Every month has a theme. August is the dreaded “Back to School” time, with its parallel “School’s Out” month of May. November is Thanksgiving, December Christmas. March is the month of my birthday, St. Patrick’s Day (also Spring Training), while the whole month of February seems to focus on Valentine’s Day (and a countdown to when pitchers and catchers report).
June, then, is “All-Star Ballot Debate Month.” Actually, that spills over into the first week and a half of July this year, but this is the month when every baseball columnist and his mother will pen an article about his 2004 All-Star ballot.
I’m going to fill out an All-Star ballot too, but not the one everybody else is. A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article ranking the top five really old pitchers in baseball. The final list:
1. Randy Johnson 2. Roger Clemens 3. Kevin Brown 4. Tom Glavine 5. Kenny Rogers
That list would be arranged a bit differently now, but the top five would be the same quintet.
Today, let’s take that list a step further and pick an “All-Old” team for the first couple months of 2004 (or, if you prefer, an “Old-Star” team). For “old,” we’ll use the same definition that I used in the pitchers article — each player must be at least 38 years of age.
Catcher | Benito Santiago | Kansas City
Okay, so the first guy on the team ain’t so grand. After a couple nice (and apparently steroid-aided) seasons in San Francisco, Benito signed with the Royals. You had to at least figure that he would be an upgrade over Brent Mayne, but two months into the season, he hasn’t really been any better:
AVG OBP SLG Mayne, 2003 .245 .307 .344 Santiago, 2004 .259 .283 .388
Santiago is better than the alternatives, though — the other two old catchers, Greg Myers and Pat Borders, have combined to go 6-for-32 this year. I suppose we could move former catchers Craig Biggio, B.J. Surhoff, or Todd Zeile behind the plate, but that’s pushing things…
First Base | Rafael Palmeiro | Baltimore
2004 may be the year when Raffy finally fails to hit 38 homers (a mark he’s reached in each of the past 9 seasons), but he’s still a good player. He’s batting a pedestrian .278, but thanks to a career-high walk rate, Palmeiro has a stellar .396 OBP.
The debate over Palmeiro’s Hall of Fame credentials, which was boiling over as he approached 500 homers, is still simmering. The thing people then seemed to overlook is the fact that Palmeiro wasn’t close to hanging up his spikes. A year later, his HR total is well over 500 (535 and counting), and he’s just 173 hits away from the still-magic 3,000 mark. He should pass that plateau sometime next year, and 600 home runs is still within reach. As far as I’m concerned, that’s still a Hall of Famer.
Second Base | Craig Biggio | Houston
I’m doing a little fudging here. Yes, Biggio is playing center field now, but a) I’m pretty sure he’s still capable of playing second base, and b) the next-best option is Mark McLemore (.511 OPS in 35 AB).
Maybe Bill James rubbed off on me, but Craig Biggio is one of my favorite players of all time. This season, he’s batting .302 and is on pace for 48 doubles and 25 home runs. Earlier this year, he passed Ron Hunt to move into fourth-place on the career HBP list. At his current pace, Biggio should pass Don Baylor’s modern record of 267 sometime in September, and right now he’s just 37 away from all-time leader Hughie Jennings’ 287.
Another old ex-second baseman is Julio Franco, who is hitting well for Atlanta (.277/.382/.477 in 65 AB), but hasn’t played an inning at the keystone since 1997. In fact, Franco’s last year as a regular second-sacker was way back in 1991.
Third Base | Todd Zeile | New York Mets
I feel a little bad for Todd Zeile. He’s had a nice 16-year career, but he basically has two claims to fame: being the “other guy” in the Mike Piazza blockbuster, and holding the record for home runs by a player whose last name begins with “Z” (he’s currently got 248).
Well, maybe that’s not so bad. That Piazza trade was the deal of the century, and there are some other good power hitters whose names start with the letter Z (Gus Zernial, Richie Zisk). This year, Zeile is almost matching his career rate stats, with a respectable line of .270/.348/.434.
Shortstop | Barry Larkin | Cincinnati
Man, I’m glad Larkin and the Reds kissed and made up; I’d hate to see Barry in another uniform. Larkin hasn’t been both healthy and good since 1999, but he’s doing alright for himself this year. His .290/.333/.403 line pales in comparison to his heyday, but it’s good enough for the 4th-best OPS among regular NL shortstops.
