Tim Salmon was robbed! (Or was he?)by Steven Booth
July 15, 2010
My friend George is an insufferable Angels fan.
He takes any opportunity, real or imagined, to trumpet his Angels over my Dodgers. It’s not just my Dodgers; it’s any other team in his line of sight.
Lately, he’s been going on and on over the snubbing of Jered Weaver by Joe Girardi. I get it. While Weaver probably deserves it more than old man Andy Pettitte, that’s the way these games go. The manager chooses his bench and pitching. It’s a meaningless game that stunts the middle of the season, so unless I’m the guy getting snubbed, who cares?
Another cross George likes to carry around is the supposed snubbing of Tim Salmon, Kingfish himself. While I will never admit to George that I agree, and certainly not say I pored over stats one evening in hopes of refuting his claim, George is right on this one. The fact that Salmon did not make it on at least one All-Star team and perhaps one or two more, is sad statement. It is also another example of the game being more of a popularity contest than a true All-Star event.
Salmon’s career began in 1992 and ended in 2006, with his prime years between 1993 and 2001. He was arguably the fourth or fifth best American League outfielder in that era, and in a few seasons was the second or third best, at least by his offensive stats. Ken Griffey Jr. dominated the decade, while Albert Belle, Juan Gonzalez, James Lofton and a young Manny Ramirez had several strong, consistent years. After that, besides Salmon, there was quite a bit of drop-off.
Salmon’s first All-Star worthy year was his first full season, in 1993. He had 31 homers, 95 RBI, a .283 batting average, and a .382 OBP. He slugged at .536 and his OPS was a very respectable .918. Two players, Griffey and Gonzalez, had ostensibly better numbers than Salmon. Griffey had a monster year, slugging 45 homers with 109 RBIs, with a .309 BA and a .408 OBP. Gonzales also had a huge year, hitting 46 HRs with 118 RBIs and a .310 average. No argument there. Some of the other members should get some scrutiny, however.
Kirby Puckett, while having a solid season (22/89/.296/.349/.474/.824) was on a gentle downside of a great career. He was popular with the fans, but not the same superstar he was a few years before. Greg Vaughn (30/97/.267/.369/.482/.850) and Joe Carter (33/121/.254/.312/.489/.802), while hitting 30-plus homers each, were one-dimensional power hitters who hit in the mid .200s. Devon White was a solid hitter and fielder (15/52/.283/.341/.438/.779), but not an All-Star talent.
Salmon was the third best outfielder in this group. Griffey and Gonzalez’s huge years, Puckett’s fame, along with Carter's and Vaughn’s reputations, kept him out. Carte'sr and White’s connection with AL All-Star manager Cito Gaston didn’t exactly hurt things, either.
Salmon’s best year ever (34/105/.330/.429/.594/1.029) was 1995. He had highs or near-highs in all major statistical areas, but was still passed up, even by another outfielder on his own team.
He faced a breakout year by Belle (50/126/.317/.401/.690/1.091), a strong emergence by Ramirez (31/107/..308/.402/.558/.960), a peaking Kenny Lofton (7/53/.310/.362/.453/.815 54 SB) and even a strong year by teammate Jim Edmonds (33/107/.290/.352/.536/.888). Also making the team were Puckett (23/99/.314/.379/.515/.879), Paul O’Neill (22/96/.300/.387/.526/.913) and an injury-plagued Griffey (17/42/.258/.379/.481/.760).
It is ironic that in perhaps his greatest season, there was a logical argument for him not making it. Yes, Puckett and Griffey were riding reputation and O’Neill was probably on the team thanks to then-Yankees manager Buck Showalter, but the rest of the players have comparable, if not better, numbers than Salmon. Belle belonged, and like Salmon, it would be hard to keep off Ramirez, Lofton and Edmonds. Ramirez was a high-profile talent; Lofton was the pre-eminent speedster in the AL, while Edmonds was known as much for his fantastic glove as well as his bat.
An argument could’ve been made that he was the second best of the group, and at worst, the fourth or fifth. Once again, reputations and coaches’ decisions did him in, as well as the ballot box.
The following season was the year of the power surge. Salmon had a very slight drop from the previous year (30/98/.286/.386/.501/.887), but still a fine year. However, his more-than respectable numbers are dwarfed by the barrage of homers by guys who you’d never heard of before and would not hear from again (Jose Canseco is smirking somewhere). Keep in mind, it is only AL outfielders we’re talking here. The Bret Boones and Tim Teufels are a whole other conversation.
Merely reading these numbers forces your hormones to unacceptably high levels. Brady Anderson hit 50 homers. His previous high had been 16, and he would never hit more than 24 in the remaining six years of his career. He also stole 21 bases, hit .297 and had a .396 on-base percentage. Another short-term star was Jay Buhner, who was more like a three-year wonder. He hit more than 40 homers in 1995, 1996 and 1997, including 44 in 1996. He hit .271 and had an OBP of .369, which kept him for this one season, from being the one-dimensional power guy he had been and would continue to be for the remainder of his career.
The usual guys had great years. Junior rebounded from an injury-plagued 1995 (49/140/.303/.392/.620/1.020), and Belle was strong also (48/148/.311/.410/.623/1.033). Lofton put up his usual strong numbers but threw in 75 stolen bases. Vaughn had a decent year (41/117/.260/.365/.539/.904), and Carter made one more appearance (30/107/.253/.306/.475/.782).
