September 27, 2023

Back to the Future: The SPORT Magazine 1969 Major League All-Stars

July 26, 2010 by · 5 Comments 

While going through my old magazines (again) I saw an article from the July 1964 issue of SPORT titled “A Look Into the Future: The 1969 All-Star Team” written by John Devaney.  Devaney polled more than 50 big league managers, coaches, veteran players, writers and sportscasters to find the players whom they believed would be the best of the best five years into the future.  Some players actually fulfilled their promise and enjoyed monster years (I’m talking about you, Willie McCovey) while others fell flat on their face and had me wondering what these people were thinking about at the time.  Of course hindsight is 20/20, or in this era of LASIK, I suppose it’s closer to 20/10, so it’s probably unfair to beat up on the folks who actually saw these guys play in ’64.  And it’s definitely unfair to hold them accountable for not predicting All-Star berths for players who were still in high school at the time (I’m talking about you, Johnny Bench).

So here’s the 1969 Major League All-Star team as predicted by the experts vs. the best players of the ’69 season based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and Win Shares provided by The Baseball Gauge.

SPORT All-Stars
WAR All-Stars WS All-Stars
C Bill Freehan Johnny Bench 6.0 Johnny Bench 30.0
1B Willie McCovey Willie McCovey 9.8 Willie McCovey 39.5
2B Bobby Richardson Joe Morgan 5.4 Joe Morgan 24.0
3B Max Alvis Harmon Killebrew 8.0 Sal Bando 35.3
SS Jim Fregosi Rico Petrocelli 8.6 Rico Petrocelli 36.1
OF Carl Yastrzemki Reggie Jackson 10.4 Reggie Jackson 40.0
OF Tom Tresh Bobby Bonds 9.7 Hank Aaron 37.3
OF Tommy Davis Jimmy Wynn 9.2 Pete Rose 36.9
SP Sandy Koufax Bob Gibson 8.6 Tom Seaver 31.7
SP Don Drysdale Sam McDowell 8.2 Bob Gibson 31.3
SP Jim Bouton Larry Dierker 8.2 Juan Marichal 28.9
SP Al Downing Phil Niekro 8.1 Denny McLain 28.6
SP Jim Maloney Juan Marichal 7.8 Bill Hands 28.3
SP Juan Marichal Fergie Jenkins 7.2 Phil Niekro 27.7
SP Bill Singer 7.2

Italics indicates actual 1969 All-Star

The SPORT poll named only five players who were actually All-Stars in 1969, two starters—Freehan and McCovey—and three reserves—Yastrzemski, Fregosi and Marichal.  Of the players who led their respective positions in Wins Above Replacement, only four—Morgan, Bonds, Wynn and Jenkins—weren’t All-Stars in ’69; and among players who earned the most Win Shares at their respective position, only Morgan and Hands weren’t All-Stars.

Let’s take a look at each position and see why the SPORT Poll was so far off.

Catcher: The SPORT poll chose Bill Freehan and it was a great choice.  “He has good power and he has all the moves behind the plate,” said one of the writers polled.  “He reminds me of Bill Dickey at his age.”  One of the managers polled called Freehan, “the best young defensive catcher I’ve ever seen.”  It’s easy to see why he was so respected by those polled—he finished the ’64 season with a .300 batting average, 18 homers and 80 RBIs, and threw out 53% of would-be base thieves.

His power tailed off from 1965-66, but he earned two more All-Star berths and two Gold Gloves.  His pop returned in ’67, and he hit 20 and 25 homers in ’67 and ’68, earning two more All-Star berths and two more Gold Gloves, while also finishing in the top three in MVP voting.  In 1969, the 27-year-old backstop was an All-Star again, as the SPORT poll predicted, and he won his fifth and final Gold Glove.

Freehan played 15 years in the majors, all with the Detroit Tigers, and was named an All-Star 11 times.

Of course the SPORT poll wasn’t going to name Johnny Bench as its catcher because Bench was still tearing up the high school ranks in Binger, Oklahoma in 1964.  I suppose they could have projected greatness for him, but that’s asking an awful lot.  He went up to the Reds late in ’67 and struggled, but won the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award in ’68, was named an All-Star at the age of 20, won his first of 10 Gold Gloves, and earned MVP votes.  By 1969, the 21-year-old was already the game’s best catcher, an honor he would hold for most of his 17 years in the bigs.  By the time he retired in 1983, Bench was a 14-time All-Star and two-time MVP.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989 after he appeared on 96.4% of the ballots, ninth best all-time.

