Swish, Youk neck-and-neck; Votto in front
AL Final Vote a real horse race as balloting enters final day
Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher regained his lead over Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis by less than a percentage point on Wednesday, setting the stage for another suspenseful ending in the storied rivalry between their teams and a frantic final day of online fan balloting in the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint.
Heading into the final hours, this year's American League race was the tightest in the program's nine-year history. In addition, White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko made a move toward the top by passing Rangers third baseman Michael Young for third place. They were followed by Twins left fielder Delmon Young.
Reds first baseman Joey Votto maintained his pace in the National League race, leading over Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Braves closer Billy Wagner and Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez.
Buoyed by the success of last year's "BranTorino" alliance that pushed Brandon Inge and Shane Victorino to All-Star Final Vote victory, six of the 10 candidates' clubs have formed unions to persuade their fan bases to collaborate in getting their players to Anaheim for the July 13 Midsummer Classic. The three alliances are the Reds and Red Sox (1975 World Series); Nationals and Rangers (Third Base Ticket); and Rox and Sox for Gonzalez and Konerko.
The ninth annual All-Star Game Final Vote ballot commenced exclusively on MLB.com and the individual club sites at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday and will continue until balloting concludes at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. No vote totals are given in the meantime and results will be announced exclusively on MLB.com shortly after the polls close.
Originally introduced during this year's online balloting for the elected starters, fans can campaign for their favorite players on the Final Vote ballot through MLB.com's All-Star Campaign Manager program, tallying points by getting their friends, family members and co-workers to vote through social networking, and competing to be recognized as an "official" Final Vote Campaign Manager for any player they helped support.
Mobile voting is available exclusively on Sprint, Nextel and Boost capable mobile phones and fans can send the word "Vote" to 1122 to receive the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint ballot. Message and data rates may apply. In Canada, fans can text "Vote" to 88555. Standard text rates apply.
Each quintet of candidates was presented by the respective All-Star Game managers, Joe Girardi of the Yankees for the AL and Charlie Manuel of the Phillies for the NL. The remainder of the All-Star rosters were announced on Sunday.
Here is a closer look at the candidates, with stats entering the week:
Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox
Back in 2004, Konerko and Frank Thomas were in a dead heat for second behind Hideki Matsui of the Yankees in the AL Final Vote. The two White Sox players split their vote and Matsui was selected. Konerko has no competition on his own team this time, and instead he has his own campaign theme. The White Sox are hoping to turn the South Side of Chicago into "Pauliewood" -- a slogan making the Internet rounds.
Late in the day on Tuesday, the White Sox and Rockies each announced the formation of their "Rox and Sox" alliance, so both clubs are encouraging the other's to vote for Konerko and Gonzalez.
No team has had more Final Vote participants than the White Sox, who have fielded a candidate in seven of the nine years. That includes two winners, Scott Podsednik in 2005 and A.J. Pierzynski in '06
Konerko has 20 homers and 57 RBIs for the White Sox and has gradually led them back into contention. He went 0-for-4 in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the Angels and is batting .295. This voting period coincides with a four-game home series against the Angels, so it gives the White Sox a captive audience to push the vote -- as they have done already, with Mark Buehrle among those appealing over a microphone to fans at U.S. Cellular Field.
Nick Swisher, RF, Yankees
Swisher was the AL leader after the first 24 hours of balloting, lost the lead and then got the rally bump. Through 78 games he is batting .292 with 13 homers, 47 RBIs and 50 runs, a catalyst for a Yankees club that has baseball's best record and is trying to repeat as World Series champions for the first time since 2000.
He also has 1,219,431 followers on his Twitter account -- gaining 500 to 1,000 each day of this campaign -- and he wasted no time in using it to get out the vote for himself. After learning that Youkilis had passed him, Swisher tweeted the following verbatim:
"Seems like this final man vote has turned into a NY vs. Boston thing. Need all my NYers 2 vote! @jimmyfallon @iamdiddy"
Adding the two accounts (and a link to the ballot) at the end was an effort to get Jimmy Fallon and Sean Combs to pitch in.
