The first All Star Game I actually watched was 1989. The pregame show had the "Bo Knows" commercials every five minutes, they were brand new at the time, and then Bo proved that he was worth all the hype. He crushed a pitch off Rick Reuschel to dead center field. That was followed by a Wade Boggs Home Run and the AL went on to win.
There was something special about the whole thing. The NHL All Star game alters the game. There is no defense, no checking and it usually turns into a scoring bonanza. the NBA All Star game turns into a slam dunk contest. The NFL Pro Bowl turns into flag football. The MLB All Star Game is the only one that continues to keep the competitive edge despite the exhibition status. The baseball mid summer classic has given us many classic moments, many of which get lost throughout the years.
Fifty years ago this week one of the best All Star Games took place but it is one that few still talk about.
The National League had not hosted an All Star Game in New York since 1949. Things in the league had changed drastically since then. The Braves, of Boston, were the defending National League champions that year. The Giants still played at the Polo Grounds. The Dodgers hosted the game at Ebbets Field and there was no team farther west than St.Louis. Speaking of St. Louis, they still had the Cardinals and Browns at the time.
Now, in 1964, the two leagues got ready for a game in the brand new Shea Stadium. As the teams entered the All Star break the National League was being led by the Phillies. It was attributed more to the failure of the rest of the league, rather than to their success. Koufax and Drysdale suffered early injuries. The Cardinals were struggling to find their identity without Stan Musial, although they had picked up a young outfielder named Lou Brock who jump started their offense far beyond expectations. The Reds were hanging around led by Frank Robinson. The hosting team, the Mets, were sitting in the basement where everyone expected.
The American League was as big a mess as the National. Everything was upside down. The Yankees, the four time reigning AL Champs, were sitting in second, tied with the White Sox three games behind the Orioles. How the hell were the Orioles in first? No one could figure it out. In 4th place was the Twins, seven games out. The Yankees were struggling along, frustrated by injuries and lazy play. They almost seemed to assume the team would win in the end. Of course, with the Orioles on top it could be forgiven. The Orioles had no real chance.
The National League All Star Squad had a great collection of talent starting: Roberto Clemente (RF, Pirates). Dick Groat (SS, Cardinals), Billy Williams (LF, Cubs). Willie Mays (CF, Giants), Orlando Cepeda (1B Giants), Ken Boyer (3B Cardinals), Joe Torre (C, Braves), Ron Hunt (2B Mets), Don Drysdale (P, Dodgers). Ron Hunt represented the home team with pride in the starting lineup. Although the Mets were in last it was not much of a surprise that they were represented in the starting lineup. The bigger surprise is the lack of Phillies and Reds given their lead at the top of the standings.
The American League All Star squad had nothing to be ashamed of itself: Jim Fregosi (SS, Angels), Tony Oliva (RF, Twins), Mickey Mantle (CF, Yankees), Harmon Killebrew (LF, Twins), Bob Allison (1B, Twins), Brooks Robinson (3B, Orioles) Bobby Richardson (2B, Yankees), Elston Howard (C, Yankees) Dean Chance (P, Angels). Similar to the National League the surprise in looking at the starters is not the Yankees but more the lack of any White Sox representatives and the abundance of Twins and Angels.
The starting pitchers could not be more different. Drysdale was intense, focused, almost sinister on the mound. He had playboy good looks but when he crossed those lines that smile turned to a scowl. He had suffered some soreness in his shoulder and his partner in crime, Koufax, had missed significant time but Drysdale managed to compile an 11-7 record and had won five of his last seven decisions heading into the break. Chance was the exact opposite. A goofy, playful kid, he was the last person chosen in the Angels expansion draft with the resigned statement "We'll take a chance on Chance." Chance entered the game with a 5-5 record and 4 saves. The best part of his year was yet to come as he won15 of his 19 decisons after the break to finish the season at 20-9 and win the AL Cy Young.
After the introductions and the Star Spangled Banner were complete, Drysdale took his warm up pitches and prepared for the first special event game of Shea Stadium's history. Drysdale seemed a bit off to start the game. Fregosi singled to left and when Torre allowed a passed ball Fregosi advanced to Second. When Oliva grounded back to Drysdale and Mantle struck out it looked like Drysdale might get out of the trouble he had made for himself. If he relaxed a bit he did so a bit too soon. Killebrew drove a pitch to left field for a single in front of Billy Williams and Fregosi came around to give the AL a 1-0 lead. A wild pitch moved Killer to second but Allison struck out leaving his team mate standing.
