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Fans again in control with Final Vote

Fans again in control with Final Vote

Seven outfielders, three pitchers, two catchers, a first baseman and a third baseman.

A record 47.8 million overall votes over four days last year, more than double the previous year.

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Ten of 14 winners representing different clubs, a White Sox player each time except 2007, and, so far, nary a Mariners, Rangers or Reds nominee.

More savvy grassroots campaigns and greater use of technology every year.

That's the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote.

One of the most popular summertime traditions in baseball will be back for an eighth year starting on Sunday at MLB.com. The 2009 All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Pepsi will air from 1 to 2 p.m. ET on TBS to reveal 64 of the 66 players selected for the 80th All-Star Game on July 14 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The show also will announce the five nominees per league for the Final Vote, your opportunity to determine the 33rd and final roster spots.

All-Star managers Charlie Manuel from the Phillies and Joe Maddon from the Rays will provide those respective nominees. Voting will begin on MLB.com right after the Selection Show and will continue until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. Results will be announced on MLB.com shortly after the balloting closes.

Who will your choices be this time? Will you send someone to his first All-Star Game? Ready for the final say again? There will be constant voting, updates to keep you voting and marketing genius. As you await the nominees, here is a look back at the history of the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote and how it has grown:

2002: Johnny Damon (Red Sox) and Andruw Jones (Braves)
Damon had left Oakland to sign with the Red Sox, and his numbers were going up across the board. But even entering the third and last day of Final Vote balloting, Damon's first All-Star appointment was in question. He had 248,576 votes, and Jim Thome of Cleveland only 5,551 behind. Their neck-and-neck battle was far in front of fellow AL candidates Eric Chavez of the A's, Magglio Ordonez of the White Sox and Darin Erstad of the Angels.

After the votes were counted, it was announced during a Red Sox victory over Toronto to a giddy sellout crowd at Fenway. Damon was on first base and saluted the crowd by waving his hand. He had finished with 692,989 votes, compared to 666,825 for Thome. It was a final difference of just 26,164 votes, and to this day remains one of the best races in this unique player-election process.

"I knew how awesome [Red Sox] fans were from that moment," Damon said later. "It's cool that they added that Final Vote ballot. It opens up a great opportunity, like it did for me that year."

The first National League player selected also was an outfielder. Jones, representing the Braves, was in command throughout the balloting. He led Brian Giles of the Pirates by nearly 70,000 votes entering the last day, and won with a vote total of 559,752. Giles finished second with 488,725, their margin of difference nearly the same during the last day. Larry Walker of the Rockies, Albert Pujols of the Cardinals and Ryan Klesko of the Padres rounded out the order of finish.

2003: Jason Varitek (Red Sox) and Geoff Jenkins (Brewers)
This was the year that a now-customary part of the Final Vote process first emerged: grassroots campaigning.

Jenkins was a sixth-year Brewers outfielder who was on his way to a borderline .300/30/100 season, and he was named on the NL ballot by manager Dusty Baker along with Benito Santiago of the Giants, Kenny Lofton of the Pirates, Orlando Cabrera of the Expos and Luis Castillo of the Marlins. Santiago and Lofton were old hands at the Midsummer Classic. Cabrera was a young shortstop on the rise, and Castillo was remembered by many for the 35-game hitting streak he had compiled a year earlier.

Santiago led after the first day of voting, but for Jenkins, the word was starting to spread throughout baseball. He was on the air with Dan Patrick of ESPN Radio. The Brewers were aggressive in touting Jenkins, and Brewers fans were using e-mail in a brand new way to make their candidate's chances viral. Santiago was announced as the early leader, Jenkins took over the lead amid nearly a dead heat with Santiago with 30 hours remaining and then Jenkins nabbed the final roster spot with 2,872,200 votes.

"It was like e-mail after e-mail saying how they were telling people to vote," Jenkins said. "It was really neat. There's nothing I can say, just how thankful I am for them to do that, to think of me for as long as I've been here. It really meant a lot, and it's something I'll never forget."

For the second time in as many years of AL Final Vote balloting, a Red Sox player won the hearts of voters. Varitek had to beat out Jason Giambi of the Yankees and Frank Thomas of the White Sox, along with Web Gem icon Eric Byrnes of the A's and Bengie Molina, catcher for the reigning World Series champion Angels.

Varitek was leading with 30 hours of voting left, but Big Hurt was gaining quickly. Varitek withstood the charge and finished first with 3,210,509 votes -- more than four times as many as Damon had received, reflecting the year-over-year vote increases of this online process.

2004: Hideki Matsui (Yankees) and Bobby Abreu (Phillies)
Matsui was up against Lew Ford of the Twins, Travis Hafner of the Indians, Paul Konerko of the White Sox and -- back for a second straight year to try again -- Thomas. With 26 hours remaining, the official announcement said that Thomas was in second place once again, this time to Matsui. Thomas and his teammate, Konerko, were in a virtual dead heat for second, and by now evidence was starting to mount that a "split vote" hurt a Final Vote candidate's chances. Matsui won.

In the NL, Abreu of the Phillies won the honor in a race that included Steve Finley of the D-backs, Jason Kendall of the Pirates, Juan Pierre of the Marlins and Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs. After the first two days of voting, it was a virtual dead heat at the top between Ramirez and Abreu. The polls closed, and then everyone saw what was perhaps a coming-of-age declaration by Abreu's public. He had been putting up huge numbers year after year and was becoming an annual "fantasy stud," winning the final roster spot by leading all 2003 Final Vote candidates with two million votes.

