In the last balloting update announced at MLB.com this week, Joe Mauer of the Twins overtook Red Sox captain Jason Varitek at American League catcher and Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins moved past Houston's Miguel Tejada at National League shortstop. Milwaukee's Ryan Braun continued a thunderous push that has him now almost in position for a starting NL outfield job, and one wonders if he might not just cannon-blast all the way past Alfonso Soriano for the No. 1 slot.
All of a sudden, leads that once seemed so safe appear tenuous. That has a lot to do with more and more opportunity for modern fans to be immersed in every single aspect of the game, increasing the odds of "getting it right" -- and also a lot to do with the sheer volume of ballots that make a 100,000-vote lead a slight edge.
It was announced last week that fans already had gone over the 100-million vote mark at MLB.com, far earlier than ever before in an All-Star voting campaign. Every fan can cast up to 25 online votes per e-mail registration, and more seem to be doing just that -- and then using other e-mail addresses. Historically, the final 24 hours of this process marks the largest volume of fan balloting in any day of the year at MLB.com, and one of the biggest single days of activity in any form of digital voting.
So just as Major League Baseball has demonstrated annually this decade that anything can happen -- a new champ every year since 2000, at least one Wild Card team in the World Series every year except 2001 (D-Backs over Yanks) -- fans appear to be making the same statement of their own. Whatever you just saw in the latest voting updates, don't be surprised to see notable changes in the starting lineups for the 79th All-Star Game on July 15 at Yankee Stadium. In fact, you probably should expect it to be different.
Starting rosters will be announced during the 2008 All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevrolet on TBS on Sunday, July 6. Then the mayhem simply continues. Baseball fans around the world will then be able to select the 32nd and final player on each team via the Monster 2008 All-Star Final Vote at MLB.com.
The empowerment then continues when fans have the annual opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the All-Star Game via the Monster 2008 All-Star Game MVP vote at MLB.com.
Am I Happy?
There are really three basic words that best capture the motivation of the average baseball fan in using up any remaining online votes this week. Those are: "Am I Happy?"
Am I Happy with my favorite league's tentative starting lineup? The AL has not lost an All-Star Game to the NL since 1996 in Philadelphia, and is collectively drumming the NL yet again in Interleague Play this season. Is anything going to change on July 15? Will the AL again take home-field advantage for the World Series and be in better position to sweep the NL in the Fall Classic for the fourth time in five years?
Boston won the first two at home and swept St. Louis in 2004. The White Sox won the first two at home and swept Houston in 2005. Then the Red Sox did it again last October, winning the first two at Fenway and sweeping Colorado. Only the Cardinals' five-game triumph over Detroit in 2006 is an exception during that stretch. Why should anyone think home-field advantage in the World Series doesn't mean anything? It seems like the rule instituted after that 2002 All-Star tie has become significant.
And that means more pressure on the voter. If I'm an NL fan and I expect my team to be playing in late October -- and that would include most NL fans -- then Am I Happy with the tentative makeup of the starting position players who could change things?
Am I Happy with an AL starting lineup that is still, for the most part, a Red Sox and Yankees clique? Am I Happy with Dustin Pedroia (.284, 7 HR, 34 RBIs, 8 SB, 5 E) over Ian Kinsler (.303, 12 HR, 47 RBIs, 19 SB, 14 E) of the Rangers at second base? Kinsler is gaining fast, but Red Sox fans tend to speak collectively louder than most anyone, and their scrappy guy has a great glove and a new ring.
Am I Happy with Derek Jeter (.278, 4 HR, 32 RBIs, 5 SB) as not only the starting shortstop, but also the AL's top overall vote-getter? How much of that is normal adulation for Jeter, and how much is based on his 2008 performance? Am I happy that Mauer, now already a veteran of these catcher-voting wars, has blown past Varitek and was leading by 44,775 in the last update? If I'm a Red Sox fan who has watched Mauer make that move, Am I Happy with first base and the sight of Justin Morneau gaining precious ground on Kevin Youkilis?
Slippage in Red Sox voting status might have been the most obvious trend in the last update. And at last check, the reigning champs were still on top of the AL East. Did Sox fans use up all those 25 votes the first couple of months in the balloting? Will the sight of that last update cause a mad rush of Red Sox Nation activity?
Am I Happy that Florida's Dan Uggla, baseball's home run leader, is a seemingly incomprehensible 1,503,648 votes behind Chase Utley of the Phillies at NL second base -- and in fourth place? They are so close in just about everything that matters this season it is spooky -- except voting.
Am I Happy with three Cubs in the starting NL lineup, including Alfonso Soriano as the top vote-getter of all NL outfielders? The latest update was Soriano at No. 1, teammate Kosuke Fukudome at No. 2 and Junior Griffey of the Reds at No. 3. Braun has been on an absolute tear in the last two weeks of balloting updates, and one wonders if he might just pull an Albert Pujols and go suddenly from rank outsider to No. 1 outfielder.
Soriano is batting .283 with 15 homers, 40 RBIs and seven steals. Braun is batting .287 with 20 homers, 57 RBIs and eight steals. If I am the average NL fan demanding a breakthrough and that World Series home-field advantage just in case, Am I Happy with a starting outfield that doesn't include Braun? If I am a Reds fan, Am I Happy that recent momentum could leave me without a starter?
Am I Happy with the starting AL outfield? Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox and Josh Hamilton of the Rangers are 1-2, respectively. But does Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle's annual All-Star voting sensation and last year's MVP of the Midsummer Classic, deserve to start again? He's in third despite a season some would consider subpar so far for him. Vlad Guerrero of the Angels is in fourth, trailing Ichiro by 187,088. Right on Vlad's heels is Bobby Abreu, so Yankee fans with all that voting clout are in position to perhaps move another of their own into their "home" game.
There are a lot of questions like those that fans are asking of themselves right now. The final paper ballots have been collected at the ballparks, and they will be lumped in with all the online votes. This is the final week when your only means of ensuring the "right" starting lineups is to vote here and vote often. There is a good chance that the lineups that are announced on TBS on July 6 will look different than what you have seen in the last update, with more final adjustments than ever before.
The way things have been going, it could be the wildest finish ever.
The fourth All-Star Game in storied Yankee Stadium -- and the eighth in New York City -- will be televised nationally by FOX and around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio play-by-play, while MLB.com will offer extensive online coverage.