Cubs players chase All-Star history
Two rookies among seven on team in top five in balloting
Geovany Soto is on pace to make National League history.
Soto, the Chicago Cubs' 25-year-old rookie, leads the NL balloting at catcher for the July 15 All-Star Game with 343,427 votes. Soto has a six-figure lead and if he maintains his hold on first place, he would become the first NL rookie catcher to start a Midsummer Classic.
Soto is one of three Cubs leading his position, according to the first NL voting update released by Major League Baseball on Wednesday, joining outfielders Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano.
Other NL leaders for the July 15 game at Yankee Stadium include Houston first baseman Lance Berkman, Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley, Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones and Cincinnati outfielder Ken Griffey Jr.
Dozens of rookies have made the All-Star team over the years, including catchers like Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter and Jason Kendall. But the only rookie backstop to start an All-Star Game was Cleveland's Sandy Alomar Jr. for the American League in 1990.
Now comes Soto, who was batting .304 with nine homers and 35 RBIs through Tuesday. He has been an important contributor in Chicago's rise to the top of the NL Central Division and the voters have obviously taken notice. Soto leads Atlanta's Brian McCann (229,743) by 113,684 votes with Yadier Molina of St. Louis in third place with 188,313. Russell Martin of the Dodgers, the NL All-Star starter a year ago, is in fourth place with 160,140 votes.
Fukudome, who trails outfielder voting leader Soriano by roughly 27,000 votes, is, like Soto, a rookie with a shot at a rare accomplishment.
The last rookie to start an All-Star Game for either league was Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2001. There hasn't been an rookie outfielder in the starting lineup for the NL All-Star team since Philadelphia's Richie Ashburn in 1948.
Griffey, a 13-time All-Star selection who was the NL's leading vote getter last season with 2,916,818 votes, trails Fukudome by approximately 25,000 votes. Griffey, who needs two home runs to reach 600 for his career, has been elected by fans to start the All-Star Game more times than any player except Cal Ripken Jr. (17) and Rod Carew (15).
Several others are within 150,000 votes of a starting berth in the NL outfield, including Carlos Beltran and Ryan Church of the Mets, Matt Holliday of the Rockies, Pat Burrell of the Phillies, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence of the Astros, Rick Ankiel of the Cardinals, Ryan Braun of the Brewers, Nate McLouth of the Pirates and Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks.
The 79th Midsummer Classic will be the fourth held at Yankee Stadium and the eighth in New York City. The Yankees previously hosted the All-Star Game in 1939, 1960 and 1977; the Polo Grounds held the game in 1934 and 1942; Ebbets Field was the site in 1949; and Shea Stadium hosted the 1964 Midsummer Classic.
Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times with the Monster 2008 All-Star Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites until Wednesday, July 2 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Starting rosters will be announced during the 2008 All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevrolet on TBS on Sunday, July 6. Baseball fans around the world will then be able to select the final player on each team via the Monster 2008 All-Star Final Vote at MLB.com.
And the voting doesn't end there. Fans will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the All-Star Game via the Monster 2008 All-Star Game MVP vote at MLB.com.
The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX and around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio play-by-play, while MLB.com will offer extensive online coverage.
The balloting at most of the other infield spots are even closer than the outfield campaign.
Berkman, who leads the NL in RBIs and is tied with Utley and Florida's Dan Uggla for the league lead in home runs, has a scant 12,1560-vote edge over Albert Pujols of St. Louis. Derrek Lee of the Cubs is on their heels in third place. Lee trails Pujols by less than 34,000 votes.
Utley's 537,788 votes are the most of any Senior Circuit candidate and fourth most overall, trailing only Boston's David Ortiz (556,567), Manny Ramirez (539,122) and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (523,187).
Utley leads the next closest candidate, Kazuo Matsui of Houston, by more than 350,000 votes.
The race is much tighter at shortstop, where Ramirez (268,386) is less than 12,000 votes ahead of Houston's Miguel Tejada and roughly 31,000 votes in front of Jose Reyes of the Mets. Chicago's Ryan Theriot and Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins are in close pursuit.
At third base is Jones, who leads the Major Leagues with a .418 batting average, leads New York's David Wright by almost 100,000 votes, with Chicago's Aramis Ramirez less than 80,000 behind Wright.
The first-place Cubs have seven players currently in the top five of the voting. NL East leader Florida has two -- shortstop leader Ramirez, and Uggla (fourth in the second base balloting). NL West leader Arizona does not have any representatives in the top five.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.