Ted Williams once said, "They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays." More than any sentence, any statistic or any phrase etched on his plaque in Cooperstown, this statement outlines the substance of Mays and captures his essence perfectly.
On 24 separate occasions, Mays manned the biggest and most eye-catching booth in a traveling carnival known as the Midsummer Classic, and hit, ran and slid his way beyond the imaginations of the thousands of fans who saw his star take center stage and command the brightest spotlight among a troupe of iconic ballplayers.
The All-Star Game indeed was made for talents like Mays, for on one special day each summer (or, in the case of a few years, two days), this baseball genius found a singular home for the expression of the exceptional, the magical and the everlasting. In ballparks, stadiums and fields, the Giants (and later Mets) center fielder settled into whatever city was lucky enough to host his abilities, and left behind an encyclopedia of images, memories, oohs and aahs, which comprised a collective experience known as watching Willie Mays.
Mays, of course, is not the only ballplayer to forge an impressionable and celebrated resume on the fields and ballparks that hosted Midsummer Classics. So who might join the Say Hey Kid on an all-time All-Star roster? Let's look around the diamond and pick out one or two players at each of the positions.
Over a 20-year span from 1969 through '88, either Johnny Bench or Gary Carter was the NL's starting catcher 17 times. Over the course of those 20 contests, the NL won 16 times as it enjoyed a continuation of the dominance that had started in the early '60s. Bench -- widely considered the greatest catcher to ever sit behind the dish in the Majors -- played a large role in that success.
Overall, Bench was selected to 14 All-Star games, played in 12, and finished his All-Star career with a .357 batting average and a 1.079 OPS in 30 plate appearances. He hit three home runs, had a pair of two-RBI games, and hit safely in six straight games from 1971-76. Over the course of that six-game hitting streak (tied for the fourth longest in All-Star history), Bench batted .444.
Carter was selected to 11 teams, played in 10 games, came to the plate 22 times, and although he collected only six hits, three of those hits went for home runs. Carter hit two home runs in his first start in 1981 to become the fifth player (and first catcher) to have a multi-homer All-Star Game. Carter's eight total bases in that game are tied for the fourth most in history, and earned The Kid his first of two All-Star Game MVP Awards. He would again receive that honor in 1984, when he homered and helped steer a pitching staff that fanned 11 American League batters.
Steve Garvey started more All-Star Games at first base (nine) than any other player. His first start -- in 1974 -- came as a write-in candidate, and Garvey played a game worthy of the fans' respect. Batting sixth (between Dodgers teammates Jimmy Wynn and Ron Cey) Garvey went 2-for-4 with a single and a double, scored a run and had one RBI. When the last out was recorded and the NL had won its third straight contest, Garvey was named the MVP.
From 1974 through '78, Garvey hit safely in all five games and batted .500 (8-for-16) during that stretch while scoring a run in every game. For his career, Garvey played in 10 All-Star Games, batted .393, owned a 1.255 OPS (tied for fourth highest in history among players with at least 12 plate appearances), drove in seven runs and never lost. He won a second All-Star Game MVP in 1978.
For all players with at least 12 All-Star plate appearances, Charlie Gehringer owns the highest batting average, the highest on-base percentage, the fourth-best OPS (tied with Garvey) and, overall, is tied with Mickey Mantle for the second-most walks. Gehringer played in only six All-Star Games, but that relatively low number is not his fault. When the first All-Star Game was played in 1933, Gehringer was trudging through in his 10th season. But The Mechanical Man made a lot out of those six appearances.
After taking an 0-for-3 in that first game in '33 (he did draw two walks and scored a run), Gehringer hit safely in his next five appearances (starting at second base for the AL every year from 1934-38), and finished his All-Star career with a .500 batting average. Gehringer began the 1934 All-Star Game with single against Carl Hubbell, and would have an interesting perspective on the basepaths as Hubbell went on to strike out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in succession to get himself out of an early jam.
Although Ken Boyer made only seven NL All-Star teams, he had the fortune on playing in 10 games, as he was part of the All-Star teams in 1959-62, when the leagues decided to play two games each season. In all, Boyer started at third base in six games, batted .348, knocked out a pair of home runs and had a two-hit, one-homer game in his last start in 1964. That year, Boyer would go on to be named MVP of the league for the season and would be a part of the Cardinals team that won its first World Series title since 1946.
For nine straight seasons from 1934-42, Arky Vaughan was part of the NL All-Star team. Vaughan hit safely in five straight games from 1935-41 (he didn't get into the game in '36 or '38), and saved his best for the last of those five. In 1941, while representing the Pirates, Vaughan did something that up to that point, players like Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Johnny Mize, Ducky Medwick and Hank Greenberg had been unable to accomplish: He hit two home runs in a game.
It's likely that Vaughan's feat (he is still the only shortstop in All-Star Game history to go deep twice) would be much more celebrated today if Williams hadn't hit a three-run, game-ending home run to steal all of his thunder. In all, Vaughan batted .364 with a 1.122 OPS in 25 All-Star plate appearances.