First Base: At first glance it looks like McCovey’s selection is a no-brainer but there were three other strong candidates and no one was sure whether McCovey would be a first baseman in 1969 or an outfielder, although one manager said, “You have to go with McCovey.  In five years he’ll have slowed up so much in the outfield that the Giants, or whoever has him, will have to put him at first base.”  McCovey was named N.L. Rookie of the Year in 1959 and averaged a home run every 15.8 at-bats from 1959-1962, but he didn’t become a full-time player until 1963.  During his years as a platoon player, McCovey gained a reputation for being moody, mostly because he was tired of not playing.

He led the N.L. in homers in 1963 with 44 and earned his first All-Star berth, then averaged 34 homers a year from 1964-1969, winning home run and RBI titles in ’68 and ’69, and copping the N.L. MVP Award in the latter.  Despite 22 mostly brilliant seasons which culminated in a Hall of Fame berth in 1986, McCovey was named to “only” six All-Star teams.

The other candidates that were considered were teammate Orlando Cepeda, veteran Cardinal first sacker Bill White, and 23-year-old Yankee slugger Joe Pepitone.

White was the best first baseman in all of baseball in terms of Win Shares in 1964, but he was 30 years old and no one wanted to put their chips on someone who’d be 35 in 1969.  It was a wise decision, as White was effectively through by 33 and, at 35, hit only .211 with no homers and four RBIs in 49 games before calling it quits.

Pepitone was a young up-and-comer who hit 27 and 28 homers in his first two full seasons in the bigs, and was a three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove award winner by his fourth full season in 1966, with a 31-homer campaign under his belt.  He belted another 27 homers and won his third and final Gold Glove in 1969 but wasn’t named to the All-Star team.

If anyone was to challenge McCovey for first base honors it would have been Cepeda, who kept McCovey in the outfield while the “Baby Bull” manned first base for the Giants.  Like McCovey, Cepeda was a Rookie of the Year, winning the award only a year before “Stretch” copped his, and he batted .309 and averaged 32 homers and 107 RBIs from 1958-1964.  Considering he was a six-time All-Star by ’64, finished second in MVP voting in 1961 and was only 26 years old, it’s hard to imagine Cepeda not getting the first base nod from the SPORT panel, but there were questions about his attitude and fielding ability.  “Right now he can’t make all the plays at first base and his attitude toward the game is in question,” said a panel member.  “Can either his fielding or his attitude be expected to improve five years from now?”

Cepeda missed most of the 1965 season after undergoing surgery on his knee and his career was never the same.  From 1965-1974, he averaged 16 homers and 62 RBIs while batting .283.  He earned MVP votes in 1966, was named N.L. MVP in ’67 while helping to lead the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series championship, and had one more great year in 1970 when he hit .305 with 34 homers and 111 RBIs for Atlanta, but McCovey was definitely the better choice for the ’69 team.

Second Base: By the time the ’64 season rolled around, Bobby Richardson was a four-time All-Star with three Gold Gloves, who’d been listed on the MVP ballot four times, including a second-place finish in 1962.  By the end of the season, he would add another All-Star berth, another Gold Glove and more MVP votes.  So it’s no wonder the panel selected the then 28-year-old to be the best keystone man in 1969.  “Bobby’s only 28 now,” said a veteran infielder, “and look at him.  He’s in great shape, takes good care of himself.  At 33 he won’t be far off his peak…He can have the kind of year at 33 that Dick Groat had last season [1963].”

Richardson might have had that kind of season had he not retired in 1966 at the age of 31 to “devote more time to his family and his youth guidance work as a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.”  He had just recorded his highest OPS+ since 1962 and had a six-year streak of at least 600 at-bats when he called it quits.

Other candidates were Pete Rose (“Another [Eddie] Stanky.  Not much natural talent but great determination”) and Ron Hunt (“He’s got great potential as a hitter; he’s behind Rose now but he’ll pass him in five years.”)

But the guy nobody picked was Joe Morgan and it’s clear why—he spent most of the year with Double-A San Antonio and though he posted a .953 OPS, scored 113 runs, drove in 90, stole 47 bases and was named Texas League MVP, he batted only .210 with an OPS+ of 70 in his first two cups of coffee with the Houston Colt .45’s from 1963-64.  Not to mention the fact that at a listed height of only 5’7″, Morgan was “tiny” compared to the other second sackers listed, even Richardson, who’s listed at 5’9″.