For Dean Chance, staring down the top of the NL lineup must have been intimidating. To start off with, Roberto Clemente was, well, he was Roberto Clemente. Apparently for Chase it was no problem. Strikeout number 1. Clemente was a tough strike out with only 36 k's in 296 at bats to this point in the season. Dick Groat was an even tougher strikeout. He had struck out only 17 times in 321 at bats. Still no problem for Chance. Groat was struck out victim number 2. Chance then got Billy Williams to pop out to Fregosi and the AL took their lead to the second.
The two pitchers kept the bases mostly quiet through the next few innings. The home town fans got some excitement when Ron Hunt singled in his first at bat to lead off the bottom of the third. Drysdale was due up next but Willie Stargell pinch hit and grounded out, moving Hunt to second although he was stranded there.
The Phillies Jim Bunning replaced Drysdale on the mound. Bunning, at 9-2, was a big reason the Phillies were at the top of the league. He had even pitched a no hitter on father's day of 1964. He got Mickey Mantle to start the 4th but Killebrew got his second single of the game. After an Allison strikeout, Brooks Robinson singled Killebrew to second but Bunning worked his way out of trouble and the lead stayed at 1-0.
Dean Chance's night was done. He was replaced by the Kansas City Athletics's John Wyatt. Wyatt entered the game with a 5-4 record and 15 saves, but he had also blown four saves, including one in his final appearance before the All Star Break. Casey Stengel may have wanted to look at that stat before he sent him in. Billy Williams of the Cubs tied up the game with one swing. Wyatt got Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda but Ken Boyer got Wyatt. One of two Cardinals in the starting lineup, Boyer drove a ball to left field giving the NL the lead.
The All Star Game before the mid 2000's technically meant nothing but you couldn't convince the managers of that. They gave their pre game speeches about trying to get everyone in the game but they wanted to win this thing. There was still that hatred of "us vs them". The rivalry left over from the start of the leagues. Walter Alston started the chess match by replacing Joe Torre with Johnny Edwards of the Reds. Bunning was still pitching and he got Elston Howard swinging. Norm Siebern pinch hit for Wyatt and flew out to Mays and Fregosi struck out to end the inning.
When the AL took the field for the bottom of the 5th, Camilo Pascual took the mound. He had started the year at 9-2 for the Twins but he lost his last four heading into the break. Pascual started the inning easily getting Ron Hunt to ground out and pinch hitter Johnny Callison of the Phillies (pinch hitting for his team mate Bunning) popped to short. Two quick outs. Then Roberto Clemente singled to second. Dick Groat followed with a double sending Clemente home and giving the NL a 3-1 lead. Groat exited for Pinch Runner Leo Cardenas of the Reds. Cardenas went no farther when Billy Williams grounded out.
Anyone keeping a scorecard at the game may have thrown up their hands and given up at this point. Chris Short of the Phillies came in to pitch. Cardenas stayed in the game at short and Callison replaced Clemente in right field. Short was another big reason for the Phillies success. He had allowed only three earned runs by the end of May and he had a 7-4 record. With a three run lead a pitcher who rarely gave up runs should have an easy inning. It started out easy enough. Oliva struck out. Mantle singled. Killebrew followed with his third single of the night. After Allison flew out to Mays the Orioles' Brooks Robinson stepped to the plate. He was known for his defensive prowess. He would win the World Series MVP in 1970 but his glove would pose for more pictures than he did. Brooks drove a ball between Mays and Callison in right-center. Alston may have wondered if Clemente could have gotten to it had he been in there. No one got to this one. The ball shot the gap and Robinson tore around the bases. Mantle limped home followed by a lumbering Killebrew and Robinson had tied the game with a triple. He was stranded but more than half way through the game everyone was starting over.
Pascual impressed the NL by getting Mays, Cepeda and Boyer in order in the 7th. Turk Farrell was a veteran pitcher in his ninth major league season. He was representing the Colt .45's and likely would have gotten consideration for a starting assignment. He started the year at 10-1 and was now at 10-3 entering the game. He faced Elston Howard to start the top of the 8th and hit Howard with the pitch. With Pascual due up the AL sent up Rocky Colavito to pinch hit. A veteran, Colavito had been a fan favorite wherever he went. Fans in Cleveland were devastated when he was traded to the Tigers. He was now representing the Athletics and he represented them well with a double to left-center. With nearly anyone else running the AL may have taken the lead there. Instead, the slower Howard was held at third. Fregosi's sacrifice fly to Mays scored Howard and put the AL back on top. Farrell was able to avoid further damage by getting Oliva to pop up and striking out Mickey Mantle.
