Hi all. This is part 6 of my series “All-Star Rewind. Thank you for the comments I have received which tell me you’re enjoying this series both here and in my Facebook group. Today’s theme is the 1971 All-Star game in Detroit where 6 home runs were hit, all by future Hall of Famers but the one that still gets talked about and replayed was the blast hit by Reggie Jackson. Behind the power display the American League won 6–4, its first win since 1963. It would lose a dozen more All-Star games before another win.
Detroit had hosted two previous All-Star games, one in 1941 and one a decade later. In the years since, Briggs Stadium had undergone a name change to Tiger Stadium. The city had been the site of rioting in 1966, 1967 and 1968. The 1967 catastrophe was a 5-day marathon of violence leaving 43 persons dead. The Tigers won the World Series, bringing rare good news to the riot-ravaged city in 1968. They took the Cardinals in 7 games after St. Louis had built a lead of 3 games to 1. MLB decided to hold the 1971 All-Star game at Tiger Stadium, known for the iron girders that obstructed the views for many fans. In spite of this, close to 54,000 jammed the old park that dated back to 1912. With the game on NBC in Prime Time, millions around the country felt there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Nbc tried using a third man on its TV broadcast. Along with its regular duo of Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek, they added the Mets’ Lindsey Nelson to an already formidable broadcast team. Nelson would be gone a year later.
NBC radio still had the rights to the All-Star game and the World Series, and would retain them through the 1975 season. Jim Simpson and Sandy Koufax called the action. I hadn’t heard either of them before, but it didn’t take much to recognize the smooth delivery of Simpson who had the kind of voice a fan could listen to for hours.
Up until March, 1971 I knew little or nothing about baseball. I discovered the game after I heard ads on the Mets’ flagship station WJRZ and began tuning in. Throughout June and early July, any game I heard, whether the Mets, Yankees or Phillies were playing, the subject would come around to the All-Star game. What players from the local teams would play? What players from around the two leagues would be chosen? I doubted I would find out who won the All-Star game until I returned home from camp, since radios were strongly discouraged there.
The managers were the opponents in the most recent World Series: the Orioles’ Earl Weaver and George “Sparky” Anderson of the Reds. 15 men on the NL roster would be Hall of Famers either as players or coaches. Only Anderson’s middle infielders-Glenn Beckert and Bud Harrelson didn’t make it. Among his pitchers, two Astros-Larry Dierker and Don Wilson-didn’t get to Cooperstown. Neither did his starting pitcher, Doc Ellis or Reds’ reliever Clay Carroll. Rick Wise, who had fired a no-no earlier that year was selected as an All-Star but not a Hall of Famer. Manny Sanguillen, nate Colbert, Lee May, Felix Millan, Don Kessinger, Bobby Bonds Willie Davis, Pete Rose and Rusty Staub were All-Star reserves who never got to Cooperstown. Among the Hall of Famers was a 23-year-old catcher named Johnny Bench who was just beginning his climb to immortality. Others bound for alltime glory were Willie McCovey, Joe Torre, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie Stargell, Steve Carlton, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal and Tom Seaver. In an era when everybody didn’t play in the All-Star game, Weaver left Seaver and Carlton riding the pine. All-Star reserves who later went to Cooperstown were Ron Santo, Lou Brock and Roberto Clemente.
The American League won with 10 future Hall of Famers. They included manager Weaver, Rod Carew, Brooks Robinson, Luis Apparicio, Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski. Their only future Hall of Fame pitcher was Jim Palmer. Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson and Al Kaline were their Hall of Famers in reserve. Among other All-Stars, Bill Freehan caught in place of Ray Fosse, still feeling the effects from last year’s All-Star game. Boog Powell and Tony Oliva were voted in as starters but didn’t appear in the game. Weaver’s pitchers included his starter Vida Bllue, fellow lefties Mike Cuellar, Mickey Lolich and the injured Sam McDowell, and the White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood who Weaver didn’t use. Among righthanded pitchers, many were called but few were chosen. Jim palmer pitched, while Andy Messersmith, Marty Pattin, Jim Perry and Sonny Siebert didn’t. Dave Duncan, Norm Cash, Cookie Rojas, Bill Melton, Don Buford, Frank Howard, Bobby Murcer and Amos Otis were American League reserves. Howard, “The Capital Punisher” was the sole representative of the Washington Senators in their final year before becoming the Texas Rangers.