But at least one writer, Bill Nunn Jr. of the Pittsburgh Courier, was high on Morgan, writing in September 1964, “One of the names to be on the lookout for in the major leagues next season is that of Joe Morgan, a 5’6” bundle of dynamite who plays for the San Antonio Bullets of the Texas League.”  Morgan fulfilled that prophecy in 1965 when he led the National League in walks with 97, scored 100 runs, stole 20 bases and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting.  He continued to perform at a high level, posting a 131 OPS+ from 1966-1968, and earned an All-Star berth in ’66, then led all keystone men in WAR and WS in ’69.

The rest, as they say, is history.  Morgan went on to nab 10 All-Star berths, five Gold Gloves and two MVPs in 22 seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

Third Base: At first glance I couldn’t figure out why the SPORT panel selected Max Alvis as its All-Star third baseman of the future, especially in light of the fact that young studs like Dick Allen, Ron Santo and Jim Ray Hart were posting better numbers, and Brooks Robinson was still only 27.  “He can be another Kenny Keltner,” said a sportscaster who cast his vote for Alvis.  “He’ll hit more home runs than Brooks, he’s faster and he’s getting better with the glove.”

Alvis was a two-sport star at the University of Texas who signed with Cleveland for a reported $40,000 signing bonus, then tore up the minor leagues from 1959-1962, batting .319 with 25 homers and 91 RBIs in his final minor league season before being called up to the Indians later in the ’62 season.  He did little in his 12-game cup-of-coffee, but Indians manager Birdie Tebbetts had high hopes for him, calling his top three rookies—Alvis, Tony Martinez and Vic Davalillo—”sure bets for major league stardom.”

Alvis was very good in 1963, finishing fourth in WAR and WS among all third basemen and second in the American League behind Pete Ward, and earning MVP votes, but he never lived up to his billing.  He contracted spinal meningitis in 1964 and missed more than a month of the season, and though some blame that on his inability to reach his potential, he came back from it and averaged 159 games a year from 1965-1967 and earned two All-Star berths.

Alas, by 1969 Alvis was a part-timer whose season was cut short by a knee injury. He was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970, batted only .183 in 62 games and was released at the age of 32.

According to SPORT, “Most everyone agreed that Brooks Robinson of Baltimore was the best third baseman in baseball right now.  He’s only 27.  Would he still be best at 32?”  Actually he wasn’t the best third sacker in 1964; Dick Allen was.  But defensively he and Ken Boyer were the best and Robinson ranked third in WAR and WS, behind Allen and Santo.  But the panel was right to question his abilities at 32, even though 1969 proved to be a “flukey” season for the Hall of Famer.  From 1964-1971 Robinson recorded an OPS+ of 109 or better every year except one.  Yup, you guessed it; his ’69 OPS+ was 92 and he finished 18th in Wins Above Replacement and ninth in Win Shares.  Robinson made the All-Star team anyway, his 10th consecutive nod in what would end up being 15 straight from 1960-1974.

Ron Santo was only 24 in 1964 and it’s hard to believe he wasn’t the panel’s choice.  At the time of the poll, Santo was smoking the ball all over the place and had just come off his best season in 1963, earning an All-Star berth and finishing eighth in MVP voting.  He cranked things up several notches in ’64 and enjoyed his best season to date, leading the National League in triples, walks and on-base percentage, earned his second All-Star berth and first Gold Glove and finished eighth in MVP balloting for the second straight year.

“Santo will never be the fielder that Alvis will be,” said a reporter who’d watched both play.  “Santo can fly and hit with power, but Alvis will match him with the bat and run rings around him with the glove.”

Wow!  Here’s a comparison between the two:

Santo 15 2243 1138 342 1331 .826 125 66.4 22
Alvis 9 1013 421 111 373 .692 97 7.2 -28

* Number of runs better or worse than average the player was for all fielding.

As I said, it’s all about hindsight and perhaps Alvis was going to be a star before he contracted meningitis, but Santo blew him out of the water.

