Ripping all-star selections is not like shooting fish in a barrel. It's easier. Actually, it's hard to imagine that any ardent fan could agree -- 16 for 16 -- with the popular vote or -- 40 for 40 -- with Tony La Russa and Roger Craig, the managers who fill out the full rosters.
So we need to restrain ourselves a bit every year. It's a hard job. On the other hand, look who's not coming to Chicago's Wrigley Field Tuesday night:
Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden.
The two best active strikeout artists in the game will stay home.
Ryan, the lone 5,000-strikeout man in history, just pitched his sixth no-hitter and should soon win his 300th game. He's 7-4 and second in the AL in strikeouts. Every fan in America wants to hug him one more time. And, even at 43, he's more likely to break Carl Hubbell's record of five straight all-star strikeouts than anybody else. If La Russa gets a last-second injury, no matter the position, he should undo his bonehead flub and pick Ryan.
Gooden, the only 100-win pitcher in history with a .700 winning percentage, was just clocked at 100 mph. So what if he's "only" 8-5. He's Dwight Gooden. He's second in the league in strikeouts, third in innings and fifth in wins. Blink and he might win his next 10. Where is he?
Dr. K is at home because Craig picked his own reliever, Jeff Brantley (12 career saves). This may not be the ugliest example of favoritism in all-star history. But it may. Craig, who also picked Dennis Martinez -- 6-6 at the time -- should be ashamed.
Robin Yount and Carlton Fisk aren't coming to Wrigley either.
Yount is a reigning league MVP and a likely 3,500-hit man. To take Ellis Burks, who's still just a perennially promising player, as the AL's backup center fielder is an insult to one of the game's fine careers. And now Burks, hurting, is replaced by an infielder, Brook Jacoby.
As for Fisk, he's a future Hall-of-Famer who's on the verge of passing Johnny Bench for the most career homers by a catcher. He's also hitting around .280 as captain of the season's surprise team, while guiding a kid pitching staff to shocking success.
Yount and Fisk are doubly needed at this All-Star Game because the sport finds itself between generations. Names such as Boggs, Clemens, Canseco and Puckett will one day stand high on the all-time leaders lists. But they don't yet. This game needs all the charisma it can get. For example, Hank Aaron had seven 120-RBI seasons (plus a couple of 118s) and hit 35 homers 11 times (plus a couple of 34s). The 1990 All-Stars combined have only seven 120-RBI years and eight 35-homer years. The same holds for pitching. Jim Palmer won 20 eight times. All the pitchers on these staffs have done it five times.
This is no season to be leaving Hall-of-Famers at home. Borderline calls -- like Don Mattingly, hitting .253 now but with five 110-RBI years in the last six -- should have gone to some glamour names.
Who else is missing?
Bo Jackson and Eric Davis.
The two best athletes in baseball? Close. Sure, Bo's overrated. But the 1989 All-Star MVP has 16 homers and was fourth among outfielders in fan voting. As for Davis, per 160 games in his career, he's averaged 35 homers, 100 RBI and 55 steals. Couldn't Craig have bypassed one of his six left-side infielders?
It's okay to omit George Brett, Pedro Guerrero, Tim Raines, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Dwight Evans and Lou Whitaker. But where are Mike Boddicker and Glenn Davis? Boddicker had a 10-game winning streak for a division leader. Davis, Mr. 30-Homers and 95-RBI in the Astrodome, is the game's most underrated slugger.
Finally, where is Dave Stewart?
He's the best pitcher in baseball with three straight 20-win seasons, reigning World Series MVP and, for crying out loud, a no-hitter just days ago. He's on a 21-win pace and is first in the league in complete games, second in innings and fifth in ERA. His own manager left him off. What gives? La Russa protecting his regular season rotation?
So who is going to Chicago?
It's a curious bunch.
Gregg Olson and Greg Olson.
Dennis Martinez and Ramon Martinez.
Dave Smith and Doug Jones. (Or is it Doug Smith and Dave Jones?)
Bobby Thigpen and Rob Dibble.
Sandy Alomar Jr. and Roberto Alomar.
Ken Griffey Jr. and Cal Ripken Jr.
Actually, the starting lineups are the least annoying in years. The voting fans did a good job. One choice was a real stinker, though: Cecil Fielder should have gotten a start.
For his part, La Russa balanced his gaffes with some nice calls. Thigpen and Jones aren't glamorous but they've earned their spots. The world wants to see 6-foot-10 Randy Johnson of no-hitter fame.
The All-Stars of '90 probably will have to take more flak than they deserve simply because their tangible credentials are skimpy. Many have had one huge statistical year amidst several more modest ones. Is it a trend for players such as Tim Wallach, Kevin Mitchell, Andre Dawson, Mark McGwire, George Bell, Ryne Sandberg, Len Dykstra, Fielder and others to have one mega-year that far surpasses all their others?
The only players who will be in Wrigley on Tuesday who, if they never played another game, would go directly to Cooperstwon, are probably Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs and Ozzie Smith. But there are perhaps a dozen in this game who, if they stay healthy, have Hall of Fame tickets in their reach -- from Jose Canseco, Will Clark and Roger Clemens to McGwire, Ripken and Kirby Puckett.
In the 1980s, a dozen players retired who had 300 wins, 3,000 hits or 450 home runs. Now our pleasant job is to sift through The New Batch.
How did Ramon Martinez strike out 18 in a game? What does a 6-10 southpaw with no-hit stuff look like? Can this 20-year-old Griffey, leading the league in hitting, be real? Which young Alomar is better? (In the Encyclopedia, Roberto is already a rarity: "Son of Sandy Alomar. Brother of Sandy Alomar.") Is Gregg Olson's curve better than Bert Blyleven's? Just how nasty is a Dibble? And can a Fielder really become the game's next great slugger?
But if Nolan Ryan doesn't bother to watch, maybe you can understand.