In the shadow of every Rose, an obscure player grows Dietz, Hunter among game's shooting stars

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Pete Rose barreled into Ray Fosse in the 12th inning of the 1970 All-Star Game, creating instant pain, fame and fury.

Few games in All-Star history ended as dramatically -- or as controversially -- as the National League's 5-4, come-from-behind victory at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. Rose, the Cincinnati Reds firebrand, not only ran over Fosse at the plate for the winning run, but also sent the Cleveland Indians catcher to the hospital with a career-altering shoulder injury.

Pop quiz: Who delivered the hit that scored Rose?

Answer: Jim Hickman of the Chicago Cubs.

Call him the forgotten man in one of the All-Star Game's most memorable plays. And add his name to a long list of players who paused briefly at the All-Star Game's window of opportunity, who left their imprint, then slipped back into baseball's shadows. This is the story of a handful of such players. For Mark Fidrych, the moment was almost perilous. For Billy Hunter, it was one daring sprint around the bases. For Cleon Jones, it was a time to learn. For Dick Dietz, it was a time to shine.

JIM HICKMAN, 1970

Twenty-three years later, Hickman says he isn't haunted by the fact that The Crash rendered The Hit a mere afterthought in All-Star lore.

"Sure, everybody remembers that more than who got the hit," he said. "That doesn't bother me. There's one guy who remembers who got the hit, and that's me."

It was one of several clutch hits Hickman delivered in 1970. Playing in cozy Wrigley Field for the Cubs, he hit 32 homers, drove in 115 runs and batted .315, all career highs. In Hickman's 13-year big-league career, it was the only season he was named to the All-Star team.

Hickman, who had 19 homers at the All-Star break, almost missed his date with fate. He skipped the banquet the day before the game to tend to personal business in Chicago. Mechanical problems delayed his flight into Cincinnati, and he arrived in the first inning.

Sent in to replace left fielder Rico Carty early in the game, Hickman said he "was scared to death. . . . That was the game, so to speak."

It showed; so did his lack of batting practice. He went hitless in his first three at-bats, but a three-run, ninth-inning NL rally afforded him a shot at redemption. He came to the plate in the bottom of the 12th against the AL's Clyde Wright of the California Angels with two outs and Rose on second.

"I hadn't had a real good night," Hickman said. "I struck out two or three times. I just wanted to hit the ball and redeem myself a little bit."

He caught a fastball out over the plate and lined it to center field, where Amos Otis fielded the ball cleanly and quickly. Otis' throw home brought Fosse up the third-base line and into Rose's path. After the crash, many wondered about Rose's intentions on the play.

"When I first saw it, I thought he ran over the guy intentionally," Hickman said. "But when you watch it, you can see him flinch like he's going to slide, and at the last second, he stays up. All those years, I thought he was going to run over him from the word go."

Today, Hickman, 56, lives in Henning, Tenn., and is a roving hitting instructor in the Reds organization. He said not all of the players he coaches are aware of his role in the 1970 All-Star Game. "A lot of them ask if I played with Babe Ruth," he said, chuckling.

DICK DIETZ, 1970

If Rose was the hero of the 1970 All-Star Game, and Hickman the forgotten man, Dick Dietz is the hero who might have been. He was on deck for the National League when the game ended.

"I was the one who picked Pete up," Dietz said. "I had the best seat in the house. I was telling him to slide. But Ray went three feet up the line, and Pete had no choice but to try to run over him. Amos Otis made a heck of a play, but his throw was up the line a little bit. If it was on line, maybe I would have been MVP."

Dietz, then a catcher for the San Francisco Giants, might have been, indeed. He already achieved a line in All-Star history when he became the eighth player to homer in his first All-Star at-bat, leading off the ninth against Catfish Hunter.

He didn't know what elite company he had joined until 1989, when Bo Jackson became the ninth player to homer in his first All-Star at-bat. But Dietz was so excited after hitting a 2-1 pitch over the center-field fence that he was barely able to control himself.

"I was running like hell," he said. "As I rounded first, the ball had gone out of the park. I didn't realize it until I got to second base. Then I jumped straight up in the air. I had to play it cool, though, to make people think I did it all the time."

Like Hickman, 1970 was Dietz's career year. He had been given the regular catching job that season and responded with 22 homers, 107 RBI and a .300 average.

At 28, Dietz thought he would play in more All-Star Games. But he had just one more year as a regular, and retired in 1974 to raise three children as a single parent. In 1990, his family raised, dTC he became a minor-league instructor. This year, at 51, he is managing the Single-A San Jose Giants.

The 1970 All-Star Game always will have special meaning to Dietz."You go back to when you were a kid and dream of these things," he said. "It fulfilled a childhood dream."

MARK FIDRYCH, 1976

The 1976 All-Star Game in Philadelphia began in bizarre fashion for Mark Fidrych, the starting AL pitcher from the Detroit Tigers. When he made his way to the visiting bullpen at Veterans Stadium to warm up, he couldn't believe his eyes.