In 1969 Santo was still one of the top third basemen in all of baseball, ranking fourth in WAR and WS, but Harmon Killebrew and Sal Bando were head and shoulders above the rest.  So why wasn’t Killebrew chosen as the future All-Star at third base?  Because from 1962-1964 he spent most of his time in left field, which begs the question: Why wasn’t he chosen as one of the outfielders?  Sure, as an outfielder Killebrew left much to be desired (hell, as a fielder period, he left much to be desired), but by 1964 he’d won four home run crowns, including three straight from 1962-1964, and earned four All-Star nods and five top-15 finishes in MVP voting, including third and fourth-place finishes in ’62 and ’63, respectively.

By 1969 the 33-year-old Killebrew was splitting time between third and first and still hammering the ball, setting new career highs in homers (49), RBIs (140), walks (145) and on-base percentage (.427), and leading the league in all four categories.  For his efforts, he was named to his ninth All-Star team, and won the American League MVP Award.  Bando, on the other hand, was still at Arizona State University in 1964 and wasn’t drafted until 1965, when the Kansas City A’s selected him with the 19th pick of the sixth round, so it’s tough to make a case for him.

Shortstop: The battle at shortstop came down to Minnesota’s Zoilo Versalles and the Angels’ Jim Fregosi.  “Right now you’d have to pick Zoilo Versalles over Fregosi,” said an unnamed manager.  “But in five years Fregosi is going to pass Versalles…When he learns the league he’ll be up among the top ten hitters.”  Based on WAR and WS over the previous three seasons Maury Wills would have been the obvious choice, except that he was 31 in 1964 and no one wanted to take a chance on a shortstop who’d be 36 in 1969.  That leaves Versalles and Fregosi as the next two obvious choices, although when I included 1964 numbers, Ron Hansen entered the mix ahead of “Zorro.”  And when I narrowed the window to allow newer players, Denis Menke showed up as a viable candidate, especially based on his ’64 season alone.  Unlike Wills, all were 26 or younger.

Fast forward to 1969 and Fregosi was still one of the best shortstops in baseball, ranking second in Win Shares and tied for second in Wins Above Replacement with Leo Cardenas.  Menke was fourth in WAR and fifth in Win Shares.  Versalles was in a tailspin and playing more second base than shortstop, and Hansen was a part-time utility player who hadn’t been above-average offensively since 1965.

The best shortstop in 1969 was Boston’s Rico Petrocelli and it wasn’t even close.  After hitting only .242 from 1965-1968 and averaging 15 homers a year, Petrocelli exploded for 40 homers in 1969 and boosted his average to a career-best .297.  He was more than 10 Win Shares and almost four WAR better than any other shortstop.  So why didn’t the SPORT panel mention Petrocelli in 1964 as a potential All-Star in ’69?  Because he was still in the minors and frankly not all that impressive, hitting .231 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs with the Triple-A Seattle Rainiers.  Petrocelli earned his second All-Star nod in ’69 and finished seventh in MVP voting, then enjoyed another very good year in 1970 before spending the rest of his career at third base.

Outfield: According to SPORT, four out of every five voters chose Carl Yastrzemski, Tom Tresh and Tommy Davis.  “Yastrzemski is going to be hitting .300 for a long time,” said one of the coaches polled who then remarked on his defense.  “He plays that left-field wall real good in Fenway Park, but he’s just as good a fielder away from Boston.”  Most voters predicted that Tresh would replace Mickey Mantle as the Yankees’ center fielder, “He’s steady…There are no wide fluctuations in his play over a season.”  About Davis one coach said, “Tommy was born with a hitting instinct, the way some people are born with blue eyes.  He just can’t help it.  And he’ll still be hitting in five years.”

It’s also interesting to read about the players who weren’t chosen despite receiving solid support.  Many thought Al Kaline would still be an All-Star in 1969 and they weren’t far off; he didn’t make the team but he was still producing for the Tigers and added two more All-Star berths post-1969 to his already impressive total, retiring with 15 to his credit.  Few believed a 35-year-old Hank Aaron would still be an All-Star—”He’ll still be a good hitter, but you don’t find many All-Stars at 35″—but Hank was indeed an All-Star at 35, and 36, and 37…and 41.  In fact, the only time Aaron wasn’t an All-Star were in his first and last seasons, at 20 and 42.  And his latter All-Star nods weren’t just token gestures either; from age 35 to age 39, “Hammerin’ Hank” batted .299 and averaged 41 homers and 101 RBIs a year.

