Three Willies

I haven't written about baseball on this site for ages. I don't have the energy at the moment to sort through my evolving feelings about the game over the past few years, but I'm less of a fan right now than at any time since starting university 30 years ago, when I (rather pretentiously) ignored everything from the We-Are- Family Pirates of '79 through to my discovery of Bill James and the concurrent ascension of the Jays in '83. I sat down yesterday, though, and watched the original NBC broadcast of the '71 All-Star Game, given to me by a friend who's been transferring his VHS library onto DVD; he obtained it from a TSN rebroadcast dating back to '94, when they were run- ning famous old games during the strike. The '71 All-Star Game was only the second one I would have watched as a kid, on the heels of the '70 game in which Pete Rose more or less shortened Ray Fosse's career by a decade. The game is still remembered for Reggie Jackson's monstrous home run off a light tower in Tiger Stadium's right- field corner; it was also the sole American League victory during a 19-1 N.L. run spanning three decades. Before the broadcast got underway, TSN's Paul Romanuk mentioned that the game would feature 18 future Hall of Famers. I stopped the tape, grabbed a pen, and, almost without pause, jotted down 18 names: Mays, Aaron, Clemente, Kaline, Billy Williams, Yaz, Lou Brock, Reggie, Frank Robinson, Bench, McCovey, Killebrew, Star- gell, Brooks Robinson, Seaver, Palmer, Hunter, and Gibson. I started in the out- field and worked my way in, doubling back once because I missed Frank Robinson, a telling indicator of how much he played in the shadow of Mays and Aaron. By my count, Romanuk ended up being off by one--15 of my guys were there, three weren't, and I missed four, bringing the total to 19. Billy Williams, Catfish, and Gibson were absent, while Aparicio, Carew, Marichal, and Jenkins all got into the game. I shouldn't have missed Carew or Jenkins; I mistakenly thought Marichal had pretty much had it by '70 (he went on to finish 18-11 in '71, with the Giants tak- ing the N.L. West), and Aparacio never even crossed my mind (he in fact had no real business being there, based on his in-season performance; he went into the game hitting .206, and finished the year with an offensive line that was dismal across the board). Seeing as Seaver warmed up but didn't get into the game, I assume Roma- nuk's number was lifted from the actual boxscore. A few random notes: 1) Some comic relief right off the top: Sparky Anderson has Mays leading off and Aaron batting second. You'll sometimes hear about teams having power at the top of the lineup, maybe a couple of middle infielders with 15-20 home runs apiece. On this particular night, the N.L. had 1200+ home runs setting the table. 2) If you want to mark a moment in time in a particular sport, look past the Hall of Famers and take note of the second-tier stars. Willie Mays might mean 1954 and the Catch to one person, 1965 and the Roseboro incident to another, and 1973 and the sad ending to a third. But if you roll out names like Don Buford, Lee May, Glenn Beckert, Bobby Murcer, Cookie Rojas, and Rick Wise, you can only be talking about the early '70s. 3) If you blink, you'll miss Reggie's home run. He hits it six or seven pitches into the count: contact, cut to the camera attempting, unsuccessfully, to follow the flight of the ball while Curt Gowdy goes nuts (unless I've got worse eyesight than I even think I do, the camera is panning across empty space, the ball far above; you only see it on its way down, after it bounces off the light tower), and, as Reggie trots the bases, a shot of the light tower. Takes about four or five seconds. No replay, because there isn't really anything to show. 4) Has there been a great black starting pitcher since Dwight Gooden? African- American black, not Hispanic--Sabathia was born in California, but I'm not sure if his ancestry is Hispanic or not. The '71 game pitted Vida Blue (in the midst of one of the greatest seasons ever for a starting pitcher) against Dock Ellis, with Don Wilson coming on in relief. 5) Speaking of which, it was hilarious to hear Gowdy and Kubek make reference to Ellis's no-hitter from the year before, as puzzled as anyone that he walked eight and a hit a batter en route. We now know that Ellis was tripping on acid during that game. 6) Also from an alternate universe: Blue was coming off two starts in which he'd pitched 9 and 11 innings, having left the latter game with the score 0-0. 7) Most entertaining pitcher was Mike Cuellar. In the top of the 6th, he strikes out Willie Stargell on...some kind of double-reverse backup Eephus pitch; Stargell is still busy unknotting himself. 8) The players are much more businesslike. Think about all the theatrics in recent All-Star games: Johnson and Kruk, Johnson and Walker, Bonds and Tori Hunter, etc. With Brooks Robinson playing third, Bench tries to drop one down in the 7th. He misses, before singling past Robinson on the next pitch. Remember that this is only a few months removed from Robinson's acrobatics in the '70s Series, where one of