The wind was high in Detroit that night, blowing out toward right at 30 MPH with higher gusts. Even without the wind, Tiger Stadium was known for being a hitter’s ball park. The hitting got started early. The Nl grabbed a lead they wouldn’t hang on to. Willie Stargell was hit by a pitch in the visiting half of the second inning. AL starter Vida Blue got the next two men but Johnny Bench took him out of the lot to make it 2–0. Next inning, Hank Aaron followed in Bench’s footsteps, getting his first All-Star extra base knock and making it count. His long ball made it 3-0. He had been in the majors since 1954 and appeared in many All-Star games without a home run. Less than 3 years later he would pass Babe Ruth for most career home runs.
The American League went to work on the Pirates’ Doc Ellis in their half of the third. Luis Aparicio began the rally with a single. Reggie Jackson pinch-hit for his teammate Vida Blue. Reggie was well known out west, but Oakland hadn’t won its first pennant, something it would do later in the season. The Athletics would win 3 World Series in a row starting in 1972 with Reggie being a star before becoming a supernova with the Yankees. This was his first memorable moment. What happened next has been replayed countless times down through the years. Leading up to the pitch, Sandy Koufax told his radio audience that Ellis’s last 3 pitches had been up and he needed to keep the ball low to Jackson. Without missing a beat, Reggie teed off on Ellis’s delivery, drove it high wide and handsome and parked it on the right field roof. Calling the play on radio, Jim Simpson said “Long drive, deep right field, it’s 3 to 2, nobody even turns to look.” With the terrific acoustics at Tiger Stadium, you could hear the mighty crack when Aaron hit his shot in the third, and again when Reggie connected. Koufax said “I don’t know when I’ve seen a ball hit any harder.” A clearly shaken Ellis walked Rod Carew. He bore down and retired two hitters before Frank Robinson stepped in. The buzz was still about Jackson’s blast when Robinson unleashed another one in the same direction. While it didn’t hit the roof, it cleared the fence and put the American League up 4–3. Like Aaron, Robinson had been in the bigs since the first Eisenhower administration but hadn’t launched a home run in All-Star play until now.
The American League never looked back after their 4-run third inning. The Cubs’ Ferguson Jenkins was on the hill in the home 6th. Detroit’s own Al Kaline singled, after which Harmon Killebrew, dubbed “The Fat Kid” by Reggie Jackson, hit one that Reggie could be proud of. Of all the 4-baggers hit so far, Killebrew’s was the first to left field, against the prevailing wind. His two-run shot made it 6–3 American League.
The Tigers’ Mickey Lolich took the hill in the 8th. More than 20 years later, I would meet Lolich, who by that time owned a chain of donut shops. Besides the interview, he kept slipping pieces of donuts to my Seeing Eye dog. I just couldn’t tell a famous pitcher like him not to feed the dog. I also didn’t mention his appearance in the ’71 All-Star game. Roberto Clemente joined the home run party, taking a Lolich pitch over the distant center field fence, 415 feet from home plate. Clemente would never bat in another All-Star game. Within two years after this game, he would be voted into the Hall of Fame by special election owing to his tragic death on New Year’s Eve, 1972. It was an exception Cooperstown had previously only made for Lou Gehrig.
After Clemente’s home run, the pitchers wrapped things up, with the final being 6–4 American League. A dozen more All-Star games would come and go before the AL would win again. Starting in 1963 and going through 1983, the American League won just one All-Star game out of 20 that were played. Weaver would manage his Orioles into the World Series where the Pirates would win 4 games to 3 behind the heroics of Roberto Clemente. By the time Detroit got another All-Star game, it was 2005 and old Tiger Stadium had been replaced by the charmless Comerica Park. Not only did it lack the character of the old stadium. It was definitely no hitter’s ball park, not even for hitters getting chemical assistance. Game broadcasts from Detroit haven’t been the same since the end of 1999 when Tiger Stadium closed.
On July 11, 1971 I took off for two weeks at Camp Marcella, a camp run by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind. Since I had recently discovered baseball, I wasted no time finding out which of my cabin mates also liked baseball and who didn’t. The one fan who was up there with me was Tim Daley. He was a rarity, being a Cardinals fan in New Jersey. He liked triples the way most kids liked home runs. On July 13, the counselors in our cabin made a one-time-only deal with us. We could listen to the All-Star game until “lights out” as long as we didn’t cause trouble during the part of the game we were allowed to hear. I never found out whose transistor radio had made it into the cabin where nobody was supposed to bring one. Forbidden or not, as long as there was no fighting over radios, counselors looked the other way. On this night, we gathered in a huddle around the small radio, struggling mostly in vain to hear the broadcast. The only part I clearly remember hearing was Reggie Jackson’s third-inning home run. We were told it was “lights out” a few minutes after Jackson’s shot. One of my clearest early memories of baseball was the way we gathered around our radios as fans had done since baseball broadcasting began. A young fan’s early memories can be some of his fondest ones. This is one of those.