AllenÃ‚ Barra laments the terrible quality of today’s Major League All-Star rosters compared to those of yesteryear, noting that until recently the rosters were filled with future Hall of Famers. He provides the rebuttal to his own thesis at the end of the piece but only dismissively:
Is it possible that baseball has now reached a level where there is so much talent coming into the game from so many countries that everybody is good and few players will be able to rise far above the median?
Yes, it is.
Times have changed radically. The players of the 1933 All-Star game played in an era of two 8-team leagues consisting almost(?) entirely of native-born players, all of whom were white. Today’s Major Leagues consist of 30 teams (14 AL and 16 NL) drawn from all races and literally around the world. Virtually every current Major Leaguer is bigger, faster, and stronger than Babe Ruth.
Also, Barra seems obsessed by the batting average as his measure of player quality, rather than something more useful like OPS (on base percentage plus slugging average). Today’s game is simply different. Even middle infielders drive for the fences these days, which almost always means lower batting averages.
Batting average is especially weak as a comparative benchmark because pitching is phenomenally better than it once was. While it may be true that expansion has diluted the talent pool compared to a decade ago, that has more than been offset by importing more players from overseas. Not to mention most Major Leaguers having multiple pitches in their arsenal, the 5-man rotation, middle relievers, set-up men, and closers. It used to be that hitters could step in against tired pitchers in the late innings. No more.
Barra also grossly undervalues some of the starters on the 2003 All-Star team (which, remember, is voted on by the fans making looking only at starters can be misleading). Indeed, several of the players listed are sure-fire Hall of Famers. Barry Bonds is almost certainly the best baseball player of all time. He is a pure phenomenon, putting Babe Ruth to shame as an athlete. Gary Sheffield, whom Barra dismisses, is almost a lock for the Hall. Andruw Jones is one of the best center fielders of all time. A-Rod is a first ballot HOFer.
Indeed, many of the “Hall of Famers” mentioned in support of past eras were, frankly, rather mediocre. They got in because of a corrupt buddy system called the “Veterans’ Committee,” which has finally been eliminated. And, again, they played against all-white, all-US competition. A rather diluted talent pool.
Now, granted, there are some problems with the current All-Star system, most notably the fact that each time has to be represented. That does in fact dilute the quality of the All-Star rosters.
Shef will be really lucky to make the Hall (and I’m not saying that as a spurned Brewers fan). If A-Rod were to drop dead this very moment he wouldn’t make the Hall either. He’s on a pace to becoming one of the greatest hitters ever, but he’s got a while to go.
You may be right re: Sheff just owing to the numbers inflation of recent years, especially homers. But he’s one of the best pure hitters ever. Great swing, great eye, and decent power.