Monday, July 13, 2009

Top 10 Baseball All-Star Game Moments

The All-Star Break is upon us, and the Yankees walk into it shaking their heads. By any name, the Angels have had their number for as long as I can remember.

The All-Star Game is being played at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. This is the 3rd ballpark to have the name, which isn't all that surprising, since the 1st with the name was also the last over several parks to have the name Sportsman's Park (1909-66, named Busch 1953-66).

When August Anheuser Busch Jr. (a.k.a. "Gussie") bought the Cards in 1953, he wanted to rename the park "Budweiser Stadium," since he really bought the Cards to use them to sell beer. Commissioner Ford Frick said no, you can't put a corporate name on the place.  (Can you believe that? The commissioner of a major sports league saying no to a corporate renaming?)

Gussie blew his stack; he wasn't used to hearing people tell him, "No, you can't have that." He said, "What about Phil Wrigley? He bought a ballpark and named it Wrigley Field! That's a corporate name!" Frick: "He named it Wrigley, which is his own name. He didn't name it Doublemint Stadium."

So what did Gussie Busch do? What any good capitalist would do: He adapted. He renamed the ballpark Busch Stadium, and started a brand of beer called Busch.

When the new stadium opened in 1966, he technically named it for the entire family: Busch Memorial Stadium. In its rookie season, it hosted the All-Star Game. But St. Louis gets really hot in the summer, and at gametime it was 105 degrees on the field. And this was before it had artificial turf (which it had 1971-92), which then made it even hotter.

Casey Stengel had been elected to the Hall of Fame that year, and was invited to throw out the first pitch. When asked what he thought of the place, Casey, in his much-impersonated but inimitable style, said, "It sure holds the heat well."

Bob Uecker, who had been the backup catcher on the Cards' 1964 World Championship team but was on the Atlanta Braves by '66, would later tell people, "The Cards brought me back for that game. They had me sell hot chocolate."

Sportsman's Park/Busch Stadium I hosted World Series in 1926 (Cards beat Yankees), 1928 (Yanks got revenge on Cards), 1930 (Cards lost to Philadelphia Athletics), 1931 (Cards got revenge on A's), 1934 (Cards beat Detroit Tigers), 1942 (Cards beat Yanks), 1943 (Yanks beat Cards), 1944 (the only World Series for the St. Louis Browns, who led the Cards 2 games to 1 but dropped 3 straight), 1946 (Cards beat Boston Red Sox) and 1964 (Cards beat Yanks).

Busch Stadium II hosted World Series in 1967 (Cards beat Red Sox), 1968 (Cards lost to Tigers), 1982 (Cards beat Milwaukee Brewers), 1985 (Cards lost to Kansas City Royals), 1987 (Cards won every home game but lost every game in Minnesota to Twins) and 2004 (Cards got swept by Red Sox). Busch Stadium III hosted a World Series in its rookie year, 2006 (Cards beat Tigers).

Top 10 Baseball All-Star Game Moments

Honorable (?) Mention. July 11, 1961, Candlestick Park, San Francisco: The National League won this one, 5-4 in 10 innings, and Stu Miller of the host San Francisco Giants was the winning pitcher. But that's not what people remember about this game. They remember a gust of wind off San Francisco Bay nudging Miller enough to get a balk called on him.

To this day, a decade after the Giants finally got out and built a new park, Candlestick is thought of as one of the worst ballparks ever, and Miller is remembered as "the pitcher who got blown off the mound in the All-Star Game."

Dishonorable Mention. July 14, 1970, Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati: The NL won, 5-4, in 10 innings, as Pete Rose of the host Cincinnati Reds scored on a single by Jim Hickman of the Chicago Cubs, crashing into the American League's catcher, Ray Fosse of the Cleveland Indians. The crash not only scored the winning run, it separated Fosse's shoulder. In a meaningless exhibition.

To this day, Rose remains unrepentant. Actually, contrary to legend, this injury didn't curtail Fosse's career: He had a few more good years, playing on the Oakland Athletics' 1972 and 1973 World Champions, before another injury reduced his ability. So it didn't ruin Fosse.

It did, however, mark Rose as a hustler, a man who would do anything to win. That was when a majority of baseball fans liked him. Within 20 years, his reputation would be in tatters, and it would be seen as an aspect of a very mean son of a bitch who cared more about fame than about the game.

Dishonorable Mention. July 9, 2002, Miller Park, Milwaukee: In a stadium he built as Milwaukee Brewers owner, purely out of greed, Commissioner Allan H. Selig Jr. called the All-Star Game off after 11 innings. Not 15, as happened in 1967 (and would again in 2008); not 13, as had happened in 1987; not even 12, as had happened in 1955. Just 11.

Why? Both teams had run out of available players, including pitchers. Rather than come up with a simple compromise, such as allowing each team to return one position player and one pitcher to the game, Bud called the game off.

