Nostalgic All-Star voters bypass too many of today's top players
Admittedly we're jumping the gun, but what could have been one of the most intriguing All-Star games in history July 10 in San Francisco is more apt to resemble a well-worn TV rerun. Once again the fans are mesmerized by reputations and voting by memory - either not caring that a former hero is having a poor year or not even bothering to find out.
In the National League, for example, the leading vote getter so far among second basemen is Steve Sax of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sax is a battler who plays as hard as Pete Rose, but because of an arm injury, or something, it is an adventure every time Steve throws in the direction of first base.
The player who deserves to start at second is Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs. Sandberg's fielding and hitting have meant so much to his team's surprising showing that veteran Chicago shortstop Larry Bowa has called him ''the one player we can't afford to be without.''
Ryne, who undoubtedly will be on the team, but as a backup, is not the only victim of fans who can only identify with veteran stars.
Among others who probably won't make either league's starting lineup despite some pretty strong credentials are San Diego outfielder Tony Gwynn, who is leading all major league hitters by a wide margin with a .371 average; New York Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly and Toronto outfielder George Bell, the American League's No. 2 and 3 batsmen at the moment; Seattle first baseman Al Davis, who ranks among the AL leaders in batting average, home runs, and RBIs; and San Francisco catcher Bob Brenly, who is doing a solid job behind the plate and hitting .319.
By no means does the list stop there, nor are the five mentioned necessarily the most deserving, but they certainly belong somewhere in the picture.
If before the All-Star Game, baseball wants to showcase veterans like Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, Dave Kingman, Joe Morgan, and Greg Luzinski in a hitting contest or whatever, I'm all for that. But if a kid with only two or three years in the major leagues, or even a rookie, is the one who is playing like an All-Star now, let's put him on the team where he belongs. Giants still haven't jelled
The San Francisco Giants, who looked like a pretty good team after spring trades brought them first baseman Al Oliver, second baseman Manny Trillo and outfielder Dusty Baker, still haven't jelled into anything solid. For a while Oliver didn't hit, a situation that Al turned around recently by bringing his average up over 300. Trillo, who was also hitting well when he went on the club's disabled list, won't be available until after the July All-Star break. And Baker, partly because of injuries, hasn't been much more than a spot player.
Reminded that his team commanded considerable respect on paper, Manager Frank Robinson replied: ''Well, you can burn paper. What we need is more pitching.'' Beyond that, all Frank would say was that he had tried everything he could think of to shake up his club and still hadn't come up with a workable solution.
One source close to the Giants told me that the reason Robinson named outfielder Jack Clark team captain (aside from the fact that Clark is having a good year) was to silence critics who said that the club had no leadership.
Now when there's a mental mistake in the field or on the bases, the responsibility to jump on the offender becomes more Clark's than Robinson's. Getting chewed out by one of your peers still works in baseball, whereas the only weapon most managers have these days to discipline a player is to sit him down for a while. With today's salaries, taking money from him via a fine simply doesn't work anymore. Elsewhere around the majors
* Baltimore first basseman Eddie Murray, who was runnerup to teammate Cal Ripken last year in the race for the American League's Most Valuable Player award, apparently isn't going to settle for No. 2 this season. Murray, who has produced the game-winning hit in 13 of the Orioles' first 36 victories (tops in both leagues) has also driven in 54 runs in 66 games. Eddie is one of only three switch-hitters in major league history to have had multiple 30 home run seasons. The others are Mickey Mantle and Reggie Smith.
* Third baseman Ken Oberkfell, whom the Atlanta Braves obtained from the St. Louis Cardinals to replace Bob Horner (out for the year with injuries), has nearly always hit for a high average. When Horner returns next season, chances are Bob will go to first base and 14-year veteran Chris Cambliss to the trading block.
* The Chicago Cubs, a team that has been in a constant state of flux all season due to the wheeling and dealing of general manager Dallas Green, just did beat the June 15 trade deadline by acquiring pitchers Rick Sutcliffe and George Frazier and catcher Ron Hassey from the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs, with a chance to win the National League East, have so far gone after every available veteran that they think can help them.