That guy is an All-Star?by Craig Brown
July 11, 2008
I began collecting baseball cards in the summer of 1977 when I was six years old. The semi-old days... when packs cost 15 cents, gum stuck to the back and Topps was the only game in town.
But that’s not important.
What is important was I had a younger brother who was three. Like most good parents, ours tried to keep everything even. That meant if I got a pack of cards from the weekly visit to the grocery store, my brother got one as well. Before long we had each built our collections.
As the older sibling, it was my responsibility to take advantage of the situation.
That meant my mission was to fleece my brother of all his good cards. The problem was, as a newcomer to the game and its players, I didn’t always know who was good and who wasn’t. But Topps helped me decide who I wanted by labeling some cards with that glorious banner at the bottom that read “All-Star.” Fortunately for me, my younger brother had yet to master the art of reading. That allowed me to tell him that the banner actually read “Stink Star” (hey, I was six) and that players who carried this distinction were among the worst in the game. The bottom of the barrel. Completely undesirable.
Convinced he didn't want the dregs of the baseball universe, my brother was an easy sell and my collection soon bloomed to include multiple cards of George Brett, Rod Carew and Johnny Bench. And I don’t think my brother ever forgave me.
It’s not a great stretch to say the inclusion of Jason Varitek on this year’s AL squad brought back those memories of the "Stink Stars." Varitek is hitting .220/.300/.360 with an OPS+ of 73. But while the selection of Varitek is questionable, it’s far from the worst of the last 30 years.
The players on this list were named by the managers and their respective leagues. I left out those who were voted in as starters—there are always a bunch who get in on name recognition alone. We’ve known about this for years and it’s too easy to single out those guys. I’ve also excluded the veterans who were chosen at the tail end of their careers. Guys like Bench in ’83, Lou Brock in ’79 and Mike Schmidt in ’89 (he retired a month before being named to the team) are purposely excluded.
So with that out of the way, here is a lineup of some of the least deserving All-Star reserves going back to that glorious (and profitable) summer of 1977.
Bob Boone—1983 All-Star
First half stats: .251/.278/.331, 71 OPS+
Boone was a four time All-Star and his selection to his final squad was a bit of a head scratcher. He was selected to be a backup along with Lance Parrish. The AL starter that year was Ted Simmons.
The 1983 Angels didn’t have much offense. They finished 10th in slugging and 10th in on-base percentage. That manager John McNamera saw Boone as an offensive liability and often had him batting ninth speaks volumes about his output with the bat that summer. By the All-Star Game, Boone had 261 plate appearances and had managed just 16 extra base hits while grounding into 11 double plays. Injuries gutted the Angels that year and Boone led the team in games played. He also led the team in outs.
It wasn’t a matter of choosing Boone to fill the Angels' spot on the AL roster. While the Angels didn’t hit worth a lick in ’83, they still had plenty of star power. Rod Carew and Fred Lynn (who hit a grand slam in the game—my favorite All-Star memory of all time) were elected as starters by the fans. Doug DeCinces and Reggie Jackson were reserves along with Boone.
A better selection would have been the White Sox backstop, Carlton Fisk. Pudge hit .250/.321/.462 with an OPS+ of 118 over the first half of the season. And the game was being played in Chicago at Comiskey Park—his home, for crying out loud.
Boone rode the bench until the ninth inning, when he entered the game as a defensive replacement.
Ron Coomer—1999 All-Star
First half stats: .282/.312/.435, 95 OPS+
Coomer was the Minnesota Twins' lone representative in 1999.
As the leagues expanded in the 1990s, filling the All-Star rosters became a chess game. Rules state each team needs to have a representative, so every year deserving players are on the sidelines. This was one of those years.
Another interesting thing about the 1999 AL squad was that Coomer was the only first baseman on the roster besides starter Jim Thome. But the AL had four designated hitters. Go figure.
Coomer wasn’t a horrible selection as far as the numbers go, but there were a number of more qualified candidates. Fred McGriff in Tampa was raking the first half of 1999, hitting .319/.412/.581 with 18 home runs. Jason Giambi hit 15 home runs and had a .382 OBP. And Mo Vaughn could have made a triumphant return to Fenway after slugging .511 with an OPS+ of 121. But Coomer was the best Twin, so he was named to the roster.
Coomer entered the game in the seventh inning and had one at bat. He struck out.
Harold Reynolds—1987 All-Star
First half stats: .270/.325/.355, 83 OPS+
Reynolds made his All-Star debut in 1987. What undoubtedly caught the eye of coaches and fans was his glove work (he won three Gold Gloves in a row beginning in 1988) and his 20 steals in the first half of the season.
Also named to the team that year was the Tigers' Lou Whitaker, who was hitting .264/.342/.408. But Tony Phillips was left off the squad despite a first half line of .251/.351/.383.
Willie Randolph was deservedly voted in as the starter that year on the merits of hitting 309/.416/.420. Randolph played only three innings with one at bat before Reynolds took over for the rest of the game. That was the year the game went 13 innings (the NL won 2-0) so Reynolds was able to come to the plate four times. He was 0-3 with a sacrifice bunt.