Besides having a pretty fair Fall Classic resume, the newest member of the 3,000-hit club -- Derek Jeter -- has done very well in the Midsummer Classic. In 11 games (over a total of 25 plate appearances), Jeter has batted .435, slugged .609, and has a pair of three-hit games. Jeter and fellow 3,000-hit club members Mays and Carl Yastrzemski are the only players in All-Star Game history to have at least three hits twice.
Mays is the all-time leader in runs (20), hits (23), triples (three -- tied with Brooks Robinson), steals (six) and total bases (40 -- tied with Stan Musial). He won All-Star MVP Awards in 1963 and '68, hit safely in his first six All-Star Games (only Joe Morgan had a longer hitting streak to start an All-Star career), and in 1960, came within a home run of hitting for the cycle. In the 1968 All-Star Game, Mays led off the bottom of the first with a single, got picked off, but made it safely to second, went to third on a wild pitch, and then scored on a double-play groundout. That run would be the only tally in the game. Mays played in a record-tying 24 All-Star games; the NL was 17-6-1 in those 24.
If Mays stands as a no-brainer for inclusion, our selected understudy in center -- Fred Lynn -- might not generate as much attention. Lynn only participated in nine All-Star Games (six as a starter in center field), but he packed a fair amount of punch and pop in those nine. Over 22 plate appearances, Lynn homered four times (tied with Williams for second most), drove in 10 runs (tied with Stan Musial for second most) and put up a 1.264 OPS (third highest in All-Star history for players with at least 12 plate appearances).
In each of his first full eight seasons from 1975-82, Lynn was an All-Star, and he had to participate in games that every time concluded with his AL team on the short side of the final score. In his final appearance in 1983, he played a huge role in stopping that slide; with the AL holding a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the third, and with the bases filled, Lynn hit the first (and to this day only) grand slam in All-Star history.
Besides being tied with Mays for the most total bases and the most games played (Aaron also played in 24 games), Musial is second in runs, second in hits, tied for second in RBIs and tied for fourth in walks. Musial had five multi-hit games in the Midsummer Classic; only Mays, with six, had more.
Overall, in 72 plate appearances, Musial compiled a 1.029 OPS. No player hit more home runs in All-Star play than Musial, who clouted six. The most famous of his six came in 1955, when he won the contest in the bottom of the 12th with a solo shot to lead off the inning. Musial's walk-off home run in 1955 was only the second witnessed in All-Star play, and came 14 years and four days after the first, on July 8, 1941.
The images of Williams, swinging and then bounding and clapping as he rounded the bases with a game-ending home run on July 8, 1941, remain some of the most iconic in All-Star history. Those images are also part of a stellar All-Star stat sheet that shows Williams owns a career 1.091 OPS in 18 All-Star appearances. Williams drove in the most runs (12), drew the most walks (11), tied for the second-most home runs (four) and collected the third-most total bases (30). In 1946, he drove in an All-Star record five runs (later equaled by Al Rosen) on the strength of a record-tying four hits. Two of the four hits left the yard, with Williams' second home run of the day memorably coming against Rip Sewell's eephus pitch.
Although Mel Harder never started an All-Star Game, the Indians longtime starter did throw 13 All-Star innings -- tied for the eighth most in history. In those 13 frames, Harder kept all of his batters faced from scoring; no pitcher with a spotless 0.00 ERA has thrown more. His biggest day of work came in 1934, when Harder pitched five innings. He entered the game in relief of Red Ruffing, and was immediately faced with a sequence of batters that featured four straight future Hall of Famers.
Over the course of his afternoon, facing Mel Ott, Paul Waner, Bill Terry, Vaughan, Frankie Frisch, Chuck Klein, Billy Herman and Pie Traynor (among others), Harder allowed one hit, struck out two, walked one and ended up with the win.
Don Drysdale is the all-time All-Star leader in innings (19 1/3) and strikeouts (19), and is tied with Lefty Gomez and Robin Roberts for the most starts (five). Over his appearances, Drysdale won two games, took the loss in one, and had a 0.724 WHIP. Drysdale's best performance came in his very first appearance, when he started for the NL in the first of two played in 1959. Drysdale pitched three perfect innings in his start, retiring Minnie Minoso, Nellie Fox, Al Kaline, Moose Skowron, Rocky Colavito, Gus Triandos, Harmon Killebrew, Luis Aparicio and Early Wynn. Nine up, nine down, four strikeouts: good enough for a 63 game score -- second highest ever for a starting pitcher in the All-Star Game.
The highest game score was produced by Gomez in 1935. Facing the NL and a starting lineup with five future Hall of Famers, Gomez went six innings, allowed one run on three hits, struck out four and earned the win -- one of three victories the southpaw claimed in All-Star play (the most ever). Gomez's 18 innings are tied for the second most in All-Star play, and his five starts are tied for the most.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.