The 20 Most Obscure MLB All-Stars of the 21st Century
As the baseball world turns to Arizona for the 2011 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, it is time to look back at some of the strangest All-Star selections over the last decade (plus one). From guys who barely classify as one-year wonders to players who bounced around for many years being consistently mediocre, there have been a bunch of All-Stars who will surprise you.
The thing that I found astounding while putting together this list, is that guys that were All-Stars could find themselves out of professional baseball only two years later. The ultra-competitive nature of playing a professional sport makes it a transient, or fleeting, goal that can escape one’s grasp overnight.
This list will serve as a happy reminder for some of those obscure selections who got to experience an incredible three-day baseball heaven.
1. Jon Lieber: 2001 National League All-Star
Lieber, a career No. 4 pitcher, had one fantastic season with the Chicago Cubs. In 2001, the Cubs were mediocre, as usual. The starting rotation was weak and the only pitcher of note was Kerry Wood, who was only in his second full season. Lieber took control of the staff and dominated his way to a 20-6 record in 2001.
What makes Lieber obscure is the fact that in his 14-year career, he only won more than 12 games three times and had a losing record in eight of his 14 seasons. He retired in 2008 after trying to help bring some of the lost magic back to Chicago.
2. Junior Spivey: 2002 NL All-Star
In 2002, the infamous year of the All-Star Game tie, Junior Spivey was the backup for perennial All-Star Jose Vidro. Spivey, who in 2002 batted .301 for the Arizona Diamondbacks, was a 27-year-old rookie getting his first real shot.
After his standout season of 2002, Spivey was unable to replicate his success and found himself out of the MLB three years later, following short stints with Milwaukee and Washington.
Although Spivey never panned out or stuck around long enough to become a household name, his place on the All-Name team will be eternal.
3. J.J. Hardy: 2007 NL All-Star
The saga of the mediocre middle infielder continues with J.J. Hardy, who in 2007 was named an All-Star while on the Milwaukee Brewers. Hardy had a good season in ’07, batting .277 with 26 home runs and 80 RBI, but struggled mightily afterwards.
He lost his starting job the next season and was forced to come off the bench, being a utility player for the Brewers before going to Minnesota.
Hardy’s jump to the American League did not pay any dividends last season; he spent 2010 jumping around the infield. However, a trade to the Baltimore Orioles has given Hardy hope. He is now batting .284 with 13 home runs this season.
4. Esteban Loaiza: 2-Time American League All-Star, 2003 and 2004
Loaiza has been a household name before, having a couple of fantastic years in the American League. However, remembering the fact that Loaiza got to start the 2003 All-Star Game is one of the memories that will make me smile for a long time.
Loaiza, who had a great 2003 in which he went 21-9 and earned the start for the AL squad, got the nod over Roger Clemens, C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Barry Zito. The fact that he was the starter in 2003 over all of these pitchers—almost all Hall-of-Fame locks—makes him an important, obscure factoid for baseball trivia forever.
Loaiza went on to have a very mediocre career and was out of the Majors by the middle of 2008. His 126-114 career record is respectable due to his two truly magical seasons. I am sure he will one day tell his grandchildren about how he got to start a game over some of the best pitchers of all-time.
5. Derrick Turnbow: 2006 NL All-Star
Turnbow, an old Anaheim Angel who never settled into a permanent spot on the Angels roster, found his way to Milwaukee in 2005 as a hard-throwing reliever. Turnbow’s problem was always his control, but Derrick seemed to master the art of throwing strikes for one-and-a-half glorious seasons.
He took control of the role of closer for the Brewers in 2005 and was named to the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. However, later that year the wheels fell off and Turnbow stopped throwing strikes. Only two seasons later, Turnbow found himself out of baseball at only 30 years old.
The cruel ability of the baseball gods to turn on a pitcher is a sad but eternal fact of life for major leaguers.
6. Ken Harvey: 2004 AL All-Star
Ken Harvey, perhaps the most obscure All-Star of all time, was a first baseman for the Kansas City Royals in the 2004 season. Battling such notorious players as Mike Sharperson and Steve Rogers for the coveted title of most unknown and unrecognizable players to ever play in an All-Star Game, Harvey might take the prize because of his credentials—or lack thereof.
