Votebook: If at first...
Tough choice for voters at position where sluggers abound
On one side, perhaps the easiest choice facing All-Star voters. On the other side, potentially the most difficult.
First base has always been a glamour position, a spot on the diamond filled with sluggers. Your garden variety 30-homer, 100-RBI guy isn't a lock even to make the All-Star roster, never mind to start.
In the National League, however, Albert Pujols soars above "garden variety." Unless you're a Cubs or Astros fan who can't bear to vote for a Cardinal, there shouldn't be many more automatic names punched in than Pujols'. He's the reigning National League MVP. As of Tuesday, he's the Major League leader in home runs, RBIs, runs and slugging percentage.
But over in the AL, what's a voter to do? If you take the best-player-overall philosophy, looking at past years as well as this year, it's hard to look past Red Sox star David Ortiz. Big Papi entered play on Tuesday having a nice year, but not a spectacular one. Ortiz has a solid 31 RBIs, but he's batting a pedestrian .266. Besides, there's no bigger star listed at first base in the AL than Ortiz, a designated hitter who is on the ballot at first because there will be no DH in this year's game.
But maybe you're a Yankees fan, or you like a comeback story. There's always Jason Giambi, who has big advantages on Ortiz in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Want a World Series hero? Paul Konerko of the defending champion White Sox is having a fine year, hitting over .300 with 28 RBIs. Want a new face? Nobody's made a bigger splash in 2006 than Tigers masher Chris Shelton, who started the season matching Pujols homer-for-homer. The Indians' Travis Hafner somehow plays under the radar, but he's raking again in '06 and is certainly deserving of a spot on the roster. Texas' Mark Teixeira has down numbers thus far, but he'll come around -- and he's a quality defender to boot.
There's really no right answer on the AL side. It's a matter of taste.
Back to the NL, though. There will be a few protest votes, but Pujols is an overwhelming favorite. His stiffest competition would have come from a few hours up I-55, but Derrek Lee's candidacy was derailed by injury. The strongest against-the-grain candidate in the NL is another player in the NL Central, Houston's Lance Berkman.
The 'Stros' former outfielder has an OPS north of 1.000, and his 40 RBIs are certainly an eye-catching total. He's the most important offensive player on the defending National League champions, and that has to count for at least something. Colorado's Todd Helton was sidelined due to illness, but he's undeniably a star and would never be out of place at an All-Star Game.
Looking east, the Mets' Carlos Delgado is a fine player having a fine season. Delgado's stroked 13 homers for the NL East-leading Metropolitans, adding a ferocious presence to the middle of an improved lineup. Last year's Rookie of the Year, Ryan Howard, has put up a .302/.359/.597 line in pursuit of his first All-Star berth.
In the breakout category, Washington's Nick Johnson is staying healthy and blistering the ball despite a pitcher-friendly home park, and Milwaukee's Prince Fielder is hitting for average and power in his first full season.
And how about a comeback in the NL? Nomar Garciaparra is hitting like, well, Nomar Garciaparra, with an average above .350 in his first season in Dodger blue.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.