Always a star, never an All-Star

Always a star, never an All-Star

Life, like a rope down the line, isn't always fair. And this certainly is the season that sparks spirited, often vitriolic debates concerning overlooked players who justly deserve All-Star status.

Alas, some of the players may win the debate but always lose the campaign. That just seems to be their lot in baseball life, for a variety of reasons. Always a star, never an All-Star. While that may not have the ring of that other June lament, "always a bridesmaid, never a bride," it has the same sting.

It's been that way ever since the first All-Star teams were assembled in 1933.

Funny, though, when you think about it: There are literally dozens of All-Stars every summer, but unique, enduring notoriety comes to the comparatively few who are also worthy but survive summer after summer as Non-Stars.

This season is no different. A Non-Star lineup of players is "competing" for the privilege of one day being remembered in the same vein as Kirk Gibson and Tim Salmon.

Gibson, as in "the only MVP to never be an All-Star."

"I was a different breed, you might remember," said Gibson, the combative 1988 National League MVP and now the Diamondbacks bench coach. "I was very competitive, focused on my team. I might've had a chance to go a couple of times, but I never showed much interest in it.

"Do I regret it now? Put it this way: The two World Series celebrations (1984 Tigers, 1988 Dodgers) I was a part of were much sweeter than anything else I could have experienced."

Salmon, as in "the guy with the most home runs (299) who was never an All-Star."

Consider Seattle's Adrian Beltre, already the only home run king to never be an All-Star -- and that's going all the way back to the 1933 season. In his breakout 2004 season with the Dodgers, Beltre led the NL with 48 homers. The third baseman already had quite a platform by the time the league's All-Star team was filled out -- batting .327 with 21 jacks -- but ...

"I thought I had a good chance, and I didn't make it. They chose Scott Rolen and Aramis Ramirez," Beltre recalled. "It would be hard for me to make it because I am such a slow starter. That was the only year I started fast.

"I have always thought it would be cool to be selected to one All-Star team, so I could tell my kids and grandkids that I made the All-Star team. It would be an honor to be selected once. I would like that."

So would another AL third baseman whose hot corner typically doesn't heat up until the second halves of seasons. Oakland's Eric Chavez has never been an All-Star, not even in any of the five consecutive seasons (2001-05) in which he averaged 30 homers, 100 RBIs and won a Gold Glove every year.

"It's obviously something every player would like to do at some point, and I'm no different, but I can't really say I've ever been snubbed, either," said Chavez, who isn't in the running this time, having only recently made his season debut after recovering from offseason surgeries.

"For whatever reason, I've always been a pretty slow starter, and to get to the All-Star Game you have to put up big numbers in the first half. Maybe if there was a game at the end of the year I'd have made a couple, but there isn't, so I don't have anyone to blame but myself."

Two prime examples of worthy guys bumped off the Midsummer Classic train, but there are others. Notable current players who have never (yet) been All-Stars include, in no particular order:

• Shannon Stewart (OF), whose 14-year career has come full circle with the Blue Jays, hit .300-plus in six consecutive seasons (1999-2004) and has more than 1,650 hits and nearly 200 stolen bases.

• Orlando Cabrera (SS) has won titles and Gold Gloves in each league but hasn't been able to win a berth -- not even last season, when he was batting .342 with 48 RBIs on selection Sunday.

• Pat Burrell (OF) has had some pretty big years (a pair of 30-110 seasons, for instance) that have added up to a 232-homer career without All-Star recognition.

• Juan Pierre (OF) is a lifetime .300 hitter with 410 steals and an admired work ethic.

"Every player would want it. Personally, I'd like to get to one at least once," Pierre admitted. "When I first came up, I believe I had the numbers to make it once or twice, but at the time there was Andruw (Jones), (Jim) Edmonds, (Barry) Bonds, (Sammy) Sosa. They were all locks. Unless somebody does something ridiculous, the're going to be in, deservedly so. Most of them hit for power. Maybe one day I'll crack it. Hopefully."

• J.D. Drew (OF) is a two-time .300 hitter who is approaching 180 homers and has appeared in six postseasons with four different teams.

• Jose Guillen (OF) is a 12-season veteran who once totaled 86 homers in a three-year stretch, but he always seems to be trying to downplay his reputation, not play up to it.

• Mark Kotsay (OF) hit nearly .300 in a five-year span (2000-04) for three different teams and approaches 1,500 hits, but may have been held back by being an outfielder with middle-infielder power.

As for a historical Non-Stars starting lineup ...

1B: Hal Trotsky (played 1933-41; notable numbers: 1,012 RBIs)
A surprisingly crowded field at this position, including Eric Karros, the Los Angeles Dodgers' career home run leader, and Hal Morris, a lifetime .304 hitter. Trotsky gets the nod for being eclipsed by Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg during a meteoric career effectively ended at 28 by severe migraines.

2B: Delino DeShields (1990-2002; 1,548 hits, 463 steals)

SS: Tony Phillips (1982-1999; 2,023 hits)
Perhaps he was too volatile and too mobile (seven teams, played every position but catcher) for people to notice he was compiling the most hits of any Non-Star in history.

3B: Richie Hebner (1968-85; 1,694 hits, including 203 HRs)
The grave-digger (his offseason job) was a postseason fixture in the '70s but always missed not being a midseason guest, once conceding, "One regret I have is never playing in an All-Star game. I had 62 RBIs at the All-Star break one year (1980) and I didn't get picked."

C: Todd Zeile (1989-2004; 2,004 hits)
He was drafted as a catcher and played only one season behind the plate before being converted into a corner infielder, but that's enough justification to accomodate on this list another Non-Star with 2,000-plus hits.

OF: Salmon (1992-2006; 299 HRs, 1,016 RBIs)
He spent his career with his managers, among others, bemoaning his lack of All-Star recognition and the ironic postscript is that even the one time his own skipper had the call, Mike Scioscia bypassed him in 2003.

That summer's game was the first one deemed to settle World Series home-field advantage, and Scioscia objectively chose lights-out setup reliever Brandon Donnelly as the extra Angel on the AL squad. That pick couldn't be second-guessed: Donnelly held the NL with a perfect eighth and became the winning pitcher when the AL rallied for three runs in the bottom of the inning for a 7-6 victory in Chicago's then-called Comiskey Park II.

OF: Gibson (1979-95; 255 HRs and 284 SBs)

OF - Omar Moreno (1975-86; 487 SBs)
His game was shrugged off by some as one-dimensional, but what a dimension -- he had consecutive seasons (1978-80) of 71, 77 and 96 steals for good Pittsburgh teams.

Our Non-Star bench includes Morris, Karros and outfielders Garry Maddox (1972-86; 285 HRs, 248 SBs, eight Gold Gloves) and Jose Cardenal (1963-80; 1,913 hits and 329 SBs).

Tom Singer is a reporter for Club reporters Dick Kaegel, Jim Street, Ken Gurnick and Mychael Urban contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.