The stadium took their little stretch time, sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and Tony Oliva was taken out of the ball game. Colavito jogged out to right and Dick Radatz took the mound. Pitching well for a poor Red Sox team Radatz was 8-4 and had saved 14 games. This was a save situation so it was a good choice for the AL. Radatz breezed through the bottom of the 7th easily. Farrell remained on the mound for the 8th and retired Killebrew for the first time of the night. Bob Allison walked to reach base for the first time that night and Joe Pepitone entered the game as a pinch runner. The suddenly feared Brooks Robinson flew out to Mays. Bobby Richardson singled Pepitone to second but the Yankee rally died when Elston Howard flew out to Mays.
The NL got ready for the 8th inning with the pitcher's spot due up. First, the AL made some more switches. Chuck Hinton, representing the new Senators, replaced Harmon Killebrew in right field representing the Twins (the old Senators). Joe Pepitone stayed in the game at first. Now the NL had to decide what to do about that pitcher's spot. Bill White of the Cardinals pinch hit for Farrell and struck out. So did Cardenas. Billy Williams grounded out and the AL was just one inning from a victory.
Juan Marichal, the Dominican Dandy, of the Giants took the mound. He used that high leg kick to get Colavito, Fregosi (still in the game) and Dick Radatz allowed to hit for himself. Manager Al Lopez allowed Radatz to hit despite having Bill Freehan and Al Kaline on the bench and Whitey Ford in the bullpen. Radatz had already thrown two perfect innings but he was facing some of the best hitters in history with more great hitters on the bench.
Leading 4-3 Radatz needed just three outs to win the game. He started poorly by walking Mays, who quickly stole second. Cepeda popped a ball just over first base into right field. Mays broke for third. Pepitone sprinted back and fielded the ball as he, Richardson and Colavito converged. Pepitone turned, assumed Mays was running and unleashed a wild throw home. Mays had stopped at third but Pepitone's throw bounced away from Howard. Mays scored, sliding home in a cloud of dust, and Cepeda advanced to second. The save for Radatz was gone but the AL could still hang on and go to extras. Curt Flood, the great talented Cardinals Centerfielder, came in to run for Cepeda. In just a few years the two would be teammates in St.Louis, now they were rivals in the middle of a temporary cease fire. While Flood loosened up at second, his team mate Ken Boyer stepped in at the plate. With the game now tied, Boyer could win it with a single swing. Radatz got Boyer to pop out to third. There was now one out. Radatz walked Johnny Edwards intentionally to set up a force while Ron Hunt, the home town hero, stood on deck.
How great would this be? The Mets had so few chances to prove they belonged in this league. This was their chance to prove they were part of this game. The fans waited for Hunt to approach the plate. The stadium was loud. Instead, walking to the plate was Hank Aaron. Aaron was having another great season. Batting over .300, he had hit 12 Home Runs and 14 doubles. He had driven in 45 runs. His current teammates asked him to just drive in one more. The fans wanted Hunt to get the glory but they would settle for an NL win. Instead Aaron struck out for the second out.
The crowd deflated. Radatz had blown four saves this season, and had blown another tonight, but he didn't lose games. The hopes were not great. Striding to the plate was Johnny Callison. A Phillie? Seriously? We could have seen the home town team finally make their mark on the league but instead we have to rely on a damn Phillie? Mets fans may not have had a lot to cheer about but the Phillies were the Mets before there was a Mets. Radatz delivered the first pitch and Callison turned on the pitch. The crowd turned and watched the ball. It looked like it might go but Colavito was heading towards the wall. The crowd was silent, leaning forward. It was that short few moments that seem like hours. Will it get over the fence? Will it carry? Will the fielder get there and jump to catch it?
The ball disappeared over the fence. Flood and Edwards scored ahead of Callison and the entire National League was represented at the plate greeting the Phillies' star. It gave the Philadelphia fans, the ones who were shocked to have the team at the top of the standings, a good feeling about the rest of the year. Finally, the Phillies were the heroes.
Which league has won the most All Star Games?
Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Carl Furillo was known for his strong, accurate throwing arm, earning him the nickname the "Reading Rifle". He ended his career with 151 outfield assists.