Hi all. Today I give you the fifth of the series “All-Star Rewind.” Yesterday’s feature was the tumultuous game from 1934 when hitting dominated early and gritty pitching late brought victory to the American League. Today the theme is the game played 7 years later when nobody hit much early and the game ended on what is now called a “walk-off” home run.
By 1941, the word “depression” was no longer on every lip. Pop music fans bought records of “Pistol-Packin’ Mama” rather than the mournful “Brother, can you Spare a Dime.” Young men of a certain age (and their parents) wondered if Uncle Sam would come calling them to join the European war. Even ballplayers knew they would be vulnerable as they had been during World War I. While Charles Lindbergh spoke against America becoming involved, he was a rare voice. Most people knew it was a question of when rather than if, and a question of whether Germany or Japan would fire the first shot aimed at the United States.
The 9th annual All-Star game was played on July 8, 1941 at Briggs Stadium, Detroit. Up until 1938 the park had been known as Navin ((rhymes with Raven) Field. With former owner Frank Navin a part of history, new owner Spike Briggs wasted no time renaming the park. On this day, an overflow crowd of nearly 55,000 bulged the stadium at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. In the fine print, the place should have only held some 52,000 but officials would continue winking about overcrowding for another few years. There hadn’t been a real donnybrook of an All-Star game since 1934, but on this day the throng would get what they wanted to see. Broadcaster Red Barber called it a game “Worth coming 10 thousand miles to see.” He and Bob Elson called the game for the Mutual Broadcasting System which hadn’t been in existence in 1934 when Barber was a rookie broadcaster in Cincinnati. CBS went with Mel Allen and Franz Laux, their go-to broadcast team going back to 1938. This time, a local station was permitted to broadcast the game. That was WWJ, Detroit with Ty Tyson at the controls. It is his version of the game that has survived down through the decades. The only part of Red Barber’s version to survive is the climactic play in the 9th inning.
Starting in 1934, the managers from the past World Series would manage the All-Star game. For the first mid-summer classic in 1933, John McGraw and Connie Mack were chosen as managers on the basis of seniority. The 1940 World Series had pitted the winning Reds against the Tigers. The Reds’ manager Bill McKechnie was skipper of the NL side while the Tigers’ Del Baker was the American League’s wagon boss. There was no controversy over which celeb should throw out the first pitch. Instead of anybody throwing it out, a local marching band strutted their stuff–loudly–to the irritation of broadcaster Tyson.
Since he never won the Ford Frick award, and since he died more than 50 years ago, a word about Ty Tyson shouldn’t go amiss. His “government” as athletes call it was Edwin Lloyd Tyson. His name “Ty” came from his days as an actor in Tyrone, Pennsylvania where he performed on stage with a future singing star, Fred Waring. It was Waring who recommended his acting buddy to radio station WWJ. This takes some imagining, but Tyson described on radio the opening of a bridge and a tunnel. Such was 1920’s radio. Tyson described football years before he did a Tiger game. It happened that the football game between Michigan and Wisconsin was a total sellout. WWJ and Tyson were allowed to broadcast the game for that reason. After the game, ticket requests for future games poured in, and Tyson became a fixture. The football pioneer did his first Tiger game in 1927. He reached the big stage by covering the World Series for WWJ in 1934, then for NBC in 1935 and 1936. NBC downsized from 3 play-by-play men to 2 starting in 1937 with Tyson being the odd man out. He came up second again in 1943 when Harry “Slug” Heilmann became the Tigers’ sole broadcaster. But with Heilmann dying of cancer, Tyson took charge again in 1951. Ernie Harwell brought back the retired Tyson on Father’s Day, 1965 for a curtain call.
He was a man of relatively few words at the microphone. He didn’t cheer like Tom Manning and he wasn’t as descriptive or literary as Red Barber. He called his audience “boys and girls” and though he was just 53 in 1941, his delivery came across as if your Grandfather was telling you about the game.
