Any serious fan has to acknowledge that the most revered All-Star game in professional sports belongs to Major League Baseball. The Midsummer Classic has been a mainstay in American culture since 1933, when Babe Ruth hit the event’s historic first home run to lead the American League to a 4-2 victory at Comiskey Park in Chicago.
The 87 meetings between the National and American leagues have provided dozens of memorable moments. Walk-off home runs by Hall of Famers Ted Williams (1941) and Stan Musial (1955) sit atop the list of highlights, accompanied by famously dominant pitching performances from fellow HOF members Carl Hubbel (5 Ks in 1934) and Pedro Martinez (5 Ks in 1999).
On the more infamous side, however, was Pete Rose’s 1970 career-shortening demolition of A.L. catcher Ray Fosse in an ugly home-plate collision, and the 2002 game in which both teams depleted their rosters through 11 innings to force a much-maligned 7-7 tie. But every critical conversation about baseball’s All-Star Game usually starts and ends with the player selections themselves.
Each year, the fans, writers, players, coaches and managers are jointly responsible for assembling the two teams’ rosters, theoretically with the players who’ve put up the best numbers during the first half of the season. And each year, for a variety of reasons, the voters collectively manage to bestow All-Star status upon at least one undeserving player.
Below, we have designated the least-deserving player to have participated in each of the last 15 MLB All-Star Games:
15 2002: Robert Fick, OF, Detroit Tigers
Like several other members of this list, Fick can thank one of the All-Star Game’s more frustrating policies for his one and only appearance in 2002. Because each team is required to have at least one representative, many unlikely All-Stars such as Fick have made the roster in the place of more deserving players.
Fick was the only Detroit Tiger at Milwaukee’s Miller Park in 2002, a year in which the proud franchise lost an astounding 106 games. In his defense, his mid-season numbers were far from awful: a .290 batting average with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs. But they weren’t All-Star numbers in a strong year for outfielders, and Fick’s pick over Magglio Ordonez of the White Sox (.305 BA, 15 HR, 67 RBI) and Bernie Williams of the Yankees (.312, 11, 45) didn’t sit well in Chicago and New York.
14 2003: Mike Williams, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Unlike the previous year, the 2003 game at U.S. Cellular Field on Chicago’s South Side included about half a dozen questionable selections – but none more questionable than Pittsburgh reliever Mike Williams. One of the premier closers in the National League and a deserving All-Star in 2002, the 34-year-old Williams was a different pitcher in ’03.
His 6.29 ERA at midseason was the highest ever for an All-Star pitcher, and he complemented it with a 1-3 record and 44 hits, 22 walks and 19 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings. Williams was sent to Philadelphia less than two weeks after the All-Star Game and finished the season – his last – with a 1-7 record, a 6.14 ERA and seven blown saves. Williams posted an alarming 18.00 ERA during the spring training with Tampa Bay in 2004 before calling it quits for good.
13 2004: Jason Giambi, 1B, New York Yankees
The first two entries on this list were the products of an unpopular policy and poor managerial judgment, respectively (the All-Star managers selected their own pitching staffs until 2005, when the league’s players were tasked with selecting the pitchers). In 2004, responsibility for this colossal blunder fell squarely on the fans.
Giambi, coming off of four straight All-Star appearances, was once again the fans’ choice to start at first base for the American League. The only problem was that since his respective first- and second-place finishes in the 2001 and 2002 AL MVP voting, Giambi’s numbers had been declining. He was also at the center of a steroids controversy, but neither that nor his dismal first-half numbers dissuaded the fans. He finished with a .208 average, 12 home runs and 40 RBIs but, to his credit, Giambi bounced back in 2005 to earn AL Comeback Player of the Year honors.
12 2005: Cesar Izturis, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
If Giambi earned All-Star status on his past achievements in 2004, the same can be said for Dodgers shortstop Cesar Izturis in 2005 – in a manner of speaking. The slick-fielding, (very) light-hitting infielder came roaring out of the gates in 2005, batting .345 in April and May and capturing the attention of all those with the ability to shape an All-Star roster.
