A reader emailed me an interesting post this past weekend. John Bowen of DugoutCentral.com offered a lineup of players who were left off their league’s All Star team in a year they thrived. I went a step further with this idea and crafted a lineup of the best players I could find who never made an All Star team. The only requirements were that the players needed to be active sometime since 1933, the year of the first All Star game and have at least one good season.
My batting order is as follows:
1 – Tony Phillips (2B): I considered Rogers Hornsby, perhaps the greatest second baseman ever, who did his best work in the 1920s and was washed up by the time the All Star tradition began in 1933. Phillips would have been more than a token selection, though and looked deserving for his 1993 season, where he hit .313 with a .443 OBP for the Tigers and 1995 when he had 27 home runs and 61 RBI and helped the Angels come within one game of the playoffs.
2 – Lyman Bostock (OF): Bostock’s career ended tragically in September 1978 when he was murdered at 27. But even with just four years in the majors, Bostock had one season that should have gotten him an All Star nod: 1977, where he was finished second in the American League with a .336 batting average and posted an OPS+ of 144, 6.5 WAR, and a .508 slugging percentage, impressive for a contact hitter.
3 – Hal Trosky (1B): Hank Greenberg recounted in The Glory of Their Times, “There are great ballplayers nowadays, of course. But you know, I played in an era of super-great ballplayers, especially first basemen. Just think of the competition I had at first base in the American League: Hal Trosky, Zeke Bonura, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Rudy York.” Trosky and Bonura never were All Stars, and I favor Trosky for peak offensive value. In 1936, he hit .343 with 42 home runs and his MLB-best 162 RBI.
4 – Tim Salmon (OF): Bowen mentioned Salmon in his post, calling him a notoriously slow starter. Nonetheless, Salmon’s final numbers for the ’95 Angels of 34 home runs, 105 RBI and a .330 batting average, not to mention his OPS+ of 165, could have at least gotten him an All Star selection the following year.
5 – Kirk Gibson (OF): Gibson didn’t even make the All Star team in 1988 when he was National League MVP, though he led the league in WAR with 7.3. It seems odd Gibson’s iconic home run in the 1988 World Series wasn’t enough to get him voted onto the 1989 All Star squad.
6 – Hank Thompson (3B): Thompson was part of the first generation of black players in the majors. In those days, only the most popular black players like Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, and Satchel Paige generally received All Star bids. Less-known blacks with maybe one All Star-caliber season, primarily former Negro Leaguers with relatively short careers in the majors, went unacknowledged. These men included Joe Black, Luke Easter, Sam Jethroe, and Thompson, who stepped up for the Giants in 1953 when Mays was out all year in the army.
7 – Spud Davis (C): Proof that voters were often very wrong in latter day baseball, Davis hit .349 in 1933 and lost out on a catcher spot on the National League squad to Jimmie Wilson, who hit .255 and Woody English, who hit .261. And even if it wasn’t a figment of any voter’s imagination back then, Davis’s WAR in 1933 of 3.7 was better than Wilson and English combined.
8 – Eddie Lake (SS): I figured I could find many players for this list by examining stats that weren’t valued in earlier generations. Lake led the American League with a .412 on-base percentage in 1945, and his WAR of 5.7 and 136 OPS+ topped the AL All Star shortstop selections that year, Vern Stephens, who had better slugging numbers and Lou Boudreau, who got on for being named Lou Boudreau. No All Star game was played in 1945 because of World War II, and Lake never had another season approaching All Star status, retiring in 1950 with a .231 career batting average and a lifetime OPS+ of 91.
9 – Waite Hoyt (P): Many aging, future Hall of Famers never played in an All Star game in the 1930s because their best years were behind them by then, from Rogers Hornsby to Rabbit Maranville to Dazzy Vance. Hoyt is the only Cooperstown member I know of who could have been an All Star selection on playing merit but never was. In 1934, a few years after he bottomed off the Yankees, Hoyt went 15-6 with a 2.93 ERA and 142 ERA+ for the Pirates.