TWIB looks back All Star Games past, plus all the action from the '77 Midsummer Classic, and Nolan Ryan's diva behavior will not be tolerated.
Episode 8 of This Week in Baseball (covering the week ending July 19, 1977) coincides with the All Star Break/Game, which means a dearth of actual baseball action. TWIB fllls this gap with highlights of All Star Games past, which is actually pretty awesome. There's a segment on the very first All Star Game at Comiskey Park in 1933, where we're treated to shots of Connie Mack, John McGraw (who came out of retirement to manage the NL), and Babe Ruth, who hit the first ever home run in the midsummer classic. The Bambino was less than two years from retirement at this point, and he definitely looks it, as you'll see in this pic. He looks more like the Sultan of Snickers, amirite?
Other feats of All Star Games past that TWIB uses to pad out this week's episode include Carl Hubbel fanning five future Hall of Famers in a row during the 1934 All Star Game. Pedro Martinez could have equaled this feat in 1999, except we don't vote for Hall of Famers anymore, apparently. We also see Ducky Medwick of St. Louis singlehandedly win the 1938 game for the National League with some timely hitting and excellent fielding (seen here). Yes, we used to let guys named Ducky play baseball.
Then, a few Ted Williams-related clips. In the 1941 game, with the AL trailing in the bottom of the ninth, Ted Williams belts a three-run walkoff homer. It's one of the most dramatic All Star moments ever. So of course, when we see the Splendid Splinter interviewed about it later (presumably for a newsreel), he sounds vaguely sarcastic. Seriously, as he talks, you can almost see him mentally projecting an obscene gesture toward the camera. The expression on his face in this screengrab should give a slight idea of how he comes across.
During the 1946 contest, "Rip Sewell tries his famed blooper pitch on Ted," Mel Allen tells us. Williams then tries his famed Being A Real Good Hitter move and belts it for a home run. State of the art 1940s telestrator technology shows us the arc of Sewell's pitch before Williams destroys it.
In 1950, we witness a less triumphant side of Williams, as we see him make a running catch, then crash into a fence and hurt his shoulder. Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst recalls his appearance in the game, in which he hit a homer and helped the NL to a 14-inning victory. TWIB held on this interview for a while, it seems, since the zipper scoreboard behind Red clearly dates this as coming from 1972.
A few more random clips from All Star Games in the 1950s and 1960s follow, chronicling the National League's rise to dominance at the time. TWIB credits Willie Mays with this turnaround, as he holds All Star Game records for runs scored, stolen bases, and hits.
"Other players learned to play with Willie's intensity!" Allen says, which is then demonstrated by the (in)famous footage of Pete Rose scoring the winning run in the 1970 All Star Game by plowing into Indians catcher Ray Fosse. It is possible to be intense without murdering someone, Pete. What I love/hate about this screenshot is that even after Rose has destroyed Fosse's career and won the game, he has to be held back by a teammate, and looks like he's waiting for Fosse to get up and start a fight. Don't worry, Pete, he won't be able to punch anything now that you separated his shoulder.
We also see the homer-happy All Star Game from 1972 at Tiger Stadium, which featured longballs from Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench, and of course, a monster shot off a power transformer on the right field roof by Reggie Jackson. The dingers powered the AL to a rare victory, but the NL has won ever since. Allen counsels us that "power is often the difference" in the midsummer classic, which provides a bit of foreshadowing for this year's contest.
After an aerial shot of of the newly renovated Yankee Stadium, which shows almost nothing on fire in the surrounding neighborhood, we are shown the assembled lineups of the National and American Leagues. Then, we are introduced to the honorary captains of the squads: Joe DiMaggio for the AL, Willie Mays for the NL.
There is an ecumenical feel to these proceedings that comes across as strange to modern eyes. For one, Willie Mays takes the field in a Mets uniform, not Giants togs. For another, the first pitch is thrown out not by a Yankee notable, but by Rachel Robinson, widow of Jackie. This last bit is in deference to the fact that 1977 is the 30th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Still, it is a recognition of an existence of the game outside of the Yankee Universe that was still possible in 1977, and notably absent during the last All Star Game at Yankee Stadium (2008). My own pet theory is that in 1977, with the Horace Clark Years still fresh in their memory, the Yankees had yet to adopt and project the aura of WE ARE THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS that we now take as a matter of course with them.
Almost as strange: Was The Yankee Clipper forced to wear a trucker style hat? Judge for yourself. Joe D woulda been a hit in Bushwick with this ironic lid!
As for game itself, the National League jumps out to an early lead when Jim Palmer surrenders a leadoff homer to Joe Morgan. That prompts a despairing reaction from Reggie Jackson. A perennial AL all star, he'd seen enough of this sort of thing already.
One out later, Palmer surrenders a single to Dave Parker, then a double to George Foster that allows Parker to score all the way from first, barely beating a throw to the plate. Greg Luzinski puts a capper on the inning with a two-run blast, extending the NL's lead to 4-0.
Palmer is permitted to stay in the game through the third inning, for some reason, and surrenders another leadoff dinger, this time to Steve Garvey. This produces a fist pump from Mr. Clean, while the AL dugout has a sad.