"They had half a mound in the bullpen," Fidrych said. "Behind the pitching rubber, there was less than a foot [of mound] in back of you. If you step back too far, like I normally step back, you go down a step.

"I looked at the pitching coach and said: 'Geez, this is weird. What is this?' The pitching coach said: 'Don't you realize? This is the visiting side.' "

Fidrych, a precocious 21-year-old rookie with a 9-2 record and 1.79 ERA, warmed up from the stretch. What followed was not pretty. Fidrych pitched two innings, gave up four hits and two runs, and took the loss in a 7-1 NL romp. The big blow was Steve Garvey's first-inning triple that was misplayed in right by Rusty Staub. But Fidrych doesn't bemoan the bullpen mound or Staub's missed stab. Instead, he cherishes the experience.

"It was nice standing on the mound, looking around at 70,000 people and everyone is waiting for you to throw the pitch," he said. "It was a great feeling."

Fidrych, known as "The Bird," went 19-9 as a rookie, throwing 24 complete games. But that was his only All-Star Game. In his second season, he tore his right rotator cuff in the fifth inning of a game in Baltimore. He tried to pitch through the pain, but three starts later, his season ended at 6-4.

The injury was not diagnosed as a torn rotator until he had arthroscopic surgery in 1986, he said. Arthroscopy was not available in 1976. "With today's technology, it would have been nothing," Fidrych said of the injury. "It would have been like an oil change."

Without that technology, it was the beginning of the end. His once-promising career lasted only five years, ending in 1980 with a total of 29 big-league wins.

Today, Fidrych, 38, hauls asphalt and gravel with his 10-wheeler in Northboro, Mass.

CLEON JONES, 1969

Cleon Jones remembers 1969 as a "magical" season, and not just because the New York Mets stunned the Orioles in the World Series. That was the year Jones blossomed into a .340 hitter, that he had 12 homers and career highs in RBI (75) and runs (92). And it was the only time in his 13-year major-league career he made the All-Star team.

"When you get a chance to play in an All-Star Game with Rose and Billy Williams, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, Clemente and Stargell . . . that just didn't happen to many guys like Cleon Jones," he said from his home in Mobile, Ala. "I was in awe."

Jones says his All-Star experience played a vital role in his success. Heavy rain and flash flooding had postponed by a day the game at Washington's RFK Stadium. It was during the rain delay that he spoke with Ernie Banks and Mays about the subtleties of hitting.

"They told me how they would focus on an area and look for a

certain pitch," said Jones, who singled twice and scored twice in a 9-3 NL victory. "As a young player, you go to the plate thinking fastball and don't think about the area it's in."

The miracle Mets won the NL East by eight games that year, then swept the Atlanta Braves in the NL playoffs and took the Orioles in five games in the Series. "We thought we could beat anybody," Jones said. "We thought we would win pennants like the '27 Yankees, that we would have a dynasty."

The dynasty never arrived, though. Jones played on one more pennant winner (losing the World Series to the Oakland Athletics in 1973) and hit .300 only one more time (.319 in 1971). After retiring in 1976, he spent two years as a minor-league batting instructor with the Mets, working with future big-leaguers Kevin Mitchell, Lenny Dykstra and Randy Milligan.

Now 50, Jones coaches baseball and women's basketball at Bishop State Community College in Mobile. He still knows hitting. Last year, one of his players, Eddie Pearson, was a first-round draft choice of the Chicago White Sox.

BILLY HUNTER, 1953

Billy Hunter made the AL All-Star team as a 25-year-old rookie shortstop with the St. Louis Browns in 1953. It was easily the high point in a season when he hit .219 and played every game for the Browns, who lost 100 games and were on the verge of moving to Baltimore.

They moved in 1954 to become the Orioles, but Hunter never made it back to the All-Star Game. He played in five different cities during his six-year big-league career.

His selection to the All-Star Game was noteworthy for at least one reason. Hunter -- who said he was hitting about .300 at midseason -- was one of five shortstops chosen by New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel -- along with Phil Rizzuto of the Yankees, Chico Carrasquel of the White Sox, Harvey Kuenn of the Tigers and Milt Bolling of the Boston Red Sox.

He got into the game at Cincinnati's Crosley Field as a pinch runner for Mickey Mantle with the NL leading. "We were down by two, three runs and the first-base coach was Jim Turner," Hunter said. "He told me my run didn't mean anything."

When Hunter raced to third on a single moments later, barely beating a throw from right fielder Enos Slaughter, Turner looked over at Hunter with palms raised, as if to ask why take the chance. Hunter's response? "I gave him the safe sign."

He didn't score, though, and the AL went down to its fourth straight loss, 5-1. Now the athletic director at Towson State, Hunter, 65, saw his career take a decisive turn two years later, when he suffered a broken ankle in the minors. He retired in 1960.

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