Reds outfielder Vada Pinson received only a handful of votes despite being one of the five most productive outfielders over the previous five seasons, mostly because his “mental drive” was in question.  One pitcher insisted he’d been spoiled by the Reds and that his mental drive, “or whatever you want to call it,” would fade by the time he turned 30.

Yaz turned out to be a prescient choice.  By 1969 he was a five-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner, three-time batting champ, and was named the 1967 A.L. MVP after winning the Triple Crown.  Yaz earned another All-Star nod in ’69, received his fifth Gold Glove, earned more MVP votes and was in the midst of a run in which he’d belt at least 40 home runs in three of four years from 1967-1970.  In 23 years, Yastrzemski earned 18 All-Star nods and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.

Davis might have been a great choice as well had he not broken his ankle in 1965, an injury that Bill James speculates interrupted what might have been a Hall of Fame career.  By 1964 Davis was coming off consecutive batting titles that culminated in a .337 batting average from 1962-1963, and his 153 runs batted in in ’62 were easily the most in the decade and still stands as the seventh most among N.L. hitters in the modern era.  He was named to the All-Star team in both seasons and finished among the top eight in MVP balloting in both campaigns as well.

But after the severe ankle injury everything changed.  Prior to the break Davis averaged 17 homers and 86 RBIs and batted .304 from 1960-1964.  After the ankle break, he averaged only 6 homers and 56 RBIs and batted .288.  He still had some good seasons, earning MVP votes in ’67, ’73 and ’74, but 1969 wasn’t one of them.  He finished 70th in WAR among all outfielders in ’69 with a mark of 0.8 and 62nd in Win Shares with 11.4.

Tresh didn’t fulfill his potential either, although he had a solid nine-year career.  From 1962-1967 he averaged 21 homers and 72 ribbies a year, was named A.L. Rookie of the Year in ’62, made two All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove and finished among the top 20 in MVP votes four times.  But in 1968, the year of the pitcher, Tresh batted only .195 and slugged .308, and in ’69 when he was supposed to be an All-Star, he batted only .211/.294/.360 for the Yankees and Tigers before hangin’ them up for good.  By then he was a shortstop again and not a very good one at that, finishing 13th in Win Shares among all shortstops and 23rd in Offensive WAR with a -0.3.

Reggie Jackson was the best outfielder in 1969 but in 1964 he was still two years from being drafted and three years from making his big league debut.  Bobby Bonds finished second in WAR in ’69 but was only 18 in 1964 and had just signed with the Giants as an amateur free agent, and was four years from making his big league debut.  Jimmy Wynn should have been the third member of the ’69 SPORT All-Star squad but he was another youngster who hadn’t quite “arrived” in 1964.  Wynn was only 22 and had less than 500 at-bats under his belt at the time and therefore received no support from the SPORT panel of voters.

Pitchers: Koufax and Drysdale were at the top of everyone’s list, and why not, considering they had the top WAR scores from 1960-1963.  Of course, no one knew what WAR was in 1964, so let’s take a look at their numbers instead.  After posting pedestrian numbers from 1955-1960, Koufax was very good in ’61, then embarked on a five-year stretch where he led the National League in ERA in all five seasons, posting a 1.95 mark in almost 1,400 innings, and won 111 of 143 decisions.  He was a six-time All-Star and won three Cy Young awards and an MVP.  Drysdale enjoyed success from the start of his major league career and by 1964 he was a Cy Young winner himself and a four-time All-Star.  He’d be only 32 in 1969 and there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t still be an All-Star by then.  In fact, not long after the magazine hit newsstands in ’64, Drysdale earned his fifth All-Star berth.

Jim Bouton was only 25 in 1964 and coming off a ’63 campaign that saw him go 21-7 with a 2.53 ERA for the Yankees, which earned him his first All-Star nod.  He appeared to be a legitimate pick for ’69 All-Star honors when he won 18 more games in 1964 and led the A.L. with 37 starts.

“Drysdale, Koufax and Bouton will be 30 or a little older in 1969,” said a pitching coach who participated in the poll.  “But they could lose a little off their stuff and still be 20-game winners—they have so much of it.”

Al Downing and Jim Maloney were even younger and both showed a lot of promise, especially Maloney who went 23-7 with a 2.77 ERA in 1963 at the age of 23 and led the league in K/9 at 9.5.  “He throws as hard as Koufax,” a veteran hitter said of Maloney.  “But let Maloney learn to control his breaking stuff and he can be one of the great ones.”  Downing went 13-5 with a 2.56 in ’63 at the age of 22 and led the A.L. in H/9 at 5.8 and K/9 at 8.8.

