Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield, 11-3 with a 4.31 ERA, triumphantly holds up his first All-Star jersey.
The days of honorary All-Star selections, it appears, are gone. Because of the home-field importance of the Midsummer Classic, no more graying Cal Ripkens or hobbling Mike Schmidts -- who actually retired before his 1989 appearance -- will be penciled into this year's All-Star lineups. So when grumblings of Tim Wakefield's 2009 selection surface, tinged with terms of "undeserving" or "washed-up," it's safe to say that those naysayers are looking only at the 42-year-old's age and saying that his impending appearance, the first of his career, was little more than a way of showing gratitude for a long and semi-prosperous career.
But they'd be missing the point. Sure, sport's moral compass could point to his deservedness -- Wakefield is one of the most-respected ambassadors of the game -- but it just so happens that his 2009 stats are pointing to the same midsummer conclusion. The knuckleballer's 11 wins are tied for the majors' best, and he's been the panacea in the bumping, bruised Boston rotation, helping the Red Sox to the best record in the league at the break.
Wakefield's selection couldn't have come soon enough. At 42 years old, with 17 years under his belt, his tank is almost on empty. Granted, he could pull a Phil Niekro and throw until he's collecting social security, but odds are his knuckleball will soon lose its flutter. Fortunately, his All-Star selection won't soon lose its luster. With his appearance Tuesday, Wakefield -- at 42 years, 347 days -- will join a pantheon of Hall-of-Famers, Negro League stars and flameouts on the list of oldest first-time All-Stars.
Satchel Paige, P, St. Louis Browns
Age: 46 years, one day
One of the most well-worn, well-recognized and well-celebrated stars of the Negro Leagues, Paige's best year actually came in 1949, when he had a 3.04 ERA and a 1.241 WHIP with the Cleveland Indians. The Long Rifle, who was famously unsure of his birth date, didn't see any action in the 1952 game, although he gave up three hits and a pair of runs in the '53 Midsummer Classic. But his age was immaterial. For someone who had to wait nearly 20 years to crack the major leagues -- and who Joe DiMaggio said "was the best pitcher I ever saw" -- Paige had the right mentality: "Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter."
Jamie Moyer, P, Seattle Mariners
Age: 40 years, 239 days
"He's like a fine wine, he gets batter with age," said then Minnesota third-base coach Al Newman. "No, actually, he gets slower." That may be true. Every year that Moyer chugs along, his pitches seem to take more and more time to reach home plate. In 2003 Moyer, now 46, punched his first All-Star ticket. Twirling an inning of hitless ball, Moyer shone in what, so far, is his only All-Star appearance -- a remarkable fact when you realize that he has the second-most wins among active pitchers (253, to Randy Johnson's 303).
Connie Marrero, P, Washington Senators
Age: 39 years, 333 days
Like Paige, Marrero suffered the slings of segregation. One of the greatest pitchers Cuba has ever produced, Marrero was an unquestioned talent on the hill. Ted Williams once opined, "You let [Marrero] get ahead of you in the count and you're dead." By the time he made it to his first Midsummer Classic, in his second season with the Senators, Marrero's age was easy to see, and he rode the bench while the National League won 8-3. Although he never made another All-Star appearance, it's possible Marrero holds the record for most All-Star Games watched -- at 98, and once again living in Cuba, he's the oldest ex-pitcher alive.
Ted Lyons, P, Chicago White Sox
Age: 38 years, 195 days
With 16 years under his belt, Lyons was actually somewhat lucky to return to the White Sox in 1939 --William Harridge, then-AL president, said, "The main reason the White Sox retained Lyons [for the '39 season] was because management was sentimental." Good move. The right-hander was magnificent that year, leading the majors with a 1.089 WHIP to finally make his first All-Star Game. While he had a league-best 2.10 ERA over the next three years, he never made it back, although as a member of the Hall of Fame he soon found himself participating in the midsummer scrimmages outside of Cooperstown.