"I see all of these guys going and I want to go, too," Swisher said, referring to the other six Yankees players already selected to this Midsummer Classic. "I think it would mean so much extra now because it's up to the fans. I think I've generated a pretty good rapport here with the fans of New York."
The Yankees are 1-for-5 in Final Vote candidates, with their most recent three coming up short. The only winner was Matsui in 2004, and even he fell short the following year, splitting the vote with teammate Derek Jeter.
Kevin Youkilis, 1B, Red Sox
The Final Vote matter was actually dwarfed in importance on Tuesday night when Youkilis had pain in his right ankle. The Red Sox have been losing players left and right to injury, and was he going to be the next one? Youkilis had to leave the game but assured the media that he was expecting to start Wednesday night against Rays ace David Price.
Constituents of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) received an email on Tuesday imploring them to Vote Youk, including a link to the online ballot. Kerry wrote before finding out that Youkilis moved into the lead:
"Youk deserves to be in the All-Star Game -- while the team has grinded it out in spite of injury after injury, he's been a rock. But now he needs to win a fan vote to make it to Anaheim next week.
"The stakes are also just a little personal: in the fan voting, currently Nick Swisher of the Yankees is in first place. Swisher's having a fine year, but Youk is better in just about every category, batting average, slugging, home runs, everything, and he plays Gold Glove defense to boot. Please don't let anyone say that Swisher beat Youkilis because Sox fans have gone a little soft after '04 and '07. Let's show we're still the most ravenous fans in baseball."
Red Sox Nation is a perfect 3-for-3 in past Final Votes, winning the first two with outfielder Johnny Damon in 2002 and catcher Jason Varitek in 2003, and then with reliever Hideki Okajima in 2007. If Youkilis maintains his lead, they would remain perfect and double the second-highest winner output.
Youkils scores more than anyone -- he leads the Majors with 66 runs to go along with his .297 average, 17 homers and 55 RBIs. Will he score again with the Final Vote?
"It's one of those things where it's out of your control and it's up to the fans now, and there are four [other] guys who are probably very deserving, too," Youkilis said. "You know, if I make it, it will be an honor and it will be a good thing."
Delmon Young, LF, Twins
Young went 3-for-3 with an intentional walk on Tuesday -- raising his average to .307 -- and scored the winning run against the Blue Jays on Denard Span's RBI single in the eighth inning. That added to an already impressive first half for Young, and it helped Minnesota keep pace with Detroit, staying a half-game back in the AL Central.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, by Tampa Bay, has hit safely in each of his past six games and is batting .307 with nine homers and 56 RBIs.
There's been a lot of "Drive in Delmon" talk in the Twin Cities. Maybe Twins fans will be able to do what they were unable to do in their previous Final Vote opportunities, going 0-for-3 with Lew Ford in 2004, Torii Hunter in 2005 and Francisco Liriano in 2006.
When asked after the ballot launch if he would stay up all night to vote for himself, Young added: "I definitely won't be doing that. It's out of my control. Just be thankful that everything's going pretty good this year, especially after last year, missing time and going home and everything. I'm just honored that I was even mentioned."
Michael Young, 3B, Rangers
Young had the night off on Tuesday, a chance to watch his teammates' 12-1 rout of the Indians. Whether he has the following Tuesday game off depends largely on you.
The Rangers and Nationals just announced a voting alliance -- the "Third Base Ticket" -- that they hope will benefit Young as well as Zimmerman. Texas had planned top show the promotional spot on its video board during Tuesday's home game.
When told that Swisher is using his Twitter account to campaign openly, Young said he would love to be back in the event but wants no part of that approach.
