- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

MILWAUKEE Derek Jeter wants to make one thing clear before tonight's All-Star Game.

"I'm not playing second base," the New York Yankees star shortstop said emphatically.

Jeter probably will get his wish; the rest of his shortstop cohorts on the American League squad may not be so lucky.

Manager Joe Torre surprised plenty of people when he selected five shortstops Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Omar Vizquel and Miguel Tejada for the first time in All-Star history. Now all he has to do is find a way to get each of them in the game.

"I'm not sure they will all play shortstop," Torre said. "I may have [to use one as] a pinch-hitter, and I think my backup second baseman is going to be [third baseman] Robin Ventura. He made the mistake of volunteering for that before he was selected to the All-Star Game."

By virtue of winning the fan voting, the Texas Rangers' Rodriguez will be in the starting lineup tonight at Miller Park. The rest is anybody's guess, but it's likely that one or two among the group will be limited to pinch-hitting duties or a rare stint elsewhere in the field.

"We just want to be here," said Tejada, a first-time All-Star from the Oakland Athletics. "If they want to put me at second, if they want to put me at third, whatever. I just want to be in the All-Star Game."

Tejada, 26, has been one of baseball's best shortstops for several seasons he has the most homers by a shortstop in Oakland history, owns the top two single-season RBI totals by a shortstop in A's franchise history and is one of only five shortstops ever with multiple 30-homer seasons.

But this is his first All-Star appearance, not because he hasn't deserved it in the past but because there are so many other talented shortstops in the American League.

Torre, managing his fifth All-Star Game, has been forced to whittle the field down to three players in past seasons, but with all five performing at such a high level this year, he made the previously unheard of decision to invite them all.

"I just thought it was a great opportunity to take five, because they were all worthy," Torre said. "It's pretty exciting that you can take five shortstops and realize what offensive forces they are, in addition to their defensive skills."

Shortstops have historically been known for their defensive prowess, not their ability to swing the bat. But a new generation of players starting in the 1980s with Cal Ripken have changed the way we think about the position.

All five shortstops in Milwaukee this week are talented defensive players. But they've taken offensive numbers to heights never before seen.

Rodriguez, 26, led the AL with 52 home runs last year the most ever by a shortstop. The Red Sox's Garciaparra, 28, won back-to-back batting titles in 1999-2000 the first AL right-handed hitter to do so since Joe DiMaggio in 1939-40. Jeter, 28, leads the major leagues in hits over the last six seasons. Vizquel, 35, has won an AL-record nine straight Gold Gloves with the Cleveland Indians.

"I think it says that the game has evolved in a sense where there are great players at every single position," Garciaparra said. "There is no set way you have to do it. You see five guys going out there at our position, and everybody has their own style. And they're all successful."

Even more amazing is the fact that all five play in the American League perhaps the greatest collection of talent at one position at one time in the game's history.

"If I was in the AL, I wouldn't be here," acknowledged NL starting shortstop Jimmy Rollins, whose .261 average and 33 RBI at the break pale in comparison with his AL counterparts.

In fact, maybe baseball would have been wise to trade one of the AL All-Star shortstops to the NL for one day. Maybe then all five would get to play.

"Just to be here is an honor to me," Vizquel said. "I'll play right field if they want me to."

That, too, could be arranged.

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