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Final Vote gives fans one more decision

Final Vote gives fans one more decision

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Immediately following the Major League Baseball All-Star Game Selection Show at 7 ET tonight on ESPN, a highly popular and unpredictable tradition continues at MLB.com as fans dive into the Monster 2006 All-Star Final Vote.

All-Star managers Ozzie Guillen of the AL and Phil Garner of the NL each will give fans a list of five candidates from which to choose. Final Vote balloting will take place again exclusively at MLB.com until 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, and the top vote-getter from each league will become the 32nd and final roster member for the 77th All-Star Game on July 11 in Pittsburgh.

The identities of those 10 candidates are not known to the public yet. But now that the Final Vote is in the fifth year, some evaluations can be made about how it usually works:

• Seven of the first eight winners have come from different clubs. Boston was represented by the AL's first two Final Vote winners, Johnny Damon in 2002 and Jason Varitek in 2003. That seemed like a trend at first, but fans have spread the wealth based on their available choices.

• It usually means a first All-Star trip for someone. Of the eight players selected that way, only two -- Andruw Jones of the Braves and Hideki Matsui of the Yankees -- had been an All-Star before.

• Grassroots campaigns often make a difference.

• Beware the split vote. No player has won yet if his competition includes a member of his own team. Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko of the White Sox finished 2-3 behind Matsui in 2004. Last year, Derek Jeter and Matsui were unable to get past Scott Podsednik of the White Sox, and Billy Wagner and Brett Myers of the Phillies were among those who finished behind winner Roy Oswalt of the Astros.

• Fans will go crazy. The balloting numbers are through the roof each year. Last year, 14.8 million votes were cast in the 72-hour period.

"Growing up, it used to always bother me that there was no way to solve the annual debate of who the biggest All-Star snubs were," said Gregg Klayman, director of fantasy and interactive games for MLB Advanced Media, and creator of the Final Vote concept. "Since the All-Star Game is about who the fans want to see the most, it made sense to come up with a way for fans to be the ones to select the final player.

"Years ago, there was no good way to do this, since last-second paper balloting would have been next to impossible to pull off. Luckily, the Internet showed up one day to make things like this possible for fans to participate in. The response we've gotten in the program's first four years shows that fans have a tremendous interest in being the ones to have the final say."

While waiting for that final say again in 2006, here is a look at how the Final Vote has evolved since its creation:

2002: Damon (AL) and Andruw Jones (NL)
Damon had left Oakland to sign with the Red Sox, and his numbers were growing up across the board. But even entering the third and last day of Final Vote balloting, Damon's first All-Star appointment was in question.

The center fielder had 248,576 votes, and Jim Thome of Cleveland was right there with 243,025. It was only a difference of 5,551 votes, and their neck-and-neck battle was far in front of fellow AL candidates Eric Chavez of the A's, Magglio Ordonez of the White Sox and Darin Erstad of the Angels.

After the votes were counted, it was announced during a Red Sox victory over Toronto to a giddy sellout crowd at Fenway. Damon was on first base and saluted the crowd by waving his hand. He had finished with 692,989 votes, compared to 666,825 for Thome. It was a final difference of just 26,164 votes, and to this day remains one of the best races in this unique player-election process.

"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."

The first NL player selected also was an outfielder. Jones, representing the Braves, was in command throughout the balloting. He led Brian Giles of the Pirates by nearly 70,000 votes entering the last day, and won with a vote total of 559,752. Giles finished second with 488,725, their margin of difference nearly the same during the last day. Larry Walker of the Rockies, Albert Pujols of the Cardinals and Ryan Klesko of the Padres rounded out the order of finish. It would mark the only time to date in Pujols' marvelous career that he failed to make the All-Star team.

2003: Jason Varitek (AL) and Geoff Jenkins (NL)
This was the year that a now-customary part of the Final Vote process first emerged: Grassroots campaigning.

Jenkins was a sixth-year Brewers outfielder who was on his way to a borderline .300/30/100 season, and he was named on the NL ballot by manager Dusty Baker along with Benito Santiago of the Giants, Kenny Lofton of the Pirates, Orlando Cabrera of the Expos and Luis Castillo of the Marlins. Santiago and Lofton were old hands at the Midsummer Classic. Cabrera was a young shortstop on the rise, and Castillo was remembered by many for the 35-game hitting streak he had compiled a year earlier.

Santiago led after the first day of voting, but for Jenkins, the word was starting to spread throughout baseball like Heisman Trophy hype. He was on the air with Dan Patrick of ESPN Radio. The Brewers were aggressive in touting Jenkins, and Brewers fans were using email in a brand new way to make their candidate's chances viral. Santiago was announced as the early leader; Jenkins took over the lead amid nearly a dead heat with Santiago with 30 hours remaining; and then Jenkins nabbed the final roster spot with 2,872,200 votes.