Harvey, a University of Nebraska slugger, worked his way through a very thin Kansas City farm system and found himself starting for the Royals' major league club only two years after being drafted. Harvey started for the Royals in both 2003 and 2004, batting around .270, but not showing the power most thought he would supply.
Harvey was the Royals' obligatory pick in 2004 to play in the 2004 All-Star Game in Houston. He struck out against Randy Johnson in his only at-bat. A mere two years later, Harvey was playing independent league baseball for the Kansas City T-Bones of the Northern League.
It was a fall from grace for a player with high hopes, but unfortunately Harvey just became another example of the combination of both luck and skill that is required to be successful in the Majors.
A true everyman, Harvey ought be proud that he got the chance to do something that so many others do not: play in an All-Star Game.
7. Cesar Izturis: 2005 NL All-Star
Cesar’s inclusion to the 2005 All-Star Game is one of the nicest gifts any person has ever received. Cesar, a great defensive shortstop with minimal offensive production, was named to the 2005 team mostly because of his tremendous ability to have multiple “web gems” a night.
In 2004, his bat came “alive” and he batted .288 and won a Gold Glove—it was not out of reach for him to make the 2005 All-Star team. However, in 2005, Cesar returned to his normal self and batted .257, probably making him one of the worst offensive All-Stars of all time. Even after a hot start to 2005, his production truly did not warrant a trip to the All-Star Game.
Since being traded away from the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he had his best years, Cesar has struggled to find a home and now, at 31 years old, he is a backup for the Baltimore Orioles. Cesar is a true testament to the fact that no matter how good you are with the glove, there is no glory for those who cannot bat above .275.
8. Takashi Saito: 2007 National League All-Star
It is a very strange thought for Dodger fans that it has already been four years since “Sammy” Saito was a member of their bullpen, closing out games even before the Jonathan Broxton-era that now could be gone forever.
Saito came to the MLB from Japan at 36 and thoroughly impressed everyone in the Dodgers organization. A fantastic steal for his price, Saito brought experience and a calmness to a Dodgers team that seemed to always be amiss.
He took over for the truly-defunct Eric Gagne and ushered in a new era of Dodger blue. In 2007, he rightfully deserved to be a part of the NL All-Star team, although retrospectively Saito’s career was doomed by age from the beginning.
Currently, at 41 years old, Saito has returned from the disabled list and is pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers. Saito is now the average middle reliever, after bouncing around the league. One only wonders what his career would have been if he came over a decade earlier.
9. Gil Meche: 2007 American League All-Star
Meche, who made the conscious decision to join the Kansas City Royals after the 2006 season, took quite a beating during his four-year stint, which degenerated his pitching arm. Meche was the Royals’ obligatory selection to the 2007 squad, although he finished 2007 with a subpar 9-13 record.
Meche, who retired instead of trying to rehabilitate his injury, finished his 10-year career with a 84-83 record and a 4.49 ERA, which some could call the most mediocre numbers in All-Star history.
Meche will be remembered as a pitcher who continued to battle, no matter how bad his team around him was, but never panned out to be the franchise changer that Kansas City hoped him to be.
10. Cristian Guzmán: 2-Time All-Star, 2001 and 2008
One more middle infielder for the obscure record books. Guzman, who broke into the Majors with the Minnesota Twins in 1999, had a very impressive 2001 in which he batted .301 and brought some defensive pizazz to the Twins infield.
However, Guzman never reached the levels of Miguel Tejada or even the previously mentioned Mark Loretta. Guzman toiled away for the Twins and then the Washington Nationals, where he was the Nationals obligatory All-Star in 2008.
Although two All-Star appearances made Guzman’s career that much sweeter, he currently finds himself out of baseball after a short stint with the Texas Rangers.
Guzman’s .271 career batting average and career .383 slugging percentage might be the lowest of any position player to be named to two All-Star games. Still, he has been in two more All-Stars than many other players.
