The Cracker Jack Old Timers Classic stoked the dim glow of memory last night, an Aaron here, a Clipper there, a night of joyous revival, ending with the National League on top, 5-3, before 31,160 fans at RFK.
The humid night was meant for lore. Despite two American League home runs by young-timers Al Kaline (in the first) and Brooks Robinson (in the fourth), Dee Fondy's single later in the fourth through first baseman Mickey Vernon's glove scored Richie Ashburn and Billy Williams with the winning runs.
"I can't believe it was a base hit," said Fondy, a lifetime .286 hitter who played mainly for the Cubs in his eight-year career. "He (Bobby Shantz) threw me a curve ball. He's pitched against me before in spring training. That certainly wasn't his curve ball of old."
Fondy, who retired in 1959, couldn't remember the last time he stroked a game-winning RBI. "I tell you, it's been a long time."
The game began at 8:42 with Warren Spahn and Luke Appling, engaging in some good, old-fashioned vaudeville. Spahn shook his fist at Appling, 76, who hit a home run in the first inning off Spahn last year. Then, Spahn and catcher Smokey Burgess conferred on the mound. Finally, Spahn lobbed a ball wide. The crowd booed good-naturedly. Appling popped up to third baseman Ron Santo on the third pitch.
"We had that planned," said Spahn, the former Milwaukee Brave. "Just a little bit of playing. I'm sure Luke appreciated it."
Spahn gave up Kaline's home run on a 3-2 fast ball. "He was throwing me a lot of screwballs and keeping the ball down and away," said Kaline. "He didn't want to walk me. I hit it pretty good. I don't know if it would have been fair in a regular ball park."
The NL shook off Kaline's homer and took the lead back after Ted Kluszewski singled home Ernie Banks to tie the score. Then, Bob Feller, showing uncharacteristic wildness, walked Monte Irvin and Santo to force home Red Schoendienst, who had singled.
Santo had come up with the bases loaded and was looking downtown. "He threw nothing but breaking balls. Hank Aaron came back and told me that he had a lot of motion on the ball. I was surprised that he first threw me a fast ball (which Santo missed entirely).
"I only got one hit to pitch and I fouled it off. I walk a lot in these games. The main thing is not to strike out."
Robinson's homer off a fast ball by Carl Erskine in the fourth tied the game at 2. "I hit it right on the fists," Robinson said. "What'd it go, 450 feet?" he joked. "Usually, I'm 10 feet short of a home run. I even stayed there to look at it. I've never done that."
The AL took its last lead after a double play ball by Gus Triandos scored Rocky Colavito.
The NL was meant to win this game, which drew 2,000 more than last year. Ashburn's double to deep center scored Bill Mazeroski to tie the game at 3. Fondy's heroics followed and the game became ancient history. Wilmer Mizell earned the win; Shantz the loss.
"Oh sure, I'd like to win," said AL Manager Bob Lemon. "We'd like to have won. But it was good being together."
NL Manager Eddie Sawyer basked in the glory of his first victory since 1959. "It was a good game. Friends playing friends, that's all," he said.
Former Cub Williams looked around the crowded locker room.
"The baseball cards came to life tonight. It's a thrill just going around and shaking hands with guys like Joe DiMaggio," Williams said, watching Juan Marichal stop to get Johnny Sain and Spahn to sign a poster. "It was a great feeling, especially seeing the facial reactions of the older guys. They're saying: 'Hey, I'm back to life again.' That does a lot for them."
Earl Battey walked over to Irvin: "I survived another one."
Indeed, the city of Washington survived along with Battey and Irvin. Baseball was back again. Alive and nostalgic.