Now levels and degrees of chemical inspiration aside, there was a logjam of outfielders in the AL who put up huge numbers. There were not enough seats on the bus. You can’t argue with Anderson (being a UC Irvine guy, all is forgiven anyway), Buhner, Griffey, Belle and Lofton. Vaughn and Salmon should’ve been a toss-up, while Carter was in for reputation. So while it would seem that a spot on the bench would’ve been a logical place for Salmon, the delirium of home runs probably muddled the thinking of the voters and Mike Hargrove, so it’s a little more understandable he got left out that year.
Probably the biggest snub was in 1997. Salmon had his usual fine year (33/129/.296/.394/.517/.911), and the gaudiness factor of the AL outfield power numbers fell also. He hit more homers than anyone in the AL outfield that year except for Griffey, who had another monster year (56/147/.284/.365/.611/1.026). Belle had an “off” year, especially compared to his normal standards (30/116/.274/.332/.491/.823), but still looked solid. The other outfield spots were filled by Anderson (18/73/.288/.393/.469/.862), who had a huge drop off from the year before, and two Yankees, Paul O”Neill (21/117/.324/.399/.514/.913) and Bernie Williams (21/100/.323/.408/.544/.952, 15 SB). Both, while having solid all-around years, had comparable, but ultimately lesser numbers than Salmon. Since Joe Torre was the manager that year, that certainly had much to do with Williams and O’Neill getting on the roster over Salmon.
He was probably the second or third best outfielder that year, and deserved to get on the team. No argument with Griffey or Belle. There probably had to be a slot for Williams and possibly O’Neill, but Anderson was beginning a steep decline. The nail on the coffin was Torre picking pitcher Jason Dickson for the sole Angels roster spot. The Angels were a bad team that year, and Dickson was their most consistent starter (13-9, 4.29 ERA, 32 starts), but Salmon, despite the rest of the team, had nearly career-year numbers, and had assembled a body of work over the years that should’ve made him an obvious choice.
Salmon had a strong year in 1998 (28/88/.300/.420/.533/.943). Although his homers and RBIs were down, he did have higher than usual numbers for BA, OBP and OPS. That year he was up against strong years by Griffey (56/146/.284/.365/.611/.986), Juan Gonzalez (45/157/.318/.366/.630/.996) and Ramirez (45/105/.294/.377/.599/.976). O’Neill had a year comparable to that of Salmon (24/116/.317/.372/.510/.882), but other All-Star outfielders Darrin Erstad (19/82/.296/.353/.486/.839) and Ben Grieve (18/89/.288/.386/.458/.844) had inferior numbers statistically. Grieve was a rookie phenom and was also the lone representative of a bad team, while Erstad was a well-known red ass who was honored for his intangibles.
Salmon’s stats didn’t match up with the top three guys, but did compare well with O’Neill’s and were quite a bit better than Grieve or Erstad. He did not deserve a starting spot that year, but did perform better than Grieve and Erstad.
While he would continue to play at a high level through 2003, Salmon’s last truly great year was 2000 (34/97/.290/.404/.540/.945). That year, even his strong stats got lost in the mix when AL outfielders had a good year as a whole.
All AL All-Star outfielders that year hit more than 30 homers except for Angels teammate Erstad (25) and Matt Lawton (13), the sole appointed representative of the Twins. All the outfielders except Lawton had more than 100 RBIs, all hit better than .300, and in all other statistical areas, he was at or near the bottom of the pack.
His stats were better than Lawton’s, but the only others they compared favorably to were Carl Everett’s (34/108/.300/.373/.587/.960) and Erstad’s (25/100/.355/.409/.541/.950). Everett’s stats were slightly better overall, and his enigmatic and colorful image played over Salmon’s relatively workman-like approach. Erstad’s power numbers were below Salmon's, but was close or superior in other areas. His reputation as a hard-nosed player helped him here, also.
Despite having one of his best years, this was probably one of those years where he perhaps didn’t deserve it. He was also victimized by a relatively weak start: His batting average was only .272 at the break.
The only other year in which it was conceivable for him to make the team would’ve been 2003, the year after the Angels won the World Series. The Angels spots were filled by the capable and deserving Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus, plus Brendan Donnelly, perhaps the game’s best middle reliever at the time. That was would be Salmon’s last injury-free and full-time year, and while he certainly didn’t embarrass himself with his stats, he was most certainly in decline.
So why wasn’t Salmon an All-Star? His numbers in most years were good enough, especially in the mid-to-late 1990s. One of the problems is that the 1990s saw many AL outfielders generate gaudy numbers. Griffey, Belle, Gonzalez and a young Manny Ramirez year after year would hit more than 35 homers and hit over .300. There were also one-year wonders like Anderson or Buhner whose All-Star appearances helped to keep Salmon out of the spotlight’s glare.
There was also image. Salmon always had a workingman’s image, and for most of his career, the Angels were on a middle-market team that, although some years were better than others, rarely strayed above the .500 mark. Before their magical 2002 run, the best record the Angels managed was 85-77. In their pre-World Series years, they had above .500 years in only three out of 10 seasons while Salmon was there. Salmon was around to see the Angels turn into a consistent winner, but by that time he was past his prime, and was known at least as much for his veteran clubhouse presence as he was his bat.
Many years, he wasn’t even perceived as the best player on his own team. He came up with Edmonds, whose offensive numbers were comparable, but was known as a superb fielder. Later in the decade, players like Anderson, Glaus and Erstad emerged and became All-Stars, despite having comparable or sometimes even lesser stats than Salmon.
I’m not telling George any of this; I will never hear the end of it. I will say, though, that when he goes on his drunken ramblings about the misfortunes bestowed upon Tim Salmon, I will have to be very creative in my arguments with him. You’re right on this one, George.
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