In fact, there’s a good argument that Larkin should be the NL’s starting shortstop in the All-Star game. Yes, Jack Wilson and Royce Clayton have played very well early, but they’re both playing way over their heads (and, in Clayton’s case, with more than a little help from Coors Field). The only other shortstop with a better OPS than Larkin is Kaz Matsui, who will almost certainly win in the All-Star balloting (with more than a little help from his home country).
Matsui probably deserves that spot in the All-Star game starting lineup, but Larkin has been almost as good and he’s a (should-be) future Hall of Famer. He’s getting my vote, at least.
Left Field | Barry Bonds | San Francisco
What can be said that hasn’t been said already? The season after Balco, and Barry Bonds is as good as he’s ever been (and better than anyone else has ever been).
Here’s a stat for you: In his 73-homer season of 2001, Bonds was intentionally walked 35 times in 153 games. We thought that was a lot. This year, through, Bonds has been intentionally walked 37 times… in 42 games.
He’s also still hitting, by the way. He’s on pace to hit 44 homers in 133 games, which is just an amazing total. We’ve been de-sensitized to regular amazement with Bonds, though. Another thing that’s just ridiculously amazing is that Bonds has struck out just 10 times all year. He’s on pace for 32 strikeouts this season, which would be the second-lowest total for a 40-homer player (behind Lou Gehrig’s 31 in 1934).
Center Field | Steve Finley | Arizona
Last year, Steve Finley hit 22 home runs — a very solid total for a center fielder. This year, though, he’s going to obliterate that figure. Finley already has 16 homers, which ranks him second in the major leagues. He’s on pace for 50 home runs, and his .580 slugging percentage is the highest of his career.
Finley is a classic late-bloomer. Entering his age-30 season, Finley had a .274/.324/.386 career line and 37 career home runs. Since then, he’s batted .278/.345/.485 with 228 homers. That’s 37 homers before thirty, 228 after. Since joining the Diamondbacks in 1999, Finley has been even better — .278/.353/.501, all after his 34th birthday.
You’d think a post-30 explosion like that would be rare, but Finley’s own teammate, Luis Gonzalez, also had a dramatic increase in production after thirty, as did contemporary Paul O’Neill. But O’Neill’s last season was at 38, and Gonzo is only 36. Finley is 39 and, remarkably, still as good as ever.
Right Field | B.J. Surhoff | Baltimore
Exactly 19 years ago to the day, B.J. Surhoff was the #1 overall pick in the 1989 draft, by the Milwaukee Brewers. Surhoff never set the world on fire, but he’s put together a pretty good 18-year career, and in most years he’d have been a decent #1 pick.
Not in ’85, though. The list of players the Brewers passed over when they chose Surhoff includes some of the best talent of the last two decades: Barry Bonds, Will Clark, Barry Larkin, Rafael Palmeiro, Randy Johnson, Tino Martinez, David Justice, Mark Grace, Brady Anderson, John Smoltz. And those are just the guys who turned out better than Surhoff.
In his career, Surhoff has played at least one game at every position except pitcher. With Jay Gibbons on the DL, Surhoff has been starting in right field for Baltimore, and he’s currently batting .313.
Designated Hitter | Edgar Martinez | Seattle
I’m giving Edgar Martinez the DH spot on this team based more on merit and faith than 2004 performance — Edgar’s been pretty bad this year. After a mediocre April (.287/.374/.414), his performance fell off a cliff. He’s batted .214/.299/.379 since May 1, and it’s looking more and more like Edgar should have stuck to his retirement plans last year.
Ready to take Edgar’s place in this lineup is Ruben Sierra, who is hitting .308/.342/.512 in a semi-regular role with the Yankees.
We’ve already covered the starting rotation. The only over-38 closer on active duty is Pittsburgh’s Jose Mesa, who has a 1.21 ERA and 13 saves. Other good old relievers include Boston’s Mike Timlin (3-2, 3.20 ERA, 24 SO in 25.1 IP) and Colorado’s Steve Reed (1.23 ERA, but a bizarre 4 strikeouts in 22 innings).
One last thing before I go… I know lineup construction isn’t all that important, but just for kicks, here’s my proposed batting order for the All-Old team (manager Jack McKeon can change it as he pleases):
1. Steve Finley, CF 2. Craig Biggio, 2B 3. Barry Bonds, LF 4. Rafael Palmeiro, 1B 5. Edgar Martinez, DH (holding out hope) 6. Todd Zeile, 3B 7. B.J. Surhoff, RF 8. Barry Larkin, SS 9. Benito Santiago, C