LONDON – As you might imagine, nobody here in London is talking about the All-Star Game. It’s all talk about Royal babies and Manchester United bidding for Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas and Tiger Woods being told he couldn’t go on the course for his practice round at Muirfield until 7 a.m. Apparently Tiger showed up at 6:50.
*”Tiger’s Given a Ticking Off,” was the Daily Mail headline while the Sun went with the slightly more hysterical, “Pack Your Bags, Tiger!” The Times more mannerly headline: “Woods’ plan to be early birdie sent off-course.” All conceded in the actual stories that Tiger, when told he couldn’t go out yet, simply said something like: “Oh, OK,” and waited for 7 a.m. So, you know, in the end, it wasn’t really a classic story.
Even though you KNOW that few people in England care at all about baseball, it’s still a bit disconcerting to see that indifference in action. The plan was to be back home Tuesday after a family vacation in time to watch the game, but a flight cancelation along with the bad luck of apparently EVERY SINGLE SEAT ON EVERY FLIGHT TO AMERICA BEING BOOKED led to an involuntary (but appreciated) extra day in London. And though there are bits of America everywhere – McDonald’s here, Coca Cola there, Everybody Loves Raymond on TV, Lionel Richie doing a concert in the park – there is not a baseball word spoken here. Not an All-Star Game mention in the papers. Not a baseball book in the bookstores.
I mention all this because I feel pretty certain that I’m the only person ever to sit by the King’s Cross Station in Central London and try to figure out all sorts of All-Star Game/Hall of Fame facts to impress you:
First, a few words about this year’s starters and the Hall of Fame. This is something of a strange year for the All-Star Game. There really isn’t anyone in the lineup who – should his career end tomorrow for one reason or another – would be a lock to go to the Hall of Fame. There is no Derek Jeter, no Ichiro Suzuki, no Albert Pujols, no Alex Rodriguez.
I’d say the closest player to the Hall of Fame in the starting lineups right now are:
1. Miguel Cabrera. He is the best hitter in the game at the moment, and his consistency has been almost Pujols like. He’s 30, and he’s having his best season, and you figure two or three more good seasons, he will be a Hall of Fame lock.
2. Joe Mauer. Also 30, three-time batting champion, lifetime .323 hitter, one of the best hitters ever to play the catcher position. But there are obviously many questions about his health and durability, and every year people wonder how much longer he will stay behind the plate.
3. Yadier Molina. Just turned 31. I think he’s becoming a more likely Hall of Famer all the time. I think before he’s done he will have a case as the greatest defensive catcher in baseball history – right there with Johnny Bench and Bill Dickey and Pudge Rodriguez – and over the last three years he has become a hitting star. He’s already in a very, very exclusive club.
4. Robinson Cano. Another 30-year-old, a three-time Gold Glove winner, an offensive force. There’s a lot of talk about his next contract, and whether someone will give him an eight- or ten-year deal. I don’t know if that would be a particularly wise move. But I do know that with four or five more good years, he’s a Hall of Famer for sure.
5. David Wright. Let’s go with one more 30-year-old. Wright has pulled off what seems impossible. He has played his entire career in New York and yet he is preposterously underrated. In his career, he has done it all – hit with power, get on base, play good defense, steal bases. He’s putting up another MVP-type season this year – he’s had two or three MVP-type seasons already in his career. He, too, with some good years ahead, has an excellent shot at the Hall of Fame.
And finally: A few words for one of my favorite players, Carlos Beltran. People tend not to think of him as a Hall of Famer, but he’s still crushing the ball at age 36, and if you look through baseball history you simply don’t find that many players who could do everything – hit, slug, steal bases (he has been successful an astounding 87 percent of the time he has tried to steal), play great defense – and do everything well. He needs a big finish to make a compelling Hall of Fame case, but it’s possible.
Obviously, there are some very young players – Mike Trout leading the way, but also Bryce Harper and Matt Harvey – who have great futures, but it’s way too early to predict those futures.
Anyway, we’re getting away from the point, which is this: It seem we are in a bit of a transition period in baseball. Many of the big stars who we might have thought would dominate the game for a while longer – Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Halladay, Alex Rodriguez – are dealing with various sorts of decline. Many will tell you this is simply baseball returning to a true age cycle after steroid testing. Whatever the reason, it is unusual for an All-Star Game to not have a definitive Hall of Famer in the starting lineup.
