No one really knew how big the end of a roster would become.
The 10th annual All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint has just begun its five-day run at MLB.com, and this year it is cause for celebration and perspective. More than a quarter-billion votes have been cast in the program since 2002, proving that after voting for starters, fans want to keep voting.
The present mission is to decide the 34th and final spots for the American and National League rosters. Balloting will close at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, and shortly thereafter, MLB.com will announce which two players will go to the July 12 All-Star Game in Phoenix.
Here are some things we have learned about the Final Vote:
It spreads the wealth. In these 10 years, 12 of 18 Final Vote winners have represented different Major League Baseball clubs, with a nominee from all but one team (Seattle). Fans have been presented with a total of 79 different players, 40 from the AL and 39 from the NL, covering the alphabet except for last names starting in Q or U.
Grassroots campaigns and club alliances matter. Credit Geoff Jenkins, winner of the 2003 NL Final Vote as a Brewers outfielder, with the advent of unique support systems. ESPN Radio's Dan Patrick got the word out on his candidacy back then, and the Brewers PR staff jumped in with fervor. It became a tradition. Clever alliances like "Bran Torino" (Brandon Inge and Shane Victorino) in 2009 sometimes pay off.
Submitting ballots with your mobile phone from anywhere, including the beach or lake, is key, because the campaign usually coincides with the Fourth of July holiday break and vacations. Mobile voting for U.S. residents is available by sending "VOTE" to 89269 to receive the 2011 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote ballot. In Canada, fans should text "VOTE" to 65246.
It's not about the marquee name. Just ask Albert Pujols (2002), Derek Jeter (2005) or David Wright (2008), all of whom came up short in the voting. It's about your credentials and your campaign.
That once-popular tradition of debating All-Star "snubs" took a high hard one. That was actually the whole reason the Final Vote came into being.
"As a kid, I remember always reading the annual articles about the biggest All-Star snubs and wishing there was some way to solve this debate by allowing the most deserving player from each league to grab the final spots in the All-Star Game," said Gregg Klayman, vice president of content development at MLB Advanced Media, the originator of the concept. "The Internet eventually made it possible years later, and now fans have been able to participate in this run-off election for the past decade."
How much has the Final Vote mattered? Cardinals manager Tony La Russa devised his own strategy for how to use the fan input. He presented fans with five pitchers in both 2005 and 2007 to ensure he got an extra arm in the bullpen. His pal Jim Leyland did the same in 2007, so both teams had 10 pitchers that year.
So far, you have chosen nine outfielders, three pitchers, two catchers, two third basemen and two first basemen. Will second baseman Ben Zobrist of the Rays become the first middle infielder to get the Final Vote nod?
It began as the 30th man, then it was 32nd man, then in 2009 it was 33rd man, and in 2010 it was for the 34th roster spot. It's always the final one, no matter what, and it keeps getting bigger, with JibJab even getting into the action. Winners to date:
2002: Johnny Damon (Red Sox) and Andruw Jones (Braves)
"It's cool that they added that Final Vote ballot. It opens up a great opportunity," Damon said. Indeed, he was new to Boston, and that opportunity elevated his profile in the game. He edged Jim Thome of Cleveland, 692,989 votes to 666,825, still one of the closest races. Jones, meanwhile, was in command through the Final Vote and topped Brian Giles of the Pirates, 559,752 to 488,725.
2003: Jason Varitek (Red Sox) and Geoff Jenkins (Brewers)
While the Red Sox improved to 2-for-2 on the AL side, Jenkins is especially memorable for the first real Final Vote campaign. Brewers fans were using email in a new way to make their candidate's chances viral. On his way to a near .300/30/100 season, Jenkins rallied and beat out Benito Santiago of the Giants, Kenny Lofton of the Pirates, Orlando Cabrera of the Expos and Luis Castillo of the Marlins. "It was like email after email saying how they were telling people to vote," Jenkins said. "It's something I'll never forget."
2004: Hideki Matsui (Yankees) and Bobby Abreu (Phillies)
This was the year when it started to become obvious that two teammates on one Final Vote ballot makes it harder to win. Frank Thomas was on the ballot for the second year in a row, this time along with White Sox teammate Paul Konerko, and both were in a dead heat for second place on the last day and fell short. Abreu was a fantasy stud back then, and this was a defining moment when fantasy got especially big online and fans bumped him into the big game. He called it "the best thing to happen to me so far."
2005: Scott Podsednik (White Sox) and Roy Oswalt (Astros)
This marked the only time to date that both Final Vote winners would wind up matched up against each other in the World Series. After topping Jeter and Matsui, Carl Crawford of the Rays and Torii Hunter of the Twins, Pods thanked fans through a blog post. MLBlogs had just launched. Oswalt had 2,652,549 votes to win the race of all pitchers in the NL, with Hoffman finishing second.
2006: A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox) and Nomar Garciaparra (Dodgers)
The "Punch A.J." campaign worked in response to the catcher's prior plate pugilism, and Garciaparra soared with about four million votes, then a Final Vote record. The Dodgers cited their Inside the Dodgers MLBlog as a key ingredient in the campaigning. It was the first time that the a West Division team had a Final Vote winner.
2007: Hideki Okajima (Red Sox) and Chris Young (Padres)
This was the year that two rarities occurred. It was the first time no White Sox were on the ballot. And it was the first time fans got 10 pitchers. Young beat Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs, Brandon Webb of the D-backs, Tom Gorzelanny of the Pirates and Oswalt. Okajima beat Jeremy Bonderman of the Tigers, Pat Neshek of the Twins, Kelvim Escobar of the Angels and Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays. Yes, Halladay relied on a Final Vote back then.
2008: Evan Longoria (Rays) and Corey Hart (Brewers)
It was Tampa Bay's rookie sensation who blew away the AL field as he was leading the Rays in their surprising season. Those fake mustaches to support Jason Giambi at Yankee Stadium were not enough. Hart edged Pat Burrell of the Phillies for the nod. Longoria and Hart collectively made the greatest contribution to any All-Star Game by Final Vote winners. In an epic 15-inning affair, won by the AL, Longoria's ground-rule double in the eighth forced extras. Hart was 0-for-3, but he and Longoria both came off the bench and played nearly the entire game.
2009: Shane Victorino (Phillies) and Brandon Inge (Tigers)
Fans decided on the two first-time All-Stars whose respective clubs forged a voting alliance after seeing Inge and Victorino in second place on the second day. The Tigers and Phillies called it "Bran Torino," and that catchphrase would become a campaign sensation. It was also the year of the "Vote Panda" tweets, as Twitter was introduced to the competition. Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler was the announced leader in each of the first two Final Vote updates, but he was passed by Inge on Day 3 and finished runner-up.
2010: Joey Votto (Reds) and Nick Swisher (Yankees)
More than 52 million votes were cast over four days last year, including a National League record 13.7 million for Votto and 9.8 million for Swisher. While Votto led wire-to-wire, Swisher used his Twitter power to the hilt, and he edged Boston's Kevin Youkilis in the closest Final Vote race.
Vote as often as you wish. The fun won't end there, either. Fans at MLB.com can help decide the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2011 All-Star Game MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint during the All-Star Game.
The 82nd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, and 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. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.