What I Didn’t Know about the 1971 All-Star Game

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Hi all.  As the clock winds down toard yet another All-Star game, yesterday’s piece concerned one of the best All-Star games  ever played, the game of July 10, 1934. Other contenders would be the games of 1941, 1950, 1954, 1965, 1966 and 1970.  Today’s topic is, I feel the best All-Star game since I became a baseball fan.

I hadn’t listened to a baseball game before spring training of 1971.  So, not only did I miss the 1969 Miracle Mets but also the 1970 All-Star game in Cincinnati.  Leaving that out, the best one played since I became a fan was my first All-Star game in 1971. Baseball games are memorable as much for the games themselves as for the atmosphere in which you heard or watched them. I remember vividly listening to game 6 of the 1986 NLCS in my dorm room. I have fewer memories of the 1971 All-Star game but the few I have remain clear.  There were 8 of us in one of the cabins at Camp Marcella, a summer camp for the blind run by the New Jersey State Commission for the Blind. I can only remember 2 of the others-Tim Daley and Jimi Polizzi.  (He may not have spelled it Jimi in 1971 but he started doing it once he discovered Jimi Hendrix.)  I don’t know who owned the radio in the cabin.  Radios were technically not allowed but if a radio didn’t lead to prolonged bickering the counselors winked and looked the other way.  5 years later the counselors would wink and look the other way when I got my first kiss.

The 1971 All-Star game was a night game played at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.  We were told we could listen until lights-out and that was as far as the counselors would let us go.  The camp was in a hilly part of New Jersey and I remember the radio signal being iffy at best.  NBC radio still carried the All-Star game.  Jim Simpson and Sandy Koufax were the two broadcasters that year.  I later discovered that Simpson disliked baseball in general and Sandy didn’t like talking into a hot mic.  When I was able to listen to the full game broadcast in later years I found out They did a splendid broadcast in spite of these handicaps. I remember the 8 of us in a huddle being as quiet as 8 small boys can be so we could hear the early innings.  The part I remember most from listening to it as it happened was Reggie Jackson’s thundering two-run home run that nearly left Tiger Stadium.  No matter how iffy the signal was we could hear almost 54,000 people roaring mightily as Jackson’s blast cleared the fence.  Lights out happened shortly thereafter.

In later years I would discover facts about this game none of us boys knew or would have cared about at the time.  Charlie Gehringer, late of the Tigers who had played in the earliest All-Star game threw out the first pitch. The two managers, both future Hall of Famers were Sparky Anderson (Reds) and Earl Weaver (Orioles) whose teams had met in the last World Series. The American League hadn’t won an All-Star game going back to 1962-before any of us were born.  The American side wouldn’t win another one for a dozen years, by which time some of us would be in college.  More to the point the National League had a 3-0 lead before Jackson’s mighty clout in the last of the third. The senior circuit had tallied twice in the second and once in the third. In the second, after Willie Stargell was hit by a pitch Johnny Bench hit the first of 6 home runs that would be hit, all by future Hall of Famers. An inning later Hank Aaron homered to make it 3-0 National League.  They would fail to score again until the 8th. They would put up 4 runs with only 5 hits, while the winning American League team scored 6 with 7 hits. Another 2-run home run off Frank Robinson’s bat left the lot before the third inning ended making it 4-3 American League and they never looked back. Of The 4 early home runs, two each were given up by starting pitchers Doc Ellis and Vida Blue. In the home 6th, facing the Cubs’ Ferguson Jenkins the home team struck again. Detroit’s own Al Kaline singled, after which Harmon Killebrew hit the American League’s third two-run dinger of the night. In the 8th the National League scored their final run on a solo shot by Roberto Clemente.  No fan in attendance or watching around the world could know Clemente would never step to the plate in another All-Star game. While he was elected to the team in 1972 he was injured and unable to play.  He was killed on the night of New Year’s Eve 1972 in a plane crash.

Very few All-Star games have been played since which were worth talking about.  One was played the following year in Atlanta, another in 1979 in Seattle.  The 1994 All-Star game would be memorable if the season were not marred by the strike which broke out a month later. The 2008 All-Star game, a 15-inning marathon and a dandy game was the last game of any merit played at old Yankee Stadium.  The Yankees weren’t competitive that year and wouldn’t be until the following season playing in their new home. The 2002 All-Star game in Milwaukee which should have been Bud Selig’s coronation turned out to be the biggest black eye the Mid-Summer Classic ever received.  With the score tied at 7-7 the game was declared a tie, as neither pitcher elected to send their pitcher out to pitch an 11th inning.  Also neither manager had the foresight to hold a pitcher back in case extra innings were needed. While there has never been another tie there hasn’t been a worthwhile All-Star game since 2008.  Hopefully, with such performers as Aaron Judge, Miguel Sano and Giancarlo Stanton healthy and ready to go the game will regain some of the excitement it once had.  I keep hoping, and so I’m sure does Selig’s successor Rob Manfred.

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