OK, now, for a few little All-Star Hall of Fame facts to impress your friends:
-- If you take the average from 1933 to 2001, there are usually eight starters who end up in the Hall of Fame – and this includes the war years, when only future Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Bobby Doerr played in the game.
The last time there were eight Hall of Famers starting the game? That would be 1991: Roberto Alomar, Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Ryne Sandberg, Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn and Andre Dawson.
Are there eight Hall of Famers in this starting lineup? Everything would have to go right for that to happen, I think.
-- In 1934, all but one of the 18 starters would end up in the Hall of Fame. That was the year when pitcher Carl Hubbell struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin).
The only player to start that game who did not end up in the Hall of Fame: Wally Berger. Fascinating career for Berger. He did not make it to the big leagues until he was 24, and he hit 38 homers as a rookie. He was a star until he was 30 and then completely fell off the map. Shows you the danger of trying to predict what 30 year olds will go on to be a Hall of Famer.
-- Since World War II here are the lineups which had the most Hall of Famers (so far):
1953 National League (7): Roy Campanella; Red Schoendienst; Eddie Mathews; Pee Wee Reese; Stan Musial; Enos Slaughter and Robin Roberts.
1957 American League (7): Yogi Berra; Nellie Fox; George Kell; Ted Williams; Mickey Mantle; Al Kaline; Jim Bunning.
1985 American League (7): Carlton Fisk; Eddie Murray; George Brett; Cal Ripken; Jim Rice; Rickey Henderson; Dave Winfield.
That 1985 American League team (which lost the game 6-1, by the way) is an unappreciated jewel. Not only did that team start seven future Hall of Famers, the pitcher was Jack Morris, who might get elected into the Hall of Fame next year. And the other player in the starting lineup was second baseman Lou Whitaker, who many people – me included – believe should be seriously considered for the Hall.
-- The last All-Star Game to feature a player who is now in the Hall of Fame was 2001, Cal Ripken’s last All-Star Game.
The long gap, obviously, has to do with the steroid issue. Several players who are on the ballot now – including Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds – played in games after 2001.
Which leads to this: Brilliant Reader James suggested that we look back at the 1998 All-Star Game, which was played at Coors Field. A look back at those players offers a rather extraordinary bit of perspective about The Selig Era, and just how big the numbers were. Take a look at the starters:
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez
-- Pudge hit 311 career homers, won 13 Gold Gloves.
First baseman: Jim Thome
-- Has 612 home runs, seventh all-time.
Second baseman: Roberto Alomar
-- In the Hall of Fame.
Third base: Cal Ripken
-- In the Hall of Fame.
Shortstop: Alex Rodriguez
-- Has 647 home runs, fifth all-time.
Left field: Kenny Lofton
-- Scored more than 1,500 runs and stole 622 bases (15th all-time)
Center field: Ken Griffey
-- Hit 630 home runs, 6th all-time
Right field: Juan Gonzalez
-- Two-time MVP.
Pitcher: David Wells
-- Won 239 games. This should have been Roger Clemens.
Catcher: Mike Piazza
-- His 427 homers are far and away most ever for a catcher.
First base: Mark McGwire
-- Three times hit more than 60 home runs in a season.
Second base: Craig Biggio
-- Collected 3,000 hits, including 668 doubles (fifth all-time)
Third base: Chipper Jones
-- Hit 468 home runs, won an MVP, and is a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Shortstop: Walt Weiss
-- Um, well, one of these things is not like the other. He did win Rookie of the Year.
Left field: Barry Bonds
-- Hit record 762 homers but perhaps even more telling: 688 intentional walks. It’s much more than twice as many as Hank Aaron (293) or anyone else.
Center field: Larry Walker
-- Career .313 hitter, 368 homers, 230 steals, seven Gold Gloves.
Right field: Tony Gwynn
-- In the Hall of Fame.
Pitcher: Greg Maddux
-- Hall of Famer next year, should go in unanimously (but, sadly, won’t), one of the five best pitchers in baseball history.
That’s just an absurd collection of talent, unique in baseball history. There were – this blows the mind to think about it – FOUR PLAYERS on the field who would end up with 600 home runs (and one, Sammy Sosa, on the bench). Heck, up to 1998 only three players EVER had hit 600 home runs.
And yet, because of all the PED questions, many baseball fans don’t even like to think about this game or this time. It’s a shame.