Juan Marichal went 37-23 with a 3.44 ERA over his first three seasons and earned an All-Star berth in 1962 before breaking out in 1963 when he went 25-8 with a 2.41 ERA and led the league in wins and innings.  He won 21 more games in 1964, led the league in complete games and earned his third consecutive All-Star nod.  “He has everything right now,” said a sportswriter, “and he should be winning 20 in five years.”

So what happened to this heralded group of hurlers?  Koufax retired in 1966 at the age of 30 due to an arthritic left elbow.  Considering he would have been only 33 in 1969 and was coming off six straight All-Star appearances, three Cy Youngs and an MVP, it’s hard to imagine Koufax not being an All-Star in ’69.  Drysdale made it to 1969 but made only 12 starts before a torn rotator cuff ended his career.  He earned eight All-Star berths and the aforementioned Cy Young, but didn’t make the N.L. squad in ’69.  Bouton hurt his arm in 1965 and was never the same.  After winning 39 games in his first two years as a full-time starter, he won only 16 over his last seven seasons.  In 1969, when he was supposed to be an All-Star, Bouton spent most of the season with the Seattle Pilots taking notes for what would become his controversial book Ball Four.

Downing enjoyed a solid 17-year career but he was never as good as he was in 1963.  He suffered an elbow injury in 1968 and won only 15 games over the next three seasons.  He went to the Dodgers in 1971 and revived his career with a 20-9 season, earning Cy Young and MVP votes, but he couldn’t maintain that success and went 26-28 from 1972-1977.  He did earn one All-Star nod in 1967, but he’s most famous for giving up Hank Aaron’s 715th homer in 1974.

Maloney also lasted until 1969 but just barely.  By the time he got there he was no longer the pitcher who was throwing close to 100 MPH and striking out more than a batter per inning.  He went 12-5 with a 2.77 ERA for the Reds in ’69 but ranked 31st in WAR and 35th in Win Shares that year.  He threw only 47 more big league innings from 1970-1971 before calling it quits.  Marichal was the only pitcher named who made the ’69 All-Star team.  He went 21-11 with a league-leading 2.10 ERA and led the league in shutouts with eight, WHIP at .994 and BB/9 at 1.6.  The All-Star gig was his eighth straight and second to last.

So who should have been on SPORT’s list of All-Star pitchers? The best pitcher in 1969, at least in terms of WAR, was Bob Gibson who actually received mention from the voters, one of whom called him a “real good athlete.”  But they didn’t like him for the ’69 All-Star squad because “When he reaches back for his real fast stuff, he’s wide of the plate.  And things happen to him, like breaking his ankle in a batter’s box, things that shouldn’t happen.”  Maybe so but by the time 1964 rolled around, Gibson was one of the best hurlers around—The Baseball Gauge shows he ranked fourth in WAR and ninth in Win Shares from 1961-1963.  His best season proved to be 1968 when he posted a ridiculous 1.12 ERA, but he was pretty damn good in ’69 too, going 20-13 with a 2.18 ERA and a league-best 28 complete games.  Oh yeah, by the time the ’69 Mid-Summer Classic rolled around, Gibson was a five-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glover, Cy Young Award winner and MVP.

Tom Seaver earned the most Win Shares in ’69, but in 1964 he was still two years away from signing his first professional contract, so the voters can’t be blamed for not tabbing him.  “Sudden Sam” McDowell, who finished second in WAR in ’69 and made the A.L. All-Star team for the fourth time, had had limited success prior to 1964 and didn’t make his first major league start that season until June 2.  But once he got going he was one of the better pitchers in baseball, winning an ERA crown in 1965 at the age of 22, and copping four strikeout crowns by age 26.  He won his fifth strikeout title in 1970 and was named to two more All-Star teams (in ’70 and ’71), but his career went into a tailspin, mostly because of his alcoholism, and he was done at age 32.

