Sunday, July 03, 2005

Compilation: By the Numbers: MLB All Star Game

The Major league Baseball All Star Game, what was once one of the sport’s crown jewels and one of the highlights of every summer, will be played July 12 in Detroit with about the same amount of fanfare that is hoist upon all star events in the NFL, NBA, and NHL. MLB’s midsummer classic, this the 76th version, does have an advantage in history and tradition over the others, but there is no doubt that it is not the spectacle it once was.

With MLB instituting the new “This Time it Counts” clause in 2003, mandating that the winning league automatically provides its World Series representative with home field advantage for the Fall Classic, this game does indeed become more important than its counterparts in other leagues. This new caveat, however, does nothing to remedy the greatest criticism of the All Star Game – that of fan’s voting for the starting lineups.

As long as fans are allowed to vote, the All Star Game will continue to be more of a popularity contest that a legitimate reward for a great season, but that’s exactly what MLB had in mind when this event began over 70 years ago. As long as a system exists in which managers are allowed to supplement the fan’s choices with players who were overlooked, I don’t see that fan voting is a bad thing.

From its inception in 1933, the concept of the All Star Game was based on reviving fan interest in baseball and allowing fans to pick the squads. The first game in 1933, used in conjunction with the Century of Progress Exposition at the World’s Fair in Chicago, was instrumental in reviving interest in the game at a time when attendance was at an all-time low due to the Great Depression. That inaugural game carried such importance that an ailing John McGraw came out of retirement and managed the National League wearing a brown business suit.

After the first two games proved to be successful, the game began to not only become more competitive between the players, but also more important to the business of baseball. While managers and fans picked the teams in 1933 and 1934, managers selected the entire teams from 1935 through 1946. But in 1947, fans again were allowed to cast ballots and choose the starting position players while managers selected the pitchers and reserves.

Fan voting first came under scrutiny in 1957 when rabid Cincinnati fans went so far in ballot box stuffing that the entire NL starting lineup was comprised of Reds players. An angered commissioner Ford Frick not only removed two Reds players to make room for Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, he also took voting away from the fans and gave it strictly to managers, players, and coaches. After 12 years, voting for the starting position players was returned to the fans in 1970.

In 1988, criticism of fan voting was at an all-time high when Oakland’s Terry Steinbach was the leader among AL catchers despite his .218 batting average (Steinbach went on to homer in the game and win the MVP Award). The following season, 1989, fan voting got even worse when AL fans voted Jose Canseco in the starting lineup despite the fact that he had missed the entire season with an injury, and NL fans voted Mike Schmidt in the starting lineup despite his having
retired a month earlier.

Since this fan tends to find more interest in sport history than the tedious sporting present, here are some interesting numbers concerning All Star Games of the past:

1- Number of grand slam home runs hit in All Star games.
Lynn Swann’s collegiate roommate, Fred Lynn of the Angels, hit the shot against former ETSU two-sport star Atlee Hammaker in the 1983 game.

2 – Number of players with 100 RBI by the All Star break
In 1935, Hank Greenberg had collected 103 RBI by the July 8 All Star Game. He finished the season with 170. In 1998, Juan Gonzalez had collected 101 RBI by the July 7 All Star Game. He finished the season with 157.

3 – Number of teams represented by Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson, and Jeff Kent
The only three players to be selected as a starter representing three different teams. Players who represented four different teams, but not as a starter, include Goose Gossage, Roberto Alomar, and Kevin Brown.

4 – Number of rookie pitchers who started an All Star game.
Washington’s Dave Stenhouse started in 1962, Detroit’s Mark Fidrych in 1976, and Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers in 1981 and 1995 respectively.

4 - Number of years in which two All Star Games were played.
Based on the popularity of the game throughout the 1950s, MLB experimented with a different-day-doubleheader format from 1959-1962. In 1959, the games were played nearly a full month apart, while the 1960 games were only two days apart, and the 1961 and 1962 games were three weeks apart. The experiment was junked after 1962.

5 - Number of different positions played by Pete Rose in All Star games.
Rose played in a total of 17 games, taking the field at first base, second base, third base, right field, and left field at least once.

6 – Number of career ASG home runs hit by Stan Musial.
The most by any player. Ted Williams and Fred Lynn are the only other players with as many as four.

7 – Number of players who had a batting average of .395 or better by the All Star break.
DiMaggio’s .435 average at the 1939 break is the best ever. Others include Ted Williams (.405 in 1941), Joe Medwick (.404 in 1937), Heinie Manush (.403 in 1934), Stan Musial (.403 in 1948), Larry Walker (.398 in 1997), John Olerud (.395 in 1993), and Rod Carew (.394 in 1977).

8.8 – Television rating of the 2004 ASG on Fox.
The rating in 1994 was 15.7, 20.1 in 1984, and 23.4 in 1974.

9 – Number of times a pitcher collected at least 16 wins by the All Star break.
Wilbur Wood’s 18 wins by the All Star break of 1973 is the most ever. Others include Vida Blue (17 in 1971), Mickey Lolich (17 in 1972), Bob Feller (16 in 1941), Whitey Ford (16 in 1961), Denny McClain (16 in 1968), Gaylord Perry (16 in 1972), Wood (16 in 1974), and Randy Jones (16 in 1976).

10 – Number of games managed by Casey Stengel.
The most for any skipper. His record was 4-6.

11 - Number of consecutive games won by the NL from 1972-1981.
The longest such winning (or losing) streak by either league.

15 – Number of times Brooks Robinson played on the losing team.
He played for the winning side three times.

17 – Number of future Hall of Famers who started the 1935 game.
Only one of the 1935 starters didn’t make it to Cooperstown. While not all starting, 17 Hall of Famers also took part in the 1971 game.

19 - Age of Dwight Gooden when he appeared in the 1984 game.
The youngest appearance by any player.

24 – Number of All Star appearances by Stan Musial, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron
The most by any players.

39 – Number of home runs hit by Barry Bonds by the 2001 All Star break.
Other players who have collected at least 35 HRs by the break include Reggie Jackson in 1969 (37), Mark McGwire in 1998 (37), Ken Griffey Jr. in 1998 (35), and Luis Gonzalez in 2001 (35).

47 - Age of Satchel Paige when he appeared in the 1953 game.
The oldest appearance by any player.