"[Winning the Final Vote] is the best thing to happen to me so far," Abreu said after finding out he won in 2004. "I've been playing for six years, and I've never been selected. Now I get to go."

2005: Scott Podsednik (White Sox) and Roy Oswalt (Astros)
This marked the only time to date that both Final Vote winners would wind up literally matched up against each other in a World Series.

Podsednik's competition included the Yanks' Derek Jeter and Matsui, Carl Crawford of the Rays and Torii Hunter of the Twins. Jeter had a slight lead over Podsednik halfway through the balloting, while Jeter and Matsui were publicly lobbying for each other's chances, telling fans to vote for the other guy. Podsednik was a huge beneficiary of White Sox campaigning, including Scott Reifert's Inside the White Sox MLBlog and a 90-minute autograph-signing session at a home game. Pods outdistanced Jeter to win with 3,965,473 votes, the most for a Final Vote winner until Garciaparra in 2006.

The NL race was especially interesting because, for the first time in any Final Vote balloting, the choices were all pitchers. Oswalt had the lead halfway through voting over Billy Wagner and Brett Myers of the Phillies, Trevor Hoffman of the Padres and Brandon Webb of the D-backs. Oswalt won with 2,652,549 votes, with Hoffman finishing second.

2006: A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox) and Nomar Garciaparra (Dodgers)
Garciaparra, the Dodgers first baseman, drew roughly four million votes, then a Final Vote record. He finished ahead of Chris Capuano of the Brewers, Abreu of the Phillies, Wagner of the Mets and Chris Young of the Padres. The Dodgers mounted a major grassroots campaign for him, with posters throughout Chavez Ravine urging fans to vote, radio stations spreading the word and an ad in the Los Angeles Times mentioning the vote on the last morning before the ballot closed. The Dodgers cited their Inside the Dodgers MLBlog as a key ingredient in the campaigning.

It was the first time that the West Division had a Final Vote winner.

Pierzynski, the White Sox catcher, was his club's second consecutive successful Final Vote winner, finishing with 3.6 million votes. Moreover, the White Sox have had a nominee every year of the Final Vote. Pierzynski finished first in a close race against Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano, and following in order were Travis Hafner of the Indians, Justin Verlander of the Tigers and Ramon Hernandez of the Orioles.

Remember that "Punch A.J" campaign? White Sox employees wore "Punch A.J." shirts around U.S. Cellular Field during the homestand that coincided with the Final Vote (playing at home during the Final Voting is a decided advantage for a nominee), and those same shirts were sold to the public at the ballpark. Given Pierzynski's less-than-favorable image in cities other than Chicago on the Major League circuit, that campaign was an even greater success for the team.

"Without a doubt, they've done a great job of putting together a quick marketing campaign," Pierzynski said.

2007: Hideki Okajima (Red Sox) and Chris Young (Padres)
This was the year that two major rarities happened. For starters, there was not a single White Sox player on the ballot. That marks the only time it has happened. Secondly, the managers were Tony La Russa of the Cardinals and Jim Leyland of the Tigers, and they decided to make it pitchers-only. So for the only time in Final Vote history, both winners were hurlers.

Young won out over 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.

The city of Ashland, Ky., held a "Vote for Brandon Webb" day for its hometown hero. Tigers fans saw that full-page ad in the Detroit Free Press that evoked images of James Bond by reading: "FROM DETROIT WITH GLOVE - BONDO 07" (with a bat and ball in the shape of a pistol). Neshek brought significant blogging strength to a campaign for the first time by a player, and used YouTube video as a strength -- bringing social media into relevance for the Final Vote.

2008: Evan Longoria (Rays) and Corey Hart (Brewers)
Ending a one-year drought, the White Sox returned to the Final Vote ballot in the form of outfielder Jermaine Dye. Alas, he was unable to become that team's third Final Vote winner in a four-year span. It was the rookie sensation who was leading a season out of nowhere for Tampa Bay: Longoria. The third baseman blew away the field, setting the all-time Final Vote record and taking the honor over Dye, first baseman Jason Giambi of the Yankees, outfielder Jose Guillen of the Royals and second baseman Brian Roberts of the Orioles.

Remember all the fake mustaches worn at old Yankee Stadium in support of Giambi? That was probably the most original grassroots campaigning in 2008. It wasn't enough, though.

The NL choice was outfielder Corey Hart of the Brewers. He won in close balloting over a group that included outfielder Pat Burrell of the Phillies, outfielder Carlos Lee of the Astros, outfielder Aaron Rowand of the Giants and third baseman David Wright of the Mets.

As a postscript, Longoria and Hart collectively made by far the greatest contribution to any All-Star Game by Final Vote winners. That was due to the fact it was an epic 15-inning affair, won by the AL. Longoria's ground-rule double in the eighth forced extras, and he proceeded to go 1-for-4. Hart was 0-for-3. Both came off the bench and both played basically full games.

This all began as a way to avoid the usual Monday morning debates about who was snubbed -- so that fans could have that last chance to put in someone deserving on each roster. It began as the 30th man, then it was 32nd man, and now in 2009 it is for the 33rd man.

Now it's time to have some fun again. The fun doesn't end there, however. Fans, having already decided the starters and final player on each team, once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevy via the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint MVP Vote on MLB.com during the All-Star Game.

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. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.

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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