Twenty years ago, Cardinals shortstop Garry Templeton was not voted into the all-star starting lineup by the fans' ballots. Would the flamboyant "Jump Steady" join the team as part of the bench brigade?
"If I'm not startin', I'm not departin'," Templeton said, in words that -- presumably to his surprise -- will be remembered longer than his career.
Last week, Juan Gonzalez of Texas pulled a Templeton. If the fans weren't smart enough to know he should play ahead of Kenny Lofton in Tuesday's All-Star Game in Fenway Park, why then he'd just stay at home and get his rest. So there.
Actually, it's lucky Juan Gone isn't here. He's entirely the wrong sort of Gonzalez for this summer party anyway -- the blase superstar kind. This all-star game is the pride and joy of Alex Gonzalez and Luis Gonzalez, as well as 22 other tickled-to-death big leaguers who are here to play in their first Classic. And, as they know too well, perhaps their only one, too.
When rookie shortstop Alex Gonzalez of the Marlins found out he had been picked, the 21-year-old had a moment he'll never forget. "No one at home in Venezuela knew whether I would make it or not," he said. "When I phoned my family [in Turmero], my mother was the first to learn. I got to break the news to my whole country."
Luis Gonzalez, the 31-year-old journeyman outfielder for Arizona, is also powerfully glad to be here after years of dragging his .268 career average from the Astros to the Cubs to the Tigers. "I've got my camera right here under the table," he said, while delightedly granting dozens of interviews. "Some day, I want to be able to remember all of this. It's even more exciting because the fans of Phoenix made the case for me with almost a half a million write-in votes. That means a lot to me."
Perhaps never has an all-star game meant so much to so many, especially in the National League locker room, home of an incredible 17 first-timers.
"I bought a video camera for $650. I didn't have enough for the $1,400 camera," said Reds first baseman Sean Casey. "My fiancee and I took pictures at a family barbecue on Sunday. Then we took `Getting on the Airplane to go to the All-Star Game' pictures. We took movies at lunch, too. I bought two long-life batteries. God, I hope I don't wear 'em out before the game."
Sean, wouldn't you just rather have the three days off to rest?
"Some day, you'll be off forever," said Casey.
These days, with the example of Juan Gonzalez and so many others in sports, it's tempting to judge jocks as jaded jerks, until proven otherwise. One (of many) reasons the U.S. Women's World Cup soccer win was celebrated so jubilantly was because the players were joyous warriors, not bored pros.
You would hardly expect a major league all-star game to be a hive of bumptious enthusiasm, but this one is.
"It means more when it takes longer to get here," said 30-year-old Jeromy Burnitz of Milwaukee. "This is my 10th [pro] season. My first year in A ball, I played in Pittsfield Park near here. The field was [aligned] in the wrong direction. They had to stop the game every night for 15 minutes for the sun to go down in center field. . . . I guess I've come a long way."
Some of the all-stars here are so unknown that, even though they belong here, they have to re-prove themselves. A security guard refused to allow Reds reliever Scott Williamson to pass, saying, "You're not Scott Williamson. You're too short."
"I've been short for 23 years, and I'm not happy about it," snapped the player. "But I am Scott Williamson."
The guard still didn't believe him until other players vouched for him.
All this will be just one more story for Williamson's Uncle Eugene from Ellisville, Miss., to retell for the rest of his days. "The neatest thing about being an all-star is that you can bring somebody with you everywhere," Williamson said. "Uncle Eugene [Moseley] is a total fan. He's so thrilled he doesn't know what to do with himself. He's just a good ol' boy from Mississippi and here we were this morning taking a limo to tape a TV show.
"It tickles me and touches me that he's even happier than I am."
Is it possible that modesty can be found not merely in a big league locker room but in an all-star locker room to boot?
"I'm going to get an autograph from everybody," says Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal. "If Ted Williams [who's throwing out the first ball] gets within five steps of me, I will not be afraid to ask for his autograph, either."
Why Williams, particularly?
"To get here," said Lieberthal, "we came through a tunnel named after him. Now that's cool."
In the past, when future Hall of Famers outnumbered first-timers, the tone was different. "In my first all-star game, in '88, I didn't know what to do or what to say," said the Yankees' David Cone. "I sat in the corner and didn't speak unless spoken to."
Perhaps the Phillies' pitcher, Paul Byrd, is the Cone of '99. "I don't expect to pitch. If I do, great. But to sit in the bullpen with the jersey on is enough," he said.
The last few days have already been more than he can digest. A former Brave who spent parts of six years in Class AAA, he considers himself proof that "as long as you have a uniform, you have a chance."
After being named to the team for his 11-5 record, Byrd got a call from former teammate John Smoltz.
"When Smoltz called to congratulate me, I thought to myself, `What's wrong with this picture? John Smoltz isn't going and I am!' "
Until game time, Byrd plans to spend as much time as he can sightseeing with his two young sons, Grayson and Colby, and his dad, Larry. "I'm not big on memorabilia or cameras," he said. "I just want my own memories with my sons and father."
What sorts of memories?
"Well," said Byrd, lighting up, "when we go to restaurants in Boston, we use my father's name for reservations so we can see the reaction when they say `Table for Larry Byrd.' "