MINNEAPOLIS -- Most of the attention in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game went to Derek Jeter and Mike Trout.
And with good reason.
Jeter, the five-time World Series winner and longtime darling of the New York Yankees, played in his 14th and final All-Star Game. The 40-year-old shortstop delivered two hits and walked off with a gaudy .481 (13 for 27) career batting average in All-Star play.
Next stop for Jeter, Cooperstown -- well, after the remainder of this farewell season and the required five years in dry dock.
Trout, 18 years Jeter’s junior and possibly the most gifted player in the sport, captured MVP honors in the game with an RBI triple -- man, can he run -- and an RBI double.
Many good stories were swept over by the mania surrounding Jeter and Trout.
The man who replaced Trout in the American League’s lineup late in the game was one of them.
His name is Brandon Moss, and of course we’ve heard a lot of that name in these parts because he’s the latest coulda-woulda-shoulda-been-a-Phillie, capping a list that includes Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler, San Francisco pitcher Ryan Vogelsong and Angels reliever Jason Grilli. All have gone on to have big-league success after being released from the Phillies’ minor-league system.
Vogelsong and Grilli were both veterans trying to rebuild their careers in Triple A. They were both let go and went on to make the National League All-Star team with different clubs.
Ziegler, a 20th-round pick by the Phillies in the 2003 draft, was let go after just one season in the system. At the time, he was an over-hand thrower headed nowhere. He went to an independent league, re-invented himself as a submarine-style reliever and has pitched for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He led the NL in appearances last year and is doing so again this season.
And now, Moss.
Four springs ago, he was a non-roster player in the Phillies’ spring-training clubhouse looking for a job.
This week, he was an All-Star, representing the best team in baseball, the Oakland A’s.
Even Moss, two months shy of his 31st birthday, seemed a little surprised at his ascension.
“No one could have anticipated I would go from struggling at the beginning of my career to now I'm in an All-Star Game,” he said. “I was given an opportunity and made the most of it.”
Moss is the first to admit that he was given plenty of opportunities in the past and did not always seize them. He was Boston’s opening day rightfielder in 2008, Pittsburgh’s in 2009. He hit just .236 that season with a .668 OPS. Moss specifically mentioned that missed opportunity with the Pirates during a media availability at the All-Star Game.
Unable to seize opportunities for regular work in the majors, Moss bounced in and out of Triple A.
“I was labeled as more of a 4-A guy,” he said, referring to the murky world in which a player is too good for Triple A but not good enough for the majors.
Moss, a lefty hitter who can play both corner outfield spots and first base, signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies before the 2011 season and put up good numbers -- .275/23/80/.877 OPS -- under manager Ryne Sandberg at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
The Phillies had a killer team in 2011. They won a club-record 102 games, the most in the majors that season. Even Moss admitted there was no way he was cracking that lineup.
Late in the season, however, Phillies management was looking to fine-tune its roster and add a lefty hitter to its bench. On the surface, Moss seemed to make sense. But the Phils traded for another lefty hitter who was having a good season in Triple A -- John Bowker, then with the Pirates’ Triple A affiliate. Bowker spent a month with the club and went hitless with seven strikeouts in 13 at-bats.
Moss finished the season with the Phillies as a September call-up. He went 0 for 6. He was around for the Phillies’ NL-East clinching celebration. That was about it.
Moss would love to have gotten a shot at the job Bowker got, but he said he holds no hard feelings toward the Phillies for their choice. Again, he pointed to the 4-A label.
“You get labeled something and it’s hard to break that label in the big leagues,” he said. “I had a good year in Triple A. At the same time, they were trying to win the East and go to the World Series they felt Bowker could help more than me.”
Why didn’t Moss get a chance?
Well, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said there were organizational concerns about whether Moss’ swing would hold up coming off the bench.
Moss understands the Phillies’ thinking.
“Not very well,” he said when asked about how his swing would fare if he were a bat off the bench. “There is so much timing involved in my swing because I have an open stance and I have a kick and movement with my hands. That's one of the reasons I didn't do well in Pittsburgh because I wasn't really an everyday player.
“Last year in the playoffs (when Moss was 2 for 18) we had four days off and you come in and face top-line pitchers, it's very hard to get that timing back. Once you do it stays, but once you lose it, it takes a little while to get it back. Timing-oriented hitters don't do well on the bench.”
Moss liked his experience in the Phillies’ organization. He actually considered signing back with the club for 2012, but took a similar minor-league deal with Oakland because he believed playing in the Pacific Coast League, where altitude and light air can inflate power numbers, would make him more attractive to a Japanese team and the big pay days they offer.
Moss opened the 2012 season in Triple A and was summoned to Oakland in June. He has been a stalwart for the A’s ever since, helping them make the playoffs in 2012 and 2013.
In 318 games with the A’s since coming up, Moss has hit 72 homers and has an .890 OPS. He has played first base and both corner outfield spots. This is where it begins to sting for Phillies fans. They have gotten little production from left field this season and had to sign free-agent Marlon Byrd to get production out of right field. At first base, Ryan Howard has not been close to the same player he was before he blew out his Achilles tendon on the final swing of the 2011 season. He has just 40 homers and a .724 OPS in 244 games since he got back on the field at mid-season 2012.
With the Phillies continually struggling to score runs, Moss would look pretty good in red pinstripes right now.
Instead, he wears the green and gold of the Oakland A’s.
He got an opportunity.
And he has seized it.
“You can't hold it against an organization when you're not the guy they’re looking for,” Moss said. “You just have to hope for another opportunity. I’m just happy I got one in Oakland.”