Fortunately for Izturis, his .105 batting average in June didn’t appear to draw as much attention. His 2004 Gold Glove also probably didn’t hurt, and Izturis was selected to the 2005 N.L. squad with a respectable but not star-like .275 average, just one measly home run and 20 RBIs. His downward trajectory continued after the break, and Izturis finished the season – his only as an all-star – with a .257 average, two HRs and 31 RBIs.
11 2006: Mark Redman, LHP, Kansas City Royals
Both teams’ rosters for the 77th All-Star Game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh drew their share of scrutiny, but two selections to the A.L. squad stood out among the rest. Boston’s two-time All-Star second baseman Mark Loretta was in the midst of a sub-par season, but his team’s famously biased fan base, known as Red Sox Nation, was able to secure him a spot ahead of other more deserving candidates.
And then there was an even more egregious blunder, albeit another result of the reviled “Pity Rule” that each team must field a representative. Journeyman southpaw Mark Redman, who played for 11 teams in a 10-year career (68-85 record), must have felt like he hit the lottery when he was the only Royal named to the 2006 A.L. squad despite his 6-4 record and 5.27 ERA. Redman’s second half was even worse, finishing the season at 11-10 with a 5.71 ERA.
10 2007: Brian Fuentes, LHP, Colorado Rockies
Unlike 2006, even the most determined critics had little to work with in the 2007 All-Star rosters. While Cincinnati’s 13-time All-Star Ken Griffey Jr. was making his final appearance despite relatively average numbers, and reigning N.L. batting champ Freddy Sanchez of Pittsburgh was 48 points off (.296) his 2006 pace, both were legitimate All-Stars.
You could almost make the same case for Colorado closer Brian Fuentes, whose 20 saves at the mid-season mark ranked him fifth in the National League. However, Fuentes’ impressive number of saves had come despite a lofty 4.06 ERA – relatively unheard of for a closer. And that was the other strike against Fuentes in a season flush with worthy All-Stars: By the time of the All-Star break, Fuentes had been relinquished of Colorado’s closing duties and didn’t record a single save the rest of the season.
9 2008: Jason Varitek, C, Boston Red Sox
So far, we’ve pinned the blame for past transgressions on the fans, the managers and the rulebook. Now we get to hold the players themselves accountable for one of the worst MLB All-Star Game selections of all-time.
Jason Varitek was an immensely popular player during his 15-year career, both among his Red Sox teammates and around the entire American League. He captained Boston’s championship teams in 2004 and 2007, and was known for his excellent defense behind the plate, an uncanny ability to handle a pitching staff, and being able to produce 20 home runs and 80 RBIs in his best seasons. The problem was, 2008 was his worst season to date (.219 average, 7 HRs, 27 RBIs and 73 strikeouts at the all-star break) and the beginning of a career-ending decline.
8 2009: Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers
In another year with little to complain about in terms of All-Star selections, perhaps the most notably undeserving participant just happened to be the following season’s American League Most Valuable Player. For Texas’ resilient superstar Josh Hamilton, 2009 was the second of his five straight All-Star appearances – and it sticks out from the others like a big, ugly, sore thumb.
Hamilton was plagued by back problems from the start of the season and only appeared in 89 games in 2009, batting .268 with 10 home runs and 54 runs batted in. But coming off a season in which he hit .304 with 32 HRs and 130 RBIs, Hamilton’s 2008 numbers were enough incentive for fans to vote him onto the 2009 A.L. roster. Their unwavering support paid off the following year, however, when Hamilton bounced back with an injury-free, MVP season and led the Rangers to the World Series.
7 2010: Ty Wigginton, C, Baltimore Orioles
Like Cesar Izturis in 2005, Baltimore’s Ty Wigginton most likely earned his only career All-Star roster spot on the merits of a solid first half – a solid first half of the first half of the 2010 season, that is. The journeyman, 34-year-old infielder batted .288 with 13 home runs and 32 runs batted in during the months of April and May.
Then, like Izturis, he had a miserable month of June, batting a paltry .209 with one homer and 11 RBIs. That gave “Wiggy” a total of 14 HRs and 43 RBIs at the break, respectable for a second baseman, but his average had dropped to .246 as the result of a 1-for-28 slump. Nevertheless, A.L. manager Joe Girardi selected Wigginton as the third and final second baseman on his roster, making him the only Oriole on the team.
