OAKLAND, JULY 13 -- In a funky, high-tech setting, in a stadium where the Dire Straits tape gets turned up and the fans are cranked up, baseball's 58th All-Star Game will be a tribute to new faces and reborn careers.
The new faces belong to Oakland rookie Mark McGwire, who leads the major leagues with 33 home runs, and to 14 other players who are at an All-Star Game for the first time. These new faces are a facet of baseball's evolution, marked too by the starting lineup swing from George Brett to Wade Boggs, from Dale Murphy to Eric Davis.
American League reserve McGwire, 23, seemed overwhelmed by the attention today and said his goal was nothing more than to steal an autograph from National League superstar Murphy of Atlanta before Tuesday's 8:35 p.m. start at Oakland Coliseum.
Three months ago, he wasn't even an everyday player and was best known because his dad was Tommy John's dentist. Now, he's writing a newspaper column for the Sacramento Bee, and at today's workout, McGwire drew the longest and loudest cheers from the sellout crowd of 49,000.
"I'm a little awed by it all," he said. "Everyone says it's an honor, but that's what it is."
Another of the new faces belongs to Toronto outfielder George Bell, who has been one of the best players in the game for three seasons, but will be making his first all-star appearance. Bell is here and so are San Francisco's Jeffrey Leonard, Detroit's Matt Nokes and Milwaukee's Dan Plesac. Jim Rice is not and neither is Brett nor Reggie Jackson.
"I don't think people accept it if you play well for only a year or two," Bell said. "But when you've done it for three years, I think they start to accept your accomplishments. It's a nice feeling."
The reborn careers belong to several players, but especially the starting pitchers, Houston's Mike Scott and Kansas City's Bret Saberhagen.
Scott, 33, had a 29-44 career record and was about to be released by the Houston Astros three years ago. Then he perfected a devastating (and some say illegal) forkball. Since then, he has become one of the game's best and most consistent pitchers, going 46-23 and winning the 1986 National League Cy Young Award.
His counterpart will be Saberhagen, who at 23 has already had an amazing career. He was in the major leagues at 19, won a Cy Young Award and led the Royals to the 1985 World Series championship at 21, then, by his own admission, learned too much about the good life.
By the end of last season, he had a sore shoulder and a 7-12 record and said the winter would be dedicated to getting himself back on track. He has done that, bringing a 15-3 record and a 2.47 ERA into his first all-star start.
The 58th game also brings together some strange bedfellows, especially Scott and New York Mets Manager Dave Johnson. It was Scott who allowed one earned run in 18 innings during the 1986 National League playoffs and very nearly stopped the Mets' championship run.
Johnson complained bitterly about Scott allegedly illegally scuffing balls, and at one point, even saved a box of them as proof. Now, Johnson said the rules are temporarily changed.
"He's legal with me today," he said. "He's my man. As far as I'm concerned, he can't do anything wrong the next couple of days."
Asked if he'd be taking a piece of sandpaper to the mound, Scott smiled and said, "I'll have the same tools I always take out there. We'll wait and see."
One oddity about this All-Star Game is that 15 of the 16 starters voted in by the fans are from East Division teams, and that East Division players drew 61 percent of the votes. All eight American League starters are from the East, and Davis of Cincinnati is the only NL West player selected by the fans. Several players said this was no coincidence.
"With people in the East, the tradition is so deep," Baltimore Orioles catcher Terry Kennedy said. "They spend the winter reading about the next baseball season, and baseball coincides with spring, which is like a rebirth after a cold winter. Before it's warm enough to go to the swimming pool, they can go to the stadium, and it matters to them."
New York Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield had a different theory. "There's more of a concentration of media and population in the East," he said.
The roster also reflects the increased home run totals, with the eight AL starters averaging 17.25 homers per man and the NL starters 17.88 per man. Counting the entire rosters, the NL is averaging 14.2 homers per man, the AL 14.5.
"I hear so much about the juiced-up ball and all that," Boggs said, "but what about giving the player some credit? They're stronger, they have better bats and they're thinking home runs. When Mark McGwire hits his 62nd homer, is it just an asterisk record for the year of the juiced-up ball?"
All the players seemed to accept an appearance in the All-Star Game as an honor and a pleasure, with 11-time all-star Mike Schmidt saying, "Nothing will ever top the first All-Star Game in terms of enjoyment and pleasure. But this is still a thrill for me."
That might especially be true of the two managers, Johnson and Boston's John McNamara, both of whom find their teams all but out of contention at the break.
McNamara, a native of Sacramento, said he would leave about 40 tickets for various friends and family and said again and again that managing an All-Star Game might be a once-in-a-career occurrence for a manager.
"It's nice to come here after an uneventful first half," Johnson joked, alluding to the bickering and injuries that have plagued his Mets team. "I'm glad we haven't had any controversy."
Turning serious, he said, "This is a fun time for me and a relaxed time. You get the best players, and you let them express their talent. I'll give a little more playing time to the players in our league who are having great seasons. But there isn't much strategy involved. I'll just let them play."