It is a somewhat weird exercise to consider which of Major League Baseball’s All-Star “games” were the best since, by definition, these contests were showcases of individual talent – hence, the current, dopey, home-run-derby add-on to the so-called mid-summer classic. Real baseball games, on the other hand, require players acting in concert, and while there have surely been some sparkly double plays in baseball’s All-Star conventions, and undoubtedly, fine outfield assists here and there, what’s going on out there in all those different uniforms every year is not a proper baseball game.
In other words, you’ll never hear remarks like these about All-Star games: “Hey, remember the outstanding AL defense in the ’77 game?” Or: “Remember how that NL infield worked together in ’56?” When Tim turns to Joe or Kenny in Fox’s booth July 13th in Anaheim, he’s certainly not going to say: “Man, that ’82 AL squad really knew how to move a runner over and get him in, huh?!”
The games recognized as the best in All-Star history have generally involved significant, high-profile, offensive accomplishments…or perhaps an arguable novelty. They were, in no particular order:
1933: (Old) Comiskey Park, Chicago (AL 4, NL 2): The first ever “Game of the Century” was played on Chicago’s South Side and was baptized in home run water by the most significant player in the game’s history, Babe Ruth. The Bambino took Bill Hallahan deep in the third inning with a runner on, making a winner of his Yankee teammate, the talented quipster Lefty Gomez. This game also included some of the game’s genuine legends through accomplishment: Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Chuck Klein, Carl Hubbell, Lefty Grove, Paul Waner and Al Simmons. Also involved was General Crowder (for the AL), a player who probably should have been a character on Seinfeld. He could have been a smelly guy who stood too close to George in the Soup Nazi’s line.
OK, OK, one Lefty Gomez line (about A’s bomber Jimmie Foxx): “He has muscles in his hair.”
1941: Briggs Stadium, Detroit (AL 7, NL 5): War hung in the air, but what a summer for baseball it was. Ted Williams would become the last .400 hitter (thus far), and Joe DiMaggio would put together a 56-game hitting streak. On July 8th Williams would also unleash that best of all possible swings to win the All-Star game for the AL. Dom DiMaggio recalled thinking that, the pitch before the game-winning home run, which Williams fouled straight back, the greatest Red Stocking ever had just missed putting one over the roof. On the next pitch, the Splendid Splinter did hit the roof. DiMaggio said, “It wasn’t a fly ball; it was a line drive that just went straight up and hit the roof on a line.”
1964: Shea Stadium, New York (NL 7, AL 4): Once upon a time, kids, the NL actually dominated the AL in All-Star competition. It was shortly after the time that the Nationals figured out that it was silly to cater to assumed racists, and that the world wouldn’t come to an end if players such as Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, and Roberto Clemente were added to NL squads. Nonetheless, going into the bottom of the ninth inning of the ’64 AS game, the talent-heavy Senior Circuit trailed, 4-3.
Willie Mays led off and fouled off six pitches before hard-throwing Dick Radatz walked him; Mays then stole second, went to third on Giant teammate Cepeda’s bloop hit to right, and scored when a throw eluded a cutoff man. (Cepeda also advanced.) AL Manager Al Lopez then walked Johnny Edwards to set up a double play with (get this) Henry Aaron batting. Astonishingly, perhaps, Aaron struck out, bringing Philadelphia’s Johnny Callison to bat.
Callison pounded a homer just fair down the right field line, giving the NL a tie in the all-time series. (Thirty-one years into the event there had been 35 games – two AS games each summer from 1959 through ’62, one war-year game skipped, and a tie, so the series stood, at that point, at 17-17). The older league had won five of the previous seven meetings; the ’64 contest made it six of eight, and the NL would continue to dominate the Junior Circuit until the late ’80’s.
1971: Tiger Stadium, Detroit (AL 6, NL 4): Twenty-five-year-old Reggie Jackson’s legendary bomb only tied the score at three apiece, but the sound of the struck ball and where it went rendered forgettable home runs in the same game by fellows named Robinson, Killebrew, Aaron, Clemente and Bench. It struck a transformer on the right field roof, and was estimated to have been a potential 510-foot shot were it not stopped there.
1996: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia (NL 6, AL 0): This contest is included simply because it was the last game the NL won, and because fans were able to actually meet Orlando Cepeda at the Fan Fest here in Philly. The game was a bit of an oddity, though, in ways beyond the NL winning after 1990. It was Ozzie Smith’s last All-Star game; there were no walks in the contest, and Norristown, PA, native Mike Piazza (who was taken 215,627th in the MLB draft as a favor by Tommy Lasorda to Piazza’s father, a buddy) was the game’s MVP. He homered and doubled after catching one of several “first pitches” before the game from his boyhood hero, Mike Schmidt.
Also, the game involved three players named Rodriguez (Alex, Ivan and Henry), two Alomars (Sandy and Roberto), three yet-to-be-revealed steroid cheats (A-Roid, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds), and a genuine tragedy still locked in the soul of the late Ken Caminiti.
To avoid ending on a tragic note when writing about All-Stars games, of course, it is always best to return to Lefty Gomez. As it turns out, the pitcher sometimes called “El Goofo” even commented on space travel. In 1989 he observed, “When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, he and all the space scientists were puzzled by an unidentifiable white object. I knew immediately what it was. That was a home run hit off me in 1933 by Jimmie Foxx.”
“All-Star Results – 1933” & “All-Star Results – 1996.” mlb.com. 22 June 2010.
Enders, Eric. Baseball’s Greatest Games. Minnetonka, MN: MLB Insiders Club, 2008.
“Lefty Gomez Quotes.” baseball-almanac.com. 22 June 2010.