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All-Star balloting kicks off on MLB.com

All-Star balloting kicks off on MLB.com

On an All-Star team, I vote for players of one kind: Those I enjoy watching the most when the ball is hit or pitched in their direction. -- Stan Musial.

The All-Star Game is coming back to St. Louis this summer, and so it is appropriate to start with those words from Stan "The Man" Musial.

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He was the definition of the term "All-Star" to millions, selected every year from 1943-63 with the exception of 1945, when he was enlisted in World War II.

Those simple words from a living legend are your instructions now, because the annual rite of fan balloting -- the largest of its kind in pro sports -- is now under way to decide lineups for the 80th All-Star Game coming July 14 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Cast up to 25 ballots per e-mail address to help decide starters through the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites. It all begins here, right now, and fans are historically a big part of the story themselves by shattering online voting records and making any necessary "corrections" after weeks of voting updates.

Last summer, with the majority of the individual races going down to the wire undetermined, fans cast their final votes online at unprecedented rates, including more than 41 million votes in the final 24 hours. That mark was 57 percent higher than the previous single-day record of 26 million set on the final day of online balloting in 2005. Overall during '08 online balloting, 214.7 million votes from 16.5 million ballots were cast at MLB.com and the club sites, despite having seven fewer days in the voting cycle than in '07. These record figures each represented increases of nearly 40 percent over the previous marks for total votes and ballots cast.

More than 20 million Walt Disney Pictures G-Force All-Star Game ballots also will be distributed at the 30 Major League ballparks, each of which will have 25 home dates for balloting, and in approximately 100 Minor League ballparks. Every Major League club will have begun its in-stadium balloting no later than May 6. When the in-stadium phase of balloting concludes on June 26, fans will have the opportunity to cast their final ballots exclusively online at MLB.com and the club sites until 11:59 p.m. ET on July 2.

In addition, Banco BHD will sponsor All-Star Game balloting in the Dominican Republic, making Spanish-language ballots available at its Dominican locations and online from May 5-June 22.

"The Major League Baseball All-Star Game Balloting program is one of the great traditions in sports and serves as a powerful way to engage baseball fans around the world," MLB president Bob DuPuy said. "Major League Baseball is delighted that fans once again will determine the Midsummer Classic's starting lineups as we celebrate the 80th All-Star Game in one of America's truly special baseball cities."

The ballot was officially launched at a news conference in the "All-Star Summer" in the Champions Club at Busch Stadium. In attendance along with DuPuy were: seven-time All-Star Albert Pujols of the Cardinals; Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith; Tim Brosnan, MLB's EVP for business; Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr.; Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III; Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon; St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay; and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

For the first time, this year's ballot also will feature the State Farm Home Run Derby Fan Poll. Fans will have the opportunity to select three players in each league who they would most like to see participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby.

The 2009 American League and National League All-Star teams will be unveiled on Sunday, July 5, on the 2009 MLB All-Star Game Selection Show, televised nationally on TBS. The AL and NL teams each will have eight fan-elected starters. Twenty-three reserves will be determined through a combination of "Player Ballot" choices and selections made by the two All-Star team managers -- Joe Maddon of the Rays and Charlie Manuel of the Phillies -- in conjunction with MLB.

Then the wildness begins again.

Immediately following the announcement of the rosters, fans will have the opportunity to select the final player for each league's 32-man roster at MLB.com. The 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote will provide fans the opportunity to cast their votes from a list of five players from each league over a four-day period. That period is known for phenomenal voting turnout and creative grassroots campaigning on behalf of the 10 candidates. For the fifth year, fans will be able to vote for their Final Vote selections on their mobile phones, exclusive to Sprint subscribers. Both winners will be announced after the voting has concluded on Thursday, July 9.

Finally, fans once again will participate in the official voting for the All-Star Game's Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint MVP Vote on MLB.com.

The NL will try yet again to win for the first time since 1996, and the breakthrough in this stupefying trend seemingly has to happen sometime soon. Over the past four years, the AL has won by a combined five runs. Last year at old Yankee Stadium, it was Michael Young's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 15th that plated Justin Morneau and finally ended an epic and unforgettable night.

The AL obviously has won the World Series home-field advantage every year since the adoption of a rule starting in 2003 that gave that edge to the winning league in the Midsummer Classic. Although any team would want to host the start of a World Series rather than opening on the road, there is no indication that it has made a difference in late autumn. The Phillies' Series victory over Tampa Bay last year makes it a 3-3 tie.

These were your choices for the starting lineups last year:

AL: Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners) OF, Derek Jeter (Yankees) SS, Josh Hamilton (Rangers) OF, Alex Rodriguez (Yankees) 3B, Manny Ramirez (Red Sox) OF, Milton Bradley (Rangers) DH, Kevin Youkilis (Red Sox) 1B, Joe Mauer (Twins) C, Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox) 2B.

NL: Hanley Ramirez (Marlins) SS, Chase Utley (Phillies) 2B, Lance Berkman (Astros) 1B, Pujols DH, Chipper Jones (Braves) 3B, Matt Holliday (Rockies) OF, Ryan Braun (Brewers) OF, Kosuke Fukudome (Cubs) OF, Geovany Soto (Cubs) C.

One look at those lineups and you already can see where there will be some changes in the 80th All-Star Game. Manny and Holliday flipped leagues, and we'll have to see how A-Rod, a perennial lock, fares in the voting after a tumultuous offseason and then missing at least the first month of the season due to hip surgery.

