The days of honorary All-Star selections, it appears, are gone. Because of the home-field importance of the Midsummer Classic, no more graying Cal Ripkens or hobbling Mike Schmidts -- who actually retired before his 1989 appearance -- will be penciled into this year's All-Star lineups. So when grumblings of Tim Wakefield's 2009 selection surface, tinged with terms of "undeserving" or "washed-up," it's safe to say that those naysayers are looking only at the 42-year-old's age and saying that his impending appearance, the first of his career, was little more than a way of showing gratitude for a long and semi-prosperous career.
But they'd be missing the point. Sure, sport's moral compass could point to his deservedness -- Wakefield is one of the most-respected ambassadors of the game -- but it just so happens that his 2009 stats are pointing to the same midsummer conclusion. The knuckleballer's 11 wins are tied for the majors' best, and he's been the panacea in the bumping, bruised Boston rotation, helping the Red Sox to the best record in the league at the break.
Wakefield's selection couldn't have come soon enough. At 42 years old, with 17 years under his belt, his tank is almost on empty. Granted, he could pull a Phil Niekro and throw until he's collecting social security, but odds are his knuckleball will soon lose its flutter. Fortunately, his All-Star selection won't soon lose its luster. With his appearance Tuesday, Wakefield -- at 42 years, 347 days -- will join a pantheon of Hall-of-Famers, Negro League stars and flameouts on the list of oldest first-time All-Stars.
Satchel Paige, P, St. Louis BrownsSelected: 1952Age: 46 years, one dayOne of the most well-worn, well-recognized and well-celebrated stars of the Negro Leagues, Paige's best year actually came in 1949, when he had a 3.04 ERA and a 1.241 WHIP with the Cleveland Indians. The Long Rifle, who was famously unsure of his birth date, didn't see any action in the 1952 game, although he gave up three hits and a pair of runs in the '53 Midsummer Classic. But his age was immaterial. For someone who had to wait nearly 20 years to crack the major leagues -- and who Joe DiMaggio said "was the best pitcher I ever saw" -- Paige had the right mentality: "Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter."
Jamie Moyer, P, Seattle MarinersSelected: 2003 Age: 40 years, 239 days"He's like a fine wine, he gets batter with age," said then Minnesota third-base coach Al Newman. "No, actually, he gets slower." That may be true. Every year that Moyer chugs along, his pitches seem to take more and more time to reach home plate. In 2003 Moyer, now 46, punched his first All-Star ticket. Twirling an inning of hitless ball, Moyer shone in what, so far, is his only All-Star appearance -- a remarkable fact when you realize that he has the second-most wins among active pitchers (253, to Randy Johnson's 303).
Connie Marrero, P, Washington SenatorsSelected: 1951Age: 39 years, 333 daysLike Paige, Marrero suffered the slings of segregation. One of the greatest pitchers Cuba has ever produced, Marrero was an unquestioned talent on the hill. Ted Williams once opined, "You let [Marrero] get ahead of you in the count and you're dead." By the time he made it to his first Midsummer Classic, in his second season with the Senators, Marrero's age was easy to see, and he rode the bench while the National League won 8-3. Although he never made another All-Star appearance, it's possible Marrero holds the record for most All-Star Games watched -- at 98, and once again living in Cuba, he's the oldest ex-pitcher alive.
Ted Lyons, P, Chicago White SoxSelected: 1939Age: 38 years, 195 daysWith 16 years under his belt, Lyons was actually somewhat lucky to return to the White Sox in 1939 --William Harridge, then-AL president, said, "The main reason the White Sox retained Lyons [for the '39 season] was because management was sentimental." Good move. The right-hander was magnificent that year, leading the majors with a 1.089 WHIP to finally make his first All-Star Game. While he had a league-best 2.10 ERA over the next three years, he never made it back, although as a member of the Hall of Fame he soon found himself participating in the midsummer scrimmages outside of Cooperstown.
Charlie Hough, P, Texas RangersSelected: 1986Age: 38 years, 191 daysHough is the member of the "oldest first-timers" club whose career most resembles Wakefield's: After 16 years as an underappreciated knuckleballer, Hough's first-half success in 1986 -- only five other AL pitchers held batters to a lower batting average -- earned him a spot on the hill in Houston's Astrodome. Hough managed three strikeouts in 1.2 innings of work, but he gave Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman fits behind the plate, and a passed ball and a wild pitch allowed the NL to score an unearned run. Said Hough, "It was a dull game until I came in there. ... The balls [Gedman] missed didn't really get away from him. He just missed them with his glove."
Babe Ruth, OF, New York YankeesSelected: 1933Age: 38 years, 150 daysAlthough his prime had passed by the time the All-Star Game was born -- Ruth finished the 1933 season with "only" 34 home runs -- the Bambino could still swat with the best. Most of his tales are apocryphal, but some larger-than-life legends are true. Case in point: In the bottom of the third, with Charlie Gehringer on first and NL starter Bill Hallahan still on the hill, Ruth drove the left-hander's offering into Comiskey Park's right-field stands for the first home run in All-Star history. The shot proved to be the difference in the AL's 4-2 win in the inaugural contest, and would be Ruth's only All-Star RBI in his two appearances.
Doyle Alexander, P, Detroit TigersSelected: 1988,Age: 37 years, 311 daysHistory knows Alexander as the righty who helped the Braves fleece John Smoltz from the Tigers, but soon after the 1987 trade it looked like it was Detroit that had made the steal. Up until the 1988 season Alexander had a 3.66 ERA and a middling .545 winning pct. But in the first few months of the season he lowered his ERA to 3.15 and earned twice as many wins (8) as losses (4). He didn't pitch in his only All-Star Game, and after losing a league-leading 18 games in 1989 he promptly hung up his cleats.
Takashi Saito, P, Los Angeles DodgersSelected: 2007Age: 37 years, 146 daysBefore the game in San Francisco, Saito was no stranger to All-Star competitions, having appeared in four in Japan. (Somehow the Japanese reliever missed out on a 2006 selection, when he finished his rookie season eighth in the Cy Young voting.) With an inning of hitless ball, Saito seemed poised on the hill under the brightest of lights. But when asked about his feelings he revealed how starry-eyed he was: "It's not something I can believe is really happening," he said. "It's almost a dream-like feeling. It's hard to find the words to say how I feel. I never really thought it would come to this."
George Crowe, 1B, Cincinnati RedsSelected: 1958Age: 37 years, 108 daysThe NL's oldest first-time position player, Crowe, who found early success in the Negro Leagues before playing with the Boston Braves in 1952, came within a hair of making the All-Star Game the year before. Playing for Cincinnati in 1957, the first baseman's squad was at the heart of the first All-Star scandal, a ballot-stuffing initiative that saw Crowe's teammates dominate the voting. Crowe owns the dubious honor of being the only Red not to earn a starting spot, losing by a few votes to Stan Musial. Crowe eventually set the record for most pinch-hit home runs (14, though the record was later surpassed by Cliff Johnson's 20).
Gene Woodling, OF, Baltimore OriolesSelected: 1959Age: 36 years, 352 daysWere this list comprised of minor-league All-Star berths, Woodling would surely not appear. The hulking outfielder dominated in the Cleveland Indians' system, earning three minor-league batting titles. However, after winning five World Series rings with the Yankees -- and posting a league-best .429 OBP in 1953 -- Woodling didn't make his first All-Star squad until 1959. The Oriole sat for the NL's 5-4 win, but his name will live on: Woodling hit the first pinch-hit triple in World Series history (1952).