As much as the All-Star game is annually tossed aside as a sideshow, mocked for its snubs and sketchy picks, and endlessly ridiculed for its effect on the World Series, it sure remains relevant. With 2015’s edition all but ready to take place in Cincinnati, the cycle has repeated again, only this time with the hope that the new commissioner will fix some things regarding fan voting to avoid future 2015-Royals-like scenarios, where a team’s fan base can take over the glitches in the system and stuff the ballots with their favorite players.
Amid all this mess, it still appears that the 34 players selected to each league’s rosters were mostly solid selections by the fans and managers. There is a solid mix of the perennial All-Stars, such as Yadier Molina and Andrew McCutchen, young veteran studs like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, along with impressive rookies, like Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant. Aside from the egregious snub of Jason Kipnis as a starter (he was still selected as a sub) we could say that all frontrunners in the MVP race will have a spot among the All-Star rosters.
However, even as it may sound weird, there have been a few instances in which eventual MVP’s were not even selected to take part in that season’s All-Star game. Whether it was because of a slow start to the year, a big fat snub, or being underrated…
The MVP, as we know it today, was first awarded in 1931, while the All-Star contest has been a fixture since 1933, so we are counting only the years in which both have overlapped.
Hank Greenberg - 1935 – AL MVP
This omission can be explained to at least an excusable number of factors. In the early years of All-Star games, rosters were not quite as bloated as they are today, with the NL carrying 20 players and the AL 21, with subs not really conforming to a logical formation. The AL squad carried two backup catchers, and 4 outfielders, but no one to serve as Lou Gehrig’s replacement at first base. Gehrig at that point was a legacy pick and a sound selection, as he would actually put up a better WAR than Greenberg for the year, but Hammering Hank’s league-leading 36 homers and 168 RBI were too much to pass up. In the end, Greenberg and the Tigers would win the World Series that year, so probably he wasn’t too concerned with not being an All-Star.
Don Newcombe – 1956 – NL MVP
Playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Newcombe would actually finish the season as both the MVP and the Cy Young in the National League, which makes his All-Star absence all the more ludicrous in retrospect. By 1956, the All-Star game was much more developed and well-structured, with both leagues having full 25-man rosters. Even with 7 pitchers on the team, Newcombe’s name was not called, falling behind the likes of Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts. The NL starter was Bob Friend, who would finish the season 18-12 with a 3.00 ERA, and zero Cy Young consideration. While Newcombe’s stats would probably not seem as impressive today, he managed to win 27 games and pitch 268 innings, becoming the first-ever Cy Young winner, and probably and undeserved MVP over Hank Aaron.
Dave Parker – 1978 – NL MVP
Parker’s omission from the 1978 team had a bit to do with the fact that he broke his jaw and cheekbone in a home-plate collision only 11 days before the All-Star game, so this one can be more excusable. The Cobra sandwiched 1978’s snub around 4 different appearances in the mid-summer Classic, out of his 7 career appearances in the game. The NL’s starter in right field was none other than Rick Monday, who finished the season with a 1.6 WAR, 19 homers, and 57 RBI. Meanwhile, Parker won the NL’s batting title, led the league in slugging, OPS, and total bases, and put 7.0 WAR while becoming the first MLB player with a $1 million-per-year contract. He probably wasn’t that upset with the All-Star snub.
Willie Stargell – 1979 – NL MVP
While it may seem that there was a late-70’s bias against Pirates stars, at least in Stargell’s case it can be said that his All-Star absence was justified as he was a weak MVP selection. After 7 All-Star games and 6 top-10 MVP finishes, Stargells’s age-39 season was solid but unspectacular, with 32 homers and 82 RBI to post a 2.5 WAR that was well below the NL’s top 10. He shared the MVP with Keith Hernandez, who was a much more suitable pick, as could have been Dave Winfield or Mike Schmidt. Stargell did become an integral part of the World Series-winning Pirates team, and to this day the only player in history to have won the NLCS, World Series, and regular season MVP’s in the same year.
