Major League Baseball adopted the slogan "This Time It Counts" when it attached World Series home-field advantage to the spoils of winning the All-Star Game, but now the National League is primed for its own motto.
"This Time It's Personal."
While the NL starting lineup announced Sunday on the MLB All-Star Selection Show presented by Pepsi introduces a healthy infusion of new blood with two first-time starters, it also includes six incumbents who have felt the scorn of the American League's ongoing midseason domination. The repeaters have combined for 15 appearances in NL starting lineups -- none of them ending in victory, parts of the AL's 12-year unbeaten streak. The biggest chip, appropriately, is on the shoulder of the guy who personifies the 80th All-Star Game in so many ways: Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. Pujols was an overall double winner in fans' balloting -- leading in both total and online votes -- for this Midsummer Classic, on July 14 in his home ballpark, St. Louis' Busch Stadium. Prince Albert also has been the NL All-Stars' Prince of Pain, about to take his sixth starting stab at leading his league to a victory. Interestingly, it will be only the third start at first base for Pujols, who started in left field in 2003 and two other times served as the NL's designated hitter. The best and tightest race on the NL ballot wasn't for any position, but for bragging rights as the overall vote leader. And the chest-thumping went to Pujols, who pulled away from Phillies second baseman Chase Utley after taking a mere 92,683-vote lead into the final three days of voting online. Utley does become the first National League second baseman elected to four consecutive starts since Craig Biggio, in 1995-98. Furthermore, he and Florida shortstop Hanley Ramirez will be the first NL double-play combination to start consecutive All-Star Games since Biggio and Barry Larkin held down the keystone in 1994-95. Ramirez is joined on the left side of the infield by Mets third baseman David Wright who, in regaining the spot claimed last year by Chipper Jones of the Braves, will start for the third time in four summers. Milwaukee's Ryan Braun is the only 2008 starter back in an outfield which also features the return of Carlos Beltran (the 2005-07 three-time starter) and the debut of Raul Ibanez, the uplifting story of this year's All-Star Game. Ibanez is an overnight success story 13 years in the making. After excelling in relative anonymity that long with the AL's Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners, it took a free-agency enabled move to defending World Series champion Philadelphia to bring Ibanez out from behind the curtain. Ibanez joins Yadier Molina, the host Cardinals' similarly overshadowed catcher, as the rookies in this lineup. At 37, Ibanez will be the oldest position player ever to make his All-Star debut. Left-hander Jamie Moyer, a fellow Phillie, pitched in his only All-Star Game in 2003 at 40. The ultimate graybeard, not surprisingly, was Satchel Paige, the Negro Leagues legend who did not get to the Majors until he was 42, and made his All-Star debut in 1952 at 46. That makes the Cardinals one of three teams with two representatives each, along with the Phillies and the Mets. Braun is the third choice out of the NL Central, balancing out a little bit the East Coast's typical prevalence. The West Division got blanked, an attitude by voters best reflected by the fact the team with MLB's best record -- the Dodgers -- didn't come close to winning an election. Part of the reason for that, of course, was the absence of star left fielder Manny Ramirez, whose 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs ended Friday. He finished well out of the running for one of the three outfield spots, fading from a high of fifth place in recent weeks. The most competitive Dodger at the ballot box was second baseman Orlando Hudson, who was runner-up to Utley -- but about 2 million votes behind.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.