View Full Version : MLB superstars hard to find these days

05-31-2009, 01:32 PM
Here they come.... The "Back in MY day" POV of the game


Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?


Just like the Simon and Garfunkel song rang so true a generation ago, a nation once did turn its lonely eyes to the Yankees slugger - and toward a slew of multiple, colorful other major league superstars from various eras, too.

They were everywhere once, weren't they? Remember when everyone was talkin' baseball and talkin' up the stars who graced the sport?

From the Man to Bobby Feller? The Scooter, the Barber and the Newc? Willie, Mickey and the Duke?

Fast forward a decade or two, and they still were there. Everywhere. There was Reggie and Charlie Hustle. Hammerin' Hank and Yaz. Bench and George Brett. Rickey and Carew. Tony Gwynn and Cal, too. And on and on and on.

Well, look around today.

Major League Baseball might be abundant with talent and potential up-and-coming stars, but outside of a very select few, doesn't it feel as if there has been an almost annihilating death of the true, blue epic superstars in baseball?

Where have they all gone?

"You're right, there aren't as many superstar players as there used to be," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who played 21 seasons in the majors, from 1964-84. "There were more superstars in the era I played. And more before that."

But what constitutes a superstar anymore?

In Piniella's eyes, the player must have a certain flair. He has to produce in the clutch, especially in the postseason. He should be a leader and be well liked in and around the clubhouse.

"Superstar players," he said, "looked like superstars and performed like superstars. They were a cut above the rest."

But ask yourself this: If you've religiously scanned the box scores and stats for even just the past five years or so, and truly dissected the ultra great from the good, how many pure superstars can you find lately?

"After Albert Pujols? I've looked and I honestly can't find anybody," baseball fan Art Perez, a Phoenix resident, said of the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman. "Pujols is a legitimate superstar, but after him? You're right, I can't really find anybody else."

"Chipper Jones is a superstar," Braves broadcaster Don Sutton, a former Hall of Fame pitcher, said of Atlanta's switch-hitting third baseman. "There does seem to be a lull right now when you talk about superstars, but there are some out there and there are more on the horizon."

There is Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees and Manny Ramirez of the Dodgers, but their celestial stardom has perhaps been permanently tainted in light of unflattering developments this season.

Ditto with former sluggers such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro and pitcher Roger Clemens, each of whom have had their legacies affected because of admitted or alleged links to steroids and performance-enhancing drugs.

"Open your eyes and be honest," baseball fan Steve McCready of Phoenix said. "There are no more superstars in Major League Baseball. If there is, Albert Pujols might be the only one - and I'm not even sure if I can trust him or anybody else anymore."

No transcendent stars
Are there stars? Certainly. The Sporting News, for instance, recently polled 100 Hall of Famers, major award winners and baseball personalities to come up with a list of the top 50 active greatest players in baseball.

But honestly, do any of them - from Mets pitcher Johan Santana, to Phillies second baseman Chase Utley or Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira - really qualify as legitimate superstars these days?

"I'd have to think about that," said Diamondbacks bench coach Kirk Gibson, who spent 17 years as a player in the majors, winning two World Series along the way.

"If there is a superstar in today's game, though, it's definitely Pujols. He does everything right. He's the ultimate player in my book."

If the superstars have disappeared, Piniella and others who are involved in baseball or simply love to watch it offer multiple reasons for the theory:

With expansion came a dilution of talent. More teams, fewer superstars.

Or maybe talent has actually risen throughout the majors in the past several years, making it more difficult for a particular player to shine above the rest.

Performance-enhancing drugs may have killed our belief in the idea of an undeniable superstar.

Could the globalization of baseball have had something to do with it, too? With more Latino and Asian players entering the game, have communication and cultural gaps made some of those players less likely to inhabit superstardom?

Then there is the decreasing participation in baseball by Blacks. Studies have shown in the U.S., that Black athletes have been turning more frequently to football and basketball.

"And don't forget, in my era players stayed with their respective teams throughout their careers a heck of a lot longer," Piniella said, noting free agency in baseball. "They were able to build this aura about them because of that.

"Now, they move around so much, it detracts from that superstar status that we're talking about."