In another jarring sign of bipartisanship, the appearance of Tom Seaver on the mound in the bottom of the sixth draws a standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd. (This was Seaver's first trip back to New York since his trade to Cincinnati.) But Seaver also gives the AL its first signs of life, as he surrenders a single to Rod Carew, a walk to Fred Lynn, and a two-out two-run double to Richie Zisk. Seaver allows another run in the seventh, trimming the NL's lead to 5-3.
The NL gets two runs back in the eighth however, and they carry a 7-3 lead into the ninth as manager Sparky Anderson puts the game in the hands of Pittsburgh's young closer, Rich Gossage. (Allen does not refer to him as Goose.) Gossage allows a one-out, two-run blast to Sox slugger George "Boomer" Scott, cutting the lead to 7-5. This turn of affairs necessitates a quick kick-in-the-butt mound meeting from Anderson and Mets catcher John Stearns (the lone Amazins representative in the game, inserted for defense in the top half). Gossage rebounds to get Willie Randolph to groundout and fans pinch hitter Thurman Munson to end the game.
The Midsummer Classic goes to the NL yet again, and the actual W goes to Don Sutton, who started the game and threw three scoreless innings, and probably totally didn't scuff the ball or anything, I bet. "A summer night when all the stars came out to play!" is how Allen caps it.
Following a break, we get some updates from the limited pre- and post-All Star Game action. LA still has a hefty lead in the NL West (9.5 games), but TWIB would have you believe the Astros are on the upswing. They've been powered of late by veterans Cesar Cedeno and Bob Watson, speedster Jose Cruz ("one of several young Astros now maturing towards stardom!" Allen predicts), and emerging ace J.R. Richards, who just beat the Dodgers and shut out the Reds twice in the span of a week, They also have the advantage of this conductor/magician putting the malocchio on the opposition.
On the East Coast, the top two teams in the NL East--the Phillies and the Cubs--square off in a four-game set at The Vet, where, Allen cheerfully notes, "it was 130 degrees on the playing field." All four games are played without anyone dropping dead (I assume?), although the Cubs' grip on first place appears to be melting. The Phils take three games in the series and end the week just two weeks out of first.
The Cubs' South Side counterparts are in stronger command of their division, as they own the best record in baseball at the All Star Break and have just taken two out of three from Boston at home. This allows us a shot of Bill Veeck, "the man who put this together almost overnight." Veeck largely did this through a "rent-a-player" approach of picking up players in their option years, which is how the '77 ChiSox wound up with guys like Zisk and Oscar Gamble. Just one of Veeck's many innovations, from Harry Caray singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to using his wooden leg for an ashtray.
After another break, Allen brings us a few "odds and ends." We get both on this wild pitch from Astros hurler Gene Pence. "Wild pitch" doesn't quite capture what happens here, though. Pence's pitch is so far off the mark, he makes Rick Ankiel look like Pedro Martinez. In this screenshot, the ball hasn't bounced. It is still airborne, passing parallel to home plate. Yikes.
Wildness also interferes in a Twins-Angels game out in Anaheim. The score is tied in the bottom of the ninth, with a man on third and less than two out. Minnesota manager Gene Mauch employs a bit of strategery by walking two men to put a force at any base, then calling in outfielder Mike Cubbage to play between first and second. The idea is, this "second shortstop" could cut off a grounder and get a force at the plate. A brilliant gambit, which goes completely wasted when, after all these moves have been made, the very next pitch thrown sails to the backstop and the winning run scores anyway. The best laid plans of mice and Mauchs...
Weirdness was going around this week. Dan Driessen of the Reds goes for a foul ball near the first base stands, fails to catch, then finds his glove is stuck in the Astros' dugout fence. Houston's benchwarmers are gracious enough to assist him in his escape.
Then, Nolan Ryan shows off a diva act when he rejects one baseball given to him by the umpire, inspects a new one, and rejects that one too. The home plate umpire eventually chugs to the mound with a pile of baseballs in his hand, asking Ryan to choose the one most suited to his needs.
As for the Not Terrible Plays segment, are treated to a trio of great double plays, started by slick plays from the Rangers' Toby Harrah, Joe Morgan, and the hilariously named Angels shortstop Rance Mulliniks. I remember getting a Rance Mulliniks card as a kid and thinking it was a prank.
We also see a solid play from the Cubs' Larry Bittner, where he boots a sharp grounder to first, but stays with it and flips to the pitcher covering just in time to nail the runner. It's a lot better than Larry's last TWIB appearance, in which he was forced to take the mound in a bullpen-saving move and was pounded for three homers and six runs. Can't lose 'em all, Larry.
This week's Gillette Special goes to George Foster. "The nation's heat wave couldn't cool down Foster's bat," Allen says, which yeah, of course. Why would a heat wave cool down anything, Mel?
Regardless, Foster belted three homers against the Braves this week to take over the NL lead in longballs, while bringing his RBI total to a staggering 90 at the All Star Break. That puts him on a pace to challenge Hack Wilson's single-season record for RBIs. Will he break it? "Who knows?" Allen concludes. "It seems like anything can happen in baseball this year!" Allen lets this hang. No hard sell to close out this week from Mel. The mighty bat of George Foster sells itself.