The San Diego Padres have not had a player voted into the Major League Baseball All-Star Game as a starter since 1999.
That year, fans chose Tony Gwynn. Unfortunately, he was unable to play because of an injury. Over his career, Gwynn was selected as an All-Star 15 times, 11 times as a starter. However, that appearance is especially memorable, because Gwynn helped Red Sox legend Ted Williams throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park in Boston. And it marked his last All-Star game.
About the same time, a baby called Fernando Tatis Jr., who lived in San Pedro De Macoris, Dominican Republic, had just turned seven months old. Fast forward to 2021, and Tatis Jr., at the ripe old age of 22, has a bonified chance to end the Padre’s longtime drought.
That drought has lasted 20 seasons and dwarfs the five years in which the Oakland A’s, Philadelphia Phillies, and Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t sent a fan-chosen starter to the July festivities. It’s important to note that Jake Peavy (2007) and Wil Myers DH (2016), were picked by the managers to start, not voted in by fans.
MLB Network televised the results of the first phase of voting Sunday morning, and Tatis Jr. stifled his competition at shortstop with 2,052,647 votes. The Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez came in a distant second with 830,649. During Phase 2 managers will make their selections.
The fact that Tatis Jr. has contended with a chronically unstable left shoulder makes his selection even more impressive. He has obviously toned down his game just enough to stay on the field. That approach has also helped limited his errors recently, and he’s committed just one in the last 19 games.
In the game against the Cincinnati Reds on June 19th, Padres’ fans held their collective breath when he dove for a ball in vain, then grabbed his shoulder as he lay in the dirt. This time, he only missed the rest of that game and sat out Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Reds.
Wisely, Tatis Jr. opted out of this year’s Home Run Derby. However, in the first game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he put on his own derby with three home runs beginning with a blast in the first inning which helped propel the streaky Padres to their eighth straight win.
Currently, Tatis Jr. leads the National League in home runs (25), RBIs (54) slugging (.697), OPS (1.073), and WAR (3.9). He’s third in stolen bases with 14 and tied with Max Muncy in ESPN’s WAR (3.4).
In Colorado, on June 15th Tatis Jr. hit his 20th home run in the 51st game of the season. Of all Padre players, Tatis is second to only Adrian Gonzalez, who hit 21 homers in the same number of games in 2009.
No question, along the way Tatis Jr. has broken some of the unwritten rules. However, he plays with such verve and contagious joy that only the most rigid old-schoolers complain. And there’s no question of his talent. In 2019, his first season, he batted .317/.379/.590, with 22 home runs and 16 stolen bases in just 84 games. That year, he placed third in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Advertisers and the league have obviously recognized his appeal, and he’s been featured in multiple commercials and been chosen as the cover guy for MLB The Show 21.
The Padres haven’t had two All-Stars since 2016 when Wil Myers (a first baseman at that time) and pitcher Drew Pomeranz received the honor. In 1985, the year after the Padres’ first trip to the World Series, the team sent a high of seven players–Tony Gwynn, Steve Garvey, LaMarr Hoyt, Terry Kennedy, Graig Nettles, Rich Gossage, Garry Templeton, and manager Dick Williams.
This year, the Padres will likely send multiple players to Coors Field in Denver for the July 13th festivities. However, the main attraction should be a budding young superstar called Fernando Tatis Jr.