"If I was making a commercial, I wouldn't be in it. I'd hire someone to do it," Young said. "That's really not my style. I've been really fortunate that all the fans here in Texas have been so supportive of me. So we'll see how it all shakes out. I'd love to go, but I'm not going to do any campaigning or anything like that.
"I know my family keeps calling me telling me they're spending all their day on the computer developing carpal tunnel. I'm not going to be doing any campaigning or anything like that, but I would be honored to go. It's always fun at the All-Star Game."
Will Young be the third consecutive third baseman to win the AL Final Vote, following Brandon Inge last year and Evan Longoria the year before? There are many reasons to think he could, starting with a .306 average, 11 homers, 55 runs and 51 RBIs and a Major League-high 343 at-bats for a team that has led the AL West for a while now and posted the best 75-game start in franchise history. Young's 10th full season is shaping up as one of his best.
There is another good reason to want him on the AL roster if you're a fan of the AL: He is money in late innings of the Midsummer Classic. Young was named the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player at the 2006 game in Pittsburgh after hitting the game-winning triple off Trevor Hoffman, and it was Young's walk-off sac fly in the 15th inning that finally ended the epic 2008 battle at Yankee Stadium.
"Being in first place, we wouldn't be there if it weren't for Michael," Rangers president and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan says of Young in this video.
Heath Bell, RHP, Padres
The Padres front office is hoping to lead its fans by example. One example is the "Hear a bell - Vote for Bell" approach. Hourly bells will ring on the office intercom to remind Padres employees to stop and vote for their closer, who leads the Majors with 23 saves.
Bell has been a staple for a Padres club that is having one of its best seasons in franchise history, leading the NL West by four games entering Tuesday.
"If the San Diego fans get out there and vote, and if I keep doing what I'm doing and hopefully fans watch me on TV, maybe they'll vote me in over some other guys," Bell said after picking up the win in San Diego's 3-2 walk-off victory over the Astros on Sunday. "I can text my friends, go out there and pitch the best I can and vote as many times as I can."
Bell led the NL with 42 saves last year, and he was the losing pitcher in the All-Star Game at St. Louis. Manuel brought him in to maintain a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning, but Bell gave up a triple to Curtis Granderson, then a go-ahead sacrifice fly by Adam Jones. Bell, who "threw my glove, kicked a door," now, of course, wants a chance for atonement.
Bell is a steady force for the NL West leaders. He's part of the San Diego bullpen that calls itself "The Pen-itentiary" and goes by Bell's credo: "Got 'em on lockdown!" Do the Padres have enough All-Star representatives to go along with their win total? That's up to the voters.
Carlos Gonzalez, CF, Rockies
What a night for CarGo and the Rockies on Tuesday. They recorded their biggest ninth-inning comeback in franchise history, putting up nine runs for a 12-9 victory over the Cardinals, and their Final Vote candidate played a key role. Gonzalez was 4-for-6 with a second-inning homer off Blake Hawksworth. He has a .303 average with 15 homers and 55 RBIs.
The Venezuelan native also has 12 steals, blossoming as one of baseball's newest five-tool standouts. Sometimes the Final Vote process lets you get to know a Major Leaguer better, and that appears to be happening with Gonzalez.
He said he appreciated the support Rockies fans showed at Sunday's game after finding out he had been chosen as one of the players on the NL ballot.
"It was packed," Gonzalez said. "Everybody was like, 'CarGo, you got my vote!' Everybody was screaming and we were winning."
This is the second try for a Rockies candidate. The first? Larry Walker, who finished third in the first Final Voate in 2002.
Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
Just before the second update was released, the Reds and Red Sox each issued a press release declaring their official club alliance. The theme is the 1975 World Series, which included that fabled Game 6 featuring Carlton Fisk's famous home run for Boston. The Reds are urging their fans to not only vote for Votto but also for Youkilis -- and vice versa for the Red Sox.
