Mike Piazza doesn’t know why he’s so popular.
“I guess there are a lot of Italians out there,” he said Tuesday after he became the National League’s leading All-Star vote-getter for the second straight season. “I’m just really honored, and it really is exciting.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers catcher, the MVP of last year’s All-Star game, received 2,626,213 votes in final totals released Tuesday, 888,127 behind the A.L.’s leader, Seattle outfielder Ken Griffey Jr.
For the first time ever, the leading vote-getters in each league repeated their titles. Piazza will be appearing for the fifth consecutive year, his fourth straight as a starter.
“I’m really looking forward to this one just as much as any one I’ve ever been to,” he said. “It never gets old for me.”
Elected to the N.L. infield for the July 8 game at Cleveland were Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell (1,494,752), Astros second baseman Craig Biggio (1,161,610), Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin (1,160,651) and San Diego third baseman Ken Caminiti (1,438,736).
Larkin, selected for the ninth time in 10 years, will miss his third All-Star game because of an injury. He strained his left calf June 16.
“I have flexibility. I just don’t have the strength,” Larkin said after taking batting practice Tuesday. “I can’t hold my body weight on it.”
Atlanta’s Kenny Lofton (2,174,613), Colorado’s Larry Walker (1,732,886) and San Diego’s Tony Gwynn (1,603,730) were elected to the outfield.
Lofton, an A.L. starter the past three seasons when he was with the Indians, is disabled because of a pulled left groin muscle but is eligible to be activated Friday.
“I’d love to be out there for the fans, but the Atlanta Braves are first and foremost,” he said. “If I don’t play this weekend, I’m not feeling right, not feeling up to par, the All-Star game is secondary right now.”
Walker, the major league’s leading hitter at .402, said he would play even if Randy Johnson is pitching for the A.L. When Johnson pitched for Seattle against Colorado on June 13, Walker took himself out of the lineup so he wouldn’t have to face Johnson, perhaps the toughest pitcher for left-handed hitters.
“If I’m going to show what I can do, it is going to be in a Rockies uniform in a regular-season game,” Walker said. “I’m going there to do my best, and I’m not going to worry if it’s good or bad. I’m not going there pressing.”
Gwynn, San Diego’s seven-time N.L. batting champion, overtook San Francisco’s Barry Bonds in the final week of voting to win the third outfield spot by 44,417, the smallest victory margin of any starter. He will be on the N.L. team for the ninth straight season, his 13th overall. He missed last year’s game because of injury.
“I told Barry in San Francisco (last week), ‘I don’t think I can catch you, man.’ This is a shocker for me,” Gwynn said.
Biggio will be on the team for the sixth time in seven years. Bagwell and Caminiti will be making their third appearances, while Walker will be making his second with the first in 1992.
“I’m definitely not having a great year, but I’m not complaining. I’ll take it,” said Caminiti, hitting just .246 with six homers following his MVP season.
Caminiti gets a $50,000 bonus, while Bagwell, Biggio, Gwynn, Lofton and Walker get $25,000 each. In addition, Bagwell gets a no-trade clause from the Astros for 1998 because he was elected.
Griffey, who got $50,000 for his election to the A.L. team, gets an additional $50,000 because he was the top vote-getter among all players.
The A.L. starters were announced Monday and reserves for both teams will be announced today.
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