Glaser: Baseball's Golden Age Of Young Talent Is Now
DENVER—Fifty years ago, the greatest All-Star Game ever played took place in Detroit.
The 1971 All-Star Game featured 20 future Hall of Fame players, including Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson and Roberto Clemente. Both managers, Sparky Anderson and Earl Weaver, would be inducted into the Hall as well.
Aaron, Clemente, Jackson, Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson and Harmon Killebrew all homered in the game, with Jackson’s legendary shot banking off a light tower on the roof of Tiger Stadium. Juan Marichal pitched two scoreless innings. So did Jim Palmer. The field was so loaded with stars that Pete Rose didn’t even get an at-bat. Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton never got a chance to take the mound.
It is not fair to put such expectations on 2021 class of all-stars. There have been many other All-Star Games featuring otherworldly collections of talent, and none have matched 20 future Hall of Famers.
At the same time, it’s not hard to imagine 50 years from now, in the year 2071, looking back the collection of young talent that came together at Coors Field on Tuesday and holding it in similar reverence.
Baseball is in a golden age of young talent, and it all came together on the same field for the first time in Denver. It was the first All-Star Game for Fernando Tatis Jr., Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Juan Soto. Same for Rafael Devers, Bo Bichette, Trea Turner, Matt Olson, Alex Reyes and Corbin Burnes. All are 27 or younger. All have their best years still ahead of them.
And that’s to say nothing of many veteran all-stars on the field: Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge, Xander Bogaerts, Jose Ramirez, Manny Machado and Ozzie Albies—all yet to turn 30.
Guerrero hit a 468-foot home run and drove in two runs to win MVP honors and lead the American League to an 5-2 win over the National League. He became the youngest player to ever win the All-Star Game MVP award. Ohtani, less than 24 hours after competing in the Home Run Derby and hitting six home runs of 500 or more feet, pitched a scoreless first inning and touched 100 mph to pick up the win.
"Actually, I picked him (Ohtani) to win the MVP," Guerrero said through an interpreter. "I thank God it happened the other way and it was me. I’m very happy about that."
It’s easy to fall into hyperbole when discussing greatness, but there is nothing hyperbolic of what today’s young stars have achieved.
Ohtani has redefined what is possible in Major League Baseball with his unprecedented two-way stardom. Soto owns the highest OPS by a teenager in MLB history and is the youngest player to ever win a batting title. Guerrero, in addition to making All-Star Game history, has a chance to win the Triple Crown at 22 years old, the same age as many of the players just drafted this week. Tatis’ 28 home runs before the all-star break are the most ever by a shortstop—more than Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr., Ernie Banks or any of the great shortstop sluggers that came before.
“The game is in a really good place right now with all the young talent,” said Angels first baseman Jared Walsh, a rising young star in his own right with 32 home runs in his first 150 career games. “Guys like Soto, Tatis, those are names that are going to be prevalent in baseball for years to come. Getting to play with those guys, and the more established guys … I’m really thankful as a baseball nut that I got to kind of live out this dream.”
And to think, there could have been even more talent on the field. Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Carlos Correa and Ronald Acuña Jr. were all selected but did not participate due to injuries.
They have all yet to turn 30, either.
“Baseball is certainly trending in the right direction with all the talent,” AL manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s covering from many countries and we should feel special.
“We should all be, I know I am, very excited about the talent that we have and the youth that is coming into this game.”
That youthful talent made its presence felt at Coors Field. Guerrero lined a 111 mph shot up the middle that just missed Max Scherzer’s head in the first inning before Adam Frazier picked it up for a groundout. Guerrero came back in his second at-bat and launched his gargantuan home run to the back rows of the bleachers in left-center field, the longest home run in an All-Star Game in the Statcast era.
With the blast, Guerrero joined his Hall of Fame father in becoming one of only three father-son duos each homer in the All-Star Game, along with the Bobby and Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr.
"Dreams come true," Guerrero said. "Since I was a kid I’ve always been thinking about this moment. I’ve worked all my life, very hard, and thank God it’s happening now."
Guerrero brought home another run with an RBI groundout in the fifth, and Mike Zunino added a solo homer in the sixth to help the AL take a 5-2 lead into the seventh. The NL loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh and Bryant drove a sinking liner into left field that looked like it would bring home at least one run, but Walsh—playing left field for the first time this season—raced in to make a sliding catch to keep the score intact.
“I could tell it had a little topspin and it seemed like he was out front maybe a tad, so I just kind of broke in and fortunately it landed in my glove,” said Walsh, 27. “I looked back to make sure it wasn’t rolling back to the wall and was like ‘Ok, good.’”
The youth is what separates this group from those that came before it. In that legendary 1971 All-Star Game, Mays, Aaron, Clemente, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Carl Yastrzemski, Lou Brock, Al Kaline, Ron Santo, Luis Aparicio were all in their 30s and on the back half of their careers. Bench, 23, Jackson, 25, and Rod Carew, 25, represented the youthful next wave.
Soto, Tatis and Guerrero are all 22, younger than all but one player in that historic game—AL starter Vida Blue.
To declare them, or any of the young stars in the game today, destined for the Hall of Fame is foolish. Baseball history is littered with shooting stars who seemed destined for greatness but burned out quickly.
But looking at the collection of talent on display at Coors Field, and the unprecedented feats it has already accomplished, it’s easy to see this group is unique in the game’s long history.
There is no need to wait 50 years to appreciate that we, in 2021, are living in baseball’s golden age for young talent.
“Those guys who are out there doing their thing,” Bryant said, “it’s really special for the game.”