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A’s only get one 2021 All-Star spot? Unbelievable, but exactly what we’re used to

New year, same crap

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics
Matt Olson, all alone at the All-Star Game
Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Fans have received criticism for decades over their All-Star Game selections, but it turns out the players and commissioner’s office are even worse at it.

The Oakland A’s are one of the better teams in the majors, a perennial contender having another strong winning season, but they only had one of their players picked for the AL All-Star team. That is both patently ridiculous, and exactly what A’s fans have come to expect from a league that simply won’t acknowledge our team’s existence.

Oakland is not an upstart contender. They went to the postseason each of the last three years, and last summer they won their division and then also a playoff series. And right now they are 11 games over .500 at 50-39, and if the season ended today they would comfortably win the second Wild Card for a fourth straight trip to the playoffs. They are objectively a good team.

Let’s see how the other good teams fared on the All-Star rosters. Reminder: Reserves are no longer picked by each league’s manager, but rather by player vote and the commissioner.

  • Red Sox: 5 reps
  • Astros: 4 reps
  • White Sox: 3 reps
  • Rays: 1 rep

Plenty of room for the cool teams, but not the A’s or Rays. Perhaps this article should really be about Tampa Bay, who reached the World Series last year and has an even better 2021 record than Oakland but still can’t get any midsummer respect. This is my shocked face that the A’s and Rays are the two teams being ignored.

Meanwhile, here are how some .500-ish teams did:

  • Blue Jays: 4 reps
  • Yankees: 3 reps
  • Angels: 3 reps

Even the last-place Rangers got three reps, and none were can’t-miss superstars that had to be there based on sheer name power.

The A’s aren’t the only good team that got limited to a lone rep, but most clubs who get that treatment do so because they have losing records and lack notable stars. None of that is the case here.

Theoretically, just having a good record in the standings doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bunch of stars. It would be possible to win games with a balanced group of no-names who fit together perfectly, like the Rays are particularly known for. But even still, it’s exceedingly difficult to be double-digit games over .500 at the midway point and not have at least two worthy candidates. We’re not talking about MVP here; you just need two hot months to clear the bar as an All-Star.

So yes, I’m saying that being a better team entitles you to a bump in consideration. That’s how it works in the other sports too. If there are a few candidates who all deserve a spot, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to pick the one from the winning team over the one from the losing team.

But even if you disagree with that stance, and think team record is irrelevant for All-Stars, we could leave it aside entirely and still make an easy case for more A’s.

Begin with the starting pitchers. By whatever stat you want to choose, Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea are two of the Top 10 starters in the AL, and neither came out of nowhere. Bassitt finished last year eighth in Cy Young voting and is following it up with a repeat performance. Manaea put himself on the map with a no-hitter in 2018, then got hurt but never pitched worse than alright, and now is back to full strength and fulfilling all his former prospect promise.

These are not surprise, out-of-nowhere, potential-fluke breakouts. Even Manaea, while improved from the recent past, was never bad and is only doing what he was always supposed to. If you haven’t heard of these two or are shocked by their success, then the problem is that you don’t follow baseball very closely.

So who made it instead?

  • Nathan Eovaldi, BOS
  • Kyle Gibson, TEX
  • Yusei Kikuchi, SEA

Eovaldi is having a good year! Almost as good as Bassitt’s. And while you might think of Eovaldi as a star, that’s mostly because he’s on an expensive contract with Boston, and also because of some postseason heroics. He’s never received a Cy Young vote, and never been an All-Star before. Bassitt is having a better season and has a better recent individual track record, but Eovaldi is on the cooler team so he gets the spot.

Gibson had a sub-2.00 ERA when he was picked! And in seven seasons before this summer, he’d been kinda alright once, three years ago. His track record is that of a mediocre-at-best MLB starter, and he’s on a terrible team in 2021, but he fluked into a shiny ERA for a couple months so he gets the spot. And that ERA is already up to 2.29 now, and will continue to rise at least a little, because it was an obvious small-sample fluke even if he finishes with a good overall year.

Kikuchi is the Mariners’ lone rep! But he didn’t have to be. They could have chosen Mitch Haniger on the position player side especially after a high-profile return from major injury, or if they’re so enamored with small-sample ERA then closer Kendall Graveman is at 0.99 right now. Instead they picked Kikuchi, who has never been good before the in the majors. He’s having a pretty good year so far, but not close to Bassitt’s or Manaea’s, and he entered the season with a career 5.39 ERA. Why does he get rewarded over Oakland’s far better pitchers?

