While observing from the bench in that great baseball stadium in the sky, the announcement that Mets phenom Matt Harvey will start the 2013 MLB All-Star Game must have brought a smile to Casey Stengel's face.
Sure, the "Old Perfessor" might be a little biased. Don't begrudge the first Mets manager in history for any chance to "root, root, root for the home team." Yet there's another little bit of Stengel wisdom that he advocated when the Amazin's last hosted the midsummer classic.
The 1964 MLB All-Star Game didn't decide home-field advantage in the World Series, but it did provide something significant in terms of bragging rights if the National League could win. The NL All-Stars, fresh off a win in 1963, put themselves on the precipice of closing a 15-game gap in the midsummer win-loss column, boasting a record of 16 wins and 17 losses with one tie. The Senior Circuit finally closing the gap on the juniors, back in an era where league rivalries meant a bit more?
Where does Stengel's sentiments fit in here? Well, okay, they don't, necessarily. Stengel, who served as a coach for the NL All-Stars that year, requested that no starting pitchers who were selected to the All-Star Game should be allowed to pitch on the Sunday prior to the break, thus making them available for selection by the manager. For all intents and purpose, his request was ignored.
Yet it worked out that way, as Dodgers manager Walt Alston, who was in charge of the NL squad in '64, had his own phenom in Don Drysdale as well as Phillies hurler Chris Short on sufficient rest. Al Lopez, the head of the AL squad, didn't have that luxury as all of his pitchers worked the weekend heading into the break. (Lopez went with Dean Chance of the Los Angeles Angels.)
So, no, there wasn't much controversy to manufacture here. Yet there was a lot of near misses in the public relations arena for the 1964 All-Star Game. Willie Mays, who finished sixth in the voting for the National League Most Valuable Player award that year, received the most All-Star votes from the players charged with the selection process. (Thanks to Cincinnati fans stuffing the ballots in 1956 on behalf of the Reds, the voting was taken away from them and assigned to the players.)
Even the ticket prices weren't egregious: $8.40 for reserved box seats, $6.30 for loge, $4.20 for seats in the upper deck, and $2.10 for general admission on the day of the game.
Sure, there was some chatter as to whether the 1964 All-Star Game would outdraw the Mets' average attendance that year. Two weeks prior, Shea Stadium hosted its first perfect game by the away team as the Phillies' Jim Bunning did the deed. A month before that, the Mets found themselves on the wrong end of the longest doubleheader in MLB history, losing two games to the Giants with the latter contest taking seven hours, 23 minutes to complete. That came on the heels of the heartbreaking Opening Day transaction that saw local legend Duke Snider be sold by the Mets to the San Francisco Giants.
The Mets, well on their way to the third of four consecutive 100-loss seasons, had only topped 50,000 fans in attendance four times heading into the break. Thankfully, they cracked that number with 850 supporters to spare for the midsummer classic.
Perhaps the closest thing to a controversy came from shenanigans on the part of Milwaukee Braves catcher/first baseman Joe Torre. With the Braves' possible move to Atlanta become more realistic everyday, Torre decided to parade around the clubhouse in a uniform cap bearing a white "A" over the team logo, proclaiming, "You can see I'm ready for peach street right now."
Don't fret, though; the future MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations declared he'd never worn that cap on the field, saying:
"No, and I'm not going to. I don't want to be fined for being out of uniform."
What a goody goody.
Perhaps the lack of controversy heading into the 1964 All-Star Game helped set the stage for what would be one of the more memorable contests in MLB history. Eighteen future Hall of Famers played a game with four lead changes and two dramatic home runs -- the second of which, hit by Phillies outfielder Johnny Callison, was of the walk-off variety in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Callison ensured that the National League would win the day, cementing a 7-4 All-Star Game victory for the Senior Circuit in the MLB history books.
That game, that meaningless midsummer game, helped give Shea Stadium the first steps into the hearts and minds of Mets fans everywhere. Mets fans got to see their own second baseman, Ron Hunt, play all nine innings while their team manager, Stengel, looked on from the NL bench. (And, coincidentally, Gil Hodges, then of the Washington Senators, was across the field as a coach for the AL All-Stars.) And they witnessed the home team get a memorably victory, restoring the balance between the Senior and Junior Circuits.
Depending on where you standing regarding Clayton Kershaw and his feelings pertaining to tonight's starter for the NL All-Stars, the 2013 edition may also lack the controversies that the first All-Star Game in Flushing did. And with luck, the game itself will create drama worthy of the exhibition that played out to perfection one summer day at Shea Stadium nearly 50 years ago.
Casey Stengel would've wanted it that way. Whether he would've picked Kershaw to start is anyone's guess, though. Kershaw would also be on sufficient rest tonight, right?
Rich Sandomir of the New York Times wrote a great recollection of the 1964 MLB All-Star Game itself the other day. Or, if you're all done with reading at the moment, why not watch MLB.com's video recap of the game itself: