Seventy years ago this month the best players in the American and National Leagues faced each other for the first time. The American League All-Star roster featured nine future Hall of Famers: Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons, Joe Cronin, Lefty Gomez, Lefty Grove, Bill Dickey, and Jimmie Foxx. The National League countered with eight future Famers: Frankie Frisch, Chuck Klein, Paul Waner, Chick Hafey, Bill Terry, Pie Traynor, Gabby Hartnett, and Carl Hubbell.
That's 17 Hall of Fame players in one game, 12 in the starting lineups. Now look at 2003 All-Star squad. It features just two starters who seem a sure bet for Cooperstown: Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, and Bonds is 39 years old. The rest are an undistinguished group of flash-in-the-pans and career mediocrities having career-best years, perhaps the worst group of All-Stars since the game was first played.
Am I being unfair? Let's look over the lineups:
First Base—Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies. Helton is an OK ballplayer whose numbers have been driven to ridiculous heights by the thin air at Coors Field. Last year he was Stan Musial at home (.378) and Tino Martinez (.281) everywhere else.
Second Base—Marcus Giles, Atlanta Braves. Giles is 25 years old and has yet to nudge his career batting average up to .270.
Third Base—Scott Rolen, St. Louis Cardinals. Rolen is the best of a mediocre lot. He's28 years old, a fine fielder with good power, but he's never hit over .300 or hit more than 31 home runs in a season.
Shortstop—Edgar Renteria, Cardinals. Renteria is 28 years old, and in seven major league seasons before this year his batting average was .283. This year he's been flirting with .340; sounds like a career year.
Catcher—Javy Lopez, Braves. Lopez has been a good man for a long time at a tough position. At age 33, though, he is an All-Star this year only by virtue of Mike Piazza's injury.
Outfield—Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants; Albert Pujols, Cardinals; Gary Sheffield, Braves. Bonds, of course, was a legitimate HOFer long before he broke McGwire's home-run record. Sheffield is 34, and no one has ever hinted that he is one of baseball's immortals. Pujols looks to be a monster—at least at bat. However, if you can't run at age 23, and they have to hide you in left field at a young age because you can't play third base, where will they put you when you're 29? In the American League, DH-ing?