Kirk Gibson – 1988 – NL MVP
In 1988, Gibson won a relatively close MVP vote against Darryl Strawberry, but his choice as the MVP was certainly a defensible one, as he finished neck-to-neck with Will Clark as the NL’s top position player. Despite not having eye-popping offensive numbers, Gibson played solid defense and his numbers were depressed by playing half his games at Dodger Stadium. The NL started Strawberry, Andre Dawson, and Vince Coleman in the outfield for that All-Star game, but it would have been nice to see Gibson at least as a replacement. Despite being the only MVP in history that never made an All-Star game (a distinction that may never be matched), he had the last laugh to cap off 1988, as his dramatic, limping homerun versus Dennis Eckersley was key for the Dodgers to win the World Series.
Robin Yount – 1989 – AL MVP
Yount’s career totals stand at a bizarre stance to this day, as he finished his playing days with only 3 All-Star games, but still won 2 MVP’s, and was almost an automatic Hall of Fame selection. Despite not making the playoffs in 1989, Yount won a close vote over Ruben Sierra and Cal Ripken, all of this while being only the sixth-best AL player in terms of WAR. While it may have been a legacy pick for the 33-year-old, his middling offensive numbers and cold start were enough to leave him out of the festivities in Anaheim, where Kirby Puckett started in center field.
Terry Pendleton – 1991 – NL MVP
Pendleton followed one of the most predictable career paths you’ll ever see, peaking at ages 30 and 31 before settling back to being a serviceable above-average player. That peak helped him win an MVP in 1991 and finish second in the 1992 vote. Bizarrely, he missed the All-Star game in the first year, and then made his only All-Star team the following season. The NL third base spots were manned by Chris Sabo and Howard Johnson, so there wasn’t any transcendent talent to block Pendleton in 1991, it probably was that he was a player usually taken for granted. Still, his controversial MVP is considered as one of the worst injustices of the last era, as Pendleton earned it mostly because of his batting title, while it was clear that Barry Bonds had emerged as the league’s best player.
Juan Gonzalez – 1996 – AL MVP
Gonzalez was a perfect representation of the 90’s slugger, and one that made the most of playing half his games in the friendly confines of Arlington. He had made an All-Star team in 1993, but was forgotten in 1996 despite him having his typical power-filled season. He’d finish the season with 47 homers and 144 RBI, which were just too big for voters to ignore. However, that ignored the fact that Gonzalez was terrible on the bases and a minus defender in the outfield, which then adjusting his offense to his ballpark, ended up producing a meager 3.8 WAR. Thirteen players in the AL had higher value than Gonzalez, but he ended up beating Alex Rodriguez and his 9.4 WAR by 3 points in the voting. The former Ranger would win yet another controversial MVP in 1998, and made two more All-Star teams.
Justin Morneau – 2006 – AL MVP
Morneau was hardly a household name in the relatively obscure Twins, so it was perfectly understandable to snub him when he started June with a .240 batting average. However, the Canadian slugger turned his season around and ended up with a hefty .321 mark to go with his 34 homers and 131 RBI. The AL carried David Ortiz and Paul Konerko as first basemen for that year’s All-Star Game .Those big traditional numbers pushed him over the top in a season where no AL position player put up a WAR higher than 6.6 (Grady Sizemore), barely edging Derek Jeter in the final vote. Morneau would establish himself as a fixture after winning the MVP, and made four straight All-Star games between 2007 and 2010.
Jimmy Rollins – 2007 – NL MVP
Rollins had already made 3 All-Star games before his 2007 season, when he hit the middle of his prime as the league’s best lead-off hitter. However, his start to the year was not the fastest, which led the NL to have Jose Reyes starting at shortstop with JJ Hardy as his backup. Rollins would end up putting a superb season in which he led the league in runs, triples, and had 41 steals for the playoff Phillies. While he was not the best player in the NL in terms of WAR, he benefited from voter fatigue regarding Albert Pujols and the lack of a convincing adversary. He hasn’t been part of any All-Star teams since 2005.