As another All-Star game approaches, it’s again time to ask: What the hell is the point of this thing? Despite efforts to ensure it’s taken seriously by giving the winning league home-field advantage in the World Series, lineups are shaped by delightfully eccentric fan votes—nice work, Boston and Chicago—and a compulsion to ensure every team (no matter how crappy) gets a rep, with the result it’s often less a battle of baseball’s best than a strange fusion of old timer’s game and summer camp where everyone is a winner. (Particularly that year the game ended in a tie.)
The highlight/lowlight of many a Mid-Summer Classic is the inclusion of soon-to-be Hall of Famers, making starting positions feel like Oscar Lifetime Achievement Awards (the trophy that sends the message, “We love you and are pretty sure you’ll soon be dead”).
We did a little research, and the following lineup features the sorry stats of baseball icons in their final All-Star seasons (entire year, not just pre-All-Star totals), leading us to ponder the question: Is it better to burn out or to flirt with the Mendoza line?
Final All-Star appearance: 1962
Key stats: .224 BA, 10 HR, 35 RBI
His Berra-isms—“90 percent of the game is half-mental”—often overshadow his three MVPs and ridiculous 10 World Series wins as a player (including one this year: Yogi played two games in the Series and went hitless).
Final All-Star appearance: 1985
Key stats: .264 BA, 2 HR, 46 RBI
Charlie Hustle had slowed noticeably, batting way below his career .303 average and slugging just .319. In fairness, he had a lot on his plate: He’d become a player-manager for the Reds and allegedly was about to do a little wagering.
Final All-Star appearance: 1979
Key stats: .250 BA, 9 HR, 32 RBI
Rose’s teammate on Cincinnati’s legendary Big Red Machine actually experienced an improvement on his previous All-Star season in 1978, when he hit .236.
Final All-Star appearance: 2001
Key stats: .239 BA, 14 HR, 68 RBI
Consecutive games streak long over and by this point in his career primarily a third baseman and—shudder—designated hitter, you can argue he didn’t deserve the nod, but Cal made the most of it, hitting a home run and being named All-Star Game MVP.
Final All-Star appearance: 1989
Key stats: .203 BA, 6 HR, 28 RBI
Say this for Philadelphia’s three-time MVP: Schmitty knew the gig was up. Indeed, he actually retired before the All-Star game. Fans voted him in anyway.
Final All-Star appearance: 1968
Key stats: .237 BA, 18 HR, 54 RBI
For many the man who embodies baseball, the Mick’s career ended with two brutal (but All-Star!) seasons as the former Triple Crown winner managed a total of 40 homers in that period while striking out 210 times.
Final All-Star appearance: 1975
Key stats: .234 BA, 12 HR, 60 RBI
Hammerin’ Hank broke Babe Ruth’s home run record (and also set the career records for RBI and total bases), but the nicest thing to be said about his final All-Star season is that he legged out two triples at the age of 41.
Final All-Star appearance: 1973
Key stats: .211 BA, 6 HR, 25 RBI
Often cited as the definitive legend who stuck around too long, the Say Hey Kid’s end really was pretty painful. He tallied just 14 dingers and five steals over his final two years combined.
Final All-Star appearance: 2003
Key stats: 1-7 W-L, 6.14 ERA, 28 Saves
OK, the former Philly/Pirate/Royal/Astro reliever is no one’s idea of a Hall of Famer, but this was his second (and final) All-Star appearance in what turned out to be his last season, and he put up numbers that were nowhere near Mariano Rivera-ian. You fit right in this lineup, Mike.
Graphics by Bryan Mayes