And did those Milwaukee fans ever boo him! They even recreated the scene from The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training: They chanted, "Let them play! Let them play! Let them play!" The twat didn't listen. He had cancelled a postseason in 1994, and now in 2002 he had let an All-Star Game get called off without a result. Walter O'Malley is saving a place at his poker table in hell for Bud Selig.

Honorable Mention. July 15, 2008, Yankee Stadium, New York: The AL won, 4-3 in a record-tying 15 innings, on a sacrifice fly by Michael Young of the Texas Rangers that scored Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins. And nobody ran out of players or even pitchers this time.

But the story of the game was before the game, when 49 living Hall-of-Famers took the field at their respective positions, including Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Wade Boggs and newly-elected Rich "Goose" Gossage of the host Yankees.

Honorable (?) Mention. July 7, 1937, Griffith Stadium, Washington: The AL won, 8-3, in a game without any particular heroics. But something happened in this game that changed the course of baseball history. Dizzy Dean of the Cardinals started for the National League, and along with Carl Hubbell (you'll see his name again later) and maybe Satchel Paige, was 1 of the 3 best pitchers on the planet for about 4 years. Earl Averill of the Cleveland Indians came to bat for the AL, and hit a line drive right back at Diz, hitting him on the foot.

He had to leave the game. Allegedly, the doctor told him, "Diz, your big toe is fractured," and Diz allegedly said, "Fractured, hell, the damn thing's broken!"

When he came back, Dean altered his pitching motion so as to favor the toe, and ended up hurting his arm with his new motion. He was never the same again. From ages 23 to 27, he was one of the best pitchers alive. At 28 and 29, he was merely a good pitcher. At 31, he was done, with a one-game comeback at 37. He was only 43 when he was elected to the Hall of Fame, an age at which some Hall of Fame pitchers are still going at it.

Considering where the Cards were in the standings (including their 1942, '43, '44 and '46 Pennants), and how old Dean was, that injury may have cost them the World Series in 1943, and at least the Pennant in '39 and '45, and maybe (considering he would've been getting older) also in '47, '48 and '49. The Cards won 106 games in '42, and 105 in '43 and again in '44. That's without a starting pitcher anywhere near as good as Dean was from '33 to '37.

Imagine what kind of team they would have had with him. And wouldn't it have been something to see Dizzy Dean pitch against Ted Williams in the 1946 World Series? Diz would've been only 36. I would've loved merely to listen to the two of them talk!

10. July 6, 1933, Comiskey Park, Chicago: The first official All-Star Game was held in Chicago, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune, as part of the 1933-34 World's Fair, the Century of Progress Fair. The AL won, 4-2, with Babe Ruth hitting the first home run. Naturally. (You mean the first All-Star Game homer was hit by Naturally?) Not now, Lou Costello.

9. July 12, 1949, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn: This game was less important for the what (the AL won, 11-7) than for the who. (Again, Mr. Costello, now is not the time.) This was the first time black players appeared in the Midsummer Classic. The host Brooklyn Dodgers sent the first black player in modern baseball, Jackie Robinson, and his teammates Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. The Indians sent Larry Doby, who had been the first black player in the AL. Unfortunately for Newcombe, he turned out to be the losing pitcher, but the NL defense did him and their other pitchers no favors, making 5 errors.

8. July 17, 1979, Kingdome, Seattle: The NL won, 7-6, with Lee Mazzilli of the New York Mets homering to tie the game and drawing a bases-loaded walk to give the NL the lead. But the story of the game was a defensive play: In the bottom of the 8th, Graig Nettles of the Yankees singled to right, but Dave Parker of the Pirates threw a perfect strike to the plate from 300 feet away. Gary Carter of the Montreal Expos was the NL catcher, and he caught the throw, and pushed Brian Downing of the California Angels, who had been on third base, out of the way of the plate.

7. July 6, 1983, Comiskey Park, Chicago: It was the 50th Anniversary of the All-Star Game, to the day, and in the same ballpark. The AL hadn't won in 12 years and only once in 21. This time, there would be no escape for the NL, as the AL won, 13-3.

Fred Lynn of the Angels, a native of the Chicago area, hit what remains the only grand slam home run in ASG history. It was off Atlee Hammaker, who became known as "the second Giants pitcher to be blown off the mound in the All-Star Game."

6. July 7, 1964, William A. Shea Municipal Stadium, New York: Shea was brand-new, and it had already hosted not just a no-hitter but a perfect game -- against the Mets, by Jim Bunning of the Philadelphia Phillies. In this All-Star Game, his Phils teammate Johnny Callison hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th, turning a 4-4 tie into a 7-4 NL win.

There was no "Home Run Apple" in those days, and it turned out to be the only All-Star Game that Shea ever hosted. The new Citi Field is rumored to be MLB's choice to host the 2013 ASG, but that hasn't yet been made official. (UPDATE: It was.)

