No one saw these All-Stars coming

June 10th, 2021

It’s fair to guess that in this age of informed, enlightened and highly educated fans, none of the All-Star starting lineup vote winners are going to be shocking to anyone.

But there have been some plenty surprising fan vote winners through the years, and not even that long ago. In fact, when you look at some of the winners, you have to wonder what in the world those voters were thinking. But hey: Maybe you had to be there.

Here are eight surprising players who won the fan vote at some point this century. These guys turned out to be more popular than you might have thought.

Zack Cozart, SS, Reds (2017)
Cozart was a middling, and oft-injured, middle infielder for the Reds for nearly a decade, from 2011-17. But he was red-hot at the break in '17, putting up a .316/.394/.547 slash line for a team that was, in fact, in last place at the time voting ended. He was nearly as good in the second half of '17, actually, even hitting 15 homers after the break. His timing was perfect: He was a free agent after the season, and the Angels signed him to a three-year, $38 million deal. It did not go well: He hit .190 with five homers in 96 games over two years with the Angels before they traded him to the Giants in December '19 … who waived him a month later. He did have a hit in the All-Star Game, off Dellin Betances, then of the Yankees.

Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals (2015)
Escobar was a low-OBP guy miscast as a leadoff man, but he had a reputation as a good fielder (he also won a Gold Glove Award in 2015) and, more to the point, he was excellent in the postseason in '14, including hitting .310 in the World Series loss to San Francisco. He was hitting .290 at the break in '15, and the Royals were playing well, and Escobar rode the wave of the team’s success in that era to become one of four Kansas City players to start the All-Star Game, along with Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon.

The bad news is that he hit .220 with a .256 OBP and one homer in 318 plate appearances in the second half. The good news is that he was the 2015 American League Championship Series MVP Award winner and homered in the World Series, one that the Royals won this time. He has not played since 2018 … but the Royals signed him to a Minor League contract last month anyway.

Melky Cabrera, OF, Giants (2012)
Melky had quite a month there in the summer of 2012. He was an absolute monster in May, with 51 hits, and was hitting .353 coming into the ASG. He was, in fact, the leading vote-getter of all outfielders that year, more than Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton. He then homered in that game and walked away with the All-Star Game MVP. So that’s the excellent part of the summer.

The bad part came a month later when he was hit with a 50-game suspension for PEDs, an offense he attempted to cover up with a fake website. He was actually still a productive MLB hitter for a few years after that, but this whole incident cast a cloud over that.

Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs (2008)
“It’s Gonna Happen,” blared the Sports Illustrated cover, on May 5, 2008, saying, “Kosuke Fukudome can end the Cubs’ 100-year wait.” That was on newsstands everywhere! Fukudome wasn’t a bad player, and he had a .383 OBP at the break that year, but this was still when you could reliably count on Japanese players with a high profile to dominate the voting, and Fukudome clearly qualified. He’d go 1-for-10 in the playoffs that year and, it turned out, he did not end Cubs’ fans 100-year wait. He was in Cleveland three years later and back in Japan in four.

Placido Polanco, 2B, Tigers (2007)
Polanco was a very solid player for a long time who had been best known for being the player the Cardinals traded Scott Rolen for until he had a fantastic 2007 season, a year after he’d had an absolutely miserable World Series. (He went 0-for-17 against his old team.) But he hit .341 in '07 and was seen as a veteran leader of that Tigers team. He’d make another All-Star team -- not voted in that time -- in '11 for the Phillies. He also shares the exact birthday with the author of this piece, which makes the author feel very old considering Polanco hasn’t played since '13.

Mark Loretta, 2B, Red Sox (2006)
Two Padres players have ever had more than 200 hits in a season: Tony Gwynn (who did it five times) and Loretta, who did it in 2004. But '06 was the year he was voted in, perhaps on the wind of Red Sox mania (which was everywhere and overwhelming at the time). He also had a walk-off homer on Patriots Day that year, which also might have had something to do with his popularity. The starting infield of that All-Star Game is pretty incredible: David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and … Mark Loretta. The infield would combine to go 0-for-9 in the game, so don’t blame him.

Shea Hillenbrand, 3B, Red Sox (2002)
Hillenbrand was a free swinging guy without power but a high batting average who couldn’t play defense. He went on enough of a hot streak in 2002 to be voted into the All-Star Game, but only because Alex Rodriguez hadn’t switched off shortstop yet. He was popular in Boston at the dawn of the millennium, but his hitting profile didn’t fit the team then-GM Theo Epstein was trying to build, and he was shipped to Arizona for Byung-Hyun Kim in May '03.

Rich Aurilia, SS, Giants (2001)
The number of Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame-caliber players who started the 2001 All-Star game is jaw-dropping: Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Ripken, A-Rod, Pudge, Edgar Martinez, Juan Gone, Ichiro, Manny, Todd Helton, Sosa, Chipper. (On the bench: Jeter, Pujols, Vlad, Bernie Williams.) But Rich Aurilia got the start. He did have more hits (206) that season than any of them.