Life in 2006: The Golden Gate Bridge is an American icon, the new "King Kong" is out on DVD, seven billion chocolate chip cookies (totalling 1.4 trillion calories) are consumed annually and baseball fans around the world can decide who plays in the 77th rendition of the All-Star Game, to be held on July 11 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Voting is now under way to determine the starting position players and the 32nd men for the 2006 American League and National League rosters. Fans can cast votes up to 25 times with the Monster.com 2006 All-Star Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites. Online balloting ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on June 29.
The rosters will be unveiled at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 2. The announcement will unveil the 16 elected starters, as determined by fan balloting, and 45 pitchers and reserves, as determined by the player ballot and the two All-Star team managers -- Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox and Phil Garner of the Houston Astros -- and Major League Baseball.
Fans will have the opportunity to select the final position player for each league's 32-man roster at MLB.com. The Final Vote will provide fans the opportunity to cast their votes from a list of five players from each league over a three-day period. Fans added Roy Oswalt (NL) and Scott Podsednik (AL) to the rosters with that Final Vote last summer.
Also, for the second year, fans will be able to cast Final Vote selections using their mobile phone. Both winners of the Final Vote will be announced after the voting concludes on Thursday, July 6. Yes, we have come a long way since 1933. Not only were there no mobile phones then, there was no cable TV to announce the rosters nor Internet for voting. There was no voting in 1933 at all; Babe Ruth and others were hand-picked for the Game of the Century.
Selecting the rosters isn't the end of the fun in 2006, either. Concluding the All-Star balloting process, fans once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the All-Star Game via the Monster.com 2006 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.com Radio will have exclusive play-by-play coverage of the game on the Internet.
In 2005, baseball fans cast a record 16 million ballots, including a record 11.5 million online at MLB.com. The Major League Baseball All-Star balloting program, the largest in professional sports, is where fans get to feel the power. And this is one of those years when fans will have to figure out what to do with a guy like Jim Thome, because there is no designated hitter on the ballot this time due to the host NL park. If he doesn't get enough write-in support for his ensational return to the AL with the White Sox, then he would rely on the reserve-selection process that includes your Final Vote.
All the excitement can start again now. Here is a closer look at what you can expect to find by position on that 2006 ballot:
AL: David Ortiz dominated the 2005 balloting with 4,131,141 votes, but that was as a DH. There is no DH on the ballot this time, meaning others have to deal with the Big Papi constituency at this position. That includes 2005 starter Mark Teixeira of the Rangers, Paul Konerko of the White Sox, Travis Hafner of the Indians, hot-starting Chris Shelton of the Tigers and Jason Giambi of the Yanks.
NL: Derrek Lee of the Cubs edged Albert Pujols of the Cardinals last year and led all NL vote-getters. Now Pujols has an MVP Award and is off to a monster start and Lee is out until at least late June because of a broken wrist. Carlos Delgado has had a huge impact on the Mets, Lance Berkman of the Astros and Nick Johnson of the Nationals are off to strong starts, and 2005 NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard of the Phillies is likely to only grow in voters' minds.
AL: Alfonso Soriano is gone from the league and the position, so you have to find him in NL outfield ballot these days. Meanwhile, 2005 starter Brian Roberts of the Orioles is back on the ballot. Robinson Cano of the Yanks has carried over a strong rookie season into a good start this month, Mark Loretta has won new fans in Boston. And don't forget Jorge Cantu, who had a breakout 2005 season and a great World Baseball Classic, to boot.
NL: Jeff Kent of the Dodgers has won this vote the past two years and four times this decade, and last year he received more than twice as many votes as his former teammate, Craig Biggio. But is this the year that Biggio, the Astros' future Hall of Famer, finally gets back to the All-Star Game for the first time since 1998? Biggio is coming off a World Series appearance and is a big reason for Houston's great 2006 start. There's a Giles (Marcus) and a Miles (Aaron), and what to do with Brandon Phillips, who isn't on the ballot but has been electric since coming from Cleveland to Cincinnati the first week of the season?
AL: Miguel Tejada and Derek Jeter -- now the "old guard" on this part of the ballot -- finished 1-2 last year. An early argument certainly could be made for both again. But Michael Young of the Rangers has gone to the past two Midsummer Classics and has become a 200-hit lock. Youngsters like Jhonny Peralta of the Indians and Bobby Crosby of the A's are among those knocking at the door.
