Yes, yes, this time it counts, but Major League Baseball still wants to make sure that all 30 fanbases have a reason to watch the All-Star Game. That reason may be as simple as giving fans in Houston the opportunity to see Jose Altuve take a single plate appearance in front of a media circus, but even still, it’s reason enough. In the middle of a dreary year, seeing a player from a struggling hometown team warmup and play with the greats is, at the very least, a nice distraction from a 100-loss season. Being a fan of a terrible team can feel like all of the joy in baseball is passing right by without a second look, and sending even just one player from every team makes the All-Star Game the league-wide exhibition is should be. Sure, occasionally baseball trips on its feet and selects a Mark Redman (a 5.27 ERA in the first half), but for the most part, the lone token selections are worthy of a spot on the roster, even if you have to squint a tiny bit.
Now, of course, good teams don’t have to worry about any of this. Division leaders, pennant contenders, and even most teams above .500 usually have more than one player worthy of an All-Star selection. This year, 12 teams had one representative at the 2012 All-Star Game, and they averaged 73 wins by the year’s end.
But what if teams outside the basement are only sending their one token representative? Good teams have good players, and good players get selected to All-Star games, right? Surprisingly, there are some enormous slip-ups.
That’s right. Baseball has twice given a 100-win team the All-Star short shrift.
The 1977 Royals sent George Brett and no one else, even though they finished the season with the best record in baseball. Al Cowens contributed a full third of his 13-year career’s WAR total in 1977, with a 5.2 WAR mark in right field, but he ran into an incredibly talented group of American League outfielders in Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson and Jim Rice. Dennis Leonard finished the year with 20 wins, a fourth-place Cy Young finish, and an eye-opening 8.7 WAR, but he wasn’t selected. That WAR figure has been bested by a starting pitcher only 23 times in the 35 years since then, and yet, Leonard couldn’t beat Dave LaRoche for a spot on the roster.
The 2001 Athletics were also only allowed to send one guy to the Midsummer Classic, Jason Giambi. The three-headed pitching monster of Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson would combine for eight All-Star selections and a Cy Young win over their careers, but none were selected in 2001.
The 2001 A’s seem to typify the sort of team that succeeds in spite of a single All-Star selection. One superstar, Giambi, and a large collection of valuable players who seemingly just miss the level of production that garners national attention and praise. The A’s had four players who finished the year in the 5-6 WAR range, but only one star above that level.
And even though a team with one superstar and a flock of solid regulars can slip under the All-Star radar, it’s still eye-opening to see that three All-Star games have been played with a single lone representative from the eventual World Series winner.
References & Resources
All All-Star data from Baseball-Reference. All WAR data from Fangraphs.