One year ago, when the All-Star game loped into the eighth inning, the National League team trailed 4-2, and then-Yankees terror Andrew Miller came in to face the third wave of Terry Collins’ squad. To spare you the mess of a Midsummer Classic box score: After two outs and two singles, it became apparent that the ultimate destination of the tying runner would be decided by Reds outfielder Adam Duvall and Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz.
Duvall was hitting .249 to that point in 2016—in his first sizeable stretch of major-league action after coming over from San Francisco in the Mike Leake trade—and getting on base at just a .288 clip. But (but!) he’d tallied 23 homers for a team that, by rule, needed an All-Star. When he stepped into the box, you could almost hear the chorus emanating from America’s armchairs. Adam Duvall? Who’s that?
Most of those folks probably didn’t find a reason to commit the name to memory during the plate appearance either, but he walked, and extended the inning. That brought about a pitching change—the Astros’ Will Harris entered to relieve Miller—and got Diaz to the plate.
The story goes that Diaz used to wait days for literal video tapes of the All-Star game to surface in his Cuban hometown. As he approached and passed birthday after cruel, prospect-diminishing birthday, his chances of transporting himself into one of those magical reels appeared to be vanishing. Then, sometime after his 25th birthday and a damning, unencumbered journey across the waiver wire, his bat clicked in the minors.
In the season during which he’d turn 26, he found himself in the majors, finally. At the break, he was hitting .315/.380/.536, because sure! Or maybe because Cardinals. Either way, he was (deservedly) added to the All-Star roster as a replacement for teammate Matt Carpenter. And suddenly he was immortalized in one of those videos. Just one, to be sure. But he was there.
He struck out looking, and the NL lost. He called it the “perfect moment” for him. “That was everything you wanted when it comes to the All-Star game,” Diaz told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Bases loaded. A chance to hit. I try to do my best. He threw me a good pitch, 3-2, and he got me.”
The question is not whether observers forgot Duvall and Diaz after their cameos replacing Carlos Gonzalez and Corey Seager on July 12, 2016. They did. The question is whether they’ll overcome the odds and cement their names in the collective memory as All-Stars rather than guys who made an All-Star game that one time.
One-time All-Stars—because of the perils of fan voting and the funhouse mirror effects of half-season samples—are a dime a dozen. Kosuke Fukudome, Gaby Sanchez, Nate McLouth. You get the idea. Breaking their All-Star maidens this year are some obvious young stars like Carlos Correa and George Springer, and also the less expected group of Avisail Garcia, Justin Smoak, Yonder Alonso, and Zack Cozart.
There are two types of temptations that the baseball-writing and baseball-talking populations fall prey to when these players come up around this time of year. One is the Duvall-ian listing of names, after which we attempt to flash forward and guess which one will sound most absurd, most like Bryan LaHair or Domonic Brown. The other, the Aledmys-esque variety, is the painting of this night as the pinnacle of a career unlikely to reach such heights again.
A lot of players will star in both narratives this week. Some of them might be correct, but it will be purely by accident.
You can find reasons to believe in any newly minted star, and reasons to question the staying power of all of them. That’s true of more than just the players who made the team (sorry, Travis Shaw), but it becomes a question for history for those who do, because like DL stints and MVP votes and home runs, All-Star appearances are data points. Our craving to explain the recorded history of this game we like drives more conversations than I’m willing to count. It also, perhaps, drives us deeper into the muck than logic dictates.
I can’t go back and ask mid-2016 you what you expected to happen to Duvall and Diaz, but hopefully you will be honest with yourselves.
Duvall’s power pace slowed in the second half of 2016—he finished with 33 homers—while his OBP remained below the .300 mark. His defense, however, appeared far superior to anyone’s projections, and his status as an everyday player, at the least, was secure. This year, he’s actually having a better campaign, showing improved contact ability and similar power to his first-half homer-palooza from a year ago.
Diaz, likewise, cooled down, but finished the season hitting .299 and slugging over .500 while playing shortstop, albeit badly. In 2017, however, he hit the skids and has been booted back to the minors while the likes of Paul DeJong take their hacks in his place.
I can, and did, ask you about the re-energized one-time prospects like Smoak and Alonso, and the huge-step-up veterans like Cozart and Garcia.
Who ends up with the most career All-Star Game appearances?
I won’t deny that it’s reasonable to doubt Garcia and his .371 batting average on balls in play. But 2011 All-Star Alex Avila says it could be foolish to ignore his capability to perform this way for half a season. Cozart might have been an All-Star three times by now if not for injury.
So we can meet here again next year, and see what we have learned. I’m holding out hope that it might be a new deference to uncertainty and fallibility, that we might have gained a new perspective on the meaning of the All-Star moniker—maybe as a badge of honor signifying high ceilings, or the transference of potential into production. But I won’t be surprised if we’re bemoaning the mirage of future two-time All-Star Yonder Alonso, or insisting that we never gave up on the late-blooming hitter known as Aledmys.