Is it as strong as advertised? Or is the "competitive balance" of this Major League Baseball season -- 26 of 30 teams currently within 10 games of postseason position -- also now extended to individual fan bases?
Has the celebration of two World Series titles in the last four years calmed bleeding Boston hearts to the point that "Twins Territory" has been a thorn lately? Or is The Nation still so globally mighty that it can dominate the final 24 hours with so many of its players still on the brink of starting assignments?
Could Boston put an unthinkable six players into the starting American League lineup on archrival turf? What if AL manager Terry Francona were in position to start his lineup with six batters in The House That Ruth Built? Would Yankee fans among the All-Star voting populace even think about allowing such a transgression on pride? If you are a Yankee fan, are you doing anything on Wednesday day and night other than voting for non-Boston players?
We are about to find out the answers to so many questions, as fans already have surpassed last year's 150 million votes and will cast more ballots in these final hours than in any other day of the calendar year at MLB.com. Votes continue to come in at a record pace with more than 15 million cast on Tuesday alone, making it one of the largest single day totals in the program's history. Several races still were considered too close to call, and all of those races in the American League involved Red Sox players.
It matters not just in the AL, but to every National League voter as well. Why? Because those Red Sox had home-field advantage in sweeping those 2004 and 2007 Fall Classics, and because the same was true for the White Sox sweep in 2005. If the AL wins this All-Star Game yet again -- it hasn't lost since 1996 -- then it would mean home-field advantage for either the Red Sox or some AL team once again and the possibility of a fourth AL World Series sweep in a five-year span.
They used to play up the phrase "This Time It Counts." Now it is obvious that it counts like crazy. The home-field advantage is an undisputed edge now, and baseball's All-Star Game is the only one of its kind that really does mean something. The Red Sox have jumped all over that AL dominance. They would like to jump all over it again, hoping to be baseball's first repeat champ since 2000, and so the big question now is whether their fans will be able to really "load" the roster or whether they will be hushed.
Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek lost his lead at AL catcher to Minnesota's Joe Mauer two weeks ago, and a grassroots Twins campaign helped Mauer pad that lead by 100,000 votes when the last balloting update was released. The latest count was 1,632,388 votes for Mauer and 1,487,390 for Varitek. Given the volume of last-day voting -- and the supposed power of The Nation -- it will be a suspenseful finish.
Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis is in the opposite position, trying to hold off a Twins player. He had 1,915,376 votes, and holding ground in second place was Justin Morneau with 1,641,467.
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia had a narrower lead heading into the final stretch. He was at 1,669,216 votes in the final update, followed by Ian Kinsler of the Rangers with 1,485,530.
Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez is comfortably into a starting outfield gig as either the No. 1 or No. 2 outfielder (he was leading Josh Hamilton of the Rangers by 81,921 votes for that status). Could a second Boston outfielder jump in? There is a hot six-way battle for the third spot, and, in order, those players were: Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners, Vlad Guerrero of the Angels, Bobby Abreu of the Yankees, J.D. Drew of the Red Sox, Johnny Damon of the Yankees and Milton Bradley of the Rangers. They are bunched, and it was presumed that any of the six could be the third outfielder.
Who had the momentum going into the final day? Drew. It was announced at noon on Tuesday by MLB.com: "In the past 48 hours of exclusive online voting, Drew has received 27 percent more votes than any of the other five outfielders in this race."
Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is in like Flynn, as are Yankees Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the left side of the infield.
Hey, when you win a World Series, you get to be a theme at the next All-Star shindig. You may be saying: This isn't a Red Sox story. Yes, it is a major Red Sox story. Everything about it is a Red Sox story, including what happens over in the Senior Circuit. If you're an AL fan, you don't want the best NL guys on the field. If you do, then you forgot how much that aforementioned home-field advantage counts now.
In the NL, the big story continues to be at shortstop and outfield.
Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins overtook veteran Miguel Tejada of Houston late in the balloting process. After the final voting update, it was 1,483,875 for Ramirez and 1,315,240 for Tejada. Keep an eye on Ryan Theriot of the Cubs, because he had 1,114,336 and a fan base of supposed similar magnitude to The Nation.
There is a parallel here, in fact, because one wonders whether those Cub fans will speak loudly enough in these final 24 hours to load up the NL squad with two outfielders to go along with Derrek Lee at first base and rookie catcher Geovany Soto. Alfonso Soriano remained in the NL outfield lead at 2,120,635 votes, followed by all-time leading All-Star vote-getter Ken Griffey Jr. of the Reds at 1,917,739.
Then comes the big drama on the NL side. The Cubs' Kosuke Fukudome, enjoying his first year in Major League Baseball after stardom in Japan, was passed by Griffey and hanging on to the third spot with 1,783,983 votes. Ryan Braun of the Brewers has had the momentum and entered the final voting with 1,751,058. That's a difference of only 32,925 votes, which is a virtual tie at this volume. Whatever the final outcome, in fact, it's possible that those two players may flip-flop more than once.
As of noon on Tuesday, Braun had received 41 percent more online votes than Fukudome over the previous 48 hours. It was shaping up to be one of the most exciting finishes in the history of fan balloting.
No one could have imagined the kind of Major League Baseball season we are witnessing in 2008. Tampa Bay has the best record in baseball, Chipper Jones is flirting with .400, Griffey got his 600th jack, the Cubs have teased everyone with the possibility of that elusive title, and 26 of 30 clubs are within 10 games of postseason position.
Likewise, no one could have imagined the most spectacular finish in the long history of determining who starts these Midsummer Classics. That is reflected by the numbers of ballots submitted, and by the number of e-mail addresses individual fans are creating so that they can use up 25 on each one. It's perfectly legal, and determined fans do whatever it takes to make the lineups look the way they want them to look.
In 2007, spurred by tight races at several positions in each league, a record 11.8 million ballots were cast online during the voting period, including 3 million ballots over the final 48 hours after the most recent voting updates were announced. There was a general sentiment that fans, by all accounts, "got it right" in electing "deserving" stars.
"Major League Baseball has attracted record attendance in each of the last four seasons, and that tremendous enthusiasm has been evident via our All-Star Game balloting program," MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy said at the start of this process. "All-Star balloting is one of the rich traditions of baseball, and we fully expect that this year's program will draw a magnificent response as we approach the celebration of the 2008 Midsummer Classic in the final year at Yankee Stadium."
Wow, has it ever. Now it is get-it-right time again. The majority rules. It remains to be seen how much of a factor Red Sox Nation will be in that majority.
The 2008 American and National League All-Star Teams will be unveiled on Sunday on the 2008 MLB All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevy, which will be televised nationally on TBS at 2 p.m. ET.
Until the clock strikes midnight and the final tallying process begins, we leave you with these lasting and still-accurate words from another day and another time in All-Star annals, courtesy of the great Jerry Coleman, former Yankee and now longtime Padres broadcaster:
"Well, it looks like the All-Star balloting is about over, especially in the National and American Leagues."