The MLB All-Star Game has always been about a lot of things. It is, at least theoretically, a chance to see the very best baseball players in Major League Baseball take the field at the same time, and play against the toughest possible competition, but it's also a chance to see at least one player from each team, no matter what, take the field at the same time. It's an exhibition but it also, rest assured, counts.
It's also been around a long time. There've been 80 All-Star Games played, and with that many rosters being selected for that many different reasons there are endless lists to be made out of them. But we're here today not to list the Cardinals' best all-stars, or their worst; we're here to name their weirdest.
5. Gregg Jefferies: 1993, 1994
Gregg Jefferies occupies the hazy, Lee Smith-y space between the Ozzie Smith Cardinals and the Ray Lankford Cardinals, and he is a player befitting that space's strange, batting-practice jerseys-and-astroturf atmosphere. A once-in-a-decade prospect with the Hated Mets, Jefferies hit .367 with 48 doubles and 20 home runs as a 19-year-old shortstop in the AA Texas League, numbers that portended a future Mickey Mantle type.
Unfortunately for Jefferies and the Mets, he fielded shortstop a lot like Mickey Mantle. Jefferies didn't get along with the veterans and wilted a little under the New York press's heat lamps, and by his 21st birthday he was already a cautionary tale about baseball card inflation. He spent a few years butchering second base and hitting in a boringly average way, was traded as far out of the spotlight as he could have been traded in the Bret Saberhagen deal with Kansas City, and arrived in St. Louis at a very old 25.
The Cardinals, not known, at this point, for their acumen, did a very smart thing: they let him play first base. And in 1993, on a team without a lot of bright spots, Jefferies acted like no time had passed between that moment and his 1987 heyday. He entered the All-Star break hitting .343 with 12 home runs, three triples, 27 stolen bases and 51 RBI.
His numbers in 1993, the one year he fulfilled that unlimited potential, look more like an Ichiro season than a premium year at first base; he almost never struck out, he ended the year with 46 steals, fourth in the league, and his 16 home runs were a career high. He'd never again be so well-roundedly outstanding, but in 1994, still an excellent hitter, he made his second consecutive All-Star team. He was 26, a former super prospect coming off his two best seasons, and in the offseason the Cardinals let him walk, and that was the end of The New Gregg Jefferies. Injuries and general ineffectiveness kept him from ever replicating his Cardinals performance, and coming between Whiteyball and the La Russa era he's been almost completely wiped from team history.
4. Kent Bottenfield: 1999
Thought experiment: Is Kent Bottenfield the most valuable Dave Duncan restoration project of all? He pitched just one season in the Cardinals' rotation, and has a career record of 46-49, but were it not for his 1999 season the Cardinals wouldn't have acquired Jim Edmonds just in time for one of the greatest 30-something peaks of all time.
Bottenfield himself came into the 1999 season with an 18-27 career record and a few reasonably effective years as a middle reliever for the Cubs to his name. Dave Duncan, for reasons clear only to Dave Duncan—like so many Duncan projects, Bottenfield's primary attribute as a starter was his ability to look, in his big, stocky way, like a starting pitcher—put him in the rotation at the tail end of the 1998 season, when people who might have been ready to complain were otherwise occupied.
And in 1999, middling peripherals be damned—he struck out five batters per nine innings and walked four—he entered the All-Star Break with a record of 14-3. He finished the season 4-4, and the writing probably should already have been on the wall, but they couldn't read it from all the way out in California. He made 21 starts for the Angels, his ERA 5.71, before they traded him to the Phillies on July 29. That night, Jim Edmonds hit his 30th home run of the season.
3. Ken Reitz: 1980
I am not old enough to appreciate Ken Reitz. I should come right out with that.
Fans from the generation before mine have lots of exciting Ken Reitz stories; most of them can be summarized by noting that he was apparently extremely slow, and apparently played third base extremely well. He was nicknamed the Zamboni, which given those two attributes is incredibly apt.
But I was negative-7 years old when Ken Reitz was named to his first and only All-Star team in 1980, and all I see when I look at his Baseball-Reference page is a career Wins Above Replacement total of -4.2, which is astounding.
And while everyone seemed content for a long time to be convinced that Ken Reitz was a fine third baseman, these kinds of careers-by-consensus are pretty fragile. In 1980 Reitz got off to a relatively good start and was named an All-Star. In 1981 he had a bad half-season with the Cubs. In 1981 he played seven games and then hung around for a while in the minors. Reitz always had very high fielding percentages, but even during his career, when fielding percentage was viewed as a useful defensive stat, it was only slim protection against a player's first extended slump.
2. Royce Clayton: 1997
In 1997 Royce Clayton had a perfectly normal Royce Clayton year. He came into the break hitting .264 with six home runs, which in a poor year might be his seasonal total, and 19 stolen bases. He wasn't the Cardinals' only representative; Ray Lankford, in the middle of the best season of his career, also made the squad.
Clayton played for 10 seasons after 1997, had a few better years, and never got to the All-Star Game without first stopping off at the will-call window.
As best as I can tell, fans, players, and managers got so used to ticking the box next to Ozzie Smith's name—from 1982-1992, then from 1994-1996—that when he retired they failed to notice the rug being pulled out from under them and inadvertently selected Royce Clayton as Barry Larkin's backup in 1997. To this day, mentioning Royce Clayton in 1995 Ozzie-replacement Tripp Cromer's presence is a good way to get yourself kicked out of Tripp Cromer's house.
1. Scott Cooper: 1993, 1994
Scott Cooper was not an All-Star for the Cardinals, but his two appearances in the All-Star Game are the reason why, to this day, a 1995 Busch Stadium giveaway magnet with his face on it remains attached to the Moore household's refrigerator door.
Most two-time All-Stars with careers this (relatively) indistinguished are the best player on a bad team, doomed to represent their second-division squad in the bizarre anonymity that comes with being the one player that sends All-Star attendees scrambling for their scorecards. But in 1993 and 1994 Cooper wasn't the best player on the Red Sox, and the Red Sox, sub-.500 but no threat to earn the No. 1 pick in the draft, weren't particularly bad.
To make the All-Star Game for two years as the Red Sox's sole representative, Cooper was somehow chosen against teammates Mo Vaughn, Mike Greenwell, John Valentin, and Roger Clemens. As a third baseman in a weak crowd he was still chosen ahead of Robin Ventura, a better hitter and fielder, and Dean Palmer, who hit 33 home runs in 1993. Both times he replaced new Yankee Wade Boggs in the field, which must've been fun, at least.
In spite of all this, Scott Cooper was a barely average hitter, and, unbeknownst to the Cardinals, one whose career would be strikingly short enough to cause this kind of retrospection forevermore. Following the 1994 season the Cardinals, faced with a surplus of young outfielders, traded Hard Hittin' Mark Whiten for Cooper, so as to bump Todd Zeile to first base and replace Gregg Jefferies.
Zeile was traded in June, Cooper couldn't hit and found himself in a rotation by August, and that's how a 28 year-old Two-Time All-Star and Refrigerator Magnet Model found himself out of the league after one year.