Monday, July 15, 2013

The Awesomeness of All-Star games



It's When Stars Really Come Out

    An All-Star game is like an opera — a series of solo performances punctuated by the occasional duet. It's not a game, it's a recital.
    Baseball is the only sport that lends itself to this kind of format. It doesn't work with team games.
    You don't go to the theater to see Hamlet, you go to see Barrymore. You don't go to an All-Star game to see who wins, you go to see the stars.
    It has a brilliant tradition. Over the years, the legends of the game have risen to the occasion. An All-Star game to a Hall Of Fame player is like Pagliacci to Caruso, a chasm to a Wallenda, a set of stairs to an Astaire, a concerto to Heifetz.
    World Series are famous for being won by banjo hitters, sore-armed relief pitchers, unknown utility men. But All-Star games are won by, or at least starred in by, the registered giants of the game.
    But, not always. The unlikely lurks around the diamond in All-Star breaks, too.
    1933 — The very first home run of an All-Star game was hit by — who else? Babe Ruth. It was fitting. It won the game. But who was the second home run hit by? Frankie Frisch. A Hall of Fame player but the old Fordham flash ended up about 609 homers short of the Babe.
    1934 — Carl Hubbell struck out almost the entire Hall of Fame in a row. Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Simmons, Cronin. Every one of them went to Cooperstown. But who was the sixth man he struck out to retire the side on three strikeouts two innings in a row? Lefty Gomez. As Lefty came to the plate, he said to the National League catcher (Gabby Hartnett): "You are now looking at a lifetime .104 hitter. Do you mind telling me what I am doing here?" The American League nonetheless won, if you care for trivia.
    1936 — The National League won its first game when a fellow named Joe DiMaggio, a rookie outfielder for the Yankees, weighed in with the outfield error that let the winning run get in scoring position. He also went 0-for-5.
    1937 — The American League won, 8-3, but the game was famous for an infield hit, the line drive by Earl Averill in the third inning that caromed off a big toe belonging to Ol' Diz, who ruined his arm trying to pitch with the damaged digit and lost his fastball, his money pitch, forever. He was only 27.
    1947 — A Ted Williams home run in the bottom of the ninth with two on and his team trailing by a run, won it and sent Ted hopping and clapping around the base paths but it wiped out two home runs hit by the NL's Arky Vaughan, the first multiple homer day in All-Star history.
    1942 — Mickey Owen, Dodgers catcher, hit a home run in the game (at Yankee Stadium). It was his only home run of the year. (He didn't have any the next year, either, and only one the year before.)
    1943 — DiMaggio finally starred. Hit a home run, triple and single. But, this was Vince, older brother of Joe, and not the Yankee Clipper. Vince's lifetime average was .249.
    1946 — Rip Sewell of the National League had this so-called ‘Eephus’ pitch that came to the plate by way of the moon. "If they try to hit a home run off it, they'll break their back," he predicted. Ted Williams hit a home run off it and broke the National League's back.
    1947 — Joe D. finally won a game for the American League. He hit into a double play and a run scored as the AL beat the NL, 2-1.
    1950 — Ted Williams smashed an elbow against the outfield fence making a catch in the first inning at Comiskey Park and was lost to the Red Sox for the season.
    1951 — Casey Stengel kept Bob Feller off his All-Star team despite the fact Feller had 1) pitched his third no-hitter that year; 2) was 11-2, and 3) had pitched one of his 12 one-hitters, and 4) would wind up with a league-leading 22-8 record. Casey explained his reasoning but only three people understood him.
    1954 — Six home runs, 31 hits and 20 runs marked this pitcher's duel in Cleveland but the game was won by a pop fly by Nellie Fox that dropped between three fielders with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth.
    1955 — An extra-inning game was won, fittingly, by Stan Musial, with a home run in the bottom of the 12th, but after the game, the American League pitcher, Frank Sullivan of Boston, allowed, "In a regular season game, I would have walked him."
    1956 — Hang this one in the Louvre. Home runs by Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. The winner? Who cared?
    1957 — The fans of Cincinnati stuffed the ballot boxes till the starting lineup would have been the Cincinnati Reds (who finished fourth that year) but the commissioner of baseball (Ford Frick) had to step in and insert Willie Mays and Henry Aaron in the lineup. When the American League won, the Cincinnati fans said "See!"
    1959 — The leagues went to two All-Star games. Big mistake. One of the games was in the L.A. Coliseum where they said you couldn't hit a home run to right-center field (470 feet). So Yogi Berra hit one.
    1961 — One of the games was played in Candlestick Park. Pitcher Stu Miller got blown off the mound into a balk. Yogi Berra disappeared when Hoyt Wilhelm was sent in to pitch. "Catch a knuckle-ball in that wind? I'd rather go to the dentist," Yogi explained. There were seven errors in the game. One writer wrote:  Wind 7, All-Stars 0.
    1965 — Five home runs were hit at Minneapolis but the game was won, 6-5, by a bad-hop single through the infield by Ron Santo of the National League (Cubs).
    1966 — In the furnace-like heat of Busch Stadium, St. Louis, where the on-field temperatures reached the 110 mark, Casey Stengel, on being asked what he thought of the new ballpark, said, "It holds the heat well." The Nationals won, 2-1. The only score the Americans got was on a wild pitch by Sandy Koufax in his last year on the mound.
    1967 — The last time the game was played in Anaheim Stadium, site of Tuesday's game. The twilight hour — the Umpire Ed Runge — and the longest game in All-Star history conspired to set a record with 30 strikeouts. There were only two bases-on-balls in 15 innings which indicates Ump Runge's control was perfect.
    1968 — In a 1-0 game played at the Astrodome, the All-Star game lived up to its record as a hoodoo when Harmon Killebrew, stretching to take a throw, ripped his groin muscles and had to be wheeled out and was lost for the season.
    1970 — Pete Rose, of whom you may have heard, first seeped into the national consciousness, when he barreled into American League catcher Ray Fosse in the 12th inning. Pete was bringing the winning run home. They say it took them 10 minutes to retrieve Fosse and the ball they haven't found yet. Pete felt fine. Fosse never was the same.
    1971 — Reggie Jackson hit a home run in this game that hit the light tower on top of the right-field roof in Tiger Stadium which may or may not have given Hollywood the idea for Roy Hobbs' (Robert Redford's) climactic blow in the movie ‘The Natural.’ It was a vintage game, homers by Roberto Clemente, Henry Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson and Reggie.
    1972 — Cookie Rojas, of all people, hit a home run. "Now, I'm only 690 behind Aaron," he told television. Aaron hit one later in the game to preserve his lead.
    1979 — The world's best game played by the world's best players ended up like a Little League game. In Seattle's Kingdome, the league's top relief pitcher, Jim Kern, with the score tied in the bottom of the 19th, walked three consecutive batters. The Americans brought in Ron Guidry, who had won 25 games and lost three the year before, to stop the bleeding. He did. He walked in the winning run.
    1983 — After an 11-year losing streak, the American League finally broke out of a slump with 15 hits, seven of them for extra bases — three doubles, two triples and two home runs (one by Fred Lynn with the bases loaded) for a runs-scored record and a 13-3 win. The NL's Attlee Hammaker gave up seven runs in one inning.
    They might be All-Stars but they're all humans, too. After all, Mickey Mantle struck out 17 times in All-Star games. The last time the game was played in Anaheim, Roberto Clemente, no less, struck out four times. Pete Rose and Joe DiMaggio each grounded into three double plays. But to a baseball fan, it doesn't matter. It's the greatest show on earth, a whole packet of bubble-gum cards come to life.

Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.

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