6 2011: Kevin Correia, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Chalk up another one for the MLB All-Star rulebook, but this particular rule is hard to argue. It might be more appropriate to call it “wrong place at the wrong time” for Philadelphia Phillies ace left-hander Cole Hamels, who became ineligible for the 2011 All-Star Game at Chase Field in Phoenix despite his worthy credentials.
Hamels pitched his team to victory, his 11th against just four losses, on the Sunday before Tuesday’s All-Star festivities – thus erasing him from N.L. manager Bruce Bochy’s roster because of a well-intended rule meant to protect pitchers from overuse and subsequent injury. Enter Pittsburgh’s Kevin Correia, a one-time All-Star with 11 wins despite an unimpressive 4.01 ERA (the Pirates were averaging 7.17 runs per start in support of the right-hander). Correia finished the season with only one more win and a 4.79 ERA.
5 2012: Bryan LaHair, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Most of the whining about the 2012 All-Star selections revolved around the fact that San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval was voted in by fans to start at third base ahead of Mets MVP candidate David Wright. Sandoval proved he belonged in his first at-bat by hitting the first-ever bases-loaded triple in All-Star Game history to pace the National League to an 8-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
While writers and fans were arguing the merits of Sandoval and Wright, few seemed to notice that Chicago Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair had been added to the roster as a backup on the players’ ballot. LaHair, a career minor leaguer whose only full season in the majors remains his 2012 All-Star campaign, was batting an embarrassing .213 with runners on base, just .137 with runners in scoring position, and had driven in only 28 runs at the All-Star break.
4 2013: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Knowing that there was no shortage of talent at third base in the National League based on the previous entry, it’s hard to justify putting Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez on the same roster as legitimate All-Stars David Wright and Pablo Sandoval. Yes, he did have 22 home runs at the break, but he also had a pitiful .246 average and an embarrassing 15 errors at the hot corner – neither Wright (9) nor Sandoval (13) would reach 15 errors for the entire 2013 season.
To be fair, 2013 has been Alvarez’s best season out of seven so far, as he led the National League in HRs (36), at-bats per HR (15.5), games at third base (150), and assists (349), while adding 100 RBIs. However, he also led the league in strikeouts (186) and errors (27) while his average slipped even lower to .233.
3 2014: Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers
A case could be made for Yankees legend Derek Jeter being left off the American League roster in his 20th and final season, but only if you have a heart of stone and no respect for the game of baseball. Fittingly, despite his less-than-All-Star numbers at the break, the future Hall of Famer delivered two hits in a 5-3 win for the A.L. at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Meanwhile, another consummate professional, Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez, was just a season away from his own retirement. Like Jeter, his production was in a state of decline, and his year-end stats in 2014 (15 HRs, 66 RBIs, .285 average) paled in comparison to his two previous All-Star appearances in 2005 (31/92/.302) and 2008 (27/111/.289). Unlike Jeter, however, Ramirez did not have a fast track to Cooperstown and probably shouldn’t have made anyone’s 2014 All-Star roster.
2 2015: Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
There was little doubt in 2015 that Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson had star potential, with his slick fielding in center field and 20 home runs during the first half of the season. However, potential does not justify selection to any league’s Dream Team of All-Stars.
Pederson’s .230 batting average should have raised a red flag for voters; likewise his National League-leading 107 strikeouts. The biggest concern, however, should have been the fact that the free-swinging 23-year-old had amassed just three home runs in his last 36 games while hitting a pitiful .175 during that stretch going into the break. He finished the season with a miserable .210 average and just six more HRs in 151 games. His 170 strikeouts that season were the third-highest league total in 2015.
1 2016: Michael Saunders, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Neither league’s roster for the 87th All-Star Game at Petco Park in San Diego deserved much second-guessing, but the most ordinary numbers probably belonged to Toronto’s Michael Saunders. Despite the fact that he was on his way to career highs in home runs (24) and RBIs (57) in his eighth season, the first-time All-Star’s credentials lacked the glitter of other A.L. outfielders such as Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Carlos Beltran.
In addition, Saunders – the final player named to the A.L. roster – was on his way to 157 strikeouts and just a .253 batting average. A case could have probably also been made for Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez, but the No. 8 hitter delivered a second-inning two-run homer to help the American League to a 4-2 victory.