Longoria, Hart are fans' final All-Stars
Rays rookie, Brewers outfielder win voting to join rosters
Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Brewers outfielder Corey Hart have won the 32nd and final roster spots on each team for the 79th All-Star Game on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, holding off marquee competition all the way as a record 47.8 million votes were cast in the Monster 2008 All-Star Game Final Vote.
The voting, which began exclusively at MLB.com on Sunday and concluded at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, ultimately will be remembered not only for the two young players' selections but also the amazing participation by baseball fans worldwide. The number of votes cast this year was more than half of the entire number cast in the previous six years of the Final Vote, and it was more than double last year's record of 23.2 million.
Longoria drew a record nine million votes to win a close American League race over outfielder Jermaine Dye, who could have become the third White Sox player in four years to win the Final Vote. Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, despite a high-profile "Support the 'Stache" campaign, finished third, followed by Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts and Kansas City outfielder Jose Guillen -- all of whom finished with impressive vote totals.
Hart, with eight million votes, joined fellow Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun and pitcher Ben Sheets on the National League roster, and the way he was supported throughout the process was similar to the way fans pushed Braun from seemingly nowhere into the No. 1 outfield spot. Finishing a close second to Hart was Mets third baseman David Wright, an All-Star the past two years. They were followed by outfielders Pat Burrell of the Phillies, Aaron Rowand of the Giants and Carlos Lee of the Astros.
"This year's balloting produced a gigantic level of voter turnout, in part because of how deserving each candidate was and, further, because of the unprecedented interest we're seeing in the All-Star Game," said Dinn Mann, executive vice president of content at MLB.com. "The teams and the fans were creative and inspired in their campaigning, making this whole historic run-up to Yankee Stadium's final Midsummer Classic a privilege to track."
As always, the winners' reactions make it all worthwhile to many voters. In this case, the reactions were priceless for two newcomers to the event.
Longoria was stretching on the field with Rays teammates before their game in Cleveland, waiting and wondering, when Rick Vaughn's cell phone suddenly rang. The Rays' vice-president of communications handed over the phone to Longoria, who was sitting there in the grass surrounded by teammates. Phyllis Merhige, Major League Baseball senior vice president of club relations, then spoke to the winner.
"Congratulations, you're an All-Star," Merhige told him.
A broad smile spread across Longoria's face, and Vaughn gave the rest of the team a thumbs up and they cheered for Longoria.
"Those were the words I was waiting to hear," Longoria said. Then he added: "How about that. Shoot, what can I say? Now it's going to be the dream come true I was hoping for. I'm totally excited."
Longoria, 22, entered Thursday's action batting .281 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs since his April callup, and on Wednesday he won the AL Rookie of the Month Award presented by Gillette for June. Longoria earned an immediate reputation for clutch hitting, becoming no stranger to walk-off reception parties at home plate. He is synonymous with the 2008 breakout of the Rays, who remain on top of the AL East standings.
Hart, meanwhile, produced what is sure to be a viral video seen throughout baseball and beyond. It's on MLB.com if you haven't watched it yet.
He was called in to meet with media after the Brewers' 11-1 home victory over Colorado, and holding his baby girl while sitting behind the front table in a stadium press room. Then you suddenly hear a roar of teammates, you see Hart smile broadly knowing that the word is out, and then he is swarmed by other players right there at the microphone. Then there is a big suds shower in a now-traditional way of celebrating individual achievement, and you see the big 6-foot-6 outfielder from Kentucky jump up and turn to try to keep his baby dry in the hilarious scene. (She's fine.)
"I was just trying to cover Ryleigh's eyes," Hart said with a smile. "I think the guys scared her a little bit but it's all good. It was pretty exciting."Hart, 26, is in his second full season with the Brewers, having appeared for parts in 2004-06. He is batting .293 with 14 homers and 56 RBIs, helping the Brewers remain in contention in the NL Central. Baseball is electric there right now, with the addition of left-handed ace CC Sabathia. The club designed a big heart into the dirt behind the batter's box this week, gave candy hearts to fans, and it turned into one of the most successful campaigns in Final Vote history.
"It's incredible," Hart said. "I thought maybe I had a chance the way the fans have been and the way they pushed Braun. But at the same time, we were going against New York and Philly and those are pretty big markets."For some fans, there is still hope that a non-winner from this year's Final Vote ballot will make it to Yankee Stadium for the game. Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano, voted in as a starter for the NL squad, will not be able to play because of a fractured hand and will need to be replaced by manager Clint Hurdle of the Rockies.
Now that the Final Vote has been decided, there is still work to do for the MLB.com crowd. Fans will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the 79th All-Star Game through the Monster 2008 All-Star Game MVP Vote on MLB.com.
