In settling who’s in and who’s out of this year’s All-Star Game, it’s worth wondering about the players who always wound up on the outside looking in, no matter how distinguished their careers might have been. You know, the guys who never got voted in by the fans, and never wound up getting selected by the managers to fill out the All-Star bench, and who missed out on the dignity of being brought into the fold to fill in for some injured first- or second-cut All-Star. If three strikes and you’re out is the rule, you find that there’s a cadre of star players who were never granted the dignity of adding "All-" to that status.
Perhaps if this crew of unfortunates were ever assembled onto one roster, you could nominate Kirk Gibson to be the team’s player-manager. The man won an MVP award with the Dodgers in 1988 after all, and he delivered a couple of the most famous World Series home runs of the past 30 years -- the first a decisive, back-breaking blow for the Tigers in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series off Hall of Famer Goose Gossage; the second, an immortal shot coming off Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the ’88 Series.
So it might seem more than a little surprising that Gibby never got to participate in an All-Star Game as a player. A number of obvious factors contributed. First, as a corner outfielder, he was always just one more very good player in a very crowded field. Second, he didn’t exactly have an effortless rise to the top -- when Gibby finally became a star in ’84 (in his age-27 season), that was after he’d been knocking around in a Tigers uniform for years.
But finally and most importantly, Gibson usually had the “misfortune” of having a number of All-Star-worthy teammates, and that can get in the way of being honored when the selection process demands you include somebody from every team. In ’84 alone, the Tigers’ entire up-the-middle combo were on the All-Star team, as catcher Lance Parrish, second baseman Lou Whitaker, shortstop Alan Trammell, and center fielder Chet Lemon all garnered inclusion. Were Gibby a Cleveland Indian instead of a Tiger, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
You can also look at these so-called Uninvited by straightforward statistical criteria. Take Todd Zeile, a contributor to four different playoff teams, all of which had the distinction of losing to the Yankees -- the ’96 Orioles in the LCS, the ’98 and ’99 Rangers in the LDS, and the 2000 Mets in the World Series. Per Elias Sports Bureau, in the All-Star game era there have been 97 players with 250 career home runs and 2,000 hits, and Zeile is the only one who did not make an All-Star game.
Granted, Zeile is on the low end of both career totals with 2,004 hits and 253 homers, and the oddity of his playing for 11 different teams in the span of 12 years over his career probably did him no special favors. Add in a spotty defensive reputation at third base, and you can see how he fell through the cracks.
However, neither Zeile nor Gibson (with 255 career homers) has the honor of being the Never-Star with the most home runs. That title belongs to Tim Salmon with 299, although one of the best all-time Angels will almost certainly get passed by Pat Burrell (292 and counting).
Among highest career hit tallies, on-base machine Tony Phillips appears to lead with 2,023, but as one-time All-Star Eddie Yost can attest, being one of the game’s best walking men doesn’t necessarily draw the glamor of an All-Star invite, and Phillips’ positional flexibility made him an odd fit. Nowadays, Phillips would probably be a lock as a reserve selection because of that flexibility, but such are the vicissitudes of fate and bad timing.
Phillips won’t hold this honor for much longer, however, as Orlando Cabrera may have him beat by next week, since he has 2,018 career hits. Juan Pierre (1,927 hits) deserves mention in this regard. Switch over to batting average, and Hal Morris (.304) and Rusty Greer (.305) are the more recent notables, but Barney McCoskey (.312) has the highest career average for a Never-Star.
We should not ignore the men on the mound, but the list of criteria winds up a bit shorter. The highest career wins tally for a pitcher never invited to the All-Star Game appears to be the 185 won by Mike Torrez. Torrez is a perfect example of the kind of starter who doesn’t get voted onto an All-Star team. He was a mid-rotation workhorse, not an ace, and would have had a 12-year run of 30 start seasons if not for the strike of ’81. He won 20 games once, with the ’75 Orioles, but even then finished second to ace Jim Palmer (23). Perhaps most problematic for his gaining any positive notoriety was his wildness, as he averaged more than four walks per nine on his career, barely any more strikeouts.
Behind Torrez, you find Danny Darwin with 171 wins and 182 losses. Darwin essentially made a career out of being a swing man, starting more than 30 games just three times over a 21-year career. He could have been a rotation regular more often than that, of course, but he was so useful in a relief role that it seemed like his managers were always willing to shunt him into the bullpen. His ERA title in 1990, while starting 17 games and relieving in 31, remains something of a contemporary oddity in the statistical record.
After that, you get into a group of starters like Torrez. Although he won 168 games, Cardinals great Bob Forsch never got to represent his team in an All-Star Game, but the Birds’ great inning eater had just one 20-win season while pitching in three different World Series. The late Paul Splitorff was the Royals’ analog to Forsch, spending his entire career with K.C. while winning 166 games; as a workhorse who relied on his defense instead of piling up strikeouts (he averaged just 3.7 K/9 on his career), he was a lamentably overlooked star despite being a key element to the Royals’ contending teams of the late ’70s.
All of which goes towards observing something fairly obvious this time of year: Who winds up an All-Star isn’t always fair. It takes some peculiar misfortune to wind up never getting invited, of course, but it happens. A lot of moving around doesn’t look like it does a player any favors -- witness Zeile or the well-traveled Torrez -- but sometimes it happens to players who rate among their team’s all-time greats, as you might say of Salmon or Splitorff.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.