Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Starry Night

If you have ever watched a major league baseball all–star game (including the one that was played last night), you are sure to have seen the clip of Pete Rose ripping into Ray Fosse like a chainsaw to score the winning run in the 12th inning of the 1970 All–Star Game.

I remember watching that game. I was heavily into baseball card collecting in those days, but, with the exception of Saturday afternoon baseball broadcasts and the playoffs, I seldom saw a major league game.

I remember listening to St. Louis Cardinals games on the radio when I was a child (and picturing in my mind the faraway stadiums in faraway cities), but nearly all of the pro ball games I saw in person before my teenage years were played by the minor league team that was based in Little Rock.

Cable began to change all that a decade or so later, but the All–Star Game was always a big deal to me when I was growing up. No matter how infrequently I saw major league games, I always knew that the guys playing in the All–Star Game were all but certain to wind up in the Hall of Fame.

The teams that met in Detroit's Tiger Stadium 40 years ago tonight were loaded with guys who were destined for Cooperstown. Eleven of the guys on the National League roster, and nine players on the American League roster have made it so far.

One of those players was Reggie Jackson, who was playing for the Oakland Athletics in those days. He didn't start that All–Star Game, but he came in after a few innings and, in the third inning, he hit a home run that propelled the American League to its only All–Star victory between 1962 and 1982.

Every run in the American League's 6–4 triumph scored on home runs that came from the bat of a future Hall of Famer. Other than that, there was nothing especially noteworthy about them — except for Jackson's. It was a towering shot that covered more than 500 feet — and might well have gone farther had it not hit some lights.

I was reminded of that home run several years later when I saw nearly the same thing (albeit with quite a bit more of a pyrotechnic effect) dramatized in the film "The Natural."

(The other future Hall of Famers who drilled homers in that game — setting an All–Star Game record for home runs by both teams that still stands, I believe — were Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Roberto Clemente.)

There were other things that made the '71 Midsummer Classic memorable.

For one thing, it was the last All–Star Game ever played at historic Tiger Stadium. When the All–Star Game returned to Detroit in 2005, the Tigers were playing in a different facility.

It was also the last time Clemente appeared in an All–Star Game. An All–Star selection 15 times in his magnificent career, Clemente actually was chosen again in 1972 but was injured at the time of the game and unable to play.

He died a few months later in a plane crash while taking relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Clemente's solo home run in the top of the eighth was the last run scored in the 1971 All–Star Game — and Clemente's final All–Star at–bat.

I suppose it foreshadowed, in a way, the conclusion of his regular–season career a year later. On the last day of the 1972 season, in his last at–bat, Clemente got his 3,000th hit.

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