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Nomar, A.J. named Final Vote winners

Nomar, A.J. named Final Vote winners

Nomar Garciaparra and A.J. Pierzynski were American League All-Star teammates in 2002, the year that the Final Vote was introduced by MLB.com. They did not have to rely on it to be selected as reserves for that Midsummer Classic, but it was precisely that voice of the people that has made them All-Stars again.

Balloting ended at 6 p.m. ET Thursday in the Monster 2006 All-Star Final Vote, and those are the two survivors after a 94-hour process that resulted in a record 18.6 million votes overall, a lot of inspired campaigning and the closest overall competition in the five years of this last-chance selection process.

Garciaparra, the Dodgers' first baseman, fills the 32nd and final roster spot for the National League team by garnering roughly four million votes. Pierzynski, the White Sox catcher, rounds out the AL squad with 3.6 million votes. Their leagues will meet in the 77th All-Star Game on July 11 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and both of those key members of likely postseason contenders will hope to help their respective leagues try to win World Series home-field advantage.

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Fans again faced the difficult task of somehow choosing from among five very deserving candidates in each league, as provided by NL manager Phil Garner of the Astros and AL manager Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox. In order, Garciaparra finished ahead of Chris Capuano of the Brewers, 2004 Final Vote winner Bobby Abreu of the Phillies, Billy Wagner of the Mets and Chris Young of the Padres. Pierzynski finished first in a close race against Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano, and following in order were Travis Hafner of the Indians, Justin Verlander of the Tigers and Ramon Hernandez of the Orioles.

It marks the first time in Final Vote history that a team from a West Division has a winning representative. It is the second year in a row that a White Sox player has won the vote, following Scott Podsednik in 2005. Out of 10 all-time Final Vote winners, eight different clubs now have been represented.

Here is a closer look at the two stars:

Nomar Garciaparra: After representing the Red Sox as an AL shortstop in his previous five All-Star trips, he makes the NL roster now as a first-year first baseman on a new club. Garciaparra becomes the fourth first basemen on the NL roster, joining starter Albert Pujols of the Cardinals (the Majors' top overall vote-getter) and reserves Ryan Howard of the Phillies and Lance Berkman of the Astros.

Garciaparra had a league-leading .359 average through Wednesday, was the hardest player in the Majors to strike out, and just as notably had committed just one error the entire season at his new position. He led the five NL Final Vote candidates after each of the first two announced updates, and then finished ahead of Capuano at the closing bell.

"It's always an honor to go to the All-Star Game, whether you're selected by the fans, as a reserve or in this manner," Garciaparra said. "I didn't come into the season with the intention of making the All-Star Game and when you are selected, it's nothing I've done. I wish I could take the whole team."

Typical of the grassroots campaigning that has come to characterize the Final Vote process, the Dodgers organization did a lot of speaking for him. Gigantic posters throughout Dodger Stadium urged fans to vote, the club reached out to all the local radio stations to spread the word, and during each one of Garciaparra's at-bats, the "Vote Nomar" button was on DodgerVision. There also was an ad in Thursday's Los Angeles Times mentioning the vote.

Like Pierzynski, Garciaparra also had the benefit of two entrenched MLBlogs maintained by front offices for unfiltered and fast two-way communication with fans. In Garciaparra's case, there were two club blogs touting him. Besides the Inside the Dodgers club blog, Dodger legend Tommy Lasorda also was pushing him. It's another way the Final Vote is evolving.

"I can't help but think that the front office's new blog has played an important role in reaching out to our fans," Josh Rawitch, the Dodgers' director of public relations and primary author of "Inside the Dodgers," said during the last 24 hours of voting. "They have really stepped up over the last few days."

A.J. Pierzynski: Guillen's regular catcher becomes the third backstop on the AL roster. Pudge Rodriguez of the Tigers overtook Jason Varitek of the Red Sox during the final week of starter balloting, and Joe Mauer of the Twins, leading the Majors in batting, was added as a reserve.

