The All Star game nomination process should be celebrated by international MLB fans. It’s one of the few occasions where we can really interact with the sport in the same way as our North American cousins. Over 100 million votes have already been cast, which is a phenomenal figure. The voting period comes to an end next Wednesday (well, 04.59 on the morning of Thursday 3rd for us Brits) and every day between now and then I will be looking at a different position giving my thoughts on who I think should be starting at Yankee Stadium on July 15th. We begin with the sluggers: first baseman and the DH.
National League – One of the clear cut choices. Lance Berkman has had an exceptional first half to the season and ‘Big Puma’ undoubtedly deserves to be the NL’s first baseman. Albert Pujols has been slowed by injuries (and pitchers deciding to walk him rather than risk getting clobbered into the seats) so that has limited the chances of his main competitor, but Berkman is hardly making the team by default. Prior to last night’s games, Houston’s finest was third in MLB for home runs, fifth in the RBI list and had a batting line of a staggering .358/.442/.697. The Astros have cooled off a bit lately, but no one expected much from them this year in any case and I don’t think their record should count against his chances on this occasion.
Derrek Lee is certainly having a good year, as is Prince Fielder, while the other young(ish) NL big bopper Ryan Howard has not quite hit the heights so far. The one outsider who should not be overlooked (but generally is) has to be Adrian Gonzalez. The Padres’ low media profile hurts Gonzalez, as do the expanses of PETCO, but it’s still amazing how many people don’t bring his name up more often when discussing the premium first baseman in the game today.
American League – This one’s not quite so straightforward. There isn’t an exceptional candidate in the junior circuit looking at the performances so far this year. Kevin Youkillis is having a good season and the Boston fan base will probably get him into the team, but he doesn’t scream ‘All Star first baseman’ to me. What makes the choice complicated is that the alternatives don’t excite me a great deal either, which is strange considering the AL is supposed to be the more offense-minded league. Former MVP Justin Morneau would be a solid choice, but he’s having a good rather than a spectacular year.
The wildcard would be Jason Giambi. His past certainly casts a shadow over his election to MLB’s marquee promotional event and if ever an example of facial hair could justifiably be held against a man, it would be that hideous bush that has sprouted underneath the Giambino’s nose recently. Still, his performances at the plate this season have been impressive and so it’s no surprise that he’s started to attract some votes. Giambi also puts the current crop of AL first baseman into perspective for me. Think back to when he was in his pomp with the A’s. That’s what an All Star is in my eyes, someone who is capable of making you sit back and say to yourself “wow, what a great player”. Neither Youkillis nor Morneau sparks that reaction in me, but it has to be one of them this year and I will go for Morneau simply because the Red Sox will be well represented elsewhere.
DH – It’s a pretty thin group to choose from this year. Ortiz has it in the bag despite being out injured and all things considered he passes my subjective ‘All Star test’ so Big Papi’s on my ballot. Who else is there? Milton Bradley has mainly played DH this season and his great numbers prove that he has been the best player in that position in 2008; however the rest of his career doesn’t add up to an All Star in my book so I would hold off from picking him as a result.
Jim Thome is a consideration when you combine his track record with a decent season so far. Hideki Matsui will get the considerable Japanese vote. Aubrey Huff anybody?