In 1972, Willie Mays had a rough first half. He was 41, so it's not like it should have been a great shock. After a .146/.340/.195 April, the Giants traded him to the Mets. His month of May was good, but it was clear that Mays had lost a step or six. He wasn't the best player in the game anymore.
Mays started in the 1972 All-Star Game, hitting second between Joe Morgan and Hank Aaron. There were players having better first halves -- a 21-year-old César Cedeño was hitting .355 with 13 homers and 26 steals -- who would have been fantastic choices to start, but the fans wanted Mays. There were players who had an argument to make the roster. A 24-year-old named Leron Lee hit .315/.365/.506 for the . Richie Hebner, surely one of the better players to never make an All-Star team, was having a fine first half. They were both left off
Yet there was Mays, making his 19th straight All-Star appearance. He was older, creakier, but still who the fans wanted to see.
The parallels between Mays and Derek Jeter aren't perfect, but they're good enough. The fans voted Jeter in, even though he's almost certainly not one of the five best shortstops in the league any more. The vote cost Asdrubal Cabrera a chance to start, and it cost Jhonny Peralta a chance at his first All-Star selection.
So this brings up the great debate: is it better to have a legend make the team past his prime, or is it better to stock the All-Star rosters with players who had great first halves and who are almost certainly better players than the legacy guys, even if just for a brief overlapping period?
Like a true weenie, I don't want to commit. The arguments are strong for both.
- I'm not sure which, if any, of the 21 straight years that Hank Aaron made the All-Star team, he did so over someone else who was having a better season. And that seems like the least interesting question in the world. Hank Aaron is Hank Aaron. He doesn't miss All-Star games. They should have renamed the All-Star Game the "Willie and Hank Variety Show Spectacular" just because. No kid ever went home disappointed because he had to watch Aaron or Mays over Wes Parker.
- Chances at an All-Star Game are rare for non-stars -- when a guy like Peralta has a great first half, this is his chance to be rewarded. And even though he's been up-and-down, "One-time All Star, Jhonny Peralta" sounds like a pretty apt way to describe him after he retires. He might not get the chance.
But the All-Star Game isn't supposed to be a bonus that every player gets a chance at. It's for the best players and, yes, the most popular players. No one cares that Leron Lee didn't make the 1972 All-Star team for the National League, except Leron and several of his relatives. But everyone who attended the game can tell you who started in center field for the National League. And while Jeter isn't Willie Mays, he's obviously a legend -- one of the five or ten best shortstops to ever play baseball.
Jeter starting in the All-Star Game is like Chevy Chase getting roles in "Hot Tub Time Machine" and "Community." There are comedians who are certainly funnier at this point, and who would help make those movies and TV shows better, but, hey, that's Chevy Chase! Sometimes the legacy guys just need to be America's woobie. It's the role that Jeter was born to play.
I don't have a problem with it at all. Derek Jeter is a star. That's kind of the point. In twenty years, no one will remember that he had a .320 OBP in the first half -- they'll just remember Jeter was a 12-time All-Star and one of the best ever. It's probably better to direct your injustice-based outrage in another direction.