Every year, countless media outlets from major TV networks to small-time blogs debate back and forth about who should and shouldn’t be included on the MLB All-Star team. Like Dustin, I find it kind of pointless to talk about, mostly because the game itself means so little in the grand scheme of things. Sure, the home-field advantage thing is obtuse, but how often is that really going to decide the winner in the World Series anyway?
The point of this post is not to complain about the merits of an out-dated game, but to talk about ‘one-hit wonders’. No, I don’t mean The Vapors, Devo, or Lou Bega, I mean All-Star one-hit wonders like Jeff Zimmerman, Roger Pavlik, or Omar Infante.
Every year, there’s at least one guy who gets appointed to the team that forces you to take pause and reflect. I think most of us looked at the 2011 roster and shouted out loud, “Ryan Vogelsong??!??!?” My cats were not pleased that I woke them from their slumber with my surprise.*
Vogelsong is currently enjoying an outstanding season with the Giants. There’s no doubt that it’s a great story. Pretty much out of baseball at the age of 33, Vogelsong signs a minor-league deal with the team that drafted him and turns in one of the better first-halves in baseball. Given the rarity of such an event, I think Vogelsong’s election to the team is warranted, because after all, the All-Star game could use some compelling narratives once in a while.
But who are some other interesting one-hit wonders; guys who appeared on one All-Star team (some deservingly, some not) who had otherwise uneventful and easily forgotten careers?
Researching this subject, I quickly realized just how much work it was. There are over 900 players who made just one All-Star team. For some of them, it’s surprising that they haven’t been on more. Take Adam Dunn for instance. Before this year, Dunn was widely considered one of the best pure homerun hitters in the game, but he has played on just one All-Star team, in 2002. Or J.D. Drew, who has been as solid as they come throughout his career and also has just one nomination.
I decided, amidst this sea of information, that I would focus on just a few of my favourite one-hit wonders; two of them former Jays in Pat Tabler and Ed Sprague, and two that truly surprised me in Rolando Arrojo and Joel Youngblood.
Youngblood was a second round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970 January amateur draft and it took him more than six years to make it to the big leagues. After sipping a cup of coffee with the Reds and Cardinals, St. Louis traded him to the Mets for infielder Mike Phillips during the 1977 season. Youngblood would go on to become the best player on a terrible Mets team for a few years.
In 1981, at the age of 29, Youngblood was named to his only All-Star team in the strike-shortened campaign. Along with the strike and an injury, his career-season was shortened to just 161 plate appearances where he accumulated an impressive .350/.398/.531 slash line with four homeruns in an incredibly small sample size. For his career his slash line was just .265/.329/.392.
Youngblood spent 14 seasons in the big- leagues with the Reds, Cardinals, Mets, Expos and Giants and was a very valuable utility player accumulating a 10.4 rWAR, but I doubt many people think “All-Star” when looking back on his career.
Tabler is known more these days for being a mediocre colour-commentator for the Jays, but there was a time when he was a mediocre utility player in the Majors. We remember him fondly as a valuable bench player for Toronto during the 1991 and 1992 seasons, but he was also an adequate everyday player for Cleveland in the mid and late 80’s.
After a career season in 1986 where Tabler hit .326 as the everyday first baseman with the Clevelands, he once again started strong in the 1987 season. At the All-Star break, Tabler had a .308/.368/.451 slash line with seven homeruns, good enough to get him elected to his first and only All-Star team. He kept it up after the break too, finishing with similar numbers and 11 total homers.
Despite the solid numbers, Tabler finished the year with a middling 1.8 rWAR and finished his career with an even less impressive 2.7 rWAR. Like Youngblood, your first thought of Tabler is probably not “All-Star”, it’s probably “What the hell did he just say about RBIs?”
The expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays were looking for some experienced pitching heading into their first season in Major League Baseball in 1998 and turned to Cuban star pitcher Rolando Arrojo to get it. The 29-year-old Arrojo was the staff ace of Villa Clara in Cuba when the team won three consecutive Cuban National Series titles from 1993-1995. In fact, if you’ve ever been to Augusto César Sandino Stadium in Santa Clara, you’ve probably seen the plaque dedicated to Arrojo out in front of the stadium.
Arrojo burst onto the scene in 1998 with Tampa Bay, posting a 10-5 record with a 3.06 ERA in 18 starts with a 7.16/2.01/0.75 pitcher slash line.** He struggled in the second-half, but still finished second in AL Rookie-of-the-Year voting to the A’s Ben Grieve (I know right, thin rookie-class).
Arrojo went on to pitch four more years with the D-Rays, Rockies, and Red Sox, but was never the same pitcher that he was in the first half of the 1998 season. He finished his career with a 40-42 record, a 4.55 ERA, and a 6.58/3.28/1.07 line.
In 1996, Sprague enjoyed a career season with the Jays, popping 36 homeruns and a .247/.325/.465 slash line accumulating a 2.4 rWAR. Outside of that one year, Sprague wasn’t much to talk about, but that surprisingly was not the year he made the All-Star team.
In 1999, after he signed a one-year, $1.3-million deal with the Pirates, Sprague put up a terrific first half. Heading into the All-Star break, he had a .300/.402/.545 slash line with 16 homeruns playing everyday third base for the Bucs. After the break, Sprague turned back into a pumpkin hitting just .220/.270/.350 with six homeruns. That year, he wound up with a meagre 0.3 rWAR and spent only two more seasons in the bigs with the Padres, Red Sox, and Mariners before calling it quits in 2001.
Heading into the 2011 season, I doubt anyone could have predicted Ryan Vogelsong would be on the All-Star team and if I were a betting man, I’d take the under on him ever doing it again. To me, this is a big reason for the All-Star game, seeing that one or two players that you didn’t expect to see there and probably never will again. For me, that’s always been a more compelling narrative than the player who gets there every year, whether he deserves it or not.
So I’ll throw it to you, Blankards, who are your favourite one-hit wonders?
*Yeah, I have cats, so what? Wanna fight about it?