Sixty Years of Memories of the Game the Owners Didn't Want
By Shirley Povich
It's the hottest ticket in baseball, surpassing even the World Series, which has been known to play to empty seats. It's the annual Major League All-Star Game the scalper's paradise. And for the lords of baseball a big bargaining chip when they negotiate contracts with the networks.
It is baseball parading its stars from both leagues for all to ogle. Baltimore, the host city on Tuesday and already baseball-mad, is a town in a frenzy, with each of the 46,000-plus tickets beheld as a treasure.
But if truth be told, the irony is there. Baseball's club owners stumbled into the all-star game business 60 years ago. It wasn't their idea at all. They were dragged into it, kicking and screaming, by Arch Ward, the powerful sports editor of the Chicago Tribune. Ward and his newspaper concocted the idea of a major league all-star game as an added facet of that city's 1933 World's Fair that might best be known otherwise for Sally Rand's fan dance.
The tradition-encrusted owners were squeamish about interrupting their baseball schedule in mid-summer to try something that had never been tried before. An unbroken season was regarded as sacred.
Reluctantly, they buckled and consented to play the game, but on a one-year basis only. Appease Chicago and get it done with. However, when New York, as the host of its own 1934 World's Fair, demanded the same treatment, the owners saw the advantages of baseball in a new national spotlight, and renewed the all-star game.
So popular, so celebrated were the first two games that the owners could not turn their back on it. On Tuesday in Baltimore it will be the 60th anniversary, a notable milestone for a game they once despised.
Yet, for all the fanfare, the game is not very significant, is of small importance in competitive baseball history. It is only exciting as long as it lasts. Few remember, as an example, who won last year (the American League, 13-6); unlike the lingering memories always produced by a World Series; who won and how, and who lost and how. A day after the All-Star Game, no echoes. It simply vanishes from the screen.
The All-Star Game got a head start, partly because the first two in 1933 and 1934 were so downright exciting. When the American League won the first one, 4-2, it was Babe Ruth hitting a home run, of course.
That contest was personally remembered by me for the egregious goof by Graham McNamee, perhaps the nation's No. 1 radio broadcaster, who was now dipping into baseball for added cachet. It was McNamee whom I heard exclaiming thusly: "And it's a double play, Frisch to Cronin to Terry!" McNamee had commingled an American League shortstop, Joe Cronin, with a National League twin killing.
Even more exciting was the high drama of the 1934 game in New York, that would be known as the Carl Hubbell All-Star Game and for good reason. It was Hubbell, using the same dastardly southpaw screwball that bamboozled the Senators twice in the 1933 World Series, who had eyes popping in the Polo Grounds that day in New York.
In succession, Hubbell fanned Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Cronin, as murderous a fivesome as could be assembled. He got all of 'em with his masterful screwball, the pitch that broke in to left-handers and away from the right-handers who were supposed to hit him best.
It was Cronin who said of that episode several years later: "I was the star of that group. I was the only one who got a foul off him."
Ironically, the National League didn't win that game. The AL did with a six-run explosion in the fifth.
Earl Averill, a nimble Cleveland outfielder, figured extensively in the early all-star games. He was so talented that there was no place in center field for young rising star Joe DiMaggio in his first year in the majors. DiMaggio was consigned to right field where, in Boston in 1936, he let a single go between his legs for an error that helped the NL to win. In Washington, in 1937, it was Averill again figuring largely in an 8-3 AL victory with DiMaggio still seen in right field. Averill's contribution was a line drive back to the pitching mound that broke Dizzy Dean's toe. For Dean it was the watershed of his career. Favoring his toe henceforth, he hurt his arm, and the rest of his career was downhill.
Joe McCarthy was managing the AL that year of 1937 and he took his cue from President Roosevelt, who was trying to pack the Supreme Court. McCarthy packed the AL lineup with seven of his Yankees, got a homer and four runs batted in from Gehrig and won the game 8-3.
It was an earlier game that provided the most drama. Take the one at Detroit in 1941 with AL trailing 5-4 with two out in the ninth. The usually docile Cecil Travis of the Senators had whacked into the NL second baseman to break up a double play and keep the AL alive. Now it was Ted Williams up. As his agent, Freddy Corcoran, used to say, "Put a camera on Williams and he'll perform." Thus, home run, Williams, the first ever to clear the right field roof in Tiger Stadium. Three runs scored. AL the winner 7-5.
Not always did the game produce all-star performances. Casey Stengel , a 10-time all-star manager by virtue of his 10 pennants with the Yankees, introduced a comic note in one of the games he managed. When he saw the AL catcher throw wildly toward second base, and the second baseman throw wildly toward third, and the third baseman throw into the Yankees' dugout instead of the plate, Stengel simply picked up the loose ball and tossed it into the water bucket that was a standard dugout fixture in those days, while explaining "That ball is too hot to handle."
The National League has dominated all-star history, rebounding after the AL won the first three games. From 1950 to 1956, the NL won seven straight, and then put together streaks of eight straight and 11 straight, diminishing the AL all-stars to a miserable status. But you know what? The AL has won the last five. It was in 1971 that the AL stopped the NL's eight-game winning streak, 6-4, by wheeling up the power in Detroit. Harmon Killebrew and Frank Robinson and Reggie Jackson each hit one out of the park. Jackson's was electrifying, an epic shot into the light towers in right that nobody had ever reached.
It was also an AL home run that broke the 11-game NL streak in 1983 at Comiskey Park in Chicago Fred Lynn marked the 50th anniversary of all-star history by hitting a grand slam in a 13-3 rout.
Notable, too, was the 1989 game at Anaheim, a 5-3 victory for the AL. First time in 31 years the AL had won two in a row if that is to be believed. It was simply done. Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs hit consecutive homers.
All Star history is dotted with the vagaries of baseball. At Cleveland in 1963, the AL got 11 hits off NL pitching. The NL got six hits, all singles. Winner? The NL, 5-3, thanks in part to Willie Mays's two runs and two steals. And in 1987, the AL was shut out in 13 innings, 2-0, by, incredibly, eight count 'em NL pitchers. There have been eight extra inning all-star games. The NL won 'em all. As they would have said in the Shtetls: "Go figure."
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