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Players, skippers make tough choices

Players, skippers make tough choices

SAN FRANCISCO -- With the All-Star Game starting lineups in the books, the players and managers followed suit by choosing many fan-ballot just-misses according to the rules for bench slots.

"It's a real challenge, and exciting," said the Cardinals' Tony La Russa, managing his fifth All-Star Game and second for the National League. "In the old days, when you picked the pitchers and you picked all the players, you also generated a lot of bad feelings. The way it is now, I think the fans and the players did a really good job of recognizing deserving people. There's not more than a couple [or] three issues there that people will bring up."

Notable All-Star exclusions in the American League were second baseman Robinson Cano of the Yankees, who finished second behind Detroit's Placido Polanco, and Gary Sheffield of the Tigers, who finished fifth among outfielders. Detroit's right-handed-hitting slugger was hurt because there's no designated hitter this year in AT&T Park, a National League venue where the game will be staged on July 10. Also, Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera, fourth in the AL with a .337 average, was left off the squad.

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Tigers skipper Jim Leyland, whose trip to the All-Star Game is his first as a manager, said it wasn't all that difficult filling out the remainder of the AL roster.

"It wasn't at all, as it turned out," he said. "It was a no-brainer. When all was said and done, I had two picks, and they were [pitcher] Johan Santana [of the Twins] and [catcher] Victor Martinez [of the Indians]. If anyone wants to argue with that, they can argue with it."

The 2003 season marked the introduction of the player ballot to the All-Star selection process. The players select eight position players and eight pitchers from their respective leagues, adding the designated hitter when the game is held in an AL park. After that process is complete, the managers add another seven and the 32nd roster spot is picked by the fans via the Final Vote on MLB.com.

Catchers and infielders among the top two at their position and outfielders among the top six on the player ballot are assured of making the teams. In instances where the winners of the player ballot are also fan-elected starters, the player with the next-highest amount of player votes makes the team. As far as the pitchers are concerned, five starters and three relievers become All-Stars through the player ballot, which was conducted during the last week of fan voting.

Because of all this, in the NL, obvious exclusions at second base were Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks, the Dodgers' Jeff Kent and the Astros' Craig Biggio, who finished second, third and fourth behind Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies in the fan vote. Orlando Hudson of the Diamondbacks, who earned the player vote, supplanted them on the roster. Also, at catcher, Brian McCann of the Braves was selected by the players, although he finished fifth on the fan ballot.

Paul Lo Duca of the Mets, Johnny Estrada of the Brewers and Bengie Molina of the Giants, who all finished ahead of McCann in the fan vote, were left off the team.

Dodgers second-year catcher Russell Martin paced both fan and player voting at his position, as did Utley, first baseman Prince Fielder of the Brewers, shortstop Jose Reyes of the Mets and center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. of the Reds. In the AL, second baseman Placido Polanco and outfielder Magglio Ordonez of the Tigers, shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels and Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners all won their races on both the player and fan ballots.

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"They told me to take everything in, to talk to as many players as I can and enjoy the whole experience," said Guerrero, who is making his fourth All-Star appearance in his four seasons with the Angels and eighth overall. "It's such an honor to be there with all those great players."

First baseman Derrek Lee of the Cubs, shortstop J.J. Hardy of the Brewers, third baseman Miguel Cabrera of the Marlins, and outfielders Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs, Carlos Lee of the Astros and Matt Holliday of the Rockies were the remainder of the NL position players elected by the players.

"I was kind of content with, you know, 'There are great shortstops out there, and if I don't make it, then congratulations to everybody else,'" said Hardy, one of four Brewers on the team. "To get voted in like this, it's awesome."

Jake Peavy and Trevor Hoffman of the Padres, Francisco Cordero and Ben Sheets of the Brewers, John Smoltz of the Braves, Brad Penny of the Dodgers, Cole Hamels of the Phillies and Brian Fuentes of the Rockies were all named by the players to the NL pitching staff.

In the AL, catcher Jorge Posada of the Yankees, first baseman Justin Morneau of the Twins, shortstop Carlos Guillen of the Tigers, third baseman Mike Lowell of the Red Sox, and outfielders Torii Hunter of the Twins, Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox and Grady Sizemore of the Indians were elected by the players.

"It's what you hoped for, especially Jorge," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "The other two [A-Rod and Jeter] were pretty much a given, but Jorge -- the fact that he was voted in by the players -- I think it's quite an honor. When your peers vote for you, that means they respect what you're doing. I know he feels good about it."

Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon of the Red Sox, John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels, Dan Haren of the A's, J.J. Putz of the Mariners, C.C. Sabathia of the Indians, and Justin Verlander of the Tigers were named by the players to the AL pitching staff.

La Russa and Leyland were both placed in the position of having to give the nod to several players because each big-league team has to have a representative.

In the AL, for example, Leyland added Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, seventh on the fans' ballot, Texas shortstop Michael Young and outfielders Carl Crawford of Tampa Bay, and Alex Rios of the Blue Jays as the lone players from their respective teams. He also added Santana, Bobby Jenks of the White Sox and Gil Meche of the Royals to the pitching staff, plus Martinez as the third catcher.

In the NL, La Russa added his own Albert Pujols and Washington's Dmitri Young at first base as the lone representatives to their respective teams, as was second baseman Freddy Sanchez of the Pirates, who finished 15th on the fan ballot at his position.

"[I was] very surprised," Sanchez said. "When [Pirates manager Jim] Tracy called me in, I was kind of in shock. I didn't think I really had a chance. I'd made plans and everything already, but it's obviously such an honor, especially when you have a Hall of Fame manager like Tony La Russa pick you to play for him. That's one of the biggest honors I've ever received."

La Russa also added closers Takashi Saito from the Dodgers, Billy Wagner of the Mets and Jose Valverde of the D-backs, plus center fielder Aaron Rowand of the Phillies.

Rosters for both teams will not be finalized until Thursday, when fans at MLB.com pick one more player for each squad. Now in its sixth year, the Monster.com 2007 All-Star Final Vote begins immediately following Sunday's Major League All-Star Selection Show presented by Chevrolet, and continues until 6 p.m. ET on Thursday. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly thereafter.

The Final Vote candidates are all pitchers. In the NL, Roy Oswalt of the Astros, Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs, Chris Young of the Padres, Tom Gorzelanny of the Pirates and Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks. Over in the AL, it's Jeremy Bonderman of the Tigers, Kelvim Escobar of the Angels, Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays, Hideki Okajima of the Red Sox and Pat Neshek of the Twins.

There are two ways for fans to vote for the 2007 All-Star Final Vote -- online now at MLB.com, or on-the-go from their cell phones. Fans also can text the word "VOTE" to 36197 to have the All-Star Final Vote candidates sent to your phone. To vote for a specific player, simply reply with your choice. Whether celebrating the Fourth of July or Canada Day, fans will have the freedom to vote from wherever they are. Standard rate text messaging fees apply -- please check with your mobile carrier for details. Fans can get the mobile ballot now. In Canada, fans should text the word "VOTE" to 88555.

The fun doesn't end there, however. Fans, having already decided the starters and final player on each team, once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the Monster 2007 All-Star Game MVP Vote on MLB.com.

The 78th Major League Baseball 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. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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