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Kids' Stuff
Tom Verducci
April 04, 1994
A proliferation of exciting young stars has put a fresh face on the game
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April 04, 1994

Kids' Stuff

A proliferation of exciting young stars has put a fresh face on the game

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SI's 25-and-Younger All-Star Lineup

1993 STATISTICS

Pos.

Player, Team

Age

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

Avg.

C

Mike Piazza, DODGERS

25

547

81

174

24

2

35

112

.318

1B

John Olerud, BLUE JAYS

25

551

109

200

54

2

24

107

.363

2B

Carlos Baerga, INDIANS

25

624

105

200

28

6

21

114

.321

SS

Royce Clayton, GIANTS

24

549

54

155

21

5

6

70

.282

3B

Travis Fryman, TIGERS

25

607

98

182

37

5

22

97

.300

OF

Juan Gonzalez, RANGERS

24

536

105

166

33

1

46

118

.310

OF

Ken Griffey Jr., MARINERS

24

582

113

180

38

3

45

109

.309

OF

Gary Sheffield, MARLINS

25

494

67

145

20

5

20

73

.294

DH

Frank Thomas, WHITE Sox

25

549

106

174

36

0

41

128

.317

Pos.

Player, Team

Age

W-L

ERA

G

IP

H

BB

SO

SV

LHP

Steve Avery, BRAVES

23

18-6

2.94

35

223.1

216

43

125

0

RHP

Mike Mussina, ORIOLES

25

14-6

4.46

25

167.2

163

44

117

0

RP

Rod Beck, GIANTS

25

3-1

2.16

76

79.1

57

13

86

48

The three most dominant players in the American League are barely older than the designated-hitter rule. They've never seen a Triple Crown winner in their lifetimes, they didn't play a day in the big leagues before 1989, and they think the prehistoric era dates back to a time when you had to walk to the television set to change channels. Young? The best of them, centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners, plays video games on the team's charter flights. His idea of late-night revelry is to go bowling with his high school buddies at three o'clock in the morning. "Got my own ball and shoes, and they save me a couple of lanes by the wall," he says.

The face of the game has changed—it requires shaving only once a week. Welcome to Baseball 90210. It is a young man's game, with Griffey, first baseman Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox and leftfielder Juan Gonzalez of the Texas Rangers at the forefront of what looks to be the best assemblage of young stars in nearly a quarter century. Not since 1970 have so many players no older than 25 accomplished so much and promised so much more. That 1970 group of 25-and-younger standouts included Johnny Bench, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Reggie Jackson, Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver. Today's group of young stars is so dynamic it is changing how the game is marketed, how players are paid and how the record book reads.

So numerous are these young stars that players such as White Sox pitcher Alex Fernandez, an 18-game winner; Houston Astro first baseman Jeff Bagwell, a career .295 hitter; outfielder Sammy Sosa, the first 30-30 player in Chicago Cub history; California Angel outfielder Tim Salmon, the 1993 AL Rookie of the Year; and Ranger catcher Ivan Rodriguez, a two-time Gold Glove winner, can't make the cut for SI's 25-and-younger All-Star team.

That lineup of elite young players consists of Los Angeles Dodger catcher Mike Piazza, 25; Toronto Blue Jay first baseman John Olerud, 25; Cleveland Indian second baseman Carlos Baerga, 25; Detroit Tiger third baseman Travis Fryman, 25; San Francisco Giant shortstop Royce Clayton, 24; outfielders Griffey, 24, Gonzalez, 24, and the Florida Marlins' Gary Sheffield, 25; designated hitter Thomas, 25; Baltimore Oriole righthanded starting pitcher Mike Mussina, 25; Atlanta Brave lefthanded starter Steve Avery, 23; and Giant reliever Rod Beck, 25.

These are the players baseball is counting on to carry the game to 2000 and beyond. For now, they are invigorating the game and its mass-market appeal. No longer are baseball's ambassadors also poster boys for the geriatric generation. Nolan Ryan and George Brett are retired, even if their sponsorships for analgesic tablets and arthritis balms are not. The torch has been passed to Griffey, whose product tie-in is a full-color, 16-bit, stereo wake-up call: his own baseball video game by Nintendo, backed by an estimated $5 million television and print advertising campaign this spring. Tired, aching muscles not necessary.

"It's in place for these players to dominate the game over the next 10 to 15 years," says Tiger general manager Joe Klein. "You might be talking about a whole group of players who will have Hall of Fame credentials."

It should rank with history's four best groups of 25-and-younger players, rivaling those of 1970, 1912 (Grover Alexander, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Joe Jackson, Walter Johnson, Rube Marquard and Tris Speaker), 1928 (Mickey Cochrane, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer, Travis Jackson, Freddie Lindstrom, Al Simmons, and Lloyd and Paul Waner) and 1957, the Luke Perry of them all (Hank Aaron, Luis Aparicio, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson; in addition, Don Drysdale, Harmon Killebrew, Sandy Koufax and Brooks Robinson were younger than 25 that season but had not yet established themselves as stars).

"We're in a budding renaissance with these young players coming through right now," National League president Leonard Coleman says. "We're on the precipice of another golden age." It may have begun already. Consider what these young players have accomplished so far:

•When Gonzalez and Olerud won the 1993 American League home run and batting championships, respectively, it marked the first time in 28 years, and only the fourth time in league history, that two players no older than 25 won those titles outright. They joined Frank Baker and Cobb (1911), Mantle and Kaline (1955), and Tony Conigliaro and Tony Oliva (1965) in accomplishing that feat.

•Eighteen of the 58 players named to the All-Star Game last year were 25 and younger, including 11 of the 28 players representing the AL, the league with the clear edge in talent.

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