Tuesday June 29th, 2010

In 1976, the All-Star Game starting pitcher for the American League was a rookie with a 1.78 ERA and 43 strikeouts who didn't make his first start until May 15 that year. And that night, largely on the strength of Mark (The Bird) Fidrych getting the ball, the ratings for the All-Star Game shot up 26 percent. More than half the people watching TV that night watched the All-Star Game. Viewership was 36.3 million people -- the most ever measured for the Midsummer Classic.

Stephen Strasburg might not have the mass appeal of Fidrych, and the fractured television world is nothing like what it was in 1976 (14.6 million watched the All-Star Game last year), but Strasburg is the biggest drawing card in baseball today, and don't think baseball's TV partners don't know it. The kid has a 2.27 ERA and 48 strikeouts in five starts.

People want to see Strasburg. In Atlanta, 21,608 people bought tickets after his fourth start to be there for his fifth, including 9,601 who showed up to buy tickets Monday night before the game, creating huge lines. The only argument against giving him the ball is the old school one that he "hasn't paid his dues." Come on. He will be a phenom only once. By the All-Star Game next year the newness of Strasburg will be gone.

While Strasburg and his All-Star candidacy continue to get national attention, it's worth turning the spotlight on players who are just as deserving of being selected, if not more so, but get almost no notice. This year the All-Star rosters have been expanded to 34 -- and because starting pitchers who pitch two days before the game will be replaced, as well as the usual injured players, you might get as many as 75 players named All-Stars. (In 1958 there were 50.)

Surely there must be room for these guys: the All-Overlooked All-Star Team. These are the guys who you won't find on magazine covers or causing huge walkup sales or generating much national debate about whether they deserve to be on the All-Star team. Most of them are journeymen -- only one of them, Corey Hart, has ever been to an All-Star Game. But here are 10 guys who have been flying under the radar with All-Star worthy numbers.

Miguel Olivo, Rockies

He turns 32 next month, is playing for his sixth organization, and signed a bargain contract as a free agent last winter ($2.5 million for this year, with the Rockies holding an option for next year at the same rate). But Olivo should finally get some recognition. He has thrown out more than half of potential base stealers and leads all catchers in OPS (.900) while smashing 11 homers with 38 RBI and even four triples.

Joey Votto, Reds

The NL Central is First Base Central, with Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Lance Berkman and Derrek Lee all doing business. Votto, who has reached base in 38 straight games (the longest by a Red since Pete Rose in 1978), doesn't take a back seat to anyone this year, Pujols included:

Martin Prado, Braves

The Braves began to turn around their season when manager Bobby Cox put Prado into the leadoff position. Prado has hit .356 out of the top spot. The guy can flat out rake. He batted .300 in the minors and has hit .315 in the majors, including .331 this year with a major league-best 108 hits -- putting him on pace to break the Atlanta record of 219 by Ralph Garr in 1971.

Juan Uribe, Giants

He's not your prototypical shortstop. Uribe weighs 230 pounds, turns 31 next month, has never knocked in more than 74 runs, is a career .258 hitter and never has made an All-Star team. But thanks to a breakout year (no shortstop has more than his 12 homers and 45 RBI), Uribe might join Barry Bonds (2007) as the only San Francisco position players to make an All-Star team in the past five years. And he could be the first Giant since Bonds six years ago to drive in 100 runs.

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

The major league home run leader once was passed like a holiday fruitcake from the Pirates to the Orioles to the Rays to the Royals to the Mets and back to the Pirates -- all within seven months at age 23. Now 29, Bautista, with 20 homers, already has blown past his previous career high (16). There are indications that pitchers have stopped feeding him fastballs (.162 in his past 20 games), but Bautista still qualifies as the most surprising slugger of the year.

Brennan Boesch, Tigers

The kid hasn't has the hype of Jason Heyward, Austin Jackson or Strasburg, but Boesch has been the best rookie in the big leagues and deserves to go to home to Southern California for the All-Star Game. Hitting .335 with a 1.000 OPS, Boesch is an aggressive hitter with great lift to his swing. He has put the ball in play on the first or second pitch 44 percent of the time -- and is batting .472 in those at-bats.

Marlon Byrd, Cubs

A lot has gone right for GM Jim Hendry and the Cubs despite an awful record: the Milton Bradley-for-Carlos Silva swap, the play of rookie Tyler Colvin, the ridiculous strikeout numbers of Carlos Marmol as a full-time closer, the bounceback from Geovany Soto -- and what could be a career year from free agent signee Byrd, 32. He leads all center fielders in batting average (.311) and hits (90) and leads all major leaguers in doubles (25). Colby Rasmus of St. Louis is becoming a star this season, but he shouldn't be under anybody's radar by now.

Corey Hart, Brewers

He wasn't even a regular player when the season started and had just three homers on May 14. But Hart, with an adjustment in his batting stance, went on a red-hot home run tear to take over the league lead with 18 dingers.

Ricky Romero, Blue Jays

He has allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of his 16 starts, but has two losses and five no-decisions in those 11 gems. The Blue Jays lost his past two starts by scores of 1-0 and 2-1. Romero (6-4, 2.83 ERA) has struck out 101 batters in 104 1/3 innings while throwing one of the best changeups in the game.

Arthur Rhodes, Reds

At 40, and after more than 800 games, Rhodes should be an All-Star for the first time. Since he gave up a run in his second appearance, Rhodes has tied a major league record with 33 straight scoreless appearances, covering 30 innings. Rhodes (2-1, 0.28) has found new life to his career after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing the 2007 season. Since then, at ages 38-40, he is 7-3 with a 1.79 ERA.

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