Herald Journal Columns
July 10, 2006, Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch

‘Sox fans punched A.J. in Final Vote

By Matt Kane

Once again, A.J. Pierzynski is irritating people.

He’s been known to rub opposing players and managers the wrong way, but this time he did so to Minnesota Twins fans.

The guy who everybody hates, but would love to have on their own team, got under the skin of his old team Thursday when he claimed the final spot on the American League all-star team by winning the Final Vote election, where five players were up for the 32nd spot on the rosters from each league.

His “Punch A.J.” campaign during the White Sox’s home series against Baltimore was successful, earning the eighth-year catcher 3.6 million votes, and a second trip to the Midsummer Classic. His all-star debut was in 2002, when he was a member of the Twins.

Pierzynski’s addition to the American League squad means the defending World Series champion White Sox have a Major League-best seven representatives on the American League team.

Twins fans may not be so upset that Pierzynski got in — he is batting .325 — but that his election means rookie sensation Francisco Liriano did not get in.

With a rookie record of 9-1 and an ERA of 1.99 (through Friday), Twins fans have a legit argument that the left-hander should have been in Pittsburgh at the beginning of this week for the 77nd all-star game at PNC Park.

Lirano’s addition would have given the Twins three representatives. American League batting leader Joe Mauer — hitting .391 through Thursday — and fellow left-hander and former Cy Young winner Johan Santana are reserves. Liriano could still make the squad as a late injury replacement.

Liriano may have been a victim of circumstance, more specifically the fact that the Twins were playing on the road in Kansas City, as opposed to in front of the home crowd at the Metrodome.

According to MLB.com, only one out of the 10 Final Vote winners was chosen while his team was playing on the road during the voting. That was Boston’s Jason Varitek in 2003.

If, indeed, Minnesota Twins fans are angry at Pierzynski, so, too, should Cleveland Indians fans.

Their slugging designated hitter, Travis Hafner, is batting .319 with 24 home runs and 70 RBI. He leads the American League in slugging (.652) and on-base percentage (.461), and trails only Albert Pujols for the Major League lead in OPS (on-base + slugging). Hafner’s 70 RBI tie him for eighth among the Major League leaders.

Hafner, Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau and Atlanta outfielder Andruw Jones were the three, out of the 10 players, who have 70 or more RBI and are not going to the all-star game.

The other players who were up for the final roster spot were Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez and Detroit’s rookie pitcher, Justin Verlander.

The pick for the final National League spot was a no-brainer.

Second in his league with a .365 average through Thursday, Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra got close to four million votes to get the nod over Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Chris Capuano.

Also in the running were 2004 Final Vote winner Bobby Abreu, of the Phillies, Billy Wagner, of the Mets, and Chris Young, of the Padres.

The trip to the all-star game will be the sixth for Garciaparra, but the first as a National League player and the first as a first baseman. His previous five all-star appearances came while wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform.

Under-looked, coming into the midpoint of the season, is Garciaparra’s seamless transition from the middle of the infield to first base. He had just one error heading into last weekend’s series against San Francisco.

He may have made the game, but how much playing time Garciaparra will get might be the question. In receiving the Final Vote, he became the fourth first baseman on the National League team, joining Pujols, Lance Berkman, of the Astros, and Ryan Howard, of the Phillies.

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