Two things about the public voting for the All-Star Game starters:
Total stiffs are never elected. The baseball public never gets together and conspires to do the completely wrong thing.
The winners can always be divided into two categories: players who are having wonderful seasons, and lifetime achievement awards -- players who are voted in on the strength of the overall careers. All-Star purists tend to consider the latter electees less worthy, but honoring the value of a career over the work of a season is not an unnatural impulse.
An examination of the general voting for 2008 demonstrates both kinds of candidacies. And it also indicates once again, that in All-Star balloting, demand always exceeds supply. There are too many qualified candidates for the number of available lineup spots. Thus, that essential component of democracy, debate, annually becomes an essential part of the All-Star voting process.
Let us examine the results, position by position, American League first, in honor of this group not losing an All-Star Game over the past 12 years.
First base: Kevin Youkilis, Boston.
Minnesota's Justin Morneau has comparable numbers, but a much smaller voting base. Youk is fine here and Morneau made the team on the players' ballot.
Second base: Dustin Pedroia, Boston
The premier offensive second baseman in the AL this year is Ian Kinsler of the Rangers, who was also named to the team. But a reasonable argument could be made that Pedroia is the leading all-around second baseman. A solid choice.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter, New York
No AL shortstop is having an outstanding offensive season. But the last All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium? The Captain works. The Rangers' Michael Young is a deserving addition.
Third base: Alex Rodriguez, New York
His talent is indisputable and so is his star power. Always an obvious choice. Chicago's Joe Crede and Detroit's Carlos Guillen are reasonable additions to the team, but an argument could be made on behalf of Boston's Mike Lowell. As for a future All-Star, look for Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria, a spectacular talent on both sides of the game.
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota
Mauer's the complete package -- offense, defense, a feel for the pitching staff. Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez would have been the sentimental choice, but Boston's Jason Varitek -- even though his 2008 numbers are not overwhelming -- is a solid addition. The greatest step forward among AL catchers in the first half of 2008 was made by Dioner Navarro of Tampa Bay, so his addition to the team is richly deserved.
Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Texas; Manny Ramirez, Boston; Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle
Hamilton is one of baseball's best stories, rising from the depths of drug addiction and reaching genuine stardom. Ichiro and Manny have been All-Stars in many other seasons, hence the public attachment to them, even though 2008 has not been a career highlight in both cases. J.D. Drew, who carried the Red Sox in June, was added on the players' ballot, along with Carlos Quentin, an invaluable contributor to the White Sox, and Cleveland's Grady Sizemore, a major talent. Again, there was a serious surplus of worthy candidates, including Jose Guillen of Kansas City, Chicago's Jermaine Dye, the Yankees' Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury, whose speed has given Boston a completely new dimension.
Designated hitter: David Ortiz, Boston
Perhaps the best clutch hitter of this generation, but he has played in only 54 games this season due to a left wrist injury, and he is still injured. Milton Bradley of Texas is a very suitable replacement, putting up All-Star numbers this season.
And now the National League, the All-Star underdogs, with something to prove and home-field advantage to (finally) be gained.
First base: Lance Berkman, Houston
The competition is fierce, with the likes of the Cardinals' Albert Pujols and San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez, both of whom were added to the team, and Chicago's Derrek Lee, who ought to be an All-Star every year on the all-around strength of his all-around game. But Berkman's season towers over the competition.
Second base: Chase Utley, Philadelphia
Another indisputable choice. Strong seasons are being produced by Florida's Dan Uggla, who made the team, and Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips, who didn't, but the selection of Utley fits the form chart.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida
One of the great young talents in the game. Houston's Miguel Tejada and Washington's Cristian Guzman both were deservedly named to the team, but Ramirez may be putting an All-Star lock on this position.
Third base: Chipper Jones, Atlanta
It is difficult to argue with the magnificent season Jones is having. Chicago's Aramis Ramirez is on the team, and he is a major run producer, but New York's David Wright and Florida's Jorge Cantu have also been impressive.
Catcher: Geovany Soto, Chicago
You're going to notice a Cubs feeling creeping in as we wind up the NL selections. Soto is deserving, making an impact with his bat and making strides behind the plate. But there are two other young catchers of comparable worth in this debate: Russell Martin of the Dodgers and the Braves' Brian McCann. Both are on the team, and justice is served.
Outfield: Alfonso Soriano, Chicago; Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago; Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
Just as in the AL, the NL outfield is where the arguments are. Soriano is a superstar, but he has played just 51 games this season and his availability for the All-Star Game is in question. Fukudome has been an important addition for the Cubs, a fundamentally-sound player, but recently at the plate, as his manager, Lou Piniella said this weekend, "He's been struggling." Braun, the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, is a major talent making a successful transition to the outfield. Colorado's Matt Holliday justifiably made the team, as did St. Louis' Ryan Ludwick, a big part of the Cardinals' success this season, along with Pittsburgh's Nate McLouth, an emerging star. The names of other worthy outfield candidates are legion, but they would safely include Philadelphia's Pat Burrell, and the rest of Pittsburgh's outfield: Xavier Nady and Jason Bay.
What about those franchise-record seven All-Star selections for the Cubs? Most are richly deserved, but this vote also indicates that the Cubs' massive fan base, always intensely loyal, this year is also completely energized.
"It tells you how huge our crowd is," Geovany Soto said of his own election. "Our fans are the greatest in the world. It's impressive, I'll tell you that."
Overall, we have the usual starting All-Star blend: Players having astounding years, young players being immediately recognized for their value, and veterans being rewarded more on the basis of the worth of their careers than on their work this season. And absolutely no stiffs. Good work.
Leading All-Star selection quote so far; Cubs' pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who made the NL team as a manager's selection, on the election of his catcher, Soto, as a starter: "I feel good for him. Hopefully, he can enjoy it and do something for the National League." Those are precisely the correct All-Star sentiments.
Second-best All-Star quote so far, Zambrano, who is hitting .360, on the Home Run Derby: "I'm available."