11. Joe Crede: 2008 AL All-Star
Crede, a valuable member of the Chicago White Sox organization for many seasons as a respectable third baseman, was named to the 2008 All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium in one of his worst seasons. Crede finished 2008 with a .248 batting average and only 17 home runs.
Granted, Crede was hampered by a nagging back injury that season, but still he remains one of the more invalidated selections of all time.
Crede was a White Sox staple for his five prime seasons in the south side of Chicago, but found himself non-tendered and trying to latch on with the rival Twins only a season after being named an All-Star. Only one more season later, at the ripe old age of 32, Crede pulled away from baseball and has practically ended his career.
Crede will always be a part of one of the best modern-day All-Star Games of all time—the extra-inning thriller in the last year of the House that Ruth Built.
12. Dioner Navarro: 2008 AL All-Star
Crede’s 2008 All-Star teammate was none other than Tampa Bay catcher Dioner Navarro. Navarro, a highly touted prospect who was traded from the New York Yankees to the Los Angeles Dodgers, never could produce offensively and lost his chance of starting to Russell Martin.
Navarro then ended up with the Rays and for one magical season had a very hot bat. His .295 average in 2008 is over 50 points higher than his career average and garnished a trip to New York to join the best from the American League.
However, Navarro’s overall time in the Majors has been a disappointment. Now, Navarro is trying to revitalize his career with the lackluster Dodgers, showcasing his defensive abilities at the very least.
Navarro’s obscure selection in 2008 might not be the only one he receives, considering he is only 27 and is still in the league. However, his current .183 average does not give much hope for the future.
13. Milton Bradley: 2008 AL All-Star
The constant ticking time bomb, Milton Bradley’s career has been filled with disastrous public calamities and blowups. Bradley, a talented player from his start with Montreal and Cleveland, finally put together a complete season with the Texas Rangers in 2008, warranting an All-Star selection and being named the starting designated hitter.
Bradley, who hit a tremendous .321 with 22 home runs and 77 RBI in 2008, earned the nod, but the rest of his immature antics have disgraced much of baseball. Bradley, recently designated for assignment after causing trouble in the Seattle Mariner clubhouse, finds himself out of a job after bouncing around to his ninth team.
His All-Star selection is not one of the first memories that comes to mind when thinking about Milton Bradley, (batteries not included). Just don’t give the man a sharp object, bag of baseballs, baseball bat (as seen here)...or a plastic bottle.
14. Scott Podsednik: 2005 AL All-Star
Scotty Pods is a very stereotypical, speedy outfielder, which is not what one thinks about when determining All-Star status. Podsednik was a valuable leadoff hitter and base stealer and was instrumental in helping the Chicago White Sox win the World Series in his peak season of 2005.
Podsednik batted .290 that year, which is a respectable number for a slap-hitting outfielder. But, rightfully so, many criticized his selection to the 2005 All-Star team.
Podsednik was a starting outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, but found himself having to earn playing time once he came over to the White Sox. Although he had little power and did not draw as many walks as other leadoff hitters, his speed made up for it and Scott was able to wreak havoc on the bases.
However, his success was short lived; his offensive production became so paltry that he could not even utilize his tremendous speed. After bouncing around to numerous teams as a fourth outfielder, Podsednik found himself out of work after the 2010 season at only 34.
15. Dontrelle Willis: 2-Time All-Star, 2003 and 2005
The D-Train, all 6'4" of him, burst onto the national stage in 2003 with a wild delivery and tons of strikeouts. Willis was named an All-Star in his rookie season, a large honor for the Oakland, CA, native.
Willis and National League All-Star teammate Mark Prior, who could very easily also make this list, were supposed to be the “next big things” in baseball. Willis had two more decent campaigns before the wheels fell out and he could no longer throw strikes.
Willis has since bounced around to Detroit and Arizona and has been one of few major leaguers who has openly dealt with his anxiety by talking to the media about it. Willis was placed on the disabled list for having such bad anxiety that it affected his performance.
Since opening up about it, both baseball and the media have started raising awareness and keeping a closer eye out, trying to help other players who are struggling with nerves and constant anxiety.
