Almost lost in the post-selection celebration and hoopla of the Cubs’ Willson Contreras and Javy Baez earning back-to-back starting All-Star selections Thursday was the place in history claimed by Baez: No player until now had ever been an All-Star starter at second base and then later at shortstop — much less in consecutive seasons.
“I didn’t know that,” said Baez, whose selection was announced after he doubled and scored during the Cubs’ 9-7 victory over the Braves on Thursday. “It’s hard to make adjustments to both positions. And just really excited that I made the All-Star team this year at shortstop, and we’ll see what happens next year.”
What, third base?
“Hopefully not,” he said with a laugh. “Hopefully, I’ll stay at short.”
Baez, long supported by some team officials as the best shortstop in the organization, took the Cubs’ starting shortstop job last year after injuries and a domestic-violence suspension to former All-Star Addison Russell.
Baez, last year’s MVP runner-up in the NL, earned ownership of the job when his breakout 2018 season carried into this year, which includes a .286 average, 19 homers, 52 RBI and an .872 OPS.
Baez is the third player overall to make All-Star starts at second and shortstop and the first to do it in consecutive seasons. Bobby Grich in the 1970s and Granny Hamner in the 1950s earned starting All-Star nods at both positions, but were shortstops first before declining into the second-base job.
Even the season Grich was the American League’s All-Star shortstop, he made only 68 of his 123 starts for the Orioles at short (43 at second).
“That’s pretty spectacular,” manager Joe Maddon said of Baez’s feat. “He’s earned it. Everything he’s gotten he’s earned. And he’s going to get better. This isn’t the zenith yet.
“He works, and he cares, and he’s into it.”
The Cubs have two All-Star starters for the fifth time in the last 26 years and the third time in the last four.
“I’m speechless right now,” said Contreras, who became the first catcher to earn multiple All-Star selections since Jody Davis in the 1980s and the first to make it as a starter in consecutive years since Gabby Hartnett in the 1930s.
“It means a lot to me and my family,” said Contreras, who has spent much of his efforts and emotions off the field on the safety of his family and welfare of his Venezuelan homeland.
Contreras, who converted from third base while in the minors, has been the Cubs’ hottest hitter the last two weeks — 15-for-36 (.417) with four homers, four walks, eight extra-base hits and 13 RBI in 10 games.
“The skill level is so high, and you’re seeing it kind of matching up right now,” said Maddon, a former minor-league catcher. “I still love the emotion that he brings to the table -every day.
“I often point to a wall socket and say, ‘Understand, we plug into it, your energy.’ With that there’s going to be a lot of emotion. He’s learned to curb that a little bit better than he had in the past. And just like Javy, he’s going to keep getting better at that, too.
“But it’s hard to argue with what he’s done as a catcher, a very tough position to play and being a convert and all that stuff.”
The selection was especially sweet for Contreras after struggling the second half last season.
Starting lineups for both leagues were announced Thursday. The rest of the All-Star selections are to be announced Sunday night.