Of all the baseball records that are unlikely to be broken -- which normally includes Cy Young's 511 wins and 7,356 innings pitched, Rickey Henderson's 1,406 stolen bases, Cal Ripken's 2,632 consecutive games -- maybe the most underappreciated one is the number 25. That's the number of All-Star appearances for Hank Aaron, an astounding number that I can't fathom anyone ever approaching. Aaron had a decided advantage, of course, that today's players don't (and never will) have: From 1959-62, Major League Baseball had two All-Star Games each season, and Aaron played in seven of those eight games during such a short time period. That'll pad your stats.
But still, Aaron had All-Star appearances every year from 1955-75, missing only his first and last seasons (for the sake of record keeping, you don't actually have to play in an All-Star Game for it to count as an appearance; you just have to be on the team, even if you're injured). The total ultimately added up to 25, a record that will never be touched. Even though the roster for the All-Star Game has expanded in recent years to nearly 70 players, nobody has come close to the annual appearances that Aaron received.
Even if you take out the number of games Aaron played, he still made All-Star appearances in 21 seasons, a record in and of itself. And no one's going to come near that one either.
Think of the greatest players of the past 25 years, the inner circle Hall of Famers, the ones who weren't just fantastic players but also household names, the very definitions of All-Stars. Take a look at how many All-Star appearances they made:
Cal Ripken Jr.: 19
Tony Gwynn: 15
Barry Bonds: 14
Derek Jeter: 14
Alex Rodriguez: 14
Ivan Rodriguez: 14
Ken Griffey Jr.: 13
Mariano Rivera: 13
Those are the highest number of appearances for anyone who has played a game since 2002. Ripken appeared in 19, and no one else was even close. This is not just a matter of longevity either. Barry Bonds played from 1985-2006, 22 seasons, and inarguably played at an All-Star level in every single one of them. (Allotting for a brief transition period at the beginning of his career.) But he played four full seasons for the Pirates from 1986-89 without ever making an All-Star Game, and then missed again in 1991 despite leading the league in OPS and finishing second in National League MVP Award voting. (He actually got off to a slow start that season, but still.) Bonds missed the 1999 and 2005 games because of injury, and he wasn't selected in 2006 because of his .242 batting average, which seems rather short-sighted considering he would end up leading the majors in on-base percentage for the seventh time in eight years. Of course, that omission might have also had a bit to do with the public's increasing uneasiness with PED suspicions during Bonds' chase of Aaron's home run record.
But still. Bonds was, at minimum, one of the five or 10 best players in baseball every season essentially from 1990 to 2007, and he still missed four All-Star Games in that time. Aaron had some down years during his streak -- he had 12 homers with a .234 average in 1975, and in '68 he had his lowest batting average and his second-fewest homers in a decade -- but he still found a way onto the team every year.
For all the roster expansion, this just doesn't happen much anymore. This is not entirely, or even mostly, the players' fault. We have become a bit pedantic and persnickety in our All-Star selections. Now that home-field advantage in the World Series is no longer at stake, in an ideal world, you wouldn't worry about who was having a big first half and instead focus on the biggest names. It is not a game featuring the best players by WAR, or a counting stats showcase. It is a night to excite fans, to let them see the players they know and love more than anyone else.
Ichiro Suzuki is one of the most beloved and incredible baseball players any of us have ever seen. Do you know when his last All-Star appearance was? 2010. Have Ichiro's skills faded as he has gotten older? Sure, obviously. You still can't tell me the All-Star Game isn't better with him in it. Albert Pujols is one of the greatest baseball players in history, one who is still a core starter on a team with Mike Trout. He is going to reach 3,000 hits next season; he's got a legitimate chance to reach 700 homers. If you were to ask the average American to name 15 baseball players, a massive percentage of them would mention Pujols. But he has made one All-Star Game in the past seven years. Pujols actually missed in 2011, at the age of 31, in the prime of his career, during a season in which he finished fifth in NL MVP Award voting. Why? Because he was only batting .280 at the break and Bruce Bochy had to find a roster spot for a Marlins player. Thus, we've seen Gaby Sanchez in as many All-Star Games since 2010 as we have seen Pujols.
So it's little wonder that it's tough to put together extended streaks like Aaron's anymore, even with the massive rosters. The active player with the most All-Star appearances is Miguel Cabrera, with 11. Cabrera isn't having a fantastic season, and he did leave Tuesday's game early with hip tightness, but would you really rather see Yonder Alonso in the All-Star Game than him? Many have long argued for a Classic Player roster spot in the ASG -- or even just gone full bore with Joe Posnanski's clever idea of Olds vs. Youngs -- and this is as good a reason as any. You want to see future Hall of Famers in the All-Star Game. And right now, we're making that difficult.
Here's a good question for you: How many future Hall of Famers can you say are on this current MLB All-Star Game roster? Sure, there are players well on their way, if they keep going at their current pace: Trout (even while injured, he still counts because he won the fan voting), Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, and so on. But how many do you know are going to make it? You can make a strong argument that the player who has put together the strongest career Hall of Fame case at this point -- the one who would be closest if his career ended tomorrow -- on the All-Star roster this season is Yadier Molina, and even his HOF case is going to be hotly debated when he retires. But he's still the veteran of this team, the one who has been at the top of his field for more than a decade, the grizzled, popular player so many fans know and have cheered for in the past.
This is Molina's eighth All-Star Game. That number is the most of anyone on either league's roster this year. And frankly, he'll be lucky to make another one. Maybe Trout and Harper will end up becoming the next Aaron and Willie Mays, notching appearances for the next two decades. But more likely, they'll have a down first half one or two random years, and we'll have to fit a Phillies player on the roster, and they'll be left off, and we'll all miss an opportunity to see a future Hall of Famer, again. This is a game for stars, for the same familiar faces to be there every year. Here's hoping it gets treated along those lines sooner than later.
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