Hoyt Wilhelm is being inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame this year because of his prowess as a relief pitcher. But last night, in front of 26,770 fans at RFK Stadium, Wilhelm got credit not for a save but a victory as the National League, hitting four home runs, defeated the American League, 7-3, in the fourth annual Cracker Jack Old Timers Classic.
Wilhelm got the call as a starter. One of your more crucial performances, Hoyt?
"Well, I don't know about that," Wilhelm said with a laugh. "All I know is that I was in serious trouble and wriggled around and got out of it pretty good.
"I really enjoyed this game. The thing you have to remember is that, even though the heart wants to do certain things, the body won't always do it."
"Fun" is the first word that should be used to describe this game, and this year's edition was no less enjoyable even if it was without a truly dramatic homer or a discontented player as in years past.
At major league games, it is more often the youngsters who push to the wall for an autograph of a favorite player. But at this game, there were many more who appeared as though they had just finished a tough day at the office and had removed their ties during the drive to RFK.
Former Oriole Boog Powell and former American League umpire Jim Honochick, who worked behind the plate last night, are somewhat famous for the beer commercial they do together. They reenacted it when Powell came up in the first inning.
After Honochick called the first pitch from Wilhelm a strike, Powell gave the ump his glasses and had the call changed in his favor. Wilhelm feigned a protest.
"We didn't know what we were going to do," Powell said. "We sort of ad-libbed it and everybody seemed to know what we were doing. I think people got a kick out it, and that's what this whole thing is about."
Powell may never have had a quick first step -- or a second, third or fourth, for that matter -- but he showed a dash of agility in the bottom of the second in catching Lou Brock's pop-up at the pitcher's mound.
"I saw it up there and I was hoping (former Tigers catcher Bill) Freehan would come out and get it but when he didn't, I figured I better catch it," Powell said. "I don't know if I would call that quickness, though."
The American League could have used some of Powell's power. The National Leaguers got home runs from Hank Aaron, Bill Mazeroski, Joe Torre and Tommy Davis. Only Jim Lemon hit one for the losers.
"I wanted to get three good swings and I got lucky on the first," said Davis, whose homer off former Senator Dick Bosman brought home Bill Virdon to make the score 6-3. By then, though, the game already was decided as the NL hit in the bottom of the fifth and last inning even though it was ahead.
"Oh man, it felt real good," Davis said of the swing. "I love this game. I love meeting some of the players again, and some I'm still in awe of."
The biggest applause of the night came during the introduction, when Joe DiMaggio emerged from the AL dugout, although he didn't play.
Luke Appling made the Old Timers Classic a national event when he hit a homer off Warren Spahn in the first game in 1982. This time, Appling, who will be 79 later this year, was the first batter up. He took a strike from Wilhelm, got in a mock argument with Honochick over the call, then departed as Chuck Stevens finished his at bat.
Stevens singled and scored on a bases-loaded single by Frank Robinson to give the American League a 1-0 lead, its only one of the game.
Starter Early Wynn ended up with the loss, in part because of the two-run homer he yielded to Aaron in the first with another former Brave, Eddie Mathews, aboard.
The National League made it 3-1 in the second off Whitey Ford. Mazeroski, whose homer for Pittsburgh won the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, during which Ford pitched two shutouts for the Yankees, this time drove a pitch from Ford eight rows deep in the left field seats. Joe Torre, on deck at the time, took notice of Mazeroski's achievement and decided it was a nice idea. Torre's homer landed in the second row in left center for a 4-1 lead.
The American League, which has lost the last three in the series, pulled a little closer in the fourth inning. Lemon, a former Senator who still lives in the Washington area, sent Mike McCormick's pitch into the seats in left to cut the lead to 4-2.
Tony Oliva then drove one to the fence in right center for a double. Eddie Yost singled, moving Oliva to third. John Roseboro hit a sacrifice fly to right to make it 4-3 but it would not be enough.
Former Senator Camilo Pascual and former Indian Bob Feller shut down the National League in the fourth. Last year, Johnny Bench hit a fat pitch delivered by Feller into the seats. Feller is a proud man, but knows the nature of this game.
"This game is for one thing. People want to see home runs," Feller said. "You or I could hit those out. They don't pay to see Bob Feller throw curves and sliders even though I could.
"I proved what I could do when I was in my prime. The idea in this game is to keep the score even. The ideal game would come out as a tie. Who wins means absolutely nothing. It's all show business."