It's Major League All-Star Week, so I thought I would take the opportunity to reminisce about the only All-Star Game I personally attended. It occurred 50 years ago this week on July 10, 1962, at what was then known as D.C. Stadium in Washington.
These games have been called the Midsummer Classic, and the one I was fortunate to see turned out to be just that and more.
Since the previous summer, I had been watching the construction of Washington's new stadium with my Uncle Glenn, who was a lifelong Washingtonian and long-suffering Senators fan. The original Senators had decamped to Minnesota to become the Twins at the end of the 1960 season and were replaced the next year by an expansion team also called the Senators. The nation's capital had traded one last-place team for another, but there was hope - always hope.
Part of the deal for the new team was a new stadium, and this one was a sight to behold, the first of the multipurpose football/baseball stadiums of the modern era, which have long faded to obsolescence, of course, but back then this was new and improved and in a word, Wow! We had known for months that the stadium was going to host the first of two All-Star Games that summer (they had begun playing two games in the late '50s, when the players union suggested the proceeds from a second game should be used to underwrite the players' pension plan; the second game was dropped some years later). My uncle promised me tickets, and he made good on his promise.
Unfortunately, he wasn't going to be able to attend the game because he had to work – the games were still played in daytime, so I enlisted a friend from school named Dick to accompany me. We came down from our homes near Philadelphia the weekend before and on the day of the big game, my uncle dropped us off near the stadium around 10 a.m., so we had lots of time to fool around and then watch batting and practice and such. When I think of the game today, I imagine us sitting somewhere behind the third base dugout, but I think in more rational terms we actually sat in center field, about two rows back from the front; still not bad seats for $8 apiece.
The highlight of the pregame was President John F. Kennedy throwing out the first ball from the stands near the first base dugout. It was special to think of being in the same place as the president. Maybe you would say it was the last All-Star Game played in the Age of Innocence, maybe not.
The game itself was perfect. Being from a National League town, we were bound to root for the NL, but I was sort of torn, because I liked the Senators and their manager, Mickey Vernon, who lived a block or so from our school in Pennsylvania, and was one of the coaches on the American squad.
That day we got to see a lot of future Hall of Fame players and a lot of others whose names still roll off my tongue a half century later. In the HOF group there were Don Drysdale and Jim Bunning, the two starting pitchers, Juan Marichal, who ended up being the winning pitcher, Bob Gibson and Hoyt Wilhelm Among starting position players were Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Orlando Cepeda, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks and Luis Aparicio. Stan Musial was on the NL squad, as was Richie Ashburn, the new New York Mets representative, and and Henry Aaron. Brooks Robinson was on the AL squad. Others included Dick Groat, Roger Maris, Rocky Colavito, Milt Pappas, Jim Gentile, Leon Wagner, Tommy Davis, Elston Howard, Bobby Richardson, Johnny Callison from our hometown Phillies and a fellow named Koufax, who was injured and wouldn't be pitching, but still came to the game.
It turned out to be the game in which Maury Wills, a hometown D.C. guy, stole the show, just like he had been doing in the regular season. The game was scoreless after five innings, but then Musial, pinch hitting, led off the sixth with a sharp single between first and second. NL Manager Fred Hutchinson sent Wills in to pinch run, and he immediately stole second. Groat singled to center and Wills, who was on the move when the ball was hit, scored the first run of the game. Clemente followed with a single, advancing Groat to second. They moved up a base on a deep fly off the bat of Mays and then Groat scored on a groundout. Two-zip NL.
The Americans got a run themselves in the bottom of the sixth, but then Wills put the game out of reach in the top of the eighth, leading off with a single, advancing to third on a single by Jim Davenport and scoring on a long foul fly out by Felipe Alou. Final score, Nationals 3, Americans 1.
We had plenty of time following the game to try to capture a few autographs in the tunnel leading to the NL clubhouse. Dick was actually pretty successful at it. He patiently waited while Koufax signed for a crowd of kids our age - trying to distract them by calling out, "Hey, Stan," when Musial walked by with Casey Stengel, Hutchinson and Mays in tow. Drysdale came out carrying his bag in one hand and holding a beer in the other and protested he couldn't sign, so Dick grabbed the bag out of his hand, handed it to me and persisted, while I said something dumb like, "Gee, Don, I guess the Dodgers are going to win the pennant this year, aren't they?" (Actually, they didn't.) I think the autograph haul that day may have also included Tommy Davis, who was on his way to the first of two NL batting titles; Banks, Bob Purkey and possibly Marichal. The signatures were on Dick's program. I expect he still has it.
Years later, I spent some time with Drysdale when he was doing national Game of the Week broadcasts and related the story about carrying the bag. He remembered, but he didn't offer to autograph anything for me as a consolation. He did buy me a beer and told me if Reggie Jackson, who was in the next booth in the bar, had been playing in Drysdale's day, Jackson would have spent at least one pitch in every at bat on his rear end. I did eventually get Musial's autograph. His jaw dropped when I repeated, play-by-play, the top of the sixth inning of the '62 All-Star Game. Can still do it in my sleep!