When All-Star Games were all about the stars

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

Whereas All-Star time is upon us, and whereas the game will return to Anaheim for the first time since 1967, and since it has been proven that even Bud Selig couldn't wreck it, seems a fellow might look back on some of the memories that won't go away.

Newspapers used to cover it like it really meant something, though now they seem to be playing to see where the World Series begins.

Balderdash! Fans don't go to see who wins, so why should the commissioner? Fans go to see stars, headliners, guys who are playing because they've had a good season, or at least half of one.

The All-Star Game isn't won by unknown soldiers. All-Star Games are won by, uh, stars, of course. That's one reason so much fuss is being raised because Charlie Manuel picked Omar Infante for the Nationals.

Omar is a bench guy. The Braves are liable to call on him any time to play any place and some fans are yelping because he has no position. A utilityman, they call him. The Braves have found him to be quite utile.

But, to get back to Anaheim, that first game there was played in daylight. There's nothing like an All-Star Game under the sun, but that one barely beat sundown. It went 15 innings before Tony Perez hit a home run for the Nationals and won it, 2-1. Tony was a Cincinnati Red then, and naturally he was the All-Star star.

Not every star had a smashing day. Roberto Clemente struck out four times.

The game came to Atlanta in 1972, old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Henry Aaron's playpen. But who hit the home run?

Cookie Rojas. You know how many home runs Aaron hit in his career? 755.

Cookie Rojas hit 54, not including his All-Star home run.

A year later the game turned into a home run derby, a real one, not one of those phony soft-pitch dandies. Old Tiger Stadium took a bruising that day. Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Clemente all hit home runs.

Jackson's almost knocked the power out.

His drive hit the top of an electrical stanchion, and it might have made it into Canada if it hadn't.

The Americans have a hot streak running. I don't think the Nationals have won a game this century.

But they had a streak of their own going, 11 in a row until 1983. That year the Americans hammered Atlee Hammaker for seven runs in one inning and finally broke the streak.

And the question you want to ask is, why is an Atlee Hammaker pitching in an All-Star Game?

In 1970, Pete Rose near-about ended a career.

In 1970, Pete Rose near-about ended a career.

Not his. He barreled into Ray Fosse at the plate like a runaway truck, and Fosse, the catcher, was never the same again.

Now, about the All-Star coincidence I shall never forget. It was in Baltimore, and some friends from Albany gave me a lift from the hotel to old Memorial Stadium.

They were traveling in a private plane and had to be back for a dinner in Albany that night. They generously invited to drop me off in Atlanta on the way home, but

I had a column to write. They took off in a thunderstorm

and barely got out of town. They crashed and all were killed, including, by the way, the mayor, who had been a major league pitcher himself.

That was one All-Star game never to be forgotten.

The star was Billy O'Dell, an Oriole pitcher from Clemson, but who's to care now?