Monday, April 28, 2014

The Most Memorable All-StarGames--1980-1989

The 1981 strike was the fourth work stoppage in baseball history. At the root of the dispute was the controversial topic of free agent compensation. It was the first strike with a season in progress, beginning in June and lasting for fifty days. Play resumed with the All-Star Game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on August 9. Though many fans were disgruntled with players and owners, the '81 affair drew the largest crowd in history at 72,000-plus. Another record was set when managers Jim Frey and Dallas Green combined to use fifty-six players during the game. Expos catcher Gary Carter hit two homers, placing him on a short list of players to accomplish the feat in the Midsummer Classic. Though Carter captured MVP honors, it was Mike Schmidt who stole the show with a game-winning homer off of closer Rollie Fingers in the eighth. "It was as good as I ever felt running around the bases," said Schmidt. "As good as the World Series."

Entering the 1983 season, the AL had won just 1 of the previous 20 showdowns. Angels slugger Reggie Jackson suggested that the annual event was lopsided because National Leaguers were more invested in the game. "They try harder," he told a reporter from the Dallas Morning News. Pondering the same conundrum, Pete Rose remarked: "The National League wins because the National League thinks it's supposed to win. A man wants to smell like a man." White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk weighed in on the topic as well, asserting that the outcome would be different if the two leagues played an all-star series as opposed to a single game match-up. He never explained his logic. Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the All-Star Game, the American League broke out of its' slump in spectacular fashion at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Carrying a 2-1 lead into the third inning, the junior circuit jumped all over Giants' southpaw Atlee Hammaker for 7 runs on 6 hits. The big blow was a grand slam by Angels outfielder Fred Lynn--the first in all-star history. Before Lynn came to the plate, NL skipper Whitey Herzong ordered an intentional walk to Brewers shortstop Robin Yount. The intensely competitive Lynn later said that he took it personally. After the 7-run explosion in the third, the AL tacked on 4 more runs for a convincing 13-3 win.

The 1986 affair lived up to its "all-star" billing as more than a dozen Hall of Famers were in uniform that day. Though there was not a single Cooperstown inductee to be found on either pitching staff, it was pitching that grabbed most of the headlines. Roger Clemens made his All-Star debut--the first of ten career appearances. He worked 3 stellar innings, facing the minimum 9 batters while striking out 2. He was the eighth hurler in all-star history to toss 3 perfect frames. National League starter Dwight Gooden pitched well, but faltered in the second inning, serving up a hanging breaking ball to Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker. Whitaker made Gooden pay for his mistake, blasting a 2-run homer. Fernando Valenzuela came on in the fourth and struck out five consecutive AL hitters. Among his victims were Don Mattingly, Cal Ripken and Jesse Barfield. Both teams managed just 5 hits apiece in a 3-2 AL win. The game held another point of interest as renowned sports imposter Barry Brennen snuck onto the field during batting practice wearing a Mets jersey with the number 13 on it. When NL skipper Tom Lasorda cornered him, Brennen said: "It's my fantasy to play in the All-Star game." Lasorda replied: "It's my fantasy to kick your butt off this field." During his "career" as an impersonator, Brennan worked his way into a World Series game (as an umpire), an NBA all-star game (as a player) and a Super Bowl game (as a referee). He also posed as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. He was known as "The Great Imposter."   

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Most Memorable All-Star Games--1970-1979

In 1970,  the All-Star Game was still just an exhibition and there was little at stake aside from bragging rights. But the fiercely competitive Pete Rose showed the great lengths he would go to in order to win. With two outs and the game tied at 4 in the bottom of the twelfth inning, Rose lined a single to center and moved to second base on a Billy Grabarkewitz single. Jim Hickman then dropped another hit in front of AL center fielder Amos Otis. Otis unleashed an accurate throw to the plate as catcher Ray Fosse came up the line to receive it. Rose laid a vicious shoulder block on Fosse, literally knocking the Indians' catcher senseless. Fosse was unable to complete the play and Rose ended up scoring the winning run. Whether or not Rose used excessive force has remained a source of lively debate ever since. The impact of the collision separated Fosse's shoulder, but the area was so swollen that X-Rays apparently didn't reveal it. He kept playing anyway, aggravating the injury and weakening his swing. By 1974, his days as a first-string catcher were over. Years later, Rose joked insensitively that if it weren't for him, no one would even know who Ray Fosse was.

