Monday, March 31, 2014

The Most Memorable All-Star Games--1940-1949

The 1941 All-Star Game provided one of the most dramatic finishes in history. Trailing, 2-1, in the top of the seventh at Detroit's Briggs Stadium, the NL jumped out in front on a 2-run homer by Pirates' shortstop Arky Vaughan. Vaughan smashed another 2-run clout an inning later to give the Senior Circuit a 5-2 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, the American League loaded the bases against right-hander Claude Passeau. Joe DiMaggio--the goat of two prior All-Star Games--hit a perfect double play ball to Eddie Miller at short that should have ended the game, but Billy Herman botched the relay and a run scored. In stepped Ted Williams. With the count at 2-1, Williams put the finishing touches on a day of misery for Passeau, lifting a towering drive that struck the facade of the stadium's third tier. His 3-run walk-off homer gave the AL a 7-5 win. Though overshadowed by Williams, Vaughan set several All-Star records during the game with most successive hits (3). He was also the first player to homer in consecutive innings and at-bats. The NL dugout was reportedly a "gloomy place" after the game. Cubs' slugger Bill "Swish" Nicholson smiled wanly and told reporters: "It's just another ball game."

In 1943, AL manager Joe McCarthy got most of the attention when he pulled off a bold managerial stunt. Criticized widely for using so many of his Yankee players during previous All-Star showdowns, he sat all six of his New York players for the entire game. Any Yankee fans among the crowd of 31,000-plus at Shibe Park in Philadelphia would have been sorely disappointed to see Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Bill Dickey confined to the bench. McCarthy's move ended up being highly unfortunate for pinstripers Johnny Lindell and Tiny Bonham. Neither would earn another All-Star selection. McCarthy got his point across nevertheless as the AL jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the fifth and hung on. "Don't think I had anything against my boys," said McCarthy after the game, "but we just didn't need them--did we?"

The 1946 affair featured a prodigious display of power from one of baseball's most gifted hitters--Ted Williams. "Teddy Ballgame" had a perfect day at the plate with a walk, two singles and a pair of homers. One of his blasts came during a famous match-up against Pirates' hurler Rip Sewell. Sewell had badly damaged his right foot in a hunting mishap several seasons earlier and had been forced to alter his mechanics on the mound. He added a blooper pitch to his repertoire, which was nicknamed the "eephus" (a variation of the Hebrew word for "nothing") by teammate Maurice Van Robays. The "eephus" was a soft toss with backspin that sailed high in the air on its way to the plate. No one had ever hit a homer off of the pitch before Williams. Sewell was in a two-out jam with two runners aboard in the eighth when Williams stepped up to the plate. Normally, the right-hander would only have used the "eephus" with the bases empty since it was so easy for runners to steal on it. But Sewell knew the fans wanted to see his quirky offering and had promised Williams before the game that he would use it if the two squared off. The first blooper was out of the strike zone. Williams fouled the second one off. The third time was a charm as the Red Sox slugger deposited the "eephus" into the right field bullpen at Fenway Park and laughed all the way around the bases. "That's the first homer ever hit off that pitch," said Sewell in a post-game interview, "and I still don't believe it."

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