The 67 card set contained 33 American League players, 33 National League players, and one checklist. Each "team" consisted of three first basemen, three second basemen, three third basemen, three shortstops, nine outfielders (regardless of position), three catchers, three right handed starting pitchers, three left handed starting pitchers, and three closers (regardless of which arm they used). While all 14 AL teams were represented among the 33 players on the AL team, there were only 11 NL teams represented on the NL side. The one team missing was the Atlanta Braves.
To offset this slight (because even then I believed that every team had to have a representative) I went to the Atlanta Braves page (yes, the Topps stickers had an album), and picked a player whos sticker I could use to cover one of my extra cards. It had to be a full sticker, not one of those half stickers. I thought that the two players with the full stickers represented the stars of the team. So my choices were Dale Murphy or Gerald Perry. Because Murphy had the better power statistics (24 HR's and 77 RBI's compared to Perry's 8 and 74) in 1988, I picked him over Perry. So Dale Murphy's sticker was placed over an extra card and included in my "set."
But this gave me another problem. I now had 34 players on the NL side, and 33 players on the AL side. What was I to do? The same thing. Pick a player who had a full sticker and add him to the set. But who? Because I lived in Chicago, I thought it should have to be a White Sox player. So onto the page with the White Sox team. The two "stars" were Carlton Fisk and Harold Baines. Now because Fisk already had a card in the set, I placed the Baines sticker onto the back of another card. Now my "teams" were complete.
But what do I do with them? I know (my 12 year old imaginative mind thought)...I'll make up a game with the cards. I used the cards with the now 34-man rosters, and simulated an All-Star game. I even wrote down the starting lineups, and how the "reserves" would get in the game. Because there were nine pitchers to a side, each person would get to pitch an inning. Every player would at least be on the field for three innings (so there would be an entirely new lineup when the fourth and seventh innings came up). Even though the players and their statistics were from 1988, the cards were made in 1989, so I pretended it was the 1989 All-Star Game. It was, dare I say, an escape. And what 12 year old didn't want that escape, especially when there was nothing else to do around the apartment?
As I got older, and learned more and more about the game, I continued to create teams for this simulated game. And I would rely less and less on Topps to help field the team (since they stopped making the stickers in 1990). I'd pick the stars of the game, still making sure that every team was represented, and then pit them against each other in a fantasy game. Then, sadly, I grew up.
I still would create the teams, but never again did I have time to make up games with the cards. As the years went on, more than 700 players made it onto one of my teams. Of course many players (the Bonds, Griffey Jrs, Ripkens, Sosas) would have high enough numbers to make my teams, but it was always the one year wonders that fascinated me the most. During the off season, while there is a lull between card products, I will include a post with the rosters of each of these teams, just to show what my mindset was when I started drafting them (as well as show how ignorant I was at the time...ahem).
Back to the point. So here I am, ready to start drafting the players who will comprise my 2008 End of Year (or 2009 MLB) All-Star Teams. But, by now, if you have not yet either tuned me out or clicked on another person's blog, you must be wondering, how I determine who makes the team. To do that, I'll have to tell you how the teams evolved from a 34 man team in 1989 to the 36 man team you will see for 2008.
As in the beginning, each side (NL and AL) will have three players each for 1b, 2b, 3b, ss, and catcher. There will be nine outfielders, regardless of their position. There will be six starting pitchers, regardless of how they throw, and three closers. These 33 spots have never changed in the 20 years that I've made all of this up. Every team, regardless of how well or how poorly they did, get a representative. So, just like the regular All-Star rosters, someone is bound to be left off the team. (There was a saying I heard when it came to expanding roster sizes to the game, and that was it would never matter how many players you add to the all-star team, there are going to be deserving players who will always be left off).
