By Jeff Nations
I'm too late to urge you to vote early, vote often in relation to the fast-approaching deadline to cast your ballots for Major League Baseball's annual All-Star Game. If this notion is just now occurring to you, there remains but two calendar days (11:59 p.m. EST Thursday) to punch your ballots or mark them, whichever the case may be, or more likely to get online at www.mlb.com and vote via the Internet.
I question why I'd even suggest last-minute voting to a veritable hotbed of Baltimore Orioles fans, considering that even one of your ballots would likely negate mine, but then I don't ever vote thinking my selections will matter, anyway -- the life of an Oakland Athletics fan, where one can only speculate as to which one pitcher will be named to the American League roster (I'm guessing closer Grant Balfour, and that's it for my guys).
Since I generally vote a straight ballot on the AL side for A's, unless its downright egregious to do so, I can be of little help to O's fans hoping to see an extra player or two on the American League roster. Looks like my help really hasn't been needed so far -- O's fans have done a wonderful job of ballot-stuffing this year. That practice, in recent years, has solely been the domain of the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers fans -- this is refreshing. I am absolutely shocked -- shocked, I say -- that Derek Jeter isn't leading the AL ballot for shortstops. He's not even in the top five. Yes, I am aware that Jeter hasn't played a game this season due to injuries and general old-agedness, but these details have rarely stopped Yankees fans in the past.
The latest voting numbers have three Orioles locked into starting spots on the AL All-Star squad -- First baseman Chris Davis (deserving), shortstop J.J. Hardy (eh, probably not) and outfielder Adam Jones (deserving). If not for the otherworldly numbers of Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, Baltimore's Manny Machado would make it four. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters won't catch Minnesota's Joe Mauer, the "name" guy at that position, but he's a solid second.
Hardy and Wieters might be a bit iffy, but the real ballot-stuffing comes into play in the outfield. That's where Nick Markakis (fourth) and Nate McLouth (seventh) show strong support despite so-so seasons. Markakis so far is having a down year by his standards with eight homers and 42 RBIs and a .282 batting average, and McLouth really hasn't done much -- ever? -- except steal 24 bases this season.
The real push for O's fans -- the ballot-stuffing variety -- needs to be for Markakis. As of Monday, Markakis (2,390,336 votes) was still well within striking distance of Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista (2,679,230). The Toronto fans also seem to be engaging in a well-orchestrated ballot-stuffing campaign, despite the Blue Jays' less-than-stellar start in the face of massive expectations.
I believe in the rabidity of O's fans, though -- surely, Baltimore baseball diehards will come out of the woodwork over the next 48 hours to get their guy on the roster.
That leads me into one of those rare exceptions I made on my own set of 25 identical ballots -- I voted not for the abysmally-hitting A's outfielder Josh Reddick, but instead went with Toronto's Bautista. Why? Blame it on Bud Selig.
Since the All-Star Game "counts" these days toward home-field advantage come World Series time, and since I actually believe the A's have an shot at getting there, I want the best AL All-Star squad possible. That means voting against straight ballot picks like Markakis -- or Bautista, but in this case I'd rather have the Toronto slugger in the lineup.
As for the National League ballot, I tend to watch the voting from week to week, then support the worst player with a reasonable chance at getting voted onto the roster. It's pathetic, I know, hoping to minutely influence the All-Star Game in this manner, and by influencing I mean make one league worse so that my team has a better shot at winning. If you're also of this petty bent and an AL fan to boot, by all means continue to vote for San Francisco second baseman Marco Scutaro, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval and St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. I did, lots of times.
In any event, scheming, stuffing or actually trying to pick the best teams -- novel concept -- time is running out to make your All-Star ballots count. So vote late, vote often, and don't forget -- vote for Marco Scutaro.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>