They Were All-Stars – Believe It or Not!
With baseball's annual All-Star Game just around the corner, many fans are thinking about great names of the past and present. Each midseason contest includes a heavy dose of talented young players, perennial stars and future Hall of Famers.
Does that mean every All-Star is a big name with a glittering stat sheet? Not exactly.
The rules of All-Star selection - at least one representative from each team, no matter how inept (insert the 1939 Browns, '42 Phillies, '52 Pirates, '62 Mets and 2003 Tigers here) - plus last-minute replacements for injured players means a few journeymen sneak into All-Star status. In some cases, a first-half hot streak turns a mediocre player into the baseball equivalent of Cinderella, and the humble roster filler gets an invitation to the All-Star ball.
So who are some of the least deserving honorees? Here are the accidential All-Stars.
Bobo Newsom's 20-16 record for the hapless 1938 Browns (59-95) looks good enough for All-Star consideration, but it came with a 5.08 ERA that was 29 points above the American League average of 4.79. Newsom's 226 strikeouts and 192 walks were second in the AL.
Max West's 1940 numbers - a .261 average with 7 home runs and 72 RBI in 524 at-bats - are hardly the stuff of legend. Despite that, the Boston Bees (the name of the Braves from 1936 to 1941) outfielder made a big impact on that year's 4-0 victory for the National League. West hit a three-run homer in his only All-Star plate appearance. He left the game in the second inning after bruising his hip while crashing into the wall during an unsuccessful attempt to catch a Luke Appling double.
Phillies pitcher Cy Blanton was selected in 1941. He finished the season at 6-13 with a 4.51 ERA for the perennial cellar dwellers. The Philadelphia A's also offered little to choose from during that time. Catcher Hal Wagner hit .236 in 288 ABs with 1 HR and 30 RBI in 1942 but still made the All-Star roster.
Eddie Miller was a slick fielder, so it wasn't his .209 average that turned the Reds shortstop into a 1944 All-Star. Miller's 357 putouts, 544 assists and .971 fielding percentage led the league. Miller sat the game out due to injury, and he was replaced by Pirates infielder Frank Zak. How did the slap-hitting backup (just four extra-base hits in 160 ABs) become an All-Star? The game was played at Forbes Filed, and having a hometown player meant the National League needed to find one less train ticket in a time of scarcity and rationing.
Browns pitcher Jack Kramer made the squad in 1947. He finished the season 11-16 with a 4.97 ERA. While that might be decent by the lowly standard of the Brownies, it definitely wasn't All-Star quality. Tigers hurler Ted Gray was 10-7 in 1950, but a 4.40 ERA was nothing to brag about.
Browns shortstop Billy Hunter pinch-ran in the 1953 game. The rookie hit .219 (also his career average) with 1 HR and 37 RBI in 567 ABs during the franchise's final season in St. Louis. Teammate Satchel Paige joined Hunter and pitched in relief just days after his 47th birthday. On the NL side, lefty Murry Dickson finished 10-19 with a 4.53 ERA for the 50-104 Pirates.
Dick Stigman sat on the bench in both 1961 All-Star Games, as two July exhibitions were played each year from 1958 to 1962. The Indians lefty finished the season 5-11 with nine saves and a 4.51 ERA. Red Sox reliever Mike Fornieles (9-8, 4.68, 15 saves) gave up a run in a third of an inning in Game 1.
Senators catcher Don Leppert didn't appear in the 1963 contest. His stats for the season include 211 ABs, 6 HR, 24 RBI and a .237 average. Defensive and pitch-calling skills can put a poor-hitting catcher on the All-Star roster, and Andy Etchebarren pulled off that feat two years in a row. The Orioles reciever hit .221 with career highs in HR (11) and RBI (50) in 1966. Etchebarren followed with a .215, 7, 35 stat line in 1967. He did nothing more than warm up pitchers as an All-Star.
Slim pickings from expansion teams led to the inclusion a pair of journeyman catchers on the 1969 rosters. Chris Cannizzaro of the Padres (4 HR, 33 RBI, .220) and Royals backstop Ellie Rodriguez (2 HR, 20 RBI, .236 in 267 ABs) made the trip to RFK Stadium in Washington, but neither player appeared in the game.
Rangers first baseman Jim Spencer was known as a slick fielder (.999 fielding percentage and just one error in 1973), but his 4 HR, 43 RBI and .267 average are hardly the norm for a heavy-hitting position. Spencer went 0 for 1 as pinch-hitter in the '73 summer classic.
Angels infielder Dave Chalk hit .252 with 5 HR and 31 RBI in 465 AB in 1975, but that didn't keep him off the All-Star roster. Just nine doubles and three triples further illustrates Chalk's lack of punch. It wasn't defense that turned Chalk into an All-Star. He led AL shortstops in errors (29, .938 fielding percentage) despite playing just 99 games at the position. Chalk was more dependable at third base, and he repeated as an All-Star in 1976 at that position.
Steve Swisher lived up to his name with a .216 lifetime average. A solid defensive catcher, he represented the Cubs in 1976, but didn't appear in the game. Swisher's .236 average with 5 HR and 43 RBI in 377 AB was the high point of his career. Swisher's son Nick has made a reputation for himself as a slugging OF/1B for the A's and White Sox.
Dick Ruthven made two NL All-Star squads with less than impressive numbers. The right-hander was 14-17 with a 4.20 ERA for the Braves in 1976. Ruthven led the NL in losses that year.
A 12-7 record in strike-shortened 1981 looks good, but it was accompanied by a 5.14 ERA. Ironically, Ruthven wasn't an All-Star during his best season - a 17-10, 3.55 performance for the Phillies in 1980.
Biff Pocoroba is known by those who like unusual baseball names. The Braves catcher hit .242 with 6 HR and 34 RBI in 289 AB when he made his only All-Star team in 1978.
Ongoing expansion led to more eligible players and fewer desperation picks. The usual problem in recent years had been a lack of roster spots for every deserving candidate, something that usually wasn't an issue when the major leagues had just 16 teams.
Rangers pitcher Roger Pavlik was a 1994 All-Star. The 15-8 record looks fine, but the 5.19 ERA is another story. Paul Byrd's 4.60 ERA was paired with a 15-11 record for the Phillies in 1999. The control specialist gave up an unusually high (for him) 70 walks in 199.2 IP.
Rays closer Lance Carter had a strong first half in 2003 before fading after the All-Star Game. He finished the season with a 7-5 record, 26 saves and a 4.33 ERA.
Former Brewers closer Derrick Turnbow was cruising along with an ERA in the 3.00 range when he was named to the NL squad in 2006. That number rose to the 4.50 level by the time the All-Star Game was played. Bad turned to horrendous in the second half. When he wasn't giving up walks, Turnbow was getting hit hard. One of baseball's best closers in 2005, Turnbow ended 2006 with a 4-9 record, 24 saves and a 6.87 ERA, and he has never recaptured the magic of a few years ago.
The lesson? Being an All-Star is a great honor, but it says nothing about a player's long-term prospects.