Pierzynski entered Thursday night's game against Baltimore (and Final Vote competitor Hernandez) with a .327 batting average, seventh-best in the AL. He was a key player in Chicago's march to a storied World Series championship last fall, and he has deftly handled a pitching staff generally regarded as among the best in the Majors.

He also had a "Punch A.J." campaign that may have been simply irresistible.

"I thought it was awesome, and I know a lot of people want to do that," Guillen said with a wry smile after the Final Vote process began. "In the meanwhile, I think it's a great thing to have. I think it's great entertainment. ... He deserves to be there."

White Sox employees wore "Punch A.J." shirts around U.S. Cellular Field during the homestand, and those same shirts were sold to the public Wednesday night at the ballpark. Given Pierzynski's less-than-favorable image in cities other than Chicago on the Major League circuit, this campaign was an even greater success for the team.

"Without a doubt, they've done a great job of putting together a quick marketing campaign," Pierzynski said.

For the second year in a row, the White Sox organization again was able to extol its candidate's virtues to a captive audience within a home ballpark. Garciaparra was being trumpeted to his voting public while playing at Dodger Stadium throughout the process as well. Does that help a Final Vote candidate? One can argue that the Twins were on the road but they helped engineer a creative, near-miss grassroots campaign for Liriano (i.e. local highway signs) while their players were away this week. Still, the fact is that only one out of the 10 Final Vote winners has survived when his team was playing on the road during the voting process: Varitek with the Red Sox in 2003.

Final Vote history
Here is the updated list of winners since the Final Vote was introduced on MLB.com:

2006: A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox) in AL, Nomar Garciaparra (Dodgers) in NL.
2005: Scott Podsednik (White Sox) in AL, Roy Oswalt (Astros) in NL.
2004: Hideki Matsui (Yankees) in AL, Bobby Abreu (Phillies) in NL.
2003: Jason Varitek (Red Sox) in AL, Geoff Jenkins (Brewers) in NL.
2002: Johnny Damon (Red Sox) in AL, Andruw Jones (Braves) in NL.

• It marked the fifth consecutive year that the White Sox have had at least one representative. No other club has had a choice for fans every year.

• New clubs with choices this year include Baltimore (Hernandez) and Detroit (Verlander) in the AL, and the Dodgers (Garciaparra) and Mets (Wagner) in the NL. The only clubs that never have been represented in the Final Vote include the Blue Jays, Mariners, Rangers, Reds and Royals. The Nationals never have been represented as a Washington team, but Orlando Cabrera was a candidate in 2003 when they were known as the Montreal Expos.

The Final Vote was created for the purpose of letting fans take action via technology rather than what had become a time-honored ritual of many people squawking about who was snubbed in the All-Star selection process.

"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," said Gregg Klayman, director of fantasy and interactive games for MLB Advanced Media and originator of the Final Vote concept. "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."

Final Vote, but not final voting
It has been a long and empowering end of online balloting for fans at MLB.com and the 30 club sites, and it didn't end the close of the Monster 2006 All-Star Final Vote, either. For the fourth consecutive year, fans around the world will have the opportunity to participate in the Midsummer Classic when they cast their votes for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award, presented by Chevrolet, at the Midsummer Classic via the Monster 2006 All-Star Game MVP Vote on MLB.com.

Beginning in the sixth inning of the Midsummer Classic, fans can cast their votes for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award. The voting will continue until the MVP is announced immediately following the end of the game.

The online fan vote will count for 20 percent, with the other 80 percent coming onsite from the Baseball Writers Association of America and the announcers from the All-Star Game's three broadcast rights holders: FOX Sports, ESPN Radio and MLB International.

Immediately following the conclusion of the All-Star Game, the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player will receive the Arch Ward Trophy, which was first presented in 1962 as a tribute to the man who founded the All-Star Game in 1933.

The 77th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, 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, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage and MLB Radio will provide exclusive play-by-play coverage of the game on the Internet. XM Satellite Radio will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game.

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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