In 1989, I had the luxury of adding the DH (Baines, and Murphy...hey, they had to get in the game somehow.). The All-Star game was in Anaheim that year, an AL city. In 1990, the game was at Wrigley Field. No need for a DH as this was an NL stadium. So instead of a DH, I added an extra closer to the 34-man roster. In 1991, the game was in Toronto, so the DH was back, but I kept the extra closer. So now each team had 35 players on them. And as the years went on, if the following year's All-Star Game was to be held in an AL city, I included the DH. If the game was to be held in an NL city, off came the DH (and back to the 34-man teams).
Starting in 2001, I started including one middle relief pitcher to each team, added one for every year that I didn't have to include a designated hitter. This kept each team at 35 players.
In 2005, I had a problem. First of all, MLB decided to have two NL teams host the Midsummer Classic in consecutive years. Because I was also following the All-Star Game schedule of determining rosters, I did not name a designated hitter for the 2006 teams. David Ortiz of the Red Sox had a terrific year, but because of my little no DH thing, and because, he did not log enough time at first to be included as a first baseman, he was left off the team. At the end of 2006, even though the following ASG was also going to be held in an NL city, I added the DH spot, kept the middle reliever spot, and when I named my 2007 team (with an AL park hosting the event), kept the DH. I have decided to name a DH to both teams from now on. That's how we get 36 guys per team.
So, how does that work for the NL. They don't have a DH. Are you going to even name one? Yes. I will pick a DH for the NL every year the same way I have done when I would when I didn't have this dilemma...pick the player with the highest average who did not make the team at any position. Hey, this is how Albert Pujols made it one year...
So now the season is over (the White Sox just hit a grand slam...unless their bullpen blows it...). I think I can safely start picking teams. Here goes.
I normally pick the closers and middle relief pitchers first. It's usually simple. Pick the top four guys with the most saves and they're automatically in. This year, not so easy.
Because the players in fourth place have the same number of saves, I'm going to have to go with some tie breakers here. ERA, strikeouts, runs allowed, will come into play, and we'll go down the line (W-L record, walks, etc) if it comes to that.
For the American League, these four closers are in:
- Francisco Rodriguez, Angels (2-3, 2.24, 62 saves)
- Joakim Soria, Royals (2-3, 1.60, 42 saves)
- Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox (5-4, 2.34, 41 saves)
- Mariano Rivera, Yankees (6-5, 1.40, 39 saves)
Mariano Rivera beats out Joe Nathan, who also had 39 saves, because Rivera struck out three more guys than Nathan, blew only one save (compared to Nathan's six), and you can tell that Rivera was able to hold on to most leads given to him, giving the Yankees opportunities to come back and win games in the late innings. Now if the Twins have to play the White Sox (and it's looking like a clear possibility they will), the stats count, and if Nathan gets the save, then all bets are off, and I'm making the switch. Until that happens, Rivera is on the team.
The National League closers are:
- Jose Valverde, Astros (6-3, 3.38, 44 saves)
- Brad Lidge, Phillies (2-0, 1.95, 41 saves)
- Brian Wilson, Giants (3-2, 4.62, 41 saves)
- Kerry Wood, Cubs (5-4, 3.26, 34 saves)
Kerry Wood beats, barely, Francisco Cordero of the Reds because although both pitchers sported a 5-4 record and 34 saves, Wood has the edge in K's (84-78), ERA (3.26 to 3.33), and walked 20 less guys than "CoCo."
The AL Middle Reliever for the 2008 team will be Scot Shields of the Angels. The AL leader in holds with 31, Shields went 6-4 this year with a 2.70 ERA and 64 strikeouts (one per game, and more than one per inning pitched).
The NL Middle Reliever for the 2008 team will be the Cubs' Carlos Marmol. He is the NL leader in holds with 30 (actually shares that with Kyle McClellan of the Cardinals), sports a 2.38 ERA, saved seven games, and lead all relief pitchers with a dominating 114 strikeouts.
So right now, we've named the bullpens for each team. Who will fill out the rest of the rosters?
Wait and see.