There is a lot of baseball ahead, and a lot of online ballots to cast. Here are some first impressions of the ballot:

FIRST BASE
AL:
It's early, but Detroit's Miguel Cabrera is breaking out of the gates like a possible starter, leading the Majors in batting through Monday. Youkilis was right behind him and shows no signs of giving up his starting All-Star job, but keep an eye on newcomer Mark Teixeira of the rivals in The Bronx as the days roll by. Carlos Pena led the Rays to the last AL pennant and looks good again.

NL: Pujols is the one to beat here. Joey Votto of the Reds could be an interesting darkhorse, Adrian Gonzalez had five homers through Monday for a surprising San Diego club, and one presumes Carlos Delgado of the Mets, Ryan Howard of the Phillies and Derrek Lee of the Cubs could be there. Prince Fielder of the Brewers is off to a tough start and we'll see how he progresses.

SECOND BASE
AL:
Ian Kinsler of the Rangers had a good April in one day, with that 6-for-6 performance including a cycle, and the discussion should begin with him. Keep an eye on Brian Roberts of the Orioles, Aaron Hill of the Jays and Robinson Cano of the Yankees. It's been a slow start for Pedroia, but you figure the reigning AL MVP will make a show in early voting.

NL: Utley ran away with the voting last year and the road to Busch goes through him again. Orlando Hudson of the Dodgers and Felipe Lopez of the D-backs should make noise based on their starts, and what about Florida's Dan Uggla? After his three-error performance in the last All-Star Game, he might want some payback.

SHORTSTOP
AL:
Tampa Bay's Jason Barlett is off to a brilliant start and probably should be there if the voting ended now. Alas, it is just beginning, and you can expect the usual suspect wearing a No. 2 in pinstripes. Marco Scutaro of the Blue Jays and rookie Elvis Andrus of the Rangers could be sleepers here.

NL: It's been a slow start for Hanley Ramirez so far, but his team has been hot and he's still viewed by many as the best player in baseball right now. Rafael Fucal helped the Dodgers to a white-hot start, and Jose Reyes figures to be right there in the balloting for the Mets.

THIRD BASE
AL:
Will it be the changing of the guard, or will A-Rod come back and control his past domain? Evan Longoria appeared in the last All-Star Game as a rookie, and don't be surprised if the Rays' sensation is making his first All-Star start at St. Louis. Fans of AL teams who really want their league to win might be well-advised to vote for Young, who has a history of clutch All-Star at-bats. All should watch for Mark DeRosa (a quick 15 RBIs for Cleveland), Brandon Inge after that hot start for Detroit, and the steady Mike Lowell in Boston.

NL: Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs, David Wright of the Mets and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals could be the ones to beat here. Emilio Bonifacio captured everyone's attention the first week of the season, and it remains to be seen whether he can regain momentum for Florida.

CATCHER
AL:
Victor Martinez also plays first for Cleveland, but he is still the name that jumps off the ballot here. Kansas City's John Buck could be a surprise pick, and watch out for Jorge Posada of the Yankees as usual.

NL: Not the deepest class right now, but with game after game comes the separation you need for those later ballot submissions. Yadier Molina could get the hometown start in St. Louis. Brian McCann of Atlanta, maybe. Soto was a history-maker last year as a rookie starter behind the plate, but he has to rebound from a slow start. John Baker of Florida could be a sleeper, and one expects the Dodgers' Russell Martin to draw consideration as the season progresses.

OUTFIELD
AL:
Carlos Quentin of the White Sox led the Majors with seven homers through Monday. Holliday jumped over to Oakland, and we'll see if his slow start is just an aberration or if he's an All-Star again. The Orioles have a pair of candidates in Nick Markakis and Adam Jones so far, and it remains to be seen whether the club can draw the global voters. Likely favorites might be Hamilton, B.J. Upton of the Rays, Ichiro (always a popular pick, especially with the online vote) and Jason Bay of the Red Sox. But keep an eye on Grady Sizemore of the Indians, Adam Lind of the Blue Jays, Nelson Cruz of the Rangers, and Nick Swisher, who has been invaluable so far for the Yankees.

NL: Remember what happened to Braun last summer? In his first full season, fans paid close attention and they vaulted him from a trailing candidate to the top NL outfielder in voting. Other big names likely to draw votes include Manny and Carlos Beltran of the Mets. But watch for some of these guys: Ryan Ludwick of the Cardinals, Raul Ibanez of the Phillies, Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs, and Andre Ethier, who was just named NL Player of the Week from the Dodgers.

If your favorite players were not mentioned above, then no worry. It's just the ballot launch, time to stir those voting passions again and re-acquaint you with a pastime within the pastime. Many millions of people around the world are going to decide who deserves to start and be the final roster spots at Busch Stadium, and in some cases it will be based on performance and in other cases it will be based on team pride.

Some fans vote the "team ticket." Some fans might adhere to Stan the Man's words and simply go with those who you like to watch the most. Many of you will pay close attention to those weekly voting updates when they are posted in the days to come, and by that crazy, final 24 hours of online voting, it no doubt will be an intense rush by the baseball world to get it right.

"It's something more than a great feeling to be on the ballot," Cano said at Yankee Stadium last week when asked about the All-Star ballot launch. "Fans are voting for you, and you aren't deciding for yourself. They follow you. I feel so happy that they vote not just me as a player but also for others.

"It matters a lot to us. Anybody wants to be in the All-Star Game. You don't get a chance to say hello to many of the other guys during the season, but you can do that at the All-Star Game. It is an honor to have a chance to be there."

The 80th 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.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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