Robin Yount and the All-Star Game


During his stellar 20-year career in Milwaukee, Robin Yount received many accolades.  He won a Gold Glove at shortstop in 1982, the same year he won his first of two Most Valuable Player awards.  He received MVP votes in seven different seasons and won the Silver Slugger award three times.  He was the highest paid player in baseball in 1990.  Finally, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.

One more thing: he was named an All-Star three times.  At first glance, there isn't much wrong with that All-Star total.  After all, it's tough to be named to multiple All-Star teams, so three is a worthy accomplishment.  

However, among Hall of Fame batters who debuted after the All-Star Game started in 1933, Yount's three appearances beat out only Monte Irvin, an ex-Negro Leaguer who debuted with the Giants at the age of 30.  In "All Star Percentage" (all star selections divided by seasons played), Yount's 15% is the lowest among players with at least ten major league seasons.  If you include players who debuted before 1933, only one player with the opportunity to make ten All-Star teams stands out as worse than Yount by AS%: Lloyd "Little Poison" Waner, who made one All-Star team in twelve years and was inducted into the Hall of Fame mostly for playing alongside his brother Paul.

Obviously, that's not a perfect measure, but the point stands: Robin Yount set the modern bar for minimal All-Star credentials by a Hall of Famer.  In a way, that makes sense.  It definitely feeds into his blue-collar reputation of just going to work and steadily producing day in and day out for years.  That said, it's probably worth taking a deeper look at his career to see whether he deserved more.

Yount's three All-Star selections came in 1980, 1982, and 1983.  In 1980, he was named as a reserve.  In 1982 and 1983, he was the starter.  Looking at his career from his debut in 1974 to 1983, it's understandable why it took six years for him to be named to the All-Star team and why he then made the team in three out of four years.  Once you get past 1983, though, things get murkier.

In 1984, he was hitting just under .300 at the break but a shoulder injury limited him to DH duties for a few weeks prior to the game.  Cal Ripken and Alan Trammell made the team that year, though an injured Trammel was replaced by Alfredo Griffin, who may have had the single worst season by an All-Star in history (his 1984 WAR: -2.3).  In 1985, Yount transitioned to the outfield and struggled at the plate, scuttling his chances.

In 1986, his .330 average at the break was accompanied by just 3 HR and 20 RBI, hardly all-star numbers.  In 1987, he was hitting .301 with 11 HR and 45 RBI at the break, but All-Star reserves Harold Baines (more of a DH), Dwight Evans, and Kirby Puckett hit .301/12/49, .316/18/69, and .337/14/55, respectively.   In 1988, only two reserve outfielders were selected, and Yount's .300 average couldn't compare with Mike Greenwell and Puckett's .340s.

Yount's last, best chance for another All-Star nod came in 1989.  He entered the break once again hitting .300 with 10 home runs.  Greenwell got the nod again, despite almost identical numbers.  Devon White hit .259 in the first half but his Gold Glove defense and 25 steals made up for that average.  Jose Canseco was voted in as a starter despite not playing a game in the first half and was replaced by Ruben Sierra, who hit .330 and 14 HR by the break. Just before the game Yount became the fifth youngest player ever to reach 2500 hits, which coupled with his season numbers would have made him a worthy selection.  He went on to become the second AL player (Hank Greenberg, 1935) to be named MVP without being named an All-Star.

After 1989, Yount's numbers began to slide and it was clear his All-Star days had passed.  Ultimately, it was the move to center field that hurt Yount's All-Star chances.  Instead of competing against Cal Ripken and Alan Trammell, he had to outhit Rickey Henderson, Kirby Puckett, Dwight Evans, Dave Winfield, and others for a spot on a series of infield-heavy teams.  Even if he had been named an All-Star twice more, his All-Star Percentage would still have been lower than the next Hall of Famer on the list, Willie McCovey (27%, 6 of 22).

Robin Yount's career drives home an obvious point: the Hall of Fame and the All-Star game reward different attributes, longevity and single-season brilliance (and/or excellent get-out-the-vote campaigns).  Generally, those dovetail, but as Robin Yount showed, it is possible to be both a great player for a long time and under the All-Star radar.  Ultimately, players are judged for their careers, and there's no better monument to a career than being inducted in the Hall of Fame.  Marty Marion, Walker Cooper, and Frank McCormick may have racked up All-Star appearances, but their names have faded over time.  Robin Yount will be enshrined forever.

 

This first table shows the Hall of Famers who debuted after 1933 with the lowest All-Star Percentage.  Monte Irvin's career was curtailed by segregation.

Name Career Seasons All-Star Selections AS%
Monte Irvin 1949-1956 8 1 12.5%
Robin Yount 1974-1993 20 3 15.0%
Willie McCovey 1959-1980 22 6 27.3%
Tony Perez 1964-1986 23 7 30.4%
Lou Brock 1961-1979 19 6 31.6%
Billy Williams 1959-1976 18 6 33.3%
Willie Stargell 1962-1982 21 7 33.3%
Paul Molitor 1978-1998 21 7 33.3%
Andre Dawson 1976-1996 21 8 38.1%
Eddie Murray 1977-1997 21 8 38.1%
Phil Rizzuto 1941-1956 13 5 38.5%
Richie Ashburn 1948-1962 15 6 40.0%
Rickey Henderson 1979-2003 25 10 40.0%

The next table shows Hall of Famers who debuted before 1933 and who played in at least ten seasons after 1933.  Back when these guys played, it was fairly common for players to play briefly in seasons at the end of their career as player-coaches or due to injury.  Player shortages due to World War II made this even more common.  I have added two additional columns to show the effects of excluding seasons with just a handful of games played.

Name Career Seasons After 1933 Seasons with 50+ G All-Star Selections AS% Modified AS%
Lloyd Waner 1927-1945 12 10 1 8.3% 10.0%
Chuck Klein 1928-1944 12 9 2 16.7% 22.2%
Al Simmons 1924-1944 11 7 3 27.3% 42.9%
Paul Waner 1926-1945 13 12 4 30.8% 33.3%

 

Finally, these players have had lengthy careers with few All-Star appearances.  I don't want to speculate about their Hall of Fame chances, but they are pretty high on the active hits leaderboard:

Omar Vizquel, 3
Johnny Damon, 2
Bobby Abreu, 2

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