Let the campaigning and the voting fireworks begin.
Managers Tony La Russa of the National League and Jim Leyland of the American League have gone with pitchers-only in presenting fans with their five nominees per league to decide the 32nd and final rosters spots for the 78th All-Star Game on July 10 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. A pitcher-only ballot happened only once before, when you chose Houston's Roy Oswalt from NL candidates in 2005.
Oswalt is back on this NL ballot and bidding to be the first two-time Final Vote winner, joined by Tom Gorzelanny of the Pirates, Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, Chris Young of the Padres and Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs.
The AL nominees include Jeremy Bonderman of the Tigers, Kelvim Escobar of the Angels, Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays, Pat Neshek of the Twins and Hideki Okajima of the Red Sox.
Choose one per league, and choose wisely. Just think what kind of work these Major League hurlers have put in, from offseason workouts to Spring Training exhibitions to the regular season marathon. There is no All-Star Game like Major League Baseball's traditional Midsummer Classic, and their fate for this honor now lies in your hands.
The Monster All-Star Final Vote follows another record run of balloting by fans to determine the starting lineups, which were just announced with the rest of the rosters in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevrolet. A record 11.8 million ballots were cast at MLB.com during the voting period, including 3 million ballots over the final 48 hours before voting for starters ended last Thursday night. Trends forecast the probability of another record this week, typical with the Final Vote process. Last year, a record 18.6 million overall votes were cast at MLB.com over 94 hours as you selected first baseman Nomar Garciaparra of the Dodgers and catcher A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox as the 32nd men at Pittsburgh.
For the third year in a row, there will be two ways for fans to vote for the Monster All-Star Final Vote -- online at MLB.com or from their mobile phones. Fans in the U.S. can simply text the word 'VOTE' to 36197 and be instantly registered to receive Final Vote ballots, and fans in Canada can do the same to 88555.
Expect to see a lot of creative grassroots campaigning by the clubs and fans involved, and it won't matter that there is a big Fourth of July holiday in America during the voting period. If anything, this has become a part of that tradition, especially with the mobile vote. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly after the voting ends. Vote as often as you wish, and now take a closer look at your candidates:
Tom Gorzelanny, LHP, Pirates
He improved to 8-4 and lowered his ERA to 3.05 -- eighth-best in the NL -- by beating Washington on Saturday night. Then he said of his All-Star chances, "If I go, it's exciting and I'd love it. But if not, [it is] a nice little three-day [vacation]. It'd sure be an honor, and I'd love to go and represent the Pirates. Either way, I can go and have fun or stay at home and have fun. It's a win-win situation for me." At about this time last year, Gorzelanny (pronounced "gore-zah-LAWN-ee") was selected to the USA team for the Futures Game at the All-Star week in Pittsburgh, but he was called up by the Pirates. So he is in position to leap from that selection one year to All-Star the next.
Roy Oswalt, RHP, Astros
The Astros' bulldog already has proven himself in the Monster All-Star Final Vote. It was the 2005 all-pitcher ballot in the NL, and Oswalt led at the halfway mark and then held on to finish with 2,652,549 votes, beating out second-place finisher Trevor Hoffman of the Padres. That season, Oswalt was putting together his second consecutive 20-win season, and this time he is 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA. La Russa knows what Oswalt can do as well as anyone, so it's not surprising to see this choice on your ballot. After all, La Russa also managed that 2005 All-Star Game. But will Oswalt be the first two-time Final Vote winner?
Brandon Webb, RHP, Diamondbacks
Although he had some rocky outings in the first two months, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner just finished an outstanding June in which he went 4-2 with a 1.76 ERA. Last Wednesday, he held the Dodgers scoreless over seven innings without his best stuff in a key NL West victory, improving his overall numbers to 8-5 with a 3.05 ERA. "That's kind of what your No. 1 pitcher is supposed to do," Webb said. "Stop the bleeding and go out there and give your team a good chance to win."
Chris Young, RHP, Padres
The big guy whom Padres teammates call "Cy" is 8-3, hasn't lost since May 12, has held opponents' scoreless in four of his last six outings, and ranks right behind Padres teammate and All-Star Jake Peavy with a 2.14 ERA. Now it remains to be seen if Young can do what he could not do at this time last year, when he among the also-rans behind Garciaparra that included Bobby Abreu of the Phillies, Chris Capuano of the Brewers and Billy Wagner of the Mets.
"It would have been a great honor to go," a mildly disappointed Young said after learning that his fate is back in fans' hands. "But I'm not going to get wrapped up in all that. I want to give our team the best chance to win a championship. That's how I'll evaluate my year. ... That's all I can control."
Oh, one more thing: If you want to vote in Young just to see if he can get along with June 16 boxing opponent Derrek Lee of the Cubs, then consider a different motive. Because this was Lee's reaction upon hearing the news that Young is a Final Vote candidate: "I'm surprised he didn't make the team. I think he's having a great year."
Carlos Zambrano, RHP, Cubs
Zambrano is the first Cub in the Final Vote since 2004, when Aramis Ramirez finished second to Hideki Matsui of the Yankees. "I guess he's just got to go out there and pitch good and show the people he deserves to be an All-Star," Ramirez said of his teammate. "Hopefully, he can do that."
He has made a good case so far. Zambrano came five outs away from a no-hitter in that same June 16 game against San Diego, when he helped separate Young and Lee, and the amazing thing was that he went the distance and actually lost that game by giving up the solo homer to Russell Branyan in the ninth. It was the only loss against four victories in the last five outings for Zambrano, who is red-hot and now 9-6 with a 4.20 ERA by moving his fastball in both directions, cutting and sinking it whenever he wants.