More talent
Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb, who won the National League Cy Young Award in 2006 and has been a runner-up to the trophy the past two seasons, thinks players are better now than they ever have been.

"And I think the game, because of that, is better now than it was, too," he said. "Are there fewer superstar players? Yeah, maybe. But that's OK, because there's still one, two, maybe three, pretty good players on pretty much every team. It doesn't really have to be about superstars, does it?"

No, but in this generation of ESPN SportsCenter highlights and the instant news of the Internet and advancements from everything from Facebook to Twitter, wouldn't it seem more plausible that we'd have even more real, valid baseball superstars than ever before?

Just imagine how the typical 15 minutes of fame can immediately transform nobody into somebody, like YouTube has done.

But why hasn't it seemingly happened in baseball?

"Good question, I don't know," said Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, a perennial Cy Young candidate. "I wasn't there 20 years ago, but watching all the guys that played from then, all I know is baseball is more challenging now. It's tougher. Everybody's throwing 96, 97 mph."

Yeah, and a lot of baseball players apparently have been cheating, too. Look at A-Rod. Look at Manny. Look to your heroes no more.

"I'd like for all of baseball to start fresh," Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said after Ramirez was suspended 50 games this season for testing positive for a banned substance. "We can't all start fresh until we all start clean."

Maybe the perceived lack of superstars in baseball today is just that, a perception. That's how Braves manager Bobby Cox sees it.

"I think there's always going to be the superstar players," Cox said. "But are there less now than there were 20 years ago, 30 years ago? I can't say. I don't know.

"But if it's true, how many superstars are we supposed to have from year to year in the first place?"

05-31-2009, 02:45 PM
It's not that there's fewer stars at the top; it's that there are fewer scrubs at the bottom. That said, I'd love to see somebody put some tangible definition to it. Heck, use a half dozen different definitions and see if holds true for any of them. Otherwise... yawn.

06-01-2009, 08:16 AM
That article is nonsense. Here are 10 off the top of my head:

1. Manny
2. ARod
3. Pujols
4. Jeter
5. Howard
6. Johan
7. Teixeira
8. Youkilis
9. Papi
10. Ichiro

I could go on and on. Superstar means very famous and a good player. I think all of those guys would easily be that. Not to mention Chipper, Berkman, Soriano, Utley, etc.

06-01-2009, 10:26 AM
Because the same old fogeys who write things like that nitpick all the best players until they come off as unsuperstar-like.

06-01-2009, 10:46 AM
From A-Rod to Derek Jeter ... Prince Albert, RoyO and the Unit ... Manny, Papi and the Youk.

Ja-co-by Ells-bur-y ...

Ichiro and Junior Griffey, Chipper, Doc and Giambino,
Brandon Webb needs a nickname, too.

Big Donkey's with the Nati'nals, that spells
first in war, first in peace, last in the NL East ...

Pedro's gotten older, but Santana works his magic
and that other stadium's bombing in the Bronx ...

Cincinnati's got pitching but couldn't hit the river if it fell into it
and whatever happened to the Bruce?

Maurer's awesome but kind of boring; remember when
all we had was Ripken and he was kind of boring too?

Needs a little work.

06-01-2009, 12:09 PM
On one hand, I agree that people tend to devalue the worth of contemporary stars as compared to the stars of their youth. I had an uncle in the 1970s who would say "Rose, Bench, Schmidt...those guys are good, but there are no more Mantles, Whitey Fords, Berras..." (paraphrasing)

On the other hand, I really don't think that today's baseball stars or teams have the same influence on and recognition from U.S. society as they did in decades past, particularly before the 1960s. Baseball is not as big a societal "fish" in the U.S. "pond" as it once was, so therefore the superstars aren't as recognizable by the population as a whole.

06-01-2009, 01:22 PM
I'm not sure I disagree. And it has nothing to do with "back in my day..."

I think it has more to do with baseball marketing the game over the players. Attendance is up, and that approach seems to be working. Why argue with results?

However I think some teams do suffer from this. Name three Padre relievers not named Heath Bell. Name 2 position players on the Royals. It can be hard to identify or want to watch a team when there is no clear star. And for the life of me can someone tell me Why Adrian Gonzales is not a star right now?

