When the stars align
It’s been 25 years since a Padres third baseman has started in the All-Star Game. Here's how Ken Caminiti fared in 1997.
It’s been 25 years since a Padres third baseman has started in the All-Star Game.
Manny Machado was announced Friday as the National League’s starter—joining Ken Caminiti (1997) and Graig Nettles (1985) as San Diego’s only third sackers to achieve the honor. The vote between Machado and Nolan Arenado was a dead heat prior to the starters being announced.
Machado’s well-deserved start in the “Midsummer Classic” offers a chance to look back at Caminiti’s 1997 starting assignment.
My book Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever is available wherever books are sold.
Ken garnered 1.4 million votes, topping Chipper Jones, Vinny Castilla, and Bobby Bonilla.
The reigning MVP was a fan favorite, and he got the nod even though he had the worst stats of any starting player, with only 6 home runs, 35 RBIs, and a .247 batting average. Fellow third baseman Matt Williams was in the American League after being traded to Cleveland, and up-and-comers Jones and Scott Rolen were still emerging, making Ken the most well-known National League player at his position at the moment.
Ken was off to Jacobs Field in Cleveland to represent the Padres along with outfielder Tony Gwynn, the immortal hitting machine selected to start; outfielder Steve Finley, chosen as a reserve; and their manager, Bruce Bochy, nabbed for the NL’s coaching staff.
Ken’s back was bothering him, but that didn’t keep him out of the lineup (or from recording a segment for HBO’s “Arli$$”).
For some reason, however, he wore the wrong uniform for the game.
Every player on the National League squad—coaches, pitchers, and hitters—wore their gray uniforms for the game. Not Ken. He ended up wearing a blue Padres alternate. He also nearly missed his spot for introductions. Ken jogged out of the dugout, his steps choppy like he was running through tires, and smiled as he high-fived his friends, his buddies razzing him and cheering him on.
Just about every person along the line had a connection with Ken. The National League’s manager, Bobby Cox, had scouted Ken as a minor leaguer and tried to trade for him, to no avail. Leading off for the NL was his Houston buddy Craig Biggio. Hitting second was his Padres teammate Gwynn. Third was Barry Bonds, the guy with the best stats in 1996. Fourth was Mike Piazza, the star Dodgers catcher who’d been envious of Ken’s MVP heroics the previous season. Fifth was Jeff Bagwell, the Astros masher who’d competed against Ken for the third base job in 1991, only to shift to first and become one of his closest friends. Rockies outfielder Larry Walker and Ken, a decade earlier, were two of the top prospects in the Double-A Southern League, and they spent the ensuing years playing against each other. Ray Lankford, batting eighth, smashed a liner off Ken’s cheekbone in 1993. Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, his teammate on Team USA in 1984, was elected to start but didn’t play. In his place was Atlanta’s Jeff Blauser, who was born in Los Gatos, California and played college ball at Sacramento City College before reaching the majors a few weeks ahead of Ken, who hailed from San Jose.
Backup players standing down the line included his former Astros teammates Kenny Lofton and Curt Schilling, two breakout players Houston traded away too soon, along with pitcher Darryl Kile, who the Astros had smartly kept, a good, kind man with a lethal curve.
Ken’s first at bat was against that tall, lanky USC pitcher Randy Johnson, who’d become the nastiest pitcher in baseball, eighty-two inches of heat and fury. The ball was rocket artillery coming out of the Big Unit’s hand, so you were just happy to hit it, which Ken did—he grounded out to short to end the second inning, and grounded out against Detroit’s Justin Thompson in the fifth, and that was that.
The American League won the game 3-1. For Ken, and Gwynn, and Bochy, the return trip would be more eventful than the game itself.