The all-star game was created to be a gathering ground for legends, spiced by a sprinkling of young stars. Now that tradition has been stood on its head.

The 57th classic was a game nearly devoid of larger than life heroes and shoo-in hall of famers. Yet it was abundant in kids whose names will someday be enormously evocative.

This Astrodome evening, and this 3-2 American League victory, marked a baseball watershed. The old order has changed, the new has definitely arrived. Both a sad and an exciting night.

"We're seeing a transition period in both leagues at the same time," said Mike Schmidt, the best of the oldsters. "Couple more years and I'm gone, too."

The gentlemen who have defined baseball for the past 15 years were not here: Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Steve Garvey, Rod Carew, Phil Niekro, Carlton Fisk, Bert Blyleven, Graig Nettles, Ron Cey, Nolan Ryan, Fred Lynn, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter -- all still active. That doesn't count those seminal fellows like Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Palmer who've gone rather recently.

Fifty-six players suited up here. You'd expect to see several with milestone numbers next to their names, like 500 homers, 1,500 RBI, 3,000 hits, 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts.

Tonight, there was not one.

Lowering our criteria radically, we get an even bigger shock. How many 1986 all-stars meet any one of these standards: 300 homers, 1,000 RBI, 1,800 hits, 160 wins or 150 saves? No matter how low you guess, you probably won't come close.

Hitters, four. Pitchers, none. In fact, all the pitchers here have had only one 20-win season in their lives (Dwight Gooden in 1985).

The lower you set your standards, the more undeniable the trend. Get down to 150 homers, 700 RBI, 1,300 hits, 90 wins or 90 saves and only 15 of the 56 stars here qualify.

This doesn't mean that baseball has run out of fabulous players. It just means a generation is gone. And, probably, a quarter-century of National League dominance on this July stage.

The starting pitchers -- Roger Clemens, 23, and Gooden, 21 -- were perfect symbols. Both threw faster than 95 mph. Both looked like fitting heirs to any grandmaster. "If Gooden comes up with a slider like the one Clemens has, I'm retiring," said Schmidt.

True, Gooden gave up a terrible 0-2 pitch gopher ball to little Lou Whitaker. But let's not fret too much about the first "slump" of Dr. K's life.

"One mistake pitch and I get hurt," said Gooden. "That's been the problem all year. I hope I can work on eliminating that in the second half."

Gooden's had his buildup. This was Clemens' night -- a hometown Houston boy from Spring Woods High School as perfect as you're allowed to be. Nine men up, nine men down. Twenty-five pitches and only four balls. Two strikeouts -- of former league MVP Ryne Sandberg and Darryl Strawberry. Yea, verily, the same Strawberry who hit a 550-foot batting practice home run off the roof speaker here on Monday that many think was one of the longest balls ever hit.

"With all the home folks here, I was really jumping," said Clemens, who needed only one good defensive play behind him -- a superb dig and peg in the hole by Cal Ripken on Dale Murphy.

The turf was littered all evening with players who've been in the game six seasons or less but who, already, have shown that they may rank with the best ever at their positions or specialties.

Will Wade Boggs hit .400? Will Ripken's consecutive innings streak become one of the game's benchmarks? Has the game ever had greater all-around leadoff men than Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines? Will Don Mattingly and Wally Joyner continue their Stan-Musial-playalike competition? Will Strawberry someday hit 50 home runs? Or the 25-year-old Valenzuela, who fanned five in a row, end up with 300 wins?

From Jose Canseco to the unrelated Fernandezes -- Sid and Tony -- there were players in only their first or second season with that "unlimited potential" look about them.

If Buck Tater Man is gone, then Chicken Man is ready. So long, Tom Terrific; hello, Rocket Roger. If Charlie Hustle has finally grown old, then Little Rip (the 6-foot-5, 220-pound shortstop) is prepared take stoic dedication to unimagined places.

Trends. Is it possible that modern baseball wears out its players faster, especially its pitchers? What has happened to all those named Morris, Petry, Guidry, Flanagan, McGregor, Stieb, Soto and a dozen more who still should be in their primes, yet seem distinctly past that point?

Finally, what of the great National League jinx -- 21 all-star wins in the previous 23 games? The thing looks dead.

Since 1960, the Nationals simply took these contests. This evening, the NL gave a game away. Both Whitaker and Frank White hit their homers on 0-2 pitches.

The key personalities in the old NL clubhouse are gone and the bleak memories on the AL side are, too. The American has won two of the last four games and the last three World Series in a row (by a 12-to-5 margin in games).

This evening it was Clemens who set a tone of raw, cocky dominance, demythologizing the National Leaguers by coming at them with his best stuff and blowing them away. For 25 years, that was what the NL did. In the end, with the tie run at third, the winner on first, and just one out in the ninth, all-star history took a turn. What household name strode out of the NL dugout? Rose? Garvey? Morgan? Perez?

Chris Brown -- promising but green; a scant 109 career RBI. Two pitches. Double play. End of an era?

Never in memory have so many of our old baseball friends, so many future Cooperstown residents, left this stage simultaneously. And not since the 1950s, when men named Mays, Mantle, Aaron, Clemente and Robinson appeared, have so many kids congregated who make the hair on the back of your neck tingle with anticipation.