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It's still an honor to be an All Star

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Seventy-six All Stars seems really high, until you start digging into the numbers and the history of the Midsummer Classic.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

I'm a little obsessed with how many All Stars there are these days. Just this morning, I was looking on MLB.com, and counted 76 players who were named All Stars in 2015, which is actually down from 81 last year. Still, it seems incredibly high, especially since the All Star label tends to stick with players and elevate them, at least in the public consciousness (and probably at least a couple front offices, I'm looking at you Phillies and Twins).

Brock Holt is always going to be an All Star, no matter how much you try to deny it in 15 years. Believe me; as much as I want to and as hard as I've tried, I haven't been able to take that away from All Star Ron Coomer.

Anyway, that elevated number of All Stars is an alarming figure, just on its face. It jumps out at you. It's easy to come to the conclusion that there are too many All Stars. That was my interpretation at first, at least. And it was the conclusion Aaron Gleeman drew as well, this morning, saying "Between expanded rosters and increased injury opt-outs the term "All-Star" probably doesn't carry quite as much weight as it once did."

But as it turns out, historically speaking, that's 100 percent wrong.

The first All Star Game was held in 1933, and was won by the American League, 4-2, in part thanks to a home run by Babe Ruth and a strong three innings apiece from Lefties Grove and Gomez. In all, 36 players were selected for the game, 21 of whom would eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I doubt that 21 players from this year's game will make the Hall, but keep in mind that the Hall's representation from that era is highly inflated thanks to Frankie Frisch (who led off for the National League in 1933) and his Veteran's Committee. Anyway, that year there were 400 players in the Major Leagues at any given time. And of those, nine percent were named All Stars.

It quickly became apparent that the All Star Game was a big deal, and rosters expanded dramatically in the next decades, even as the league held at 16 teams. Eventually, as the leagues grew, the number of All Stars did not keep pace with that expansion and the percentage of All Star players relative to the population of the league has actually gone down dramatically since the 1940s and 1950s. Observe:

Year

All Stars

Players

% of All Stars

1933

36

400

9.0%

1943

53

400

13.3%

1953

53

400

13.3%

1963

53

500

10.6%

1973

61

600

10.2%

1983

60

650

9.2%

1993

58

700

8.3%

2003

70

750

9.3%

2013

79

750

10.5%

A couple notes, I chose to look at 10 year snapshots to make the data, and the table manageable. The fact that rosters have been stable at 25 men since 1914 helps a great deal, though rosters have been used very differently over that time. If we were to limit this only to players who played (and not, say, bonus babies), by setting an arbitrary minimum of innings and plate appearances to represent the number of regular players who might conceivably have a shot at making an All Star team, the numbers look like this:

Year

All Stars

Pitchers, >40 IP

Hitters, >150 PAs

% of All Stars

1933

36

138

174

11.5%

1943

53

148

183

16.0%

1953

53

149

185

15.9%

1963

53

198

250

11.8%

1973

61

229

299

11.6%

1983

60

276

330

9.9%

1993

58

328

365

8.4%

2003

70

363

388

9.3%

2013

79

369

399

10.3%

All of which is to say that, while the percentage of All Stars being named now might seem high compared to where it was in 1993, that's mostly a function of the dramatic expansion of the league over the last 20 years, and of roster sizes finally catching up to the population of players in the league at any given time. We're actually just getting closer to the historical norms of baseball's supposed Golden Age and being an All Star is as much of an honor in 2015 as it's ever been.

The players who beg out with "injuries" or because they need rest are actually an elegant solution, then. There no way to get 76 players into a single game, so allowing a dozen or more of them to elect to sit out allows the players to preserve their special statuses, achieve their All Star contract bonuses, and enhance their future earning potentials. It also maintains the representative sample of baseball's best that we have historically seen, while allowing for a game that is still coherent enough to resemble actual baseball.