BALTIMORE — It couldn’t possibly happen.
I mean, there’s no earthly way that the Baltimore Orioles, who are on pace to lose 116 games, could have more than one All-Star, right? After all, they’re the worst team in baseball, and it’s not particularly close. In fact, if you look through run-differential-colored glasses, they’re on pace to be the worst team in the modern baseball history: Through 81 games, the O’s are at minus-178 (and that’s after a shocking 13-0 beatdown of the Cleveland Indians on Friday). If you multiply that by two, you get minus-356, which would break the record currently held by the 1932 Red Sox (minus-349). So how in the wide world of sports could a team like that possibly have multiple All-Stars?
John Means, that’s how.
It has been widely accepted for weeks now that Trey Mancini, Baltimore’s slugging outfielder/first baseman, would be the team’s one and only representative at this year Midsummer Classic. Mancini, who finished a distant 15th among AL outfielders in the primary election (the top nine finishers had a run-off to determine the three OF starters), has been solid from the get-go this season. Entering Friday, his .904 OPS ranked third among American League outfielders, and his 1.6 WAR ranked eighth. Clearly, if you’re mining for Orioles All-Stars, Mancini is the only logical choice.
Or is he?
On Friday against Cleveland, Means — who missed his last start because of shoulder issues — did what he has been doing all season long, keeping hitters off balance by mixing his low 90s fastball and good-not-great slider with a vastly improved changeup that has become a legit out pitch for the 26-year old rookie. The result was five shutout frames against a surging Indians squad that has been treating hurlers pretty rudely of late. But on Friday, the Tribe couldn’t get anything going. In other words, it was business as usual for Means.
Including his outing against Cleveland, the left-hander has a crisp and clean 2.50 ERA that ranks third among American League starters. Well, it would rank third if Means had enough innings to qualify. But thanks to his recent injured list stint, plus the fact he spent the first couple of weeks of the season in the bullpen, he’s about five innings short of qualifying. When it comes time for All-Star reserves (and pitchers) to be announced on Sunday evening, there’s a good chance that Means’ relatively light workload leaves him on the outside looking in.
“Does he have enough starts?” said manager Brandon Hyde when asked about his pitcher’s All-Star credentials following Baltimore’s win on Friday. “I mean, he’s 7-4 with a 2.50. I haven’t even seen his stat pack, so I don’t know where he ranks. But I’m sure it’s up there. I think if he would’ve started the year in the rotation, and maybe didn’t get this last 10-day IL stint, I think he’d get a little more consideration. But I do feel like he’s pitching like an All-Star pitcher. He’s giving us All-Star starts.”
In a world where skippers are constantly stumping for their own players to make the Midsummer Classic, Hyde’s candid comments suggest that, in all likelihood, Means won’t get the nod. It doesn’t help that his FIP (fielding independent pitching) entering the Indians series stood at 4.09, suggesting that there’s probably a bit of smoke and mirrors when it comes to Means’ success in traditional stat categories like ERA.
It also doesn’t help that, when it comes to the All-Star Game, prolific cellar dwellers like the Orioles don’t typically find themselves flooded with extra invites. In fact, here’s the complete list of teams that entered the All-Star break with a winning percentage below .300 but still managed to have multiple All-Stars (courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau):
1935 St. Louis Browns (Rollie Hemsley, Sammy West)
1939 St. Louis Browns (Myril Hoag, George McQuinn)
The bad news, if you’re John Means, is that it has been 80 years since a team as bad as the Birds had more than one All-Star. The good news is that the St. Louis Browns moved in 1954 and became … the Baltimore Orioles. In other words, the O’s franchise has a historical penchant for flooding All-Star rosters while being terrible.
The other good news is that pitchers, more than any other position, tend to bow out of the All-Star Game. Sometimes it’s an injury thing. Other times, it’s an “I just pitched on Sunday so thanks but no thanks” kind of thing. Last year, a total of six pitchers bagged on the Midsummer Classic, and six replacements took their spots. So it’s entirely possible that even if Means’ name doesn’t get called on this Sunday’s selection show, it still might get called in the week that follows. For what it’s worth, Means isn’t losing sleep over any of this.
“Being a major league All-Star didn’t even cross my mind when I was starting the season,” says the rookie who was never an All-Star in five minor league seasons. “I just try to go out there and get this team a win.”
Standing in the locker room at Camden Yards and wearing an orange floppy hat that will be Saturday’s giveaway, Means admits that the subject has come up in the clubhouse. That his teammates have been busting his chops a little bit about the possibility — however remote it might be — of him being an All-Star. Included among the chop-busters is the one Oriole who’s practically a lock to go to Cleveland.
“Trey is every bit of an All-Star,” Means says of Mancini. “That guy is having a really good season. He definitely is going, a hundred percent.”
As for Means, he’s just happy to be eligible.
“Beginning of the season, I didn’t even think I was going to make the team,” he says. “Just being up here and being able to pitch in the big leagues, it’s really a dream come true.”