And who might have had to go to make room for a Mariners hitter like Haniger? Perhaps Jared Walsh of the Angels, or Adolis Garcia of the Rangers. They’re both having really good years! But they entered the season with a combined 87 career games in the majors. Why did their hot starts need to get recognized more than the Oakland players who were already stars before April 2021 and have now continued being stars on a contending team? Or more than Haniger, an actual former All-Star himself?

Or to make room for Graveman? The Tigers’ lone rep didn’t need to be reliever Gregory Soto, it could have been a position player like Jonathan Schoop, or delayed payment to Jeimer Candelario for his All-Star worthy 2020, or exciting and popular rookie Akil Baddoo.

Point is, there are lots of ways you could fit a second Athletic here. None of the other names we’re talking about are famous superstars or perennial locks, and almost none are on good teams. They’re just less proven and less famous players having similarly good or slightly worse years for inferior teams. Y’know, All-Stars.

And what about the chopped liver known as the A’s? Whom I was foolish enough to believe would finally get some attention?

Bassitt is a Cy Young contender again, and Manaea literally just won AL Pitcher of the Month for June. Not good enough. Next!

Perhaps closer Lou Trivino, the reigning AL Reliever of the Month? Nope, not good enough, need to find room for Aroldis Chapman every year because now long-term track record matters (on the field at least). And another bullpen spot was burned on the Tigers’ lone rep instead of picking one of their hitters (Trivino has a lower ERA and twice as many saves as Soto). Next!

How about Mark Canha? He has a 135 wRC+ (higher than Garcia’s) and a higher fWAR than Garcia or Walsh, all in his third straight star-level season, though nobody outside Oakland will notice until next winter when he’s a free agent and his departure can be used to forecast the team’s imminent decline. Next!

Catcher Sean Murphy is slumping the past week but still leads all AL catchers in fWAR, though we won’t complain too much about that since Mike Zunino is also good (despite his .193 average) and is somehow the lone rep for the defending AL champion Rays.

Instead, it will be first baseman Matt Olson all alone on the AL squad. Perhaps a second player will get picked late as an injury replacement, but by that point the message has already been sent. No matter how good the A’s are or for how long they’ve established themselves, they will always be an afterthought, only fitting in if there’s room at the last minute.

This isn’t new. The 2018 A’s got one rep in Blake Treinen, until Jed Lowrie slipped in later as an injury replacement, even though they were a robust 55-42 at the break. The next summer, coming off a playoff appearance and sporting a 51-41 record, they still only got one in Matt Chapman, though Liam Hendriks ended up being a late add. At the end of 2018 four A’s got MVP votes, and in 2019 three did, but no love in July.

It goes further back. The 2013 A’s, coming off a division title and standing 56-39, got one lone rep (Colon) but he sat it out so a teammate subbed in to replace him (Balfour). The 2006 A’s went to the ALCS but got one lone rep (Zito), and the next year it was one again (Haren).

And the Moneyball A’s? In 2000 they got three, but in 2001 they were back to a lone rep (Giambi). They went on to win 102 games that year, and in 2002 they were 50-38 at the break and got two reps (Tejada and Zito) — and that was the least they could ask for, considering those were the eventual MVP and Cy Young winners. Eric Chavez never got a nod, despite receiving MVP votes in four straight seasons and winning six Gold Gloves, but hey in those years the AL needed space for superstars like Shea Hillenbrand (twice!), Tony Batista, Melvin Mora, and Hank Blalock (also twice!).

The one exception to all this in the 21st century was 2014, when the A’s were handed six spots on the AL team. To get that treatment, they needed to be coming off two straight playoff trips, with an insane MLB-best 59-36 record and a run differential more than 50 points above anybody else’s. That’s pretty much the requirement for them to get more than a lone rep and maybe a second spot as a late injury replacement.

As always, none of this matters much. It’s just a silly popularity contest for a meaningless exhibition game, and it’s not worth getting worked up over, he said 1,700 words later. But it’s difficult not to get annoyed by it, year after year, decade after decade, like a sink dripping loudly in the next room that you can never get to stop. And at some point it’s tough not to get insulted — these players move on and make All-Star teams in other uniforms, with the consistent feature being that Oakland fans are always left out.

And the league wonders why they can’t get anybody excited about the A’s. Have you considered maybe acknowledging the team’s existence every July, as a starting point?