By 1971, fans were back in control of the All-Star voting for the first time since the Cincinnati faithful had over-stuffed the ballot box in 1957. Before the game, Dock Ellis created a stir when he insinuated that NL skipper Sparky Anderson was a racist. After Vida Blue had been selected to start for the AL, Ellis commented that: "They wouldn't pitch two brothers against each other." Ellis was quite a free-spirit during his career. In 1970, he had pitched a no-hitter under the influence of LSD. He would later gripe about the size of his hotel bed in San Francisco during the '71 NL playoffs and refuse to sleep in it. Ellis's comments before the '71 All-Star Game were rendered pointless when Sparky Anderson penciled the right-hander in as the National League's starting pitcher. It was a rough day at the office for the outspoken hurler. In the bottom of the third, with the NL leading 3-0, Ellis gave up a leadoff single to Luis Aparicio. A's slugger Reggie Jackson was then installed as a pinch-hitter for Vida Blue. In a tremendous display of power, Jackson launched a titanic shot into a light tower on the roof of Tiger Stadium. By many estimates, the ball traveled 520 feet, making it the longest homer in All-Star history. "That ball really took off and I thought it was going to knock the light tower down," said Johnny Bench after the game. After Reggie's dramatic shot, the trouble continued for the loud-mouthed Ellis as Rod Carew drew a walk and Frank Robinson drilled another homer to deep right field. Ellis was charged with the loss as the AL prevailed, 6-4.

The 1979 Midsummer Classic featured several interesting precedents. It was the only All-Star Game played at the Kingdome in Seattle. It was also the first and only All-Star start for Nolan Ryan--a surprising fact considering his impressive career resume. Additionally, Pete Rose played four innings at first base, becoming the only player in history to appear at five different positions in All-Star play. The game was close with the lead changing hands several times. In the bottom of the eighth, right fielder Dave Parker made a tremendous throw to the plate to nail Angels' catcher Brian Downing, who was trying to score from second base on a Graig Nettles single. Downing dove head-first into the plate but was tagged out by Gary Carter. Parker had two outfield assists in the game and was named MVP. In the top of the ninth, the NL plated what would hold up as the winning run on a bases loaded walk by Ron Guidry. The Yankee southpaw had come on in relief of Jim Kern, who had walked the bases full. The American League finished the decade of the 1970s with just one All-Star win.    

Monday, April 14, 2014

The All-Star Experiment--1959-1962

Something odd happened to the Midsummer Classic between 1959 and 1962. Major League Baseball decided to hold two All-Star Games every year. Though the rivalry between the two leagues still ran deep, the primary reason for the change was monetary. By some reports, baseball had fallen behind on payments to the players' pension fund and needed to make up the shortfall. Commissioner Ford Frick confirmed that money was the motivating factor. "If there were no dollars involved, we wouldn't play it," he said.

In 1959, the games occurred nearly a month apart. The first was held at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and the second at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. Both drew capacity crowds. The earliergame proved to be more exciting as the American League rallied for 3 runs in the eighth off of hometown hero Roy Face, taking a 4-3 lead. Whitey Ford couldn't hold off the NL attack in the bottom of the frame, yielding an RBI single to Hank Aaron and a run-scoring triple to Willie Mays. "He hits me like he owns me" Ford said after the game, which ended in a 5-4 NL win. The American League salvaged a 5-3 victory on August 3 to split the series.

When MLB announced that it would play two more games in 1960, the reaction was mixed. Municipal Stadium in Kansas City was full to capacity on July 11, when the National League prevailed by a score of 5-3. But the second game on July 13 produced an embarrassing turnout. There were well over 15,000 empty seats at Yankee Stadium as the NL romped to a 6-0 win, completing the sweep.    

Before the second All-Star Game in 1961, a New York Times columnist wrote: "The public at large is finding a second All-Star attraction something of an anticlimax, like playing a second World Series in Brazil." The game, which took place at Fenway Park, lived up to its lackluster billing, ending with a 1-1 score. Called on account of rain at the end of the ninth, it was the first tie in All-Star history.

