Seasoned baseball people always talk about how catcher is the most important position on the field. The catcher is the man in charge, the leader of the pitching staff, the only guy who sees the whole field at the same time.

So an All-Star catcher is something even more special, and this year there are plenty of deserving candidates for the job behind the plate during the 76th Midsummer Classic, which will be played in Comerica Park in Detroit on Tuesday, July 12.

In the American League, the man with the "C" on his jersey is having the best year of any backstop. That would be Jason Varitek, the catcher of the Boston Red Sox, who helped lead his team to the 2004 World Series title, was named captain of the team before this year, and is letting his numbers back up that lofty distinction.

Entering Friday's play, Varitek had the highest batting average of any catcher in the big leagues (.321) and had 11 home runs and 27 RBIs.

Not surprisingly, Varitek led all AL catchers in All-Star votes in the last update. Varitek was comfortably in first place with over 900,000 votes.

Other American League catchers with a fighting chance to be selected are Minnesota's Joe Mauer, who was batting .301 with six homers and 24 RBIs after Thursday, as well as perennial All-Star candidate Jorge Posada, who entered Friday's games with a .293 average, nine homers and 33 RBIs.

Ivan Rodriguez, who is second to Varitek in the voting, hasn't had a dazzling offensive year up to this point, but he's been solid and his defense is spectacular as usual. Rodriguez entered Friday with a .288 average, five homers and 25 RBIs.

On the National League side, voters seem to be sentimental more than practical so far this year. They've honored the impressive career numbers of Mets catcher Mike Piazza, an annual All-Star pick who has been slowed by injuries in 2005 and entered Friday with a .264 batting average, seven homers and 29 RBIs.

Paul Lo Duca of the Florida Marlins, who is in second place in the voting with a hair over 500,000 votes (to Piazza's 760,342), has the highest batting average of any NL catcher so far this season. Lo Duca entered Friday with a .295 clip, although he's hit two homers and has 26 RBIs.

Michael Barrett of the Chicago Cubs, who's third in the voting, might be having the best overall year of any NL catcher. He's hitting .294 with eight homers and 33 RBIs.

And then there's Ramon Hernandez of the San Diego Padres, a former All-Star with the Oakland A's. Hernandez is hitting .280 with seven homers and 32 RBIs and has been terrific defensively and behind the plate, working hard to turn the Padres' pitching staff into one of the best in the league.