Unlike the 1934 All-Star game, you couldn’t claim a Hall of Famer manned every position. Of the NL pitchers, Carl Hubbell was the only one. The rest of Del Baker’s moundsmen included his starting hurler Whit Wyatt of the Dodgers, the Phillies’ Cy Blanton, Bucky Walters and Paul Derringer of the Reds, Lon Warneke of the Cardinals and the Cubs’ Claude Passeau who would leave his one and only All-Star game as the losing hurler. Pitcher Wyatt was lucky enough to have his Brooklyn battery mate Mickey Owen starting. Johnny Mize, the Big Cat was starting at first. He was in the prime of his career that would find him in the Hall of Fame. Rounding out the infield were the Reds’ Lonny Frey (pronounced Fry) at second, future Hall of Famer Arky Vaughan of the Pirates at shortstop and Stan Hack of the Cubs at third. As a boy, I talked baseball trivia with our family doctor. After reading about Phil Rizzuto, I made the mistake of telling the doctor how great I thought Rizzuto was. I don’t know if the doctor hailed from Pittsburgh, but he told me to find out who Joseph “Arky” Vaughn was before I talked to him about a great shortstop. There was no Google then But tsince it’s here now, I see what the old doctor meant. A high school football teammate of Richard Nixon, Vaughn hit .318 with 2103 hits and 96 career home runs. While the Scooter didn’t approach any of those numbers, he played his best on the biggest stage, the World Series, a stage on which Vaughn only got a chance to play as a pinch-hitter. I’m certain the doctor got a laugh when Vaughn went to Cooperstown 9 years before the Scooter. None of the 3 starting NL outfielders–Terry Moore (Cardinals) Pete Reiser (pronounced Reeser) of the Dodgers or the Cubs Bill Nicholson made the Hall. Reserves Mel Ott and Enos Slaughter would find places among the baseball immortal, as would Billy Herman, Al Lopez and Joe Medwick. Other reserves were the Giants’ Harry Danning, Brooklyn’s Dolph Camilli, Frank McCormick of the Reds, Eddie Miller of the Boston Braves, Harry “Cookie” Lavagetto of the Dodgers, the Pirates’ Bob Elliot and the Cubs’ Hank Leiber.
While the American League had lost Babe Ruth to retirement after 1934 and Lou Gehrig who died a month before the 1941 game, men who were unknown 7 years earlier were making names and blazing trails to the Hall of Fame. One of these was the starting pitcher, the Indians’ Bob Feller. His battery mate was one of the alltime great Yankees, Bill Dickey. Both middle infielders-Bobby Doerr at second and shortstop Joe Cronin played for Boston and would earn plaques at Cooperstown. Their teammate and future HOF’er Ted Williams started in left alongside the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio. The Tigers’ Rudi York, Cleveland’s Jeff Heath and Cecil Travis of Washington rounded out the starting lineup. The only Hall of Fame pitcher in the bull pen was Charles “Red” Ruffing of the Yankees. The rest were his Yankee teammate Marius Russo, the Tigers’ Al Benton, Washington’s Sid Hudson and two White Sox hurlers–Thornton Lee and Edgar Smith who would luck into being the winning pitcher. 4 future Hall of Famers were reserves for the American League–the Indians’ Lou Boudreau, the White Sox Battling Luke Appling, Joe Gordon of the Yankees and XX, Jimmy Foxx of Boston. Filling out the reserves were Atletics’ catcher Frankie Hayes, the Tigers’ catcher Birdie Tebbetts, the Indians’ Ken Keltner, the Browns’ Roy Cullenbine, Boston’s Dom DiMaggio and Charlie Keller of the Yankees.
The American League had won 5 of the first 8 All-Star games played and the experts figured they would win this one. While they did, it took a 4-run 9th-inning rally to manage it. The American Leaguers scored single runs in the 4th, 6th and 8th. The NL briefly tied the game at 1 in the 6th, and put up two runs each in the 7th and 8th, all driven in by way of 2 home runs by Arky Vaughn. The Cubs’ Claude Passeau had been pitching since the 7th. In the 9th, Frankie Hayes led off with a pop fly out. Keltner began the rally with a single off the glove of Eddie Miller at shortstop. Joe Gordon singled, after which Cecil Travis walked. Joe DiMaggio hit what looked for all the world like a double play ball to Miller at short. Miller’s throw to Herman at second was routine. Herman threw wide to first allowing DiMaggio to reach first and Keltner to score. That brought up Ted Williams who had driven a run home earlier in the game. This time, he turned around a Passeau fastball and slammed it off the facing of the third deck in right field. According to Red Barber’s description, a few feet higher and his shot would have left the park. Considering King Carl Hubbell was available, it is astounding that manager McKechnie–himself in the Hall of Fame–would leave a clearly overmatched Passeau to take his lumps. Barber referred to Hubbell as the pitcher he wanted on the mound if there was a single game to win and his life was at stake. Coming from the Redhead, that’s quite a recommendation.
By the time of the next All-Star game, America was involved in World War II. Bob Feller was among the first to enlist with Ted Williams not far behind. Hardly a man in the 1941 All-Star game wouldn’t miss some time while serving his country. While none gave their lives, some gave their careers. Two who played just as well after the war were Feller and Williams. Rapid Robert would pitch two more no-hitters, and while Williams didn’t hit .400 as he had in 1941, he hit .388. Even the media he detested couldn’t complain about that. Briggs Stadium would host the 1951 All-Star game. After its next name change, the game’s best would gather in Detroit for a game with home runs on each side including a mammoth shot still remembered by those who saw it on TV. That will be the next All-Star rewind.