The All-Star selection for pitchers shies away from the starting lineups, in that there is no fan selection aside from the bizarre final-vote proceedings when they do include hurlers. By having the managers and player vote as the factors that determine the pitchers for the All-Star game, it would appear that the process is more fair and a better reflection of the best arms in a particular season. However, the occurrence of a Cy Young winner missing the festivities during his award-winning season has been more common than expected, and way more frequent than it has happened with eventual MVP’s.
In 2015, seemingly all front-runners in the Cy Young race got a nod to play in the Midsummer Classic, but even then there is the possibility of not having Clayton Kershaw, for example. Just like last year’s AL winner Corey Kluber showed, Cy Young winners can come out of nowhere to win the award, which could explain why so many of them probably lacked the name power to command an All-Star selection in the first place.
Today we take a look at those who were spurned in the middle of summer but got the last laugh in the fall, and try to explain why they were left out of the game in the first place. The list begins in 1956, when the Cy Young was established as a lone award for the best pitcher in all of MLB.
Don Newcombe – 1956 – MLB Cy Young
Newcombe made the All-Star team in four of his first five full seasons, and had been a very promising player aside from 1954, when he was fresh off a two-year stint in the military. In 1956, he started the season with solid yet unspectacular numbers, entering the break with an 11-5 record and 3.51 ERA. The second half was a different story, as Newcombe dominated to the tune of a 16-2 mark with a 2.64 ERA for the pennant-winning Dodgers. This was enough to not only win the inaugural Cy Young, but also the MVP, making him the only MVP-Cy Young to miss the All Star game. In fact, he’d never be selected again.
Mike McCormick – 1967 – NL Cy Young
McCormick has been an All-Star in 1960 in 1961 before settling as a mediocre starter-reliever hybrid that compiled a losing record from 1962 to 1966. Returning to the Giants as a full-time starter in 1967, he became one of the unlikeliest Cy Young winners ever, winning 22 games and earning 18 of the 20 votes for the award. Curiously, his All-Star snub was also quite surprising, as McCormick was much better over the first half of the season, with a 2.53 ERA versus the 3.10 he posted on the second, winning 11 games on each half.
Mike Cuellar – 1969 – AL Cy Young (shared)
Cuellar made 4 All-Star games in his career, but not in his famous 1969 season. The power of the almighty win again reared its head, as Cuellar had posted a nifty 2.51 ERA for the Orioles, but also gone 10-9 for his efforts. The second half was a different tale for Cuellar, who finally got some offensive support and went 13-2 with an even better 2.24 ERA. He had to share the award with Denny McLain, who pitched 35 more innings and almost double Cuellar’s WAR, but had a similar win total (24).
Jim Palmer – 1973, 1976 – AL Cy Young
In a 9-year stretch from 1970 to 1978, Hall of Famer Jim Palmer posted one of the most successful stretches in pitching history, winning 3 Cy Young awards, finishing in the top 5 during 4 other occasions, and winning at least 20 games 8 times. Six All-Star nods were part of the span, but curiously two of the misses came in Cy Young-winning years. The only explanation comes from Palmer being just great in the first half of those seasons, while shifting gears to transcendent in the second. To wit, his combined line before the break in ‘73 and ‘76 was 22-14, 2.93 ERA, but the second-half line was 22-8, 1.85 ERA. He would never be selected to be an All-Star after 1978, but he did finish second in the 1982 Cy Young vote, at age 36.
Gaylord Perry – 1978 – NL Cy Young
The legendary Perry, who hung around 22 seasons and 8 teams, and won a Cy Young in each league, only managed to make 5 All-Star teams, first in 1966 and for the last time in 1979. That didn’t include his 1978 Cy Young season for the Padres, even as it could be argued that several other hurlers had better seasons. Perry’s league-leading 21 wins were enough to sway the voters, especially as he went 12-2 in the second half after a solid start that was not enough to warrant an All-Star spot.
Mike Flanagan – 1979 – AL Cy Young
Flanagan had made the All-Star team in 1978, and then elevated his game in 1979 to win one of the most surprising Cy Young awards on record. He was pretty much consistent for all the season, with 12 wins in the first half and 11 in the second to lead the AL in wins, which was enough to edge more than a handful of pitchers who were more valuable than him. The only significant difference between his splits came in ERA, as his 2.24 in the second half was a run and a half better than what he posted in the first. After ‘79, Flanagan regressed to become nothing more than an innings-eater, even as he managed to hang around until 1992.
Pete Vuckovich – 1982 – AL Cy Young
Vuckovich always gets mentioned in the “worst Cy Young” conversation, stemming from his overall middling career and the fact he won it in 1982 despite a 2.8 WAR. The power of the win and allure of the division-winning Brewers was enough to crown Vuckovich and forget the efforts of Jim Palmer, Dave Stieb, and other AL studs. Vuckovich didn’t post any kind of dominant stretch during the season, but an 8-2 mark to close the year was flashy enough. Vuckovich never made an All-Star game during his career, and was out of baseball by 1986.
