Other members of SI's all-star lineup are just now making a name for themselves. Piazza is a charismatic catcher who hit 35 home runs last year—the second-most ever by an NL rookie—only five years after the Dodgers drafted him in the 62nd round as a favor to family friend Tom Lasorda, the Los Angeles manager. Baerga has put together the best two consecutive offensive seasons for a second baseman since Rogers Hornsby. Sheffield, who two years ago was the youngest batting champion in 30 years, is being moved from third base to the outfield for the sake of improving his offense. "He never felt comfortable at third and was taking his concerns about defense to the plate with him," says Marlin general manager Dave Dombrowski.
Avery has won 50 games in the big leagues, started 10 postseason games and pitched in one All-Star Game—all before his 24th birthday. Mussina, though bothered by tendinitis last year, has a 36-16 career record, a Stanford degree and his own official fan club. Beck has converted 87% of his save chances over the past two years (65 of 75).
"Which one of these guys will become a household name?" asks Woodward. "Who will be the next solid player to be outspoken like a Reggie Jackson? We don't know."
Says one frustrated Major League Baseball executive, "Magic Johnson understood better than anyone what it meant to all players to sell the league. Then Larry Bird came along. Michael Jordan did it, and Charles Barkley plays that role to the hilt. One of the things we have to get baseball players to realize is that they have the power and responsibility to promote the game."
On the other hand, maybe what makes this group so special is that they are not salesmen in the commercial sense of the word. Maybe they are wise not to go dancing on this minefield called fame. Maybe, as MacPhail says, the way to avoid another mass flameout is for these young stars "just to stay focused on the game of baseball. A certain opportunity is there to excel for a long period of time and to be identified with the greats of the game. That's the kind of thing I'd like to see them take advantage of."
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