Pujols Sole Cardinals "First-Half" All-Star

The St. Louis Cardinals have just one player on the 2007 National League All-Star Team and he was added by his manager after fan and player voting shut out the defending World Champions entirely.

On Sunday, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was one of seven players added to the 2007 National League All-Star Game roster by his manager and the NL All-Star skipper, Tony La Russa.

Previously, fans and players had selected the core rosters of 24 players on each side, leaving La Russa and his American League peer, Jim Leyland, the task of trying to fill in the many gaps in coverage with their seven slots each.

Prior to Pujols' selection, Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder was named the starter at the position via fan voting and Chicago Cubs first sacker Derrek Lee had been added by a vote of the league players.

Albert is generally considered the top player in the Senior Circuit and finished second to Philadelphia's Ryan Howard in the 2006 NL Most Valuable Player Award voting. None of that seems to matter now. Howard did not make the 2007 team at all and though Pujols had a slow start in 2007, he has since raised his totals in the vicinity of the high levels expected of him (.307/16/49 – BA/HR/RBI).

While experiencing a fine bounce-back season here in 2007, Lee played in just 22 games after the break in 2006 due to a serious wrist injury. Last week, I asked La Russa if these rosters are intended to represent the entire body of work of season since the last All-Star Game – second-half 2006 plus first-half 2007 – or just first-half only. I didn't get a straight answer.

Washington's Dmitri Young, who was all but run out of the game last season before experiencing a 2007 rebirth in Washington, was La Russa's pick as the fourth NL first baseman. Looking at the selection of Lee and Young all but confirm my fears that this is really the "First-Half" MLB All-Star Game – apparently except for the Cardinals.

No other Cardinals besides Pujols were named to the 31-man, soon to be 32-man, NL team. The 32nd player will be selected via fan vote, but no Cards are up for consideration. As a result, St. Louis' representation of one would only grow if injury replacements are needed between now and July 10.

Both Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen and catcher Yadier Molina had strong cases for All-Star consideration, but neither was selected.

In a case of good/bad/embarrassing timing, Colorado Rockies closer Brian Fuentes lost his job last weekend after a horrendous stretch of appearances, but will be an All-Star while Izzy will apparently sit home. Fuentes now has six blown saves and a 4.70 ERA.

The Cardinals closer, who like Lee missed much of the second half of 2006 due to injury, seems caught up in the same second-half, first-half quirk that Lee somehow avoided.

In 2007, Isringhausen has converted 15 of 17 save opportunities while posting a miniscule 1.67 ERA. That mark is second-best among league closers to the Dodgers' Takashi Saito (1.34), who is one of La Russa's All-Star wild card selections. La Russa also made room for two more closers, Arizona's Jose Valverde and the Mets' Billy Wagner.

Molina may be caught in the "first-half only" consideration in a different way from Izzy, as the 2006 post-season hero missed 26 games due to a wrist injury this season. Yadier's defensive skills are considered among the strongest in MLB and he is batting a career-best .289 this season.

While La Russa told me point blank last week that Molina was "playing in the first half as good as any catcher in baseball", he apparently could not see a way to add even a second Cardinal player, Molina or otherwise. NL All-Star catchers are the Dodgers' Russell Martin (fans) and Atlanta's Brian McCann (players). La Russa is going with two catchers, while Leyland has three.

Though La Russa's decisions were likely very difficult, especially given the need to ensure all 16 teams are represented, his selection process cannot go over well with Cardinals fans. Tony's stance of minimizing his World Championship team's participation is in direct contrast to other recent All-Star Games, when some managers have been accused on loading up their rosters with their own charges, with some managerial selections appearing much less deserving than players snubbed.

In the 2006 All-Star contest, the then-soon-to-be World Champions were represented by four players. Pujols was the starter at first base and was joined by pitcher Chris Carpenter and reserves, third baseman Scott Rolen and shortstop David Eckstein (injury replacement).

However, this year, the Cardinals will have to take solace in their World Championship trophy and rings and in knowing that Pujols alone will stand for them in San Francisco. It seems odd that La Russa and his entire coaching staff will be there this year, representing the World Series winner, but just one of their players.

"What have you done for me lately?" seems to be the primary question on the minds of the All-Star voters, whether fans, players or even the manager. The answer regarding the St. Louis Cardinals is clearly, "not enough".

As the 2007 Cardinals have learned all too well time and time again, fame is a most fleeting thing.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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