At the top, let it be stated clearly that each and every candidate in the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote presented by Firestone
is fully worthy, completely deserving of an All-Star berth.
But within the National League race for this last roster spot is a choice between two of the most compelling candidates in the history of this election. I was going to say "in the history of all elections," but then I remembered Abraham Lincoln and decided to keep it local.
Again, you wouldn't be wrong if you voted for any of the other three NL candidates -- Michael Bourn of the Braves, David Freese of the Cardinals and/or Aaron Hill of the Diamondbacks. But the choice between sentiment and immediacy gives you players at opposite ends of the Major League spectrum: Atlanta's Chipper Jones, 40 years old, and Washington's Bryce Harper, 19.
As of Tuesday morning, Jones was leading. Harper was third. Freese was in between them, holding second place.
Jones, who has said that this will be his last season, has been the face of the Atlanta franchise for a long time. There should be little disagreement about his future status as a Hall of Famer. This has been a proud career. Its quality has only been enhanced by the considerable success the Braves have enjoyed during Jones' baseball lifetime. Jones has been an obvious and major contributor to that success.
Harper has not completely torn it up in his first weeks in the Major Leagues, but he hasn't failed, either. But he has already created an indelible impression with total, wall-to-wall effort and inexhaustible hustle. He is 19, and yet, in this way, he is old-school. And he has made a lasting impression on old-school baseball people. When Charlie Manuel, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, is asked what players play the game the way it ought to be played, with consistent, non-stop hustle, the first name that Manuel names is Harper.
The hype surrounding Harper was relentless, but when you actually see him play, you get beyond that in a hurry. What you see in this player is someone who approaches the game not only with irrepressible enthusiasm, but with the kind of baseball intelligence that's usually seen only in accomplished, veteran players.
You don't have to be a Washington Nationals fan to enjoy watching Bryce Harper play. You might not enjoy watching him beat your favorite team, but you know what I mean. This fellow embodies some of the best qualities that baseball has to offer.
And, to his credit, he produced what many of us see as the correct answer when he was asked about the Final Vote.
"It's an accomplishment I guess, but you've got Chipper up there, and I think a Hall of Famer should be able to go to the All-Star Game in his last year," Harper said. "So if I was going to make a vote, I'd vote for Chip.
"[Jones] should have already been in the All-Star Game no matter what. He's an All-Star, and he's been an All-Star for 20 years. I think Chip should have been there and, like I said, if I had a vote, Chip's going."
That was a generous, genuine response. That was extremely good. It was so good that it might cause people to vote not for Chipper Jones but for Bryce Harper. But in the end, it was the old-school baseball position that Harper took.
And this comment was fully appreciated by Jones.
"I texted him ... and said, 'That's a very classy thing for a 19-year-old kid to say,'" Jones said. "I think he's going to be in his fair share of All-Star Games throughout the years. He's an unbelievable talent. I just let him know I appreciated what he said. It was classy."
Jones knows classy when he sees it. When the millions of votes are tallied, a plurality of the voters may well have seen this election the way Harper did: the 2012 All-Star Game as a fitting All-Star finale for Chipper Jones' Hall of Fame career.
Either way, when Jones and Harper conduct themselves with this much mutual respect, one real winner in this Final Vote is the game of baseball.
In addition to the web, fans can use their mobile phones to cast votes via mobile at MLB.com/vote or via text message. To receive the Final Vote mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 89269. To vote for a specific player, fans can text the choice to 89269. EXAMPLE: Text "A3" to vote for AL Player 3 or "N3" to vote for NL Player 3. Message and data rates may apply. Mobile voting in Canada also is available, and fans should text their choices to 101010. Standard rates may apply.
The Final Vote determines the 34th man and final man on both National and American League All-Star teams. The All-Star Game is July 10 on FOX in Kansas City. Final Vote balloting is under way until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. Winners will be announced soon after on MLB.com.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.