Although Willis’ career might never return to form, even as he attempts a comeback through the Cincinnati Reds organization, his courage to speak openly about his inner-demons has led to a better overall atmosphere for athletes. For that, not to mention his fun-loving attitude and blazing fastball, I respect the D-Train.
16. Mark Loretta: 2006 AL All-Star
Another man that has earned my respect, Mark Loretta had an outstanding career filled with performances that warranted a trip to the All-Star Game. In 2004, as a member of the San Diego Padres, Loretta batted .335 and earned his spot on the team.
However, only three seasons later, Loretta found himself starting for the American League All-Star team as a result of being a member of one of the most popular teams in the league, the Boston Red Sox. This led to one of the biggest mistakes in All-Star voting history.
Loretta was named the starter even though he was batting .265 and finished the year at .284. Despite the fact that Robinson Cano was having his breakout season, Red Sox Nation still defeated their arch-rivals in getting the most All-Stars elected.
Not that it was Loretta's fault, but Cano should have been starting if the best players were the ones out there. Loretta was the recipient of tremendous fortune for being a Red Sox for one practically forgettable season in a very formidable career.
17. Mike Williams: 2003 NL All-Star
Who? That is an appropriate question to ask.
Why? This is also an acceptable question.
Mike Williams was a mid-level closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2002, having never recorded more than 30 saves and never having an ERA under 3.00. Williams found his groove in 2002 and recorded 46 saves, but still did not make any headlines.
Williams was then named Pittsburgh’s lone representative in 2003, but instead of Williams replicating his impressive numbers, he suffered through a painful season where his ERA finished at 6.14. He was removed from the closer’s role soon after the All-Star break.
After a trade to Philadelphia failed to revitalize his career, he was out of professional baseball by 2004, choosing not to try to overcome a nagging arm injury. Still, I don’t think even the most knowledgeable of baseball buffs will remember Williams’ moment in the spotlight—at least not Mike Williams.
18. Mark Redman: 2006 AL All-Star
Mark Redman was another obligatory pick from the Kansas City Royals, who seemingly have dominated this list. Redman was a workman-like 68-85 career pitcher who, in 2006, was the best pitcher on a horrible team.
Redman went 11-10 in 2006 and was the staff ace. Not a good sign, you say. Well, his ERA was not any better, finishing up the year at 5.71. However, he still got to represent the AL in Pittsburgh.
Redman finished up his career with the Colorado Rockies in 2008 and has been out of the game ever since. One of Redman's last starts was also one of his most infamous starts—he gave up 10 runs in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But still, he was an All-Star, and an All-Star he shall stay.
19. Lance Carter: 2003 AL All-Star
Lance Carter was Tampa Bay's 2003 representative to the All-Star Game in Chicago. Tampa in 2003 was one of baseball's worst teams, and at 63-99 narrowly avoided being a 100-loss team. Carter was chosen because he was Tampa's closer, but truly for no reason other than being the best option on a very bad team.
Carter's stats in 2003 were quite pedestrian; he finished 2003 with a 4.33 ERA and a 7-5 record. He recorded only 26 saves, a career high for him, but did nothing remarkable. Only three seasons later, Carter was out of the Majors and pitching in Japan.
Hopefully Carter made many more All-Star teams in Japan based on merit and not on the obligatory rule that put him on this list.
20. Last but Not Least, Evan Meek: 2010 NL All-Star
Evan Meek, the Pirates' obligatory selection last year, is a very reliable relief pitcher. However, Meek is not the closer, nor is he even the full-time set-up man. Meek is just another relief pitcher who, by some fortune and chance, got his named called by 2010 National League All-Star manager Charlie Manuel.
Meek went 5-4 last year with a stellar 2.14 ERA. He even got a couple of chances to save games at the end of the season. Alas, Meek should never have been chosen if not for that obligatory rule, which is being highly contested by some who believe the rosters are too large.
Meek was a benefactor of that large roster, and I am sure he valued every moment of that three-day trip to Angel Stadium last season. Meek has returned to form this season, posting a 4.40 ERA as the season rests for the traditional break.