Filling out my All-Star ballot
Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Let's be honest. There is only one All-Star Game that is actually worth watching among the four major sports. Forget the whole "it counts" aspect, it is just hands down the most competitive event of the four.
Not to mention it actually resembles a real game. You won't see any pitchers grooving pitches right down the middle just to see how far Albert Pujols can hit it.
So I consider it almost a civic duty to vote on who gets to play in the game. I've probably done it every year since I was seven and see no reason to stop now just because I became a baseball writer.
Plus you can now vote online, so you don't have to waste time punching out those silly ballots you get at the ballpark. Although I have heard from people who actually enjoy doing that. If you can do it online now, why even bother?
This year, the managers -- Philadelphia's Charlie Manuel and Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon -- will have a little wiggle room, as the rosters this week were expanded to 33. So we shouldn't ever have a situation like the 2002 tie ever again, or even like what happened a year ago, when both sides were basically taxed from a pitching standpoint in the 15th inning.
So let's take a look at those who I think are the deserving All-Stars, as well as the starting pitchers in each respective league.
C - JOE MAUER, MINNESOTA
Mauer is quite simply the best all-around player at his position. After missing the first month of the season, Mauer has put on a clinic offensively, hitting .397 with a career-best 14 home runs and 44 RBI. He would be leading the league in hitting if he had enough at-bats to qualify, which he will soon. The only two questions you have to concern yourself with Mauer the rest of the way are one, will he hit .400? And two, where will he hang his MVP Award? At some point he will probably have to step out from behind the plate, but for these purposes he will be the AL's starting catcher at the Midsummer Classic.
1B - JUSTIN MORNEAU, MINNESOTA
With all due respect to Detroit's Miguel Cabrera and New York's Mark Teixeira, there has not been a better first baseman in the AL this season than Morneau. The 2006 AL MVP is hitting .309 with 19 homers, 64 RBI and 54 runs scored. Morneau is probably the most deserving, but will probably fall short in fan voting to either Teixeira or Boston's Kevin Youkilis.
2B - AARON HILL, TORONTO
Another spot that could have gone either way. Texas' Ian Kinsler and New York's Robinson Cano are both having great seasons, but neither have the numbers of Toronto's Aaron Hill, whose 19 home runs are already the most ever by a Blue Jays second baseman. Surprisingly, the Blue Jays are still hanging around in the crowded and competitive AL East, and Hill is a big reason why.
3B - EVAN LONGORIA, TAMPA BAY
Although he has cooled off considerably after a torrid start, Longoria is still the class of the AL at the Hot Corner this season. After a tremendous rookie campaign, people wondered what Longoria would do for an encore. Well those questions were answered early on, as he hit .369 with six home runs and 24 RBI in April. Injuries have hampered him a bit of late, but he is still near the top of the league in RBI with 63.
SS - DEREK JETER, NEW YORK
You started to hear the whispers this past winter that Jeter was on the decline. Well now at the age of 35 that is probably the case, but the Yankees captain is enjoying a terrific bounce-back season following one of the worst statistical years of his career in 2008. Jeter is hitting .307 at the top of a loaded lineup with 39 runs scored and has swiped 17 bases.
OF - TORII HUNTER, LA ANGELS
Hunter gets the nod over Boston's Jason Bay here. Bay may have better power numbers (19 HR, 69 RBI), but Hunter (.304, 17 HR, 59 RBI) has been the more consistent of the two at the plate this season, and his play in center field has been nothing short of spectacular. Bay probably will get the start, but I can't put him in with a .262 average.
OF - CARL CRAWFORD, TAMPA BAY
You will be hard-pressed to find a nicer guy in the league than Crawford, which makes this selection all the better. After an injury-plagued 2008, Crawford is back playing at an elite level, hitting .320 with 55 runs scored and a league-high 40 stolen bases.
OF - ICHIRO SUZUKI, SEATTLE
There may not be a better pure hitter in the game than Ichiro. The Japanese superstar is on pace for another 200-hit season and his .370 average leads the league at the moment. Not to mention the AL squad will get another chance to hear Suzuki's profanity-laced pep talk which he delivers every year in the locker room before the contest.
SP - ZACK GREINKE, KANSAS CITY
If you wanted to name Roy Halladay the starter for the contest, I would have no problem with that. You are not going to lose either way with this choice. The fact that Greinke has come back from everything that he had to overcome is nothing short of remarkable when you consider the way he has pitched for the once-again horrific Royals. It was nearly a month into the season before Greinke even allowed an earned run and he hasn't slowed down since, with a league-leading ERA of 1.95. Not to mention he is 10-3 with a league-high five complete games for the 33-win Royals.
C - BRIAN MCCANN, ATLANTA
St. Louis' Yadier Molina will probably get the start thanks to the fan vote, but he does not deserve it. Don't get me wrong, Molina is as good a defensive catcher as there is in baseball and his offensive numbers (.279, 5 HR, 25 RBI) have been decent, but not as good as Atlanta's McCann (.309, 8 HR, 33 RBI), who has played 10 less games and is no slouch behind the plate either.
1B - ALBERT PUJOLS, ST. LOUIS
First base is just as crowded in the NL as it is in the AL, but there is nowhere near the debate. Albert Pujols is the man. With a .335 average, 30 home runs and 77 RBI, El Hombre is putting up numbers that we haven't seen since Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were hitting 60 bombs regularly. Either way, this All-Star Game is all about Pujols and he will be treated like a king for these three days in St. Louis.
2B - CHASE UTLEY, PHILADELPHIA
Utley has shown no signs of the offseason hip surgery that was supposed to keep him out at least the first month of the season. It is as if it never happened, as he has belted 17 homers with 52 RBI and 54 runs scored.
3B - DAVID WRIGHT, NEW YORK
Wright's power has all but disappeared, but his .338 average is near the top of the National League. He has been the most important player on the Mets this season, mostly because he has yet to serve any time on the disabled list.
SS - HANLEY RAMIREZ, FLORIDA
Ramirez may not be the best defensive shortstop around and at times it appears as if his head is not always in the game, but you can't ignore his offensive output. He is in the midst of another tremendous season, and his current team record of 11 straight games with an RBI is the most ever by an NL shortstop.
OF - RAUL IBANEZ, PHILADELPHIA
Steroid allegations aside, Ibanez has been the best player in the National League this season not named Pujols. The 37-year-old outfielder is on pace for a career year with 22 home runs and 59 RBI, but is currently on the disabled list with a strained groin.
OF - RYAN BRAUN, MILWAUKEE
Along with Longoria, Braun is one of the best young hitters in the game. The 2007 NL Rookie of the Year's home run numbers are down a bit, but he could set a career-high in average, as he is hitting .328.
OF - JUSTIN UPTON, ARIZONA
At 21 years of age, Upton has arrived. The younger brother of Tampa Bay's B.J., Upton is hitting .309 with 14 home runs and 45 RBI and is the only thing worth watching on an otherwise disappointing Arizona Diamondbacks team.
SP - TIM LINCECUM, SAN FRANCISCO
What can you say about the Freak? This could easily have gone to his teammate Matt Cain, but Lincecum has also been phenomenal and has a lower ERA, not to mention a ton more strikeouts. Last year Lincecum was too sick to pitch in the All-Star Game in the Bronx. This year he should be on the hill to start the game. The Giants are surprisingly right in the thick of the Wild Card race. Wouldn't it be awesome to see Lincecum pitch in October?