LaMarr Hoyt – 1983 – AL Cy Young
So yeah, the 80’s were a weird decade for Cy Youngs. However, at least Hoyt’s selection was defensible in a season where no AL pitcher had a truly dominant season. Hoyt’s career year saw him post the league’s lowest WHIP and win 24 games, but with only a 9-8 record at the break, his All-Star omission was understandable. He went 15-2 to finish the season, but it was mostly a product of playing for the offensive powerhouse that were the White Sox. Hoyt would make his only All-Star team as a Padre in 1985.
John Denny – 1983 – NL Cy Young
Denny never won more than 14 games in any other season, and bounced around 4 franchises, but in 1983 he was definitely the best pitcher in the National League. His slow first half (6-4, 2.13 ERA) and lack of a brand name kept him out of the All-Star ballot, but his 13-2 second half mark cemented his status as the best hurler in a down year for some of the usual suspects. Denny never made an All-Star team in his career.
Rick Sutcliffe – 1984 – NL Cy Young
Sutcliffe’s Cy Young ascent remains one of the most unique seasons of modern times, as he started the season in the AL with Cleveland with poor results, only to become almost unhittable for the Cubs in the NL after a mid-season trade. He went 16-1 with Chicago, including a 12-0 mark in the second half. While his All-Star snub was certainly understandable, he’d later receive all votes for first place in the Cy Young ballot, and ended his career with 3 All-Star appearances.
Bret Saberhagen – 1985, 1989 – AL Cy Young
Saberhagen made 3 All-Star teams and won 2 Cy Youngs, but they never coincided in the same season. His snubs in 1985 and 1989 were quite unfair, as he was tremendously consistent during those years, even as he turned to another gear to close out ‘89 with a 15-2 record and a 1.74 ERA. These award-winning years were the only times in Saberhagen’s career with at least 20 wins, and he curiously made the All-Star team in 1990 during a season in which he won only 5.
Roger Clemens – 1987 – AL Cy Young
Clemens’ historic run to close out the 80’s saw him get off to a slow start in 1987, which helps explain why he didn’t make the All-Star team. With an 8-6 mark and a 3.66 ERA, it was justified to leave him off the team, but Clemens regressed to his normal excellence to finish 12-3 with a minuscule 2.24 ERA, earning him his second consecutive Cy Young. He’d make 11 All-Star rosters in his career, so ‘87 was just a blip.
Doug Drabek – 1990 – NL Cy Young
Drabek had a solid career, and 1990 was his definitive highlight. He never won more than 15 in any other season, but a league-leading 22 triumphs were enough to make him another unlikely recipient of the award. His lack of pedigree didn’t help his case in 1990 despite a strong 9-4 start, but his 13-2 second half pushed him over the top despite strong cases from 20-game winners Ramon Martinez and Frank Viola. Drabek had to wait until 1994 for his only All-Star roster.
Greg Maddux – 1993 – NL Cy Young
Maddux’s 1993 omission is similar to Roger Clemens’ in 1987, as it came because of a slow start in what was otherwise a historic stretch. After arriving in Atlanta as a free agent, Maddux started his Braves career with an unlucky 8-8 mark at the break. It all evened out eventually, with The Professor finishing with an impressive 12-2, 1.79 ERA run that made him win the second of his four consecutive Cy Youngs. He made a total of 8 All-Star games for his Hall of Fame career, which frankly is a bit low for a pitcher of his caliber.
Pat Hentgen – 1996 – AL Cy Young
Hentgen’s selection as a Cy Young was built on his impressive 10 complete games, which led to 20 wins and the most innings pitched in the AL. However, a pedestrian start cost him a shot at the All-Star game, as he finished the first half with an 8-6 mark, 3.86 ERA, and only 3 complete games. That turned around in the second, with a 12-4 record, 2.58 ERA, and 7 full contests, which still weren’t enough to carry the Blue Jays to the postseason. Hentgen did make 3 All-Star games during his career, but could never replicate the success of 1996.
Johan Santana – 2004 – AL Cy Young
During the first of his two Cy Young award seasons, Santana was still relatively unknown and untested. His 7-6 mark to begin the season certainly relegated him in any All-Star aspirations, but he made good use of the extra rest by then delivering one of the best second halves ever posted. His 13-0 with a 1.21 ERA is still the stuff of legends, and one that cemented his status as one of the best pitchers of his generation. He would make 4 All-Star games following that season,
Felix Hernandez – 2010 – AL Cy Young
From 2009 to 2015, King Felix has made the All-Star team on every year…except for his only Cy Young season in 2010. Baseball can be weird from time to time. His omission looks weird, especially as we remember that he won the Cy Young despite a 13-12 record that was a product of playing for yet another terrible Mariners team. Felix went 7-5, 2.88 ERA before the break, and closed with a 6-7, 1.53 ERA mark that was so good that it made voters forget his low win total.
Corey Kluber – 2014 – AL Cy Young
The aforementioned Kluber came out of nowhere to earn the 2014 Cy Young, with his case built mostly on the second half. To wit, he was only 9-6 with a 3.01 mark at the break, but his dominance was elevated to a 9-3 mark and 1.73 ERA to close out the season, which was enough to write his name in the history books. Kluber is hitting his prime, and it would be difficult to see him not making at least a couple of All-Star rosters. Based on peripherals alone, his numbers in 2015 are almost identical to what he did in 2014, but terrible luck has led to a 4-9 record that kept him out of the festivities (though he could still make it in case anyone else gets injured or ruled out due to a weekend start).