Notable facts about this year's Final Vote:
Longoria was the first third baseman to win a Final Vote. The breakdown of all 14 Final Vote winners is seven outfielders, three pitchers, two catchers, a first baseman and now a third baseman.
Milwaukee, also with Geoff Jenkins in 2003, became the third club to have a winning representative more than once. Boston won with Johnny Damon in 2002 and Jason Varitek in 2003. The White Sox won with Scott Podsednik in 2005 and A.J. Pierzynski in 2006.
Giambi, a non-winner in 2003, joined Travis Hafner (2004, 2006), Frank Thomas (2003, 2004), Billy Wagner (2005, 2006) and Brandon Webb (2005, 2007) as the only players who have made multiple bids without winning.
The only clubs whose players have never appeared on the Final Vote ballot are the Mariners, Rangers and Reds. Guillen was the first Royals player to appear. The Washington Nationals have not been represented since moving, but Orlando Cabrera did represent them in 2003 when they were the Montreal Expos.
Roughly one million votes per hour were cast on the final day. It brought to 130 million the total number of votes cast since the program began in 2002. The 100 millionth vote in the history of Final Vote balloting was cast late Tuesday night. Nearly half that many votes came just this week. Emerging trends included "player pacts," among social networks as blocs of fans promised to vote for each other's guy; and the opportunity of club alliance, evidenced by the White Sox backed their ex-player, Rowand, in return for the Giants' supporting Dye.
Longoria's nine million votes meant he doubled the individual vote record of more than 4.4 million set last year by San Diego pitcher Chris Young, and Hart was not far from doing that as well.
Four of the candidates were all playing at the same time on Thursday afternoon while the voting was in the final stretch. With 3 1/2 hours remaining, the Phillies' broadcasters were talking about all the "Go to Bat for Pat" signs throughout Citizens Bank Park during the Phils' game against the Cardinals. In each case, the broadcasters were emphasizing the Final Vote throughout the game and showing evidence of the campaign presence that has become typical with Final Vote week.
There has been a trend lately for more fresh new faces in the All-Star Game, once dominated by veteran repeaters in the starting lineups and on the benches. The decisions have been more performance-based than ever lately, as fans -- whether following their favorite teams and players or simply managing their fantasy rosters -- are able to stay on top of the stats more than ever with technology such as MLB.TV.
This has resulted in a wave of new All-Star talent, and it was evident when fans voted for the starting lineups. Consider the arrival of Geovany Soto as the first NL rookie ever to start the game at catcher, Hanley Ramirez at NL shortstop, Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Kosuke Fukudome of the Cubs in the NL outfield, Josh Hamilton of the Rangers in the AL outfield, Joe Mauer of the Twins at AL catcher, and Boston's Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia at AL first and second base, respectively.
That theme clearly extended to the Final Vote, with fans selecting a rookie and a player in his second full season.
The incredible week of fan voting was merely an extension of what has been happening at MLB.com the past month. During the online balloting process to decide starters, 214.7 million votes from 16.5 million ballots were cast at MLB.com and the 30 individual club sites, even though there were seven fewer days in the voting period than in 2007. These record figures each represent increases of nearly 40 percent over the previous marks for total votes and ballots cast.
Longoria is the third Rays player selected for the All-Star Game, joining pitcher Scott Kazmir and catcher Dioner Navarro. Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees was the top overall vote-getter and thus will starts at third base. The other reserves at that position are Joe Crede of the White Sox and Carlos Guillen of the Tigers.
Hart is the third Brewers player selected for the game, joining Braun and Sheets. There are six outfielders on the NL roster, not including Soriano. Starting alongside Braun will be Fukudome and Colorado's Matt Holliday. Ryan Ludwick of St. Louis, Nate McLouth of Pittsburgh and Hart are currently the available reserves, so an outfield addition seems probable.
With the majority of the individual races going down to the wire, fans cast their final votes online at unprecedented rates -- more than 41 million votes in the final 24 hours of online balloting were cast on July 2. That mark was 57-percent higher than the previous single-day record, 26 million, set on the final day of online balloting in 2005.
Previous winners of the Monster All-Star Game Final Vote include Hideki Okajima (AL) and Young (NL) in 2007; Pierzynski (AL) and Nomar Garciaparra (NL) in 2006; Podsednik (AL) and Roy Oswalt (NL) in 2005; Hideki Matsui (AL) and Bobby Abreu (NL) in 2004; Varitek (AL) and Jenkins (NL) in 2003; and Damon (AL) and Andruw Jones (NL) in 2002.
The 79th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD, 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 that will also be available on XM Satellite Radio, and MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.