ESPN doesn't help. The monday night game is Yankees/Indians. A 1st place team and a last place team. The best matchup based on standings is Reds/Cards or Phillies/Padres. But the Yankees have a phenomenal press due to the market and therefore have stars. Melky Cabrera is more well known than Adrian Gonzales. This isn't east coast whining, it's just a simple statement of fact.

90% of all games televised are on the fox regional networks (guessing, but that seems about right). The weird thing is they all tend to use the same generic promos. My region is Fox Sports SW, so I get The Rangers and the Astros. I see the same templated promos run for both teams. If you want stars and superstars, you have to hype them.

But attendance over the last decade rose steadily without promoting individual stars. I think that is going to change with this new economy. I think fans will need additional reasons to go to the ballpark and spend their money. They are going to need a name on the back of the jersey.

06-01-2009, 04:43 PM
I do think steroids stripped away their aura. This is now a transition period in my mind and again someday we will gather to see their awesomeness and begin putting them back on their pedestals. Although I do think Macro's latter point sums it up best, we don't really care as a nation who the superstars are in baseball anymore. We are too busy worshipping at the feet of the NFL and it's stars.

06-01-2009, 04:43 PM
Meh. "Superstar" is a state of mind. Were Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, Pee Wee Reese, Eddie Collins, Frankie Frisch or Lou Whitaker more famous than Jimmy Rollins at the age of 30 - or do we simply remember them as such now?

06-01-2009, 04:54 PM
Meh. "Superstar" is a state of mind. Were Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, Pee Wee Reese, Eddie Collins, Frankie Frisch or Lou Whitaker more famous than Jimmy Rollins at the age of 30 - or do we simply remember them as such now?

Fewer teams, baseball the dominant sport and and fanhood passed from father to son or daughter.

Media was different then too. I'd say they were more known of than known. now we get to "know" players via myspace, facebook and god forbid youtube.

Strikes Out Looking
06-01-2009, 04:56 PM
Hey you kids, get off of my lawn;)

Johnny Footstool
06-01-2009, 06:51 PM
Sorry to be dismissive, but I see this as yet another "things were better way back when" article.

06-01-2009, 07:34 PM
Chase Utley isn't a superstar? Which part of the definition is he missing? That was a dumb article...

06-01-2009, 08:39 PM
And in the old days you had to walk barefoot two miles uphill to the ballpark.

06-01-2009, 08:49 PM
I think the supply of superstars at any given moment seems thin compared with the pantheon from many years in the sport. Fans tend to think of the Ruth-Gehrig era, the DiMaggio-Williams era, the Mays-Mantle era, the Big Red Machine era (a testament to just how great they were), the Reggie Jackson-Mike Schmidt era?, McGwire-Sosa-Bonds-Griffey, and the guys who are in front of us now, getting hurt, slumping, not winning the World Series, etc.

06-02-2009, 04:04 PM
Maybe its just me, but the playground slide seemed bigger when I was a kid.

Chip R
06-02-2009, 04:10 PM
And in the old days you had to walk barefoot two miles uphill to the ballpark.

Both ways.

06-03-2009, 10:06 AM
What no superstars?


A Giant Among Mere Men

By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Some players are stars. Fewer are superstars. But only a handful are larger-than-life legends who turn their peers into gawking kids.

Among pitchers, those at the top of the pyramid are the hurlers who can fan 300 men in a season. Only nine men have done it more than once. Four of them did it twice, including Walter Johnson. Two of them did it three times, including Sandy Koufax. Then there is a gap up to the only two pitchers who have fanned 300 men an almost insane six times -- Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson.

Johnson, in his 21st and perhaps final season, will start at Nationals Park tonight, with the chance to become the 24th pitcher in history to reach 300 wins. For Johnson, it is a chance, as always, to keep to himself, say next to nothing, maintain his menace, focus and mystique. For everyone else, it's time to tell Big Unit tales while he's still around.

Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns still remember the games, down to the details of their at-bats when they first faced Johnson in 2002. The Unit was still at the peak of his career, winning his fifth Cy Young Award, going 24-5 with 334 strikeouts, while they were two young sluggers for Cincinnati, their jaws slack at facing the 6-foot-10 legend. Now, they're vets and Johnson, 45, is in his glorious but difficult endgame with a 5.71 ERA.

