Warren Spahn kicked as high as he could, Hank Aaron dived after balls and 75-year-old Luke Appling hit a first-inning home run as the American League went all out to defeat the National League, 7-2, in a very respectable Cracker Jack Old Timers Classic last night before 29,196 at RFK Stadium.
A sudden thunder shower nearly forced postponement of the five-inning exhibition, the first baseball game in RFK since 1972. But once the players had filed onto the field one at a time for more than 30 minutes of introductions, they went at it with relish.
The American League, which had a lot of players not used to losing All-Star games, took a quick lead in the first when Appling hit Spahn's second pitch 12 rows deep into the short left field bleachers.
The American League got four more runs in the third on Jim Fregosi's home run and RBI singles by former Senators Mickey Vernon and Roy Sievers.
In the locker room afterward, Appling flexed his biceps between puffs on a huge stogie. "I haven't felt better in my life than I did tonight," said Appling, who has been playing in old-timers games longer than he played in the majors.
"I didn't even look at it (the home run). I just didn't want to run around the bases. I never feel old."
Spahn was largely responsible for setting the game's serious tone. On his first pitch, he rared back, kicked his right leg high in a reasonable facsimile of his famous form and threw Appling a high curve ball.
"I didn't know we were allowed to throw curve balls," said Whitey Ford of the American League.
"I told Luke last night my strategy was to pitch around the young guys and get the old fogeys out," said Spahn, the winningest left-hander ever. "But he didn't give me a chance."
Before the game, Spahn estimated that in today's salary structure he would be worth about half a franchise. Which makes Appling worth how much? "The Chicago White Sox," he said, "And the Cubs, too."
American League pitchers, most noticeably ex-Senator Camilo Pascual, Ford and Bob Feller, held the National League to six hits, including a home run by Bill Mazeroski. And the National League hitters got the benefit of some very lenient scoring.
"I threw tough for 11 years. Why would I stop now?" said Pascual, who threw harder than any of the pitchers, but had one lapse--Mazeroski's home run.
While some of the oldsters, like Ewell Blackwell and Johnny Mize, had some trouble maneuvering, many players wouldn't have let up if ordered to.
In the the second inning, Aaron made a remarkable catch of a sinking liner hit by Bill Freehan. Al Dark was his usual competitive self, decoying runners into sliding. Richie Ashburn even attempted a drag bunt.
"It was a major league catch," Aaron said of his second-inning acrobatics. "We're not playing to embarrass ourselves. We wanted to win. People are paying their money to see us."
"Some of those pitchers were throwing pretty hard," said Willie McCovey, who hit one off the mezzanine during batting practice, but couldn't get a ball out in three at bats. "You always have your pride, which makes you play as hard as you can."
But there were moments when the players acted their age. Al Rosen staggered around third base trying to catch Ernie Banks' foul pop-up and eventually watched it fall behind him. And in the second, moments before his running one-handed catch, Aaron let an easy fly ball hit him in the chin. It was ruled a hit.
When they were through, the players swarmed onto the field and doffed their caps to the fans.
"We played like this for the fans. They didn't deserve anything less," said Brooks Robinson, who started two American League double plays.