The year was 1976, the summer of the Bicentennial, and the American League all-star team was breaking in a new third baseman, a 23-year-old kid named George Howard Brett.

He was not only young, but he was handsome, strong and one of the best defensive players since Brooks Robinson. Brett remembers feeling "awed and proud and intimidated" that year, that he'd spent only one full season in the major leagues and was now part of one of baseball's most special summertime traditions.

His teammates that week were already as famous as Brett would one day be: Rod Carew, Carl Yastrzemski, Bobby Grich, Mark Fidrych and Thurman Munson. That was the first of 11 consecutive starting assignments for Brett, a streak that ended this week when Boston's Wade Boggs won the position.

Now, when the all-stars gather Monday afternoon at the Oakland Coliseum, it will be Brett who'll catch the stares of youngsters such as Mark McGwire, Matt Nokes, Pat Tabler, Mark Langston and Dan Plesac.

Time fades away, taking with it the old familiar faces.

Will you know an All-Star Game that won't include Reggie Jackson, Jim Rice, Nolan Ryan, Fred Lynn, Steve Garvey, Dave Stieb or Carlton Fisk?

Will you know one that has Steve Bedrosian, John Franco, Jeffrey Leonard, Pat Tabler and Tom Henke?

The game is changing, and its latest generation will be on display at Oakland Coliseum Tuesday night. Of the 56 players, 14 will be playing in their first all-star games and 15 in their second. Brett, having been selected to 11 previous All-Star Games, will be the senior American Leaguer. He'll be followed by Dave Winfield, who has played in 10 All-Star Games.

But after that, experience thins out. Fifteen of the 28 American Leaguers are playing in their first or second All-Star Games, and 18 -- 64 percent -- will be playing for the first, second or third time.

In the National League, the numbers are similar. Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt is an 11-time all-star, and New York's Gary Carter is a 10-time player. Ozzie Smith, Dale Murphy and Tim Raines are seven-time all-stars, but 14 others will be making their first or second appearances.

This generation, more than ever, belongs to players named Eric Davis, Hubie Brooks and Juan Samuel.

In fact, Brett was stunned that he was even selected, especially as a backup third baseman. For one thing, he hasn't played there since May 15, and with his right shoulder again sore, probably won't be back there this summer. In all, he has played in just 39 games.

"How could I make it?" he asked. "I've got a bad knee and a broken arm. I can't throw. How could I make it?"

But he added, "It's a great honor. It's a fantastic honor. But I've only played in 39 games."

Others accept the changes.

"Every year I feel like I'm the new kid on the block," said Baltimore shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., a five-time all-star. "Maybe that'll change this year, but always before, I've looked around the clubhouse and seen players you've heard about for years. You're honored to be part of it."

Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett wasn't overwhelmed.

"There are more and more young guys," he said, "but that's okay. I don't imagine Kirby Puckett will be around there 10 years from now, and there'll be some young guy to take my place."

Among the performers many people will be seeing for the first is a baby-faced left-handed reliever named Dan Plesac. He's only 25 and in his second full major league season. His career turned around two years ago when the Brewers were unable to teach him a third pitch to go with a 93-mph fastball and vicious slider.

Instead, they decided to take advantage of it by moving him to the bullpen, and he has become a younger, shorter version of Dave Righetti. And with 17 saves and a 1.49 ERA, he was a big reason for the Brewers' surprising start.

Another is Cincinnati's John Franco, who has become one of the National League's best relievers since the Los Angeles Dodgers traded him for infielder Rafael Landestoy four years ago. With 17 saves and a 1.52 ERA, he has become a huge part of Manager Pete Rose's rebuilding program.

And there is McGwire, the 23-year-old Oakland slugger who entered this season best known for being the son of Tommy John's dentist. That was until he won the first-base job early in the year and before his home runs began flying out of parks (31 as the weekend began).

And there's Mike Scott, the Houston pitcher whose career was reborn three years ago when he developed a devastating new (and some say illegal) pitch. Ripken says he's not likely to forget facing Scott last season.

"I asked someone what he threw, and they told me, he has a decent fastball and a good forkball," Ripken remembered. "I went out there, and he threw me a straight 90-mph fastball that suddenly zoomed up and in. He threw me two more unhittable pitches like that, and I went back and sat down."

Still, not everyone who deserves a chance will get one. Baltimore's Eddie Murray and Minnesota's Kent Hrbek, both having their typical excellent years, will were left off, as was Texas first baseman Pete O'Brien, who appears doomed to never play in an All-Star Game because there are so many good players at his position.

California's Wally Joyner has the same first-half numbers he did a year ago, but didn't get selected. But San Francisco's Jeffrey Leonard, who might have deserved a chance in '83, '84 or '85, is finally getting one because of a 16-homer, 41-RBI start.

"Listen, it's something these guys will remember their entire lives," Detroit's Sparky Anderson said. "You hear guys say they don't want to do. Nah, I don't believe that because inside every one of us, there's ego. And part of that ego is wanting to be considered among the best."