"No one throws like him. He's 7-foot tall, throws three-quarter arm and brings it hard, real hard. And no one has a slider like that. If you're a left-handed hitter like me, it looks like the ball is coming in from first base and every pitch is going to hit you in the head," said Dunn who, thanks to his first career hit off Johnson last month raised his batting average and slugging percentage against the southpaw from .000 to .083.

"It's a unique combination," Dunn said. "There's no one to compare him to."

"And he will hit you," Kearns said.

"Oh, yes," echoed the 6-6, 285-pound Dunn, who usually intimidates pitchers, not the other way around.

In those games in '02, Dunn faced the Unit seven times, went 0 for 6 and fanned five times. In the other at-bat, Johnson hit Dunn, not the other way around.

"He knew I was due," said Dunn, menacingly, then he and Kearns laughed. Nobody has ever been "due" against Randy, except maybe due for a headache. "I don't remember him hitting me," said Dunn, a hitter's point of pride.

"Most left-handed hitters just took a day off when he pitched," Kearns said. "I hit a home run off him that year. Don't remind him."

Few want to be reminded of their encounters with Johnson. Nats reliever Ron Villone is an exception. "I got to bat against him twice in 1999 and I hit left-handed. I hit the ball once -- a lucky groundout to second," said Villone, 39. "He's so tall that it looks like he's pitching to you from a Little League mound that's 45 feet away. He struck out 17 that day, didn't walk anybody. It was unbelievable to watch him work.

Remember anything else? "I remember everything," Villone said. "We won 2-0. [Dmitri Young] hit two solo homers. I beat him."

Villone looks like he doesn't believe it himself, a career memory. But look it up. There it is. Both pitched eight innings. Johnson gave up seven hits, Villone only one.

For many years, few people knew Johnson well. A gawky giant when young, he was reclusive, trusted few and, in his early days in Seattle, would be up at dawn, taking artistic photographs -- everything from sunsets to the homeless. Now, he's far too famous for street art, but still rides his bike to every Giants home game -- a 6-10 icon sweeping past, no time for you to annoy him for an autograph, just time to snap a mental photograph.

"I played with him on two teams. He's a good teammate, great to talk about pitching with," Villone said. "But Randy does things his own way and you have to respect it. You may say something to him and he'll walk right past you like you're not there. But it's not personal. It's not about you."

The Big Unit, aside from his wife, five children and family, is essentially a towering solitary, a unique specimen who cultivated a hostile mullet-and-mustache persona on the mound for many years. What does he think about going for his 300th win? Come on, you don't think he was willing to talk about it yesterday, do you?

Johnson swept through the Giants' clubhouse, his shoulders far wider than they were when young, a testament to a work ethic that has taken him from a poor natural athlete -- with an apocalyptically bad .904 career fielding percentage -- to a strapping figure. But Johnson avoids revealing himself and seldom breaks from Mystique Mold if he can help it. When the Giants visit the White House today, Johnson won't go. "I've already been there," he said.

For the last month, he has dropped the occasional quote along the Giants' trail. "Pitching is increasingly becoming harder now," he said recently, referring to two back surgeries since '06, including removal of a herniated disk. "But there's a lot of gratification in going out and pitching well at this age.

"I'm not doing it as much as I'd like, but I take a great deal of pride in what I do," added Johnson, who is now in the third year of an undisguised, but never admitted quest for No. 300.

Unless the Nats, on pace for 119 losses, actually make a run at the '62 Mets record of 120, the only piece of baseball history that fans at Nationals Park may witness this season could be Johnson's 300th. On Sunday, struggling Jamie Moyer, age 46, finally got his 250th win against the Nats in Philly. These days, the Big Unit only wins a third of the time. But with the Nats Factor in his favor, why not round his odds up to 98 percent?

In any sport, many are good, few great, but almost none are utterly unique. The Big Unit is. In a career that includes three wins in the '01 World Series and an accolade for every inch of his stature, the Nats and their fans will get a glimpse, perhaps, of his last career crowning moment.