Votto had a monster day on Monday during the Final Vote process, doing his talking on the field. He homered twice, doubled and walked for the first-place Reds. It brought his home run total up to 21, matching Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays for the MLB lead. There is a huge "snub" reaction happening around the Internet, and so far he appears to be on his way to Anaheim. Will he get there?
"Hopefully we can get some T-shirts and rally behind Joey, get the fans out there," said Reds third baseman Scott Rolen, who was selected as an All-Star. "He has certainly earned it at his position. He is probably the most valuable player on this team right now."
During the regular All-Star voting period, Reds assistant director of media relations Jamie Ramsey used his popular "Better off Red" blog to garner support for the team's players. Each week, he'd have a "voting lunch" over Twitter, and fans used their lunch hours to repeatedly vote for a selected player. Last week at Great American Ball Park, the club organized a pizza-and-vote lunch and had fans come in to personally vote on one of several laptops. They were planning to have another voting lunch on Wednesday.
Even the Blue Jays have gotten behind Votto, campaigning through their club Twitter and reminding their fan base that he is from Canada.
Billy Wagner, LHP, Braves
"I think I'd be thrilled," Wagner said of making the Midsummer Classic. "To be put in the All-Star Game is always a special moment in any player's life. Knowing that it would be my last All-Star opportunity, it would be very special. I hope for a good outcome, but there are a lot of quality players out there, and whoever gets in, it will be special for them."
The question is, will the third time be a charm for him, or will he become the Susan Lucci of the Final Vote? Atlanta's closer is the first player to appear on three Final Vote ballots, and the crazy part is that he has done it with the Phillies (2005), Mets (2006) and now Braves. Wagner is pretty much the official Final Vote representative of the NL East.
All that matters for this Final Vote is right now, this season, and the resurgent Braves are two games ahead of the Mets in the NL East during the Bobby Cox Farewell Tour. There has been a lot of magic at Turner Field, and Wagner has provided much of it. He converted his 18th save in the Braves' victory over the Phillies on Tuesday.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals
Zimmerman ripped two homers in the Nationals' 6-5 victory over the NL West-leading Padres on Tuesday, and that included a walk-off homer.
Zimmerman has raised his batting average from 280 to .293 in his past two games. Asked if the Final Vote gave him an incentive to do well, Zimmermann joked, "Oh, yeah, I was waiting for it to be announced to get hot."
Zimmerman acknowledged that he would like to play in the All-Star Game for a second year running.
"I think everyone's goal is to be an All-Star and win awards," he said. "We all want to win, go to the playoffs and World Series. Everyone works hard in this game. You work hard to be good, to get honored for it. To be rewarded for it is special."
The news of the Zimmerman-Young "Third Base Ticket" should come as good news to Nationals fans, because the alliance factor worked last year for Inge and Victorino. Now it is up to the fans to spread the message.
It's the third Final Vote experience for the franchise. The first was way up north during the 2003 season, when a young shortstop named Orlando Cabrera failed to stir interest as an NL candidate from the Montreal Expos -- their second-to-last season before moving to D.C.
The All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote program has seen nearly 200 million votes cast since its inception in 2002. Previous winners of the All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint, in addition to Shane Victorino and Inge last year, are: Longoria (AL, 2008); Hart (NL, 2008); Okajima (AL, 2007); Chris Young (NL, 2007); Pierzynski (AL, 2006); Nomar Garciaparra (NL, 2006); Podsednik (AL, 2005); Roy Oswalt (NL, 2005); Matsui (AL, 2004); Bobby Abreu (NL, 2004); Varitek (AL, 2003); Geoff Jenkins (NL, 2003); Damon (AL, 2002); and Andruw Jones (NL, 2002).
The fun won't end with the Final Vote, either. The final phase of All-Star Game voting will have fans once again participate in the official voting for the All-Star Game Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2010 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint. Carl Crawford of the Rays won the award in 2009.
The 81st Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet, Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau de Sport, and 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. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.