Alfredo Griffin—1984 All-Star
First half stats: .241/.250/.317, 60 OPS+
A mind boggling selection with an extremely interesting story. Griffin was never much with the bat, but 1984 might have been the worst season of his career. The first half was particularly bad. In 262 plate appearances, he drew a grand total of one walk. Somehow, he hit four home runs in the first half, which was tied a career high at that point. He didn’t hit a home run (and had only four extra base hits) the rest of the season.
Cal Ripken, Jr. was elected as the starter and Alan Trammell was selected as a backup. According to Griffin's Wikipedia page John Feinstein of the Washington Post had the scoop on Griffin's selection:
Major league baseball pays the expenses for each player here and one guest. In most cases, players bring wives or girlfriends. Damaso Garcia, the Toronto Blue Jays second baseman, brought his shortstop, Alfredo Griffin. When the Tigers Alan Trammell hurt his arm and couldn't play tonight, Manager Joe Altobelli named Griffin to the team, partly because he's a fine player, mostly because he was there.Griffin appeared in the game as a defensive replacement for Ripken in the seventh inning. Don Mattingly pinch-hit for Griffin in the ninth.
Alfredo Griffin: the accidental All-Star.
Graig Nettles—1979 All-Star
First half stats: .254/.324/.397, 97 OPS+
Nettles was six time All-Star and a key player in the Yankee dominance of the late 1970s. He was named to the AL squad in '77 and '78 and was in the top six in MVP voting both years.
But 1979 was not his best year. A better selection would have been Toby Harrah, who was hitting .291/.411/.434 with an OPS+ of 133 at the break. A slow start was most likely Harrah’s downfall that year. Through the end of May, he was hitting .205/.335/.317. But he caught fire in June and made a push for the team by hitting .388/.497/.568 in the 39 games before the break. I guess it was too late to make enough of an impression.
Nettles entered the game in the seventh. He came to bat with two on and two out in a tie game in the bottom of the eighth and roped a single to right. Brian Downing, who was not the fleetest of foot, tried to score from second and was gunned down by All-Star Game MVP Dave Parker, leaving Nettles so close to being the hero for the AL.
Obviously, there’s more depth to choose from in the outfield than any other position. For that reason, it’s difficult to find players who weren’t deserving of their selection. Instead of three to fill out our lineup, here are two:
Scott Podsednik—2005 All-Star
First half stats: .294/.369/.384, 93 OPS+
Sometimes All-Star managers hand out roster spots to players like politicians hand out government jobs to fat-cat donors who helped them get elected.
In '05, Podsednik was off to a lightning fast start for the White Sox. Lightning fast in that he swiped 44 bases by the break. Although his slugging and on base percentage had declined from the previous year, the sheer volume of steals were enough to raise his profile and land him a spot as a reserve in the fan voting for the last spot on the roster.
Podsednik wasn’t a horrible choice, but there were plenty of other deserving candidates (Grady Sizemore or Carl Crawford) that year with wheels and a little pop.
Podsednik entered the game in the ninth inning as a defensive replacement.
Marquis Grissom—1994 All-Star
First half stats: .281/.341/.409, 96 OPS+
This was not only the year of the strike, it was the year of the Expo. Grissom was the center fielder and (mostly) the leadoff hitter for the Montreal squad that was the class of the NL.
The problem with his selection was that he bumped another Expo who was more deserving: Larry Walker. Walker was having a monster first half, hitting .315/.386/.585 with 16 home runs and an OPS+ of 151. I suppose manager Jim Fregosi was looking for another center fielder (Lenny Dykstra was selected for the team but was out with an injury.) If they were looking for some sort of roster balance with speed and a high on base percentage, Brett Butler carrying a .418 first half OBP and a 127 OPS+ would have been a worthy candidate.
Turns out, Grissom was an inspired choice. He entered the game in the top of the fifth and came to bat against Randy Johnson with the score tied at four in the sixth. Although Grissom had hit only six home runs to that point, he did his best Walker impersonation and took the Big Unit yard to give the NL the lead. He also picked up a walk and scored on Fred McGriff’s game-tying home run in the ninth.
Easily, the best game of anyone on this list.
Mark Redman—2006 All-Star
First half stats: 5.27 ERA, 1.45 WHIP
The 2006 Kansas City Royals were awful. Their first half record was 31-56, a .356 winning percentage. They were outscored over that time by 130 runs.
Yet, they needed an All-Star representative.
So the All-Star powers selected Redman and stashed him deep in the AL bullpen. Deep. I don’t think they even allowed Redman to warm up. He was lucky to be allowed on the field for pregame introductions.
Mike Williams—2003 All-Star
First half stats: 6.44 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 25 saves
Like Redman’s Kansas City Royals in ’06, the Pittsburgh Pirates needed someone to represent them in 2003. That dubious honor fell to the Bucs closer, who actually saved 25 of the Pirates' 41 first-half wins. If Williams' ERA and WHIP don't serve to highlight how useless the save is as a counting stat, I don't know what would. Oh, he had five blown saves to his credit in the first half.
I don’t think anyone was surprised that Williams did not appear in the game.
Seven days later, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and was out of baseball the following year.
References and Resources
Baseball Reference and its splits, game logs and play index were vital to this article. There have been several editorial and factual changes made to this story since it was first published.
Craig writes about the Royals at Royals Authority. The Royals Authority 2009 Annual, featuring detailed player profiles and a complete look at the minor leagues is now on sale. He welcomes all questions and comments via e-mail. Or just follow him on Twitter.
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