There is still something special about Major League Baseball's All-Star Game.
Perhaps the feelings of competitiveness that marked the event when Pete Rose, Bob Gibson and Willie Mays of the National League were competing against American Leaguers Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski and Harmon Killebrew in the 1960s have waned. However, there is still something special when the best players in MLB queue up along their respective league's baselines after hearing their names announced.
Second baseman Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros and outfielder Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox were among the position leaders in the American League in the vote totals that were released by MLB July 2.
First baseman Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves and third baseman Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies were among the National League leaders.
In addition to Altuve and Betts, American League position leaders include first baseman Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, shortstop Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles, third baseman Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians and catcher Wilson Ramos of the Tampa Bay Rays. They're joined by outfielders Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels and Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees. J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox leads at the designated hitter position.
National League leaders in that vote release included second baseman Ozzie Albies of the Braves, shortstop Brandon Crawford of the San Francisco Giants and catcher Buster Posey of the Giants, as well as outfielders Nick Markakis of the Braves, Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Bryce Harper of the Nationals.
Major League Baseball updated vote totals in the tightest races Thursday.
The closet races in the American League are at first base and shortstop. Abreu leads Yuli Gurriel of the Astros by slightly more than 213,000 votes, while Machado leads Carlos Correa of the Astros by 123,000 votes.
Albies has a tight lead over Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs and Scooter Gennett of the Cincinnati Reds. Willson Contreras had moved past Posey, but that margin was slightly more than 8,000 votes.
The All-Star Game will be played July 17 in Washington D.C. at Nationals Park, and the American League will try to improve its winning streak to six games. In addition to trying to build on its latest run, the American League can take the lead in the series for the first time since 1963. The all-time All-Star series is tied 43-43-2.
The Midsummer Classic used to represent a chance for each league to claim superiority over the other, and the game meant quite a bit for managers, coaches, players and fans.
It's still a great honor for players who are elected to the starting lineup or named to either team, but events including free agency and interleague play may have taken away some of the importance between winning and losing. So has the way managers have made sure nearly every player named to either team gets a chance to play.
The days when Mays (1968) would play a full game for the National League or Yastrzemski (1970) would do the same for the American League are long gone.
The National League dominated the All-Star Game through 1982, but the American League finally broke through in 1983 with a 13-3 victory at Chicago's Comiskey Park as Fred Lynn of the California Angels hit a third-inning grand slam off Atlee Hammaker of the San Francisco Giants to trigger the rout.
That ended a 23-2-1 streak that the National League put together, and the American League has been on a 25-9-1 roll since then.
The close races listed above are the ones that appear to be in doubt. Abreu has a big enough lead to hold off Gurriel and get the start at first base, and Machado should be able to do the same thing over Correa. The Houston shortstop has been out of action since June 26 with back stiffness.
Look for Baez to earn the start for the National League at second base. Contreras should give the Cubs a second starter as he outpolls Posey behind the plate.