"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."

For the second time in as many years of AL Final Vote balloting, a Red Sox player won the hearts of voters. Catcher Jason Varitek had to beat out Jason Giambi of the Yankees and Frank Thomas of the White Sox, along with Web Gem icon Eric Byrnes of the A's and Bengie Molina, catcher for the reigning world-champion Angels.

Varitek was leading with 30 hours of voting left, but Big Hurt was gaining quickly. Varitek withstood the charge and finished first with 3,210,509 votes -- more than four times as many as Damon had received, reflecting the year-over-year vote increases in this online process.

2004: Hideki Matsui (AL) and Bobby Abreu (NL)
Matsui already had demonstrated the power of online voting a year earlier as a new Yankee with the fabled "Godzilla" reputation from Japan. He had rallied from seventh place among NL outfielders late in the 2003 starter balloting to win one of those spots. Now his destiny was controlled by fans who also could choose from among Lew Ford of the Twins, Travis Hafner of the Indians, Paul Konerko of the White Sox and -- back for a second straight year to try again -- Thomas.

With 26 hours remaining, the official announcement said that Thomas was in second place once again, this time to Matsui. This time, Thomas and his teammate, Konerko, were in a virtual dead heat for second. Time was running out, and one wondered whether White Sox fans would have a split vote that might hurt both players' chances. Looking back, perhaps it did. Or perhaps Yankee fans -- and maybe Japanese voters who could cast their ballots online as well -- just thought Matsui deserved to be an All-Star again. That is what the public decided, so Godzilla was in.

In the NL, Abreu of the Phillies won the honor in a race that included Steve Finley of the Diamondbacks, Jason Kendall of the Pirates, Juan Pierre of the Marlins and Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs. The last name on that list might have seemed like a favorite going in, if only because Cub fans had just taken their reputation of wide loyalty a step further with all of those caravans to watch their team at visiting parks during that previous near-miss October. And in Pierre, voters had a key member of that club that knocked the Cubs out of that postseason.

After the first two days of voting, it was a virtual dead heat at the top between Ramirez and Abreu. The polls closed, and then everyone saw what was perhaps a coming-of-age declaration by Abreu's public. He had been putting up huge numbers year after year and was becoming an annual "fantasy stud," winning the final roster spot by leading all 2003 Final Vote candidates with two million votes.

"[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."

2005: Scott Podsednik (AL) and Roy Oswalt (NL)
It's almost as if fans knew what to expect come October. This not only marked the first time that they voted for a player who would go on to a World Series appearance, but in this case it also meant two players who would face each other in that event.

Podednik's competition included Jeter, Matsui, Carl Crawford of the Devil Rays and Torii Hunter of the Twins. Jeter had a slight lead over Podsednik halfway through the balloting. Jeter and Matsui were publicly lobbying for each other's chances, telling fans to vote for the other guy. Podsednik outdistanced Jeter to win with 3,965,473, the most for a player so far in Final Vote history.

Podsednik benefited not only from a strong season but also heavy grassroots campaign by his club and fans. Even manager Ozzie Guillen's son was holding up a "Vote Scott" placard one night when Podsednik signed autographs for 90 minutes before the game. Their winning candidate personally thanked fans through the Inside the White Sox MLBlog of Scott Reifert, the club's vice president of communications. That blog post read:

"The response has been amazing and humbling. Being named to the All-Star Team is a dream every 10-year-old enjoys when growing up playing baseball. Thanks to your votes, I will have the opportunity to fulfill those dreams on Tuesday night in Detroit at Major League Baseball's 76th All-Star Game. ... It will be an experience I will never forget."

The NL race was especially interesting because, for the first time in any Final Vote balloting, the choices were all pitchers. It's the manager's decision, and NL manager Tony La Russa obviously wanted a pitcher to round out his club. That was something new for fans, who never get to decide pitchers when they vote to decide All-Star starters.

Oswalt had the lead halfway through voting over Wagner, Myers, Trevor Hoffman of the Padres and Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks. Oswalt won with 2,652,549 votes, with Hoffman finishing second.

"I think it's better for some of the fans to participate in picking some of the pitchers," Oswalt said. "Not just the managers and guys around the league. It's good to let some of the fans pick both sides."

For the second year in a row, there will be two ways for fans to participate in the Final Vote as fans also can vote from their mobile phones. This time, however, there are two short codes to know:

• In the U.S.: Text the word "VOTE" to 36197.

• In Canada: Text the word "VOTE" to 28776.

You will be instantly registered to receive Final Vote ballots. Then, for just 30 cents a ballot (it was 99 cents last year), you will have the freedom to vote from wherever you are. Also, keep an eye out if you are at a ballpark where the home team has a Final Vote candidate, because you may get a more specific short code for that individual player.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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