Jeremy Bonderman, RHP, Tigers
Although he had luxurious run support along the way, that was a memorable winning streak Bonderman put together for the reigning AL champs. Until Texas stopped him on June 25, he had won his last eight outings and had not lost since last Sept. 10 at Minnesota, a span of 17 regular-season starts without a loss. It was the longest unbeaten streak for a Tigers pitcher since Bobo Newsom went 18 starts without a loss in 1940. "You can't expect the kid to win every time out," Leyland said after that one. But can you expect fans to let Leyland manage Bonderman on July 10?
Kelvim Escobar, RHP, Angels
His ERA ballooned to 3.32 after a poor outing Friday at Baltimore, but all signs still point to a career year for the veteran from Venezuela. He is 9-3, needing just five victories to match his best total set with Toronto in 1999. On June 12 at Cincinnati, Escobar struck out 14 in just six innings, and his highlight probably was a complete game shutout of Cleveland on May 10, when he whiffed nine and walked none.
"Making an All-Star team, being there with all the best players, that's always been a goal of mine," Escobar said. "I really hope I make it. It would be a great honor."
Roy Halladay, RHP, Blue Jays
This marks the first time that a Toronto player has been nominated, leaving Seattle, Texas, Cincinnati and Kansas City as the only franchises not included yet. "Doc" was bidding for a 5-0 personal month of June, but lost on Saturday at Seattle in a quality start, leaving him with a 9-3 record and 4.27 ERA. He has been selected to every All-Star Game since 2002 except for 2004, when bothered much of the season by shoulder problems.
"Doc, I figured he'd be a shoo-in," Toronto manager John Gibbons said of his ace, who declined to comment on this nomination. "He's sitting on nine wins and he missed three weeks after appendix surgery. You figure that's about four starts, and he probably would've won at least two of them. He'd be sitting on 11 wins."
Pat Neshek, RHP, Twins
Last year, the Twins and their fans mounted a huge campaign for Francisco Liriano, who was edged by Pierzynski in the Final Vote yet was added to the roster due to another player's injury. Can they push Neshek into his first Midsummer Classic? His WHIP is even better than Okajima's -- 0.71, not far off his 0.78 WHIP as a rookie last year. Neshek had a couple of hiccups in Twins victories last week, surrendering eighth-inning homers to Miguel Cabrera of the Marlins and Pudge Rodriguez of the Tigers, but for the most part he is money.
One thing's for sure: Neshek is going to campaign for himself. This could be really interesting, because he already knows the modern system, with his own popular blog at www.patneshek.com, which he used to successfully drive votes in his Triple-A International League All-Star bid. Technology is increasingly a key in the Final Vote. "He's got a lot of support on the Internet," said teammate Justin Morneau, an AL reserve selection. "He might be tough to beat."
Hideki Okajima, LHP, Red Sox
His first pitch in the Majors was put over the wall, and the turnaround happened right after that. Okajima has been clutch in the Sox bullpen all season, a force alongside Jonathan Papelbon. What were the odds entering the season that Boston would have a pitcher from Japan win the AL Rookie of the Month award and his name would not be Daisuke Matsuzaka? Okajima has a gaudy 0.82 WHIP, 13 holds, four saves, and a .163 opponents-against average. Just ask the Yanks what this guy has meant.
"I appreciate all the Red Sox fans and fans in Japan for their support," Okajima said. "I hope everyone keeps supporting me and cheering for me. If I am selected into the All-Star Game, it will be a great honor to participate."
Ten nominees. Ten pitchers. This sixth Monster All-Star Final Vote no doubt will be remembered as the Year of the Pitcher.
"Bonderman was the seventh pitcher [on the players ballot after Johan Santana] as a starter and Halladay was the eighth," Leyland said in explaining the AL pitching frenzy. "So I got Bonderman and Halladay on the final five list, and I got Escobar on there because I think he deserves to be on there. I picked two relievers."
La Russa now has chosen 10 pitchers for 10 nominees, counting 2005 and this week. He did emphasize that he wanted a guy like Freddy Sanchez of Pittsburgh on his bench because of "versatility," and thus presumably not putting Sanchez's fate in the hands of fans. But beyond that, La Russa shed little light on the all-pitcher logic, saying, "I'll tell you how it went. We pretty much went down the player list."
A few notes about the nominees:
It marks the first time in six years that no White Sox player has been nominated. That club provided the last two AL winners in the Final Vote, outfielder Scott Podsednik in 2005 and Pierzynski last year.
With no White Sox candidates around, could Boston become the first team to have three winners? Outfielder Johnny Damon (2002) and catcher Jason Varitek (2003) started things off nicely for the Red Sox.
Hey, Venezuela: Are you ready to possibly vote in the first-ever all-Venezuelan Final Vote combination of Kelvin Escobar of the Angels and Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs? Bobby Abreu, another Venezuelan native, made it for the Phillies in the 2004 Final Vote.
It's time for the annual fun, because there's nothing like the Monster All-Star Final Vote. It is the ultimate "final say" for fans. The fun won't end with the Final Vote, either. 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 78th All-Star Game via the Monster 2007 All-Star Game MVP Vote on MLB.com.
The 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which will determine home-field advantage in the 2007 World Series, 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. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game in addition to its other live coverage from San Francisco. MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of all festivities surrounding the All-Star Game.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.