Mark Wiedmer: Michael Bourn deserves All-Star spot

Mark Wiedmer: Michael Bourn deserves All-Star spot

July 5th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Atlanta Braves' Michael Bourn is greeted in the dugout after he scored during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, July 3, 2012, at Turner Field in Atlanta.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

It's called the All-Star Game Final Vote ballot presented by Firestone, and the best news about it is that you can vote on it much faster than you can say it.

But if you're an Atlanta Braves fan this morning, you should consider it your Tomahawk-chopping responsibility to either vote at or text "VOTE" to 89269, then vote "N1" in an effort to elect outfielder Michael Bourn to next week's All-Star game in Kansas City.

Until Tuesday, it appeared retiring Braves third baseman Chipper Jones was going to win this particular fan contest to select the National League's final player.

But when an injury forced the Los Angeles Dodgers' Matt Kemp out of the game, NL manager Tony La Russa wisely tabbed the 40-year-old Jones to take Kemp's place. That opened the door for Bourn, who currently trails David Freese (St. Louis), Bryce Harper (Washington) and Aaron Hill (Arizona) in the cyberspace election.

It's certainly arguable whether Bourn, Jones or even Martin Prado has been the Braves' MVP halfway through this season.

All three are comfortably over .300 in batting average. All three are seen as team leaders in different ways, though almost no one would dispute that behind closed doors this is Chipper's team and only Chipper's team.

Still, the game is officially played on the field, and Jones -- who's batting .313 with 33 RBIs in just 46 games played in his final season -- has no doubt about who the Braves' MVP has been between the white lines.

"Mike Bourn has been our most valuable player this year," Jones said Tuesday, much as he had Sunday, when teammates Craig Kimbrel and Dan Uggla were named. "He has jump-started our offense time and time again. We've got to get him in there."

That also would be Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez's take on Bourn, who's batting .305 (would become a career high) and slugging .444 (also a career high), with 23 stolen bases, 32 RBIs and 56 runs scored as one of the most prolific leadoff hitters in Atlanta history.

"I really hope Michael Bourn gets in," Gonzalez said Sunday. "I know the fans vote on the Internet, and our fans need to vote for Michael. He's having a heck of a year."

Added Uggla: "He just makes us go. Everything starts with him."

Heading into Wednesday, Bourn trailed all three of his competitors in the voting with Freese owning the lead, which might be expected given the world champion Cardinals' rabid fan base.

But to look inside the numbers is to see a strong argument for the 29-year-old Bourn to make his second All-Star squad in three seasons. His average is the best by four points over Hill, 19 points over Freese and 29 points over Harper.

His 23 stolen bases are 22 more than Freese, 15 more than Harper and 16 more than Hill. He's scored at least 17 more runs than his closest competition among the four (Hill), and his 32 RBIs are within striking distance of all but Freese, who has 48.

Even his homers aren't as far off as you might think for a leadoff hitter, his seven only one back of Harper, four off Hill and six behind Freese.

Does this mean Bourn will make it? Probably not. Freese has a huge fan base voting for him as much as it wants, and they've had more time to rally. As for the others, Harper has to hope Philadelphia Phillies fans haven't found a way to delete votes, given his earlier run-in with Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels. Hill has the numbers but is probably short on national support.

Not that Bourn seems to be overly concerned. Having spent much of Sunday afternoon arguing that Chipper deserved to make the All-Star team above everyone else, he began politicking for Prado on Tuesday once Jones was safely on the roster.

"[Martin's] done an exceptional job," Bourn said, "and the thing is he switches positions -- he goes from left to third to first -- so it's hard to nominate."

So Bourn's identity is clearly not to deliverar a Bourn ultimatum in order to elevate the Bourn legacy. And Prado did enter Tuesday night leading the Braves in batting average (.320) and on-base percentage (.383).

But Prado isn't on the Final Vote ballot. Bourn is. So if you're a Braves fan wanting to see more than Kimbrel, Uggla and Jones on the NL All-Star team next Tuesday, you need to vote now and often until 4 p.m.

And just in case this late voting push doesn't work, at least Braves Nation will show Atlanta general manager Frank Wren how much they don't want to lose Bourn to free agency at the end of the season.