Votebook: All-Star puzzle's final pieces

Completing the All-Star puzzle

It was July 2002, and Johnny Damon was in his first year as the center fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Perhaps he wasn't exactly sure if he had endeared himself to the Fenway Park faithful yet.

But then the All-Star Final Vote happened.

In the first year of that special ballot -- which gives baseball fans around the world the opportunity to select the final position player on each All-Star team -- Damon beat out fellow American League candidates Jim Thome, Eric Chavez, Magglio Ordonez and Darin Erstad.

It was the bottom of the fifth inning of an eventual 6-4 Red Sox victory over Toronto when the news was announced to a giddy sellout Fenway crowd of 33,000. Damon was on first base and saluted the crowd by waving his hand.

"I knew how awesome [Red Sox] fans were from that moment," Damon said later. "I feel like I could have been on two or three more All-Star teams with my numbers.

"Unfortunately, for an outfielder, there are so many more players who deserve to go every year, and unfortunately for me, I've been left out a few times. It's cool that they added that Final Vote ballot. It opens up a great opportunity, like it did for me that year."

Balloting for the fourth annual Ameriquest All-Star Final Vote begins immediately following Sunday's Major League All-Star Selection Show and will continue until 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday. The winners will be announced at MLB.com and on ESPN shortly after the close of balloting.

There are two ways for fans to vote for the 2005 All-Star Final Vote -- online at MLB.com or from their cell phones. Fans can simply text the word 'VOTE' to 69652 (MYMLB) and be instantly registered to receive Final Vote ballots; then, for just 99 cents per ballot, they'll be able to vote wherever they are. Fans can get the mobile ballot now.

"The idea [for the Final Vote] was born from the annual media debate over which excluded All-Star caliber players deserved to be at the Midsummer Classic the most," said Gregg Klayman, director of fantasy and interactive games for Major League Baseball Advanced Media and the creator of the Final Vote concept in 2002.

"We figured it made the most sense to let the public have the final say, especially since the All-Star Game was created for the fans," added Klayman. "The success of the All-Star Final Vote program has shown that baseball fans love the opportunity to be the ones who determine the true outcome to these debates."

Joining Damon in 2002 as the inaugural Final Vote winner for the National League was current Major League home run leader Andruw Jones, who beat out Brian Giles, Larry Walker, Albert Pujols and Ryan Klesko.

In 2003, Boston catcher Jason Varitek won his first trip to the All-Star Game, beating out Jason Giambi, Frank Thomas, Eric Byrnes and Bengie Molina for the AL nod, while Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Geoff Jenkins topped Benito Santiago, Kenny Lofton, Orlando Cabrera and Luis Castillo for the NL bid, in part because of a tremendous campaign by his teammates.

"It was like e-mail after e-mail saying how they were telling people to vote," Jenkins said. "It was really neat. There's nothing I can say, just how thankful I am for them to do that, to think of me for as long as I've been here. It really meant a lot and it's something I'll never forget."

Outfielders Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees and Bobby Abreu of the Philadelphia Phillies won't forget their Final Vote victories last year, when Matsui bested Lew Ford, Travis Hafner, Paul Konerko and Frank Thomas and Abreu triumphed over Steve Finley, Jason Kendall, Juan Pierre and Aramis Ramirez.

For Abreu, it marked the first All-Star nod in a quiet but excellent career.

"[Winning the Final Vote] is the best thing to happen to me so far," Abreu said after finding out he won in 2004. "I've been playing for six years, and I've never been selected. Now I get to go."

The fun doesn't end with the Final Vote, however. Once again, fans will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the 76th All-Star Game via the Ameriquest 2005 All-Star Game MVP Vote on MLB.com.

The All-Star Game, to be held at Detroit's Comerica Park on Tuesday, July 12, at 8 p.m. ET, 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. MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage, while MLB Radio will broadcast exclusive play-by-play coverage of the game on the Internet.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.