Marty Niland: With All-Star start, Harper joins elite company

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper made history last season when he became the youngest position player selected to the All-Star Game at the age of 19, and he’s doing it again with his second appearance at 20.

Not only will Harper be the youngest position player ever to start for the National League, he is also the first National to be selected to the team twice. Ian Desmond, who was named last year but missed the game with an oblique strain, can join him in that distinction if he wins the Final Vote or is tabbed as an injury replacement.

Harper is also only the second National to be voted to the starting lineup, joining Alfonso Soriano, who started in left field for the NL in 2007 on his way to hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases.

You’ll have go back quite a few years to find another All-Star starter from Washington. Frank Howard was named to the starting lineup in 1968 , 1969 and 1970. In his 1969 start, Howard brought the hometown fans at RFK Stadium to their feet with a second-inning home run off Steve Carlton, the only homer by a Washington player in All-Star competition.

Howard was the only position player from the expansion Senators to start in the Midsummer Classic. The only starting pitcher from that era was Dave Stenhouse, who got a nod in 1962, when two All-Star games were played. He allowed a run on three hits and a walk over two innings, striking out one, and did not get a decision in a 9-4 American League win at Wrigley Field.

The original Senators/Nationals had many more All-Star starters. The first of Harmon Killebrew’s 11 All-Star appearances came as a Senator, when he was selected to start for the AL in 1959. The future Hall of Famer was 0-for-3 in a 5-4 AL All-Star loss at Wrigley Field, but went on to hit 42 homers in his first full season in the big leagues.

First baseman Mickey Vernon was the last Washington player before Howard to start more than one game, getting the nod three times, in 1946, 1953 and 1955. He did not have much success in All-Star competition, though, going 1-for-10, with his only hit coming in 1955.

Third baseman Cecil Travis started two Midsummer Classics as a Senator, going a combined 1-for-7 in the 1940 and 1941 games.

Joe Cronin’s Hall of Fame career included starts at shortstop in a Washington uniform in the first two All-Star games, in 1933 and 1934. He was 3-for-8 in those two games and was the sparkplug for the AL’s 9-7 comeback win in 1934, with a single, double and two RBIs.

Sadly, the man many believe is the greatest ever to play baseball in Washington, Walter Johnson, never played in an All-Star game. The Big Train’s career ended in 1927, six years before Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward came up with the idea as a novelty at the 1933 World’s Fair.

In the years since then, only a few Washington players have distinguished themselves in the Midsummer Classic, and Harper will have a chance to join them next week in New York. His first All-Star appearance was marked by a misplay of a pop fly and getting caught in a rundown. But as we have seen, Harper has a flair for the dramatic, and he could make a new All-Star reputation for himself with one catch or one swing of the bat.

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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