by catcher Brian McCann, one of the manager selections.
Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, Mets closer Billy Wagner and pitchers Dan Haren (D-backs), Aaron Cook (Rockies) and Carlos Zambrano (Cubs) were the other NL manager selections.
Soto and Fukudome are the first two rookies in an All-Star Game starting lineup since Tom Tresh, Dave Stenhouse and Rich Rollins started the second 1962 Midsummer Classic for the American League at Wrigley Field. In those days, two All-Star Games were played each season.
Dozens of rookies have made the All-Star team over the years, including catchers Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter and Jason Kendall. But until the 25-year-old Soto won the assignment this year, the only rookie backstop to start an All-Star Game was Cleveland's Sandy Alomar Jr. for the AL in 1990.
"It feels surreal," Soto said. "Me trying to make the club and feeling really good and then going to the All-Star Game. It feels awesome -- I don't know how to feel. I just tried to play hard and tried to make it. I just wanted to give my all and see what happens. I'm really honored by this."
The 31-year-old Fukudome, among the top ten in the league in on-base percentage, runs and walks, joins Soto and Soriano to give the Cubs three players in the starting lineup of the All-Star Game for the first time since 1937. Fukudome will be the the first rookie outfielder in the NL starting lineup since Frank Robinson in 1956.
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez (player choice) and pitchers Ryan Dempster (player), Kerry Wood (player) and Zambrano give the Cubs a franchise-record seven All-Stars. No other NL team has more than two representatives.
Soriano, the MVP of the 2004 All-Star Game at Houston, has not played since June 11 because of injury. The Cubs left fielder has begun taking practice, though at this point, it is unlikely Soriano's sore left hand will allow him to make his seventh All-Star appearance and fifth start.
"The swing, it doesn't feel like it's supposed to," Soriano said. "I think it will take time, maybe a week, to feel good again. I'll be ready to play in the second half."
Hanley Ramirez is only the second Marlins player in franchise history to win the fan balloting at any position. Gary Sheffield was elected by the fans to start at third base in 1993, though Sheffield began that season with San Diego. Ramirez held off a challenge from Houston's Miguel Tejada in what was the closest campaign in either league. The Marlins' Dan Uggla will be making his second All-Star trip as a result of his selection by the players.
Tejada, the MVP of the 2005 All-Star Game, also made the team as a player selection.
Braun, in his second season with the Brewers and first as an outfielder, was in 10th place in the NL balloting on June 1. Since then, Braun received more than 2 million votes to climb all the way to second place behind Soriano in the outfield race. Braun received 3,835,890 online votes, more than any NL player except Utley.
Braun will be the first Brewers outfielder to start an All-Star Game since 1999, when Jeromy Burnitz replaced an injured Tony Gwynn. The last Brewers outfielder voted to start a Midsummer Classic was Ben Oglivie in 1980.
Brewers media relations boss Mike Vassallo and Braun expended a lot of energy over recent weeks to get out the vote for the 24-year-old, who is in his first full Major League season after winning NL Rookie of the Year honors last year following a May callup. He took part in radio and television interviews with outlets throughout the country, including Milwaukee, his hometown of Los Angeles and his collegiate stomping grounds in Miami.
"Everybody was contributing," Braun said. "I really appreciate the support. Obviously, it wouldn't be possible, literally, without everybody's help."
Braun is joined by Brewers ace Ben Sheets, who is 10-2 with a 2.77 ERA and will be making his fourth trip to the All-Star Game as a player selection.
The 79th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage that will also be available on XM Satellite Radio, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage.
Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. had risen to second place in the NL outfield balloting behind Soriano a week ago, but a tide of late support boosted Braun and Fukudome at the polls, dropping the newest member of the 600-home-run club out of the starting lineup by fewer than 87,000 votes.
Griffey, a 13-time All-Star selection who was the NL's leading vote-getter last season with 2,916,818 votes, has been elected by fans to start the All-Star Game more times than any player except Cal Ripken Jr. (17) and Rod Carew (15). Since the start of his Major League career in 1989, Griffey has the received the most votes of any player in the history of fan balloting.
The change in the NL All-Star landscape was most evident in the NL West, where a first of another kind may be set unless one of the division's pitchers, perhaps Arizona's Brandon Webb, is named as the starter.
Russell Martin of the Dodgers, the NL starter at catcher last season, made the team again this year. Martin joins Gonzalez, Webb, Lincecum, Wilson, Arizona's Dan Haren and Colorado's Matt Holliday and Aaron Cook among the eight NL West team representatives.
"I was nervous last year, my first time at an All-Star Game," Martin said. "This year it'll be more relaxing and I'll enjoy it more. I've never played at Yankee Stadium and I'm fortunate to play there. A lot of guys will never have the opportunity."
San Diego's Jake Peavy was the starting pitcher for the NL last July and Brad Penny of the Dodgers got the start for the Senior Circuit in the 2006 All-Star Game at Pittsburgh.
Unless Webb, Lincecum or Cook makes it three straight starters for the division this will be the first time since the the leagues split into two divisions in 1969 the All-Star Game won't have at least one player from the NL West in the starting lineup.
"I wanted to make this [team] because I thought this was going to be pretty special being in New York the last year of Yankee Stadium," Webb said. "So it was kind of a goal of mine to make it even when I first heard about it last year probably about this time that it was going to be in Yankee Stadium. Just to be able to make it and represent the Diamondbacks and the National League there in Yankee Stadium. It's going to be a madhouse, it's going to be fun."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.