In 1962, the games were scheduled weeks apart again. The first match was held at D.C. Stadium in Washington. The American League had the tying runs on base in the bottom of the ninth when Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio flied out to deep right-center field, ending the game in favor of the NL, 3-1. Wrigley Field in Chicago was the setting for the second All-Star match that year. Aided by three homers, the American League rolled to a 9-4 win. The AL would not win again until 1970. After the '62 double-bill, team owners agreed to dramatically increase player shares from a single game format. The practice of holding two All-Star Games officially ended. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Most Memorable All-Star Games--1950-1958

46,000 fans at Comiskey Park got their money's worth in 1950 as the All-Star Game went into extra innings for the first time in history. Again, it was Ted Williams who drew attention to himself with a spectacular first inning catch on a hard drive by NL home run king Ralph Kiner. Williams slammed into the wall while snaring Kiner's drive and fractured his elbow. The injury was not discovered until after the game as the Red Sox slugger played nine innings, rapping a clutch single in the bottom of the fifth that put the AL ahead, 3-2. The score remained that way until the top of the ninth, when Kiner blasted a solo homer to tie things up. In the fourteenth frame, Cardinals' second baseman Red Schoendienst became an unlikely hero. Not known for his power, the future Hall of Famer had told teammates: "I'm going to surprise all of you by hitting a homer if I ever get into this game." He did exactly that leading off the inning. Joe DiMaggio had a chance to do something for the AL with a runner on in the bottom of the fourteenth, but he bounced into a game-ending double play. "The Yankee Clipper" was less than spectacular in All-Star play during his career, compiling a feeble .225 average in eleven appearances.  

The 1955 Midsummer Classic got off to a rollicking start when the American League battered Robin Roberts for 4 runs in the top of the first. After yielding consecutive singles to Detroit's Harvey Kuenn and Chicago's Nellie Fox, Roberts uncorked a wild pitch, scoring Kuenn. A walk to Ted Williams brought the equally dangerous Mickey Mantle to the plate. Mantle ripped a long shot to deep center field that put the AL up, 4-0 with nobody out. Roberts settled down after that, giving up just one more hit during his 3-inning stint. The AL tacked on a run in the top of the sixth and the game seemed well in hand until the bottom of the eighth. Whitey Ford, who had coughed up a pair of runs in the previous frame, got into a 2-out jam, surrendering three straight singles to Willie Mays, Ted Kluszewski and Randy Jackson. Ford was lifted for Red Sox right-hander Frank Sullivan, who promptly yielded a 2-run single to Hank Aaron, tying the score at 5. In the bottom of the twelfth, it was Stan Musial who stole the spotlight. Leading off the inning, the Cardinals' slugger reportedly turned to catcher Yogi Berra and said: "I'm tired." He earned a well-deserved rest when he lifted Sullivan's first offering into the right field seats for a game-winning homer. Musial had entered the game as a fourth inning replacement and admitted afterward that he had not been swinging for the fence--he had been swinging "just to get on."

The events that preceded the 1957 affair overshadowed the game itself. The Cincinnati Enquirer had encouraged Reds fans to stuff the ballot box by printing pre-marked ballots and distributing them in Sunday papers. It was alleged that various bars in the city withheld alcohol from customers until they voted for Cincinnati players. When the balloting was complete, Stan Musial was the only non-member of the Reds selected as a starter. The Reds (known then as the "Redlegs") were represented by Ed Bailey at catcher, Johnny Temple at second base, Roy McMillan at short and Don Hoak at third. The outfield contained a trio of Cincy stars: Frank Robinson, Gus Bell and Wally Post. Incensed by the scheme, commissioner Ford Frick stripped fans of the right to vote and inserted Willie Mays and Hank Aaron into the NL outfield in place of Bell and Post. From 1958-1970, NL managers and coaches made the All-Star selections. The game itself was exciting as the AL scored three times in the top of the ninth to take a 6-2 lead. In the bottom of the frame, the NL came storming back on an RBI triple by Willie Mays, who later scored on a wild pitch. With two runners on and one out, Ernie Banks lined an RBI single to right field. Chicago's Minnie Minoso threw out Gus Bell trying to advance to third for the second out. Gil Hodges, who represented the go-ahead run, lined out to left field, stranding Banks on second and ending the game in favor of the AL. 6-5.