Manufactured controversies are just the best, and there's nothing that brings out the manufactured controversies quite like the All-Star Game. Four years ago, people were actively forcing opinions on you regarding whether Kosuke Fukudome or Nate McLouth should start for the National League. That wasn't a decade ago. That wasn't when Reagan was president. That was in 2008.
Monday's controversy had to do with Matt Cain and R.A. Dickey. Everybody expected Dickey to start the All-Star Game, but Cain was Tony La Russa's surprise choice because This Time It Counts, and Dickey throws a haunted pitch that catchers like to drop, and Tony La Russa is a genius, and …
Look, I don't know. To the credit of most Mets fans, they didn't go full Internet rage -- just partial Internet rage. Most of them acknowledged that Cain wasn't the worst choice in the world, at least. But there was still some manufactured controversy.
There have been some weirder starting-pitcher decisions in All-Star Game history, though. Oh, absolutely, there have. Here's a look at the six oddest choices to start an the All-Star Game
Dave Stenhouse -- 1962
Dave Stenhouse pitched three seasons in the majors, and he started the second All-Star Game in 1962 as a rookie. Okay, fine, it's not that unusual for a rookie phenom to capture the imagination of the baseball world … except Stenhouse was 28. He was a minor-league free-agent type, not a phenom. He was 11-2 with a 2.73 ERA before the All-Star Game, so you can at least see where the decision came from, but Stenhouse was still picked over more establish pitchers like Jim Bunning, Milt Pappas, and Jim Kaat, among others.
The last three teams Stenhouse pitched for before he represented the Washington Senators in the All-Star Game: Jersey City Jerseys, Seattle Rainiers, and Fort Worth Cats.
Bill Walker - 1935
Walker led the league in ERA when he pitched for the New York Giants in both 1929 and 1931, so it's not like he was an unknown. But in an era of four-man rotations, Walker hadn't cracked the 200-innings barrier in the three seasons before 1935, serving most of his time as a part-time reliever, part-time starter. In 1935, he was 6-2, with a 3.56 ERA in 14 starts before the All-Star Game … okay, but nothing dominant.
The papers of the day shine a little light on the scenario:
"It's sheer second-guessing to say I should have started (Hal) Schumacher," (manager Frankie Frisch) declared. "Sure, I figured Hal was our ace but I had to take into account that he and Walker were the only two fresh pitchers available. All three of the others, Dizzy Dean, Paul Derringer, and Carl Hubbell, pitched the day before. I couldn't ask Schumacher to pitch the whole game, could I, without getting into a fight with Bill Terry?"
A Frankie Frisch/Bill Terry fight would have been huge news, actually. Also of note: Walker was a last-minute replacement for Van Mungo, whose full name was Van Lingle Mungo.
Walt Masterson - 1948
Masterson was an All-Star the year before, when he went 12-16 with a 3.13 for a horrible Senators team. The league ERA that year was 3.71, and Griffith Stadium wasn't that much of a pitchers' park, so he wasn't especially dominant. The following season, he was 6-6 with a 3.18 ERA in 16 starts, yet he somehow beat out Bobs Feller and Lemon for the starting spot.
Really, though, I'm putting him in this list just to highlight his eyebrows.
Those eyebrows can start the Eyebrow All-Star Game from now until the end of time, where the winner gets home-field advantage in your nightmares.
Ken McBride - 1963
McBride was 9-6, 2.76 ERA, and he was a two-time All Star in the seasons prior to 1963, so it wasn't an unusual choice compared to the rest of the pitchers here. But he makes the list just to highlight the vagaries of pitchers (and baseball in general). After starting the All-Star Game, McBride made 51 starts in his career, going 8-22 and 4.84 ERA in 52 starts after he All-Star game, retiring before he was 30.
Even worse was the fate of 1984 National League starter Charlie Lea, who had a perfectly acceptable second half before missing the next three seasons. Lea pitched only one more season, and it came four years after his All-Star start.
Jack Armstrong - 1990
At the guarantee of repeating myself, there were people angry about Roy Halladay starting the 2011 All-Star Game over Jair Jurrjens. But the patron saint of "It's not the First-Half All-Star Game" is Jack Armstrong, who exploded with a 11-3, 2.28 ERA start in 1990 after 21 uninspiring career major-league starts spanning two seasons. He went 22-46 over the next four years, and he was out of baseball before he was 30.
… a Bonus Baby was required to be immediately placed on the active big league roster, and remain there for two calendar years from the signing date.
So where a high-school draftee would go to rookie ball or low-A today, Walker went straight to the majors when he was 18, and he pitched in 13 games as a rookie. When he was 19, he appeared in six games. But in 1959, he was a sensation, going 8-5 with a 2.62 ERA before the second All-Star game.
Alas, his arm gave out on him, as he cracked 150 innings only once more in his career, playing his last major-league game when he was 25. I wonder if there's an easily discernible reason why he had arm problems after his age-21 season?
I guess we'll never know.