NL: Will Jimmy Rollins' fabulous 38-game hitting streak for the Phillies translate into voter love? The Mets' explosive start could bode well for Jose Reyes, and David Eckstein is back for St. Louis in search of a second straight starting assignment. Edgar Renteria is back in the NL, with Atlanta, while ex-Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal is now on the ballot as a Dodger.
AL: Alex Rodriguez has been an All-Star every year dating back to 1996, is coming off an MVP season and has the giant Yankees fanbase of voters. But Mike Lowell is new to this side of the ballot with the Red Sox, as is Troy Glaus of the Blue Jays. And Hank Blalock, hero of the 2003 All-Star Game in Houston, is off to a blazing start for Texas, waiting to see how Ranger fans will vote.
NL: This was certified Scott Rolen country the past couple of years for St. Louis, but it's a good bet that Morgan Ensberg of the Astros is going to finish much higher than his No. 6 finish last year. Bill Mueller finished second to A-Rod in AL voting last year, and now Dodgers fans can give their new player similar support. Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs and Chipper Jones of the Braves always are a factor, but the candidate to watch might be David Wright, who stormed out of the gates for the first-place Mets club.
AL: This has become one of the most fun positions to watch on the ballot, and it should be even more interesting this summer. In fact, it could be the drama leader in weekly voting updates. There's the usual Red Sox-Yankees rivalry involving Jason Varitek (last year's starter) and Jorge Posada. There's Ivan Rodriguez, leader of an impressive Tigers club and last year's runner-up. Javy Lopez of Baltimore? Gone from the ballot, replaced by Ramon Hernandez, who has had a wicked start. There's A.J. Pierzynski and a possible White Sox carryover factor. There's Kenji Johjima, the celebrated Mariners backstop who became the first Japanese catcher in the Majors. And then there's Cleveland's Victor Martinez, who entered the year as the No. 1 fantasy catcher and has the early statistics to support that position.
NL: Mike Piazza has been a fixture at catcher in the NL lineup. Piazza's now in San Diego, but still one of the favorites at his position. Piazza's replacement, the Mets' Paul Lo Duca, is going to get his share of votes. And there are a number of backstops who figure to challenge both: Atlanta's Brian McCann (who hit a memorable homer off Roger Clemens in his first playoff at-bat last October), Michael Barrett of the Cubs and Yadier Molina of the Cardinals.
AL: In 2005, Boston's Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon and the Angels' Vlad Guerrero were voted in, and all figure to be among the leaders again as Damon's new address with the Yankees won't hurt his standing. Along with Ichiro Suzuki, a perennial fan favorite, there are numerous high-profile or fast-starting challengers. Toronto's Vernon Wells was among league leaders in the power and batting average departments; Kevin Mench was lighting it up in Texas with a six-game home-run streak; 2005 World Series MVP Jermaine Dye and Scott Podsednik were fueling the fast start of the champion White Sox; the Yankees' duo of Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui always deliver on the field and in voting and Cleveland's Grady Sizemore and Baltimore's Jay Gibbons are darkhorses to watch.
NL: The 2005 trio was Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu, New York Mets' Carlos Beltran and St. Louis' Jim Edmonds. All are viable candidates again, but voters may remember Andruw Jones, who is picking up where he left off after a 51-homer campaign for Atlanta. Junior Griffey is back on the Reds' disabled list for a bit but he probably will be in the picture. Soriano wasn't so sure he wanted to be in this spot on the ballot, but he has made a case for himself since moving from second base. Jason Bay is the hometown favorite for Pittsburgh. Other sluggers to watch are Philadelphia's Pat Burrell, Milwaukee's Carlos Lee and Cincinnati's Adam Dunn.
This summer will mark the 10th anniversary of the NL's last victory in this event, and for the fourth consecutive year, the winning league receives home-field advantage for the subsequent World Series. The AL has won the past two Fall Classics (Chicago last year and Boston in 2004), following Florida's title in 2003. So fans again get to play a decided role in an event that affects the ultimate season outcome.
"The All-Star Game is a special time for any ballplayer. I think it ought to be," said the late great Ted Williams, whose three-run homer at age 22 to win it for the AL in 1941 remains one of the event's all-time highlights. "You're there with all the great players. They've been through the mill. They talk the same language."
Now it's your turn again to help decide which of them get the opportunity. Start eating up those 25 online votes like they were chocolate chip cookies.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.