Larry Dierker tied McDowell with a WAR of 8.2 in 1969 and was an All-Star, but he was only 17 in 1964 and didn’t make his big league debut until a couple of months after that particular issue of SPORT came out.  Phil Niekro finished fourth in WAR and sixth in WS and was named to his first All-Star team in 1969, but to criticize the voters for not expecting him to be an All-Star would be ridiculous.  He signed with the Braves as an amateur free agent in 1958 but didn’t make his major league debut until 1964, and it wasn’t until 1967 that “Knucksie” became the Hall of Famer we know today.  As fate would have it, 1969 proved to be Niekro’s best season as he established a career high in wins with 23 and finished second in Cy Young voting.

Another 1969 All-Star, Bill Singer, was in the same boat, spending most of his first five years of pro ball in the minors before coming up for good in 1967.  Everything came together for “The Singer Throwing Machine” in ’69 when he set career bests in wins with 20, ERA (2.34), innings, strikeouts and ERA+.  He won 20 games again in 1973 but finished his 14-year career with a record of 118-127, a 3.39 ERA and two All-Star appearances.

Had the poll been taken a couple years later, Denny McLain would have definitely made the list of potential All-Stars.  In 1965 at age 21, McLain went 16-6 with a 2.61 ERA for the Tigers, then went 20-14 in 1966 and made his first All-Star team.  After a 17-win 1967, McLain went 31-6 in 1968 and won his first of two Cy Young Awards and an MVP.  He followed that up with a 24-9 season and won a co-Cy Young with Mike Cuellar in 1969, and made his third All-Star team.  But again, there was no way for the voters to know how good McLain was going to be as early as 1964.

“How close will this team match the real All-Star team of 1969?” Devaney wrote.  “‘I don’t know,’ said one manager who participated in the poll.  ‘The only thing that I’m sure about for 1969 is that when it comes, somebody else’ll have my job.'”

Mike Lynch is the author of Harry Frazee, Ban Johnson and the Feud That Nearly Destroyed the American League and It Ain’t So: A Might-Have-Been History of the White Sox in 1919 and Beyond, and the founder of


5 Responses to “Back to the Future: The SPORT Magazine 1969 Major League All-Stars”
  1. vinnie says:

    I remember reading that article when it first came out. Sport did all kinds of interesting things like that in those days that included stuff like, “My ten toughest hitters”, and the all time all star teams for each club.
    What we need to keep in context are two things. Most important is that it was a filler, written by writers to take the place of a story they didn’t have. Speculation? Conjecture? Yes to both. At the time, they made an excellent case for their picks. The second thing it proves is just how little good all the knowledge we think we have does in predicting the future, even a year or two out. In 1973, coming off a partial .206 and .196 seasons, how many would have projected a hall of fame career for Jack Schmidt, or that an aging and much traveled starting pitcher named Eckersley would reinvent himself into a plaque at Cooperstown?
    The ball, just like real life sometimes takes crazy and unpredictable bounces.

  2. Mike Lynch says:

    Well said, Vinnie! I’m just fascinated by predictions and what was being written about certain players and events at the time and it’s fun to go back and see how things turned out. I’m especially interested in the Max Alvis’ of the world. It looked like he had a promising career that didn’t pan out. Meanwhile Michael Jack Schmidt turned into a beast after hitting only .197 in his first 400 big league at-bats. It goes to show that you never know who’s going to do what with their career.

  3. Dan Hirsch says:

    Excellent article Mike! I love to look back at books/magazine articles like this to see what the popular opinion was at the time. You guys make some good points. I bet if we made a list of who we thought would be the 2015 All-Stars, we wouldn’t do any better. Just like Bench, I’m sure that there would be a player to make that list that is still an amateur right now (ie Matt Purke).

  4. mike cameron says:

    There’s a bad double-wrong in there re Santo. He was an outstanding defensive 3B in ’64, before and after. He never could “fly”, being a rather slow runner from the get-go. Santo himself would laugh at that line. A great player at a position under-represented in Cooperstown. Belongs in HOF.
    Not posting this stuff to portray SPORT negatively. Wonderful magazine for the era from its inception in ’46 thru ’60s. Declined gradually over next few decades as fans got more and faster coverage, making a monthly feature magazine eventually obsolete.

  5. Joe MacPhee says:

    great article for old baseball and publication lovers such as myself. Actually, the best story by Sport with a similiar theme was “if you could Pick your own Ball Club” in the July 1958 issue. i won’t go into details but the premise basically was that if you could choose who would be the best player at each position over the next five years not just five years from now as in the 64 article then what would be your lineup? Seven of their eleven picks ended up in HOF compared to five from the 64 team.

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