5. July 13, 1971, Tiger Stadium, Detroit: The AL won, 6-4, for the only win they would get in the game from 1962 to 1983. Six future Hall-of-Famers went deep in this game: Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2nd inning, Hank Aaron of the Braves in the 3rd, Reggie Jackson of the A's in the 3rd, Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles later in the 3rd, Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins in the 6th, and Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 8th.

Reggie's homer was a titanic blast off Dock Ellis of the Pirates, soaring up to the right-field roof, prevented from leaving the premises by the transformer on a light tower. In 1984, in an NBC Game of the Week, the Angels visited the Tigers, and, at age 38, 13 years after he almost did it, Reggie finally cleared the Tiger Stadium roof with a home run.

4. July 12, 1955, Milwaukee County Stadium: This game went to the 12th inning, and Gene Conley of the host Milwaukee Braves (who also played for the NBA's Boston Celtics and is the only man to win a World Series and an NBA Title) came in to set the AL down in order, setting himself up to be the winning pitcher if the NL could score.

They did. Stan Musial of the Cardinals led off, and, as he so often was, he lived up to his nickname of "Stan the Man": He hit one into the right-field bleachers for a 6-5 NL win.

3. July 10, 1934, Polo Grounds, New York: The AL won, 9-7, but the highlight of the game came in the very 1st inning. Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants started for the NL, and to start the game he allowed Charlie Gehringer of the Tigers and Henry "Heinie" Manush of the Washington Senators on base. And here came the Babe. Near the end of his career, and a lefty-on-lefty situation, but it was still The Great Bambino.

Hubbell, one of the first pitchers to regularly use a screwball, struck the Babe out. Then came Lou Gehrig, already 2nd on the all-time home run list and on his way to winning the Triple Crown. Hubbell struck him out. Then came Jimmie Foxx, on his way to eventually becoming 2nd on the all-time home run list and having won the Triple Crown the year before. Hubbell struck him out, end of inning.

Bottom of the 2nd, Al Simmons, the former A's star now with the Chicago White Sox, who had once hit .392, also struck out. Then came Joe Cronin, the shortstop and manager of the Senators. Hubbell struck him out, too. Five in a row, a record that would later be matched by Dwight Gooden and Fernando Valenzuela in a combined effort (1984) and Pedro Martinez alone (1999).

Bill Dickey of the Yankees singled to end the string, but next up was the pitcher, Lefty Gomez of the Yankees, on his way to a 26-5 record that year -- the only New York pitcher to top it since is Newcombe with 27-7 with the '56 Dodgers -- but a notoriously bad hitter even by pitchers' standards. Hubbell had no trouble making him strikeout victim Number 6.

2. July 8, 1941, Briggs Stadium, Detroit: This was the first of, so far, only 3 All-Star Games to end on what we would now call a walkoff home run. This was the year that Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees had his 56-game hitting streak, which was still underway, at 48. He did get a hit in this game, but, of course, it didn't count toward his total.

It was also the year that Ted Williams of the Red Sox went on to bat .406, the last .400 season to this date. And he batted in the bottom of the 9th against Claude Passeau of the Chicago Cubs, and cranked one into the upper deck in right field of what would later be renamed Tiger Stadium, turning a 6-5 NL lead into a 7-6 AL victory.

1. July 13, 1999, Fenway Park, Boston: The AL won, 4-1, including Pedro Martinez of the host Red Sox matching Hubbell by fanning 5 straight batters. But, as with 2008, the highlight was before the game.

Major League Baseball was sponsoring fan balloting for the All-Century Team. There were 100 nominees for 30 final spots, and 46 of them were on hand, including 8 then still active and 6 named to the current All-Star Teams. Afterward, Red Sox legend Ted Williams was driven onto the field in a golf cart, and tipped his cap to the fans, as he legendarily did not do as an active player. All the players, current and retired, crowded around him, to bask in the presence of "The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived." (I guess the Babe couldn't be reached for comment.)

Ted had been rendered rather frail by a stroke, and his fellow San Diego native Tony Gwynn helped him up to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to fellow Red Sox legend Carlton Fisk. He was helped back to the cart, but everyone still wanted to see him and talk to him. The public-address announcer asked the players to leave the field so the game could start. He was the only one who wanted it: Even the fans cheered as though this, alone, was worth the price of admission. This moment was more about the All-Stars, past and present, than it was about the game.

Joe DiMaggio had died earlier in the year (he was 84), Mickey Mantle was still recently dead (he would have been 68), and Jackie Robinson (80) and Roberto Clemente (64) were long dead; if they had been available, it might have been the single greatest moment in the history of baseball, a wonderful way to close out the 20th Century. But then, there was still a second half and a postseason to play, and, of course, with Game 2 of the Series having Ted and the other living All-Century Team honorees on hand, the Yankees won the Series, as it should be.

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