Let debate begin on 'Hometown Heroes'

Let debate begin on 'Hometown Heroes'

They live in our hearts as Cooperstown plaques; as statues, monuments, retired numbers and foul-pole flags at Major League ballparks; as baseball cards and beloved memorabilia; as legends told for generations; and in some cases as the favorite player still putting up numbers in a distinguished and storied career.

Now it is time to decide on just one of them per team.

Just one Bronx Bomber from Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. Just one of those statues that surround Busch Stadium or PNC Park. Just one cog in that Big Red Machine. Just one Dodger from the West or the East. On and on it goes, the promise of great debate and the certainty of a hallowed 30-man list to come this fall.

Voting is under way for fans to determine the definitive legends in the DHL presents Major League Baseball Hometown Heroes program, which was announced Monday. The ballot consists of five nominees per active Major League club, featuring players past or present who most embody the legacy of MLB and each respective franchise's history.

Select one of the five nominated players (or write-in a candidate of your own choosing) for each club. There are no voting restrictions based on fans' geographic location, and you may vote as often as you wish. Then look for an unforgettable unveiling during the final week of this regular season.

"Over the course of baseball's history, certain players have become synonymous with the cities and franchises they have represented," Commissioner Bud Selig said in making the announcement. "Through this program, and thanks to the support of DHL, we will celebrate the contributions of some of baseball's greatest players and the rich history that belongs to each Major League franchise.

"One of the aspects about this program that I am particularly excited about is the healthy debate and discussion that it will provoke. This kind of spirited debate is so closely associated with the history of the national pastime, and it will be fun to hear the debates that takes place in the coming months."

Discuss "Hometown Heroes" at the MLB.com message board

Blog about your vote at MLBlogs

Nominees selected to appear on the ballot were chosen for their contributions to their franchise's history using the Hometown Heroes selection criteria of on-field performance, leadership quality and character value. The majority of nominees were selected by individual clubs. In some instances, clubs chose to defer the selection of one or more nominees to an esteemed panel appointed by Major League Baseball that was comprised of baseball historians and media representatives (see list below). In these cases, the panel chose the franchise's representatives on the ballot.

Now that fans have spent most of this season deciding the top All-Stars among today's players, it's time to decide the biggest club stars of all-time. From now through Sept. 17, fans may vote for each club's Hometown Hero here at MLB.com and all 30 club sites, in all MLB ballparks, via mobile phone by sending a text message with the keyword "DHL" to 55222 and at any of the 1,600 participating DHL Authorized Shipping Centers around the country. Information on those locations can be found at www.DHL-USA.com.

As if you needed any further incentive to vote, a sweepstakes also is part of the Hometown Heroes program. Two Grand Prize winners will each receive a trip for two to Game 3 of the 2006 World Series, and 50 more winners will receive an MLB Gift Pack consisting of an MLB Hometown Hero cap, T-shirt and bag.

Just imagine some of the spirited debate that will follow during this final process. Cubs fans can try to choose one of those flags on the two Wrigley Field foul poles -- Ernie Banks' No. 14 or Ron Santo's No. 10 in left, or Billy Williams' No. 26 or Ryne Sandberg's No. 23 in right -- or they might consider Fergie Jenkins. It might seem obvious for a Red Sox fan to vote for the great Ted Williams, until you think about the moments and legends inspired by Carl Yastrzemski, Roger Clemens, Jim Rice and Cy Young -- baseball's winningest pitcher.

Yankee fans, these are just your five average immortals: Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth. The last name on that Hall of Fame list figuratively built the house in which you spend quality time. But Yogi played in more World Series games than anyone. Joltin' Joe hit in 56 straight games, won it all just about every year, wed Marilyn Monroe and was Mr. Coffee. The 'Iron Horse' played in 2,130 straight games, and made perhaps baseball's most famous speech. The Mick was baseball to a generation during a golden age of New York ball.

The list includes three players who are named on two team ballots. They include: Rod Carew (Twins and Angels), Frank Robinson (Reds and Orioles) and Nolan Ryan (Astros and Rangers). That's how great they were. It would not be surprising if at least one of those players is feted in two different cities come this fall.

How does one decide? Do you make this important decision based on the number of nicknames a player had in his career? Ruth was the Babe, the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat.

There are 29 active players among this list of 150 nominees, mostly due to newer franchies, but this is far from a modern popularity contest. You get the responsibility and privilege of deciding the greatest list ever put together.

"As a Hall of Famer, I, of course have an appreciation for the legacy of baseball. That's why I'm excited about this program," said Johnny Bench, who is among the five choices for Reds fans and who will help push the vote along with Lou Piniella, Cal Ripken Jr. and Ozzie Smith. "This is a great way to get fans to understand and appreciate the wonderful game of baseball, its history, and its greatest players. I would encourage all fans to vote, and we're all looking forward to seeing who they select as the Hometown Heroes. There should be some interesting choices."

There obviously already were some interesting choices. Carlton Fisk made it to Cooperstown but didn't make the final five for either team with "Sox" in its nickname. Christy Mathewson was one of the greatest Giants of them all in the early 1900s, but evidently not enough to make that club's list. Neither of the Waner brothers, Paul nor Lloyd, could crack the Pirates' top five. There's no Big Mac for Cardinal voters, no Alex Rodriguez for Mariners voters, and it's all pre-Tommy Lasorda managing when you look at that lustrous Dodgers list.

How big of a deal is all this? As big as a decision about whether to vote for a Ty Cobb or perhaps an Al Kaline if you are a Tigers fan. DHL's promotional efforts to support this program will include new Major League Baseball-themed television, print, radio and online advertising that started Tuesday. In addition, nearly 800 DHL vehicles in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco and St. Louis will proudly display the Hometown Heroes logo, as will more than 10 million DHL overnight delivery envelopes. DHL will conduct promotional nights with 12 MLB clubs to encourage fan participation in the program during the in-stadium balloting period. DHL also will support the program through themed in-store signage, ballots and ballot boxes at participating DHL Authorized Shipping Centers.

The program will culminate in the unveiling of the 30 official Hometown Heroes in a three-part original series produced by MLB Productions, the Emmy award-winning in-house TV and video production division of Major League Baseball. The series, DHL Presents Major League Baseball Hometown Heroes, will highlight all of the nominees on the official ballot and showcase each of the 30 players who will have emerged as the actual "Hometown Heroes." ESPN will broadcast the series in primetime on Sept. 26, 27, and 29 -- to coincide with the final week of the regular season.

"We are proud of our partnership with Major League Baseball, the legacy of the sport, and the effect the game has had on generations of people," said John Cameron, Executive Vice President, Ground, DHL. "The DHL Presents Major League Baseball Hometown Heroes program is a perfect vehicle to celebrate the game and its franchises, and we expect it will really generate excitement, and some interesting debates, among baseball fans."

The "Hometown Heroes" official panel:
• Orestes Destrade, Broadcaster, ESPN and XM Satellite Radio
• Steve Hirdt, Executive Vice President, Elias Sports Bureau
• Jerome Holtzman, Official MLB historian and member of the writers wing of the Hall of Fame
• Richard C. Levin, President, Yale University
• Dinn Mann, Editor-In-Chief, MLB.com
• Tim McCarver, Broadcaster, FOX Sports
• Jose de Jesus Ortiz, Writer, Houston Chronicle
• Harold Reynolds, Broadcaster, ESPN
• Ken Shouler, historian, author of "The Real 100 Best Players of All-time and Why"
• Claire Smith, Assistant Sports Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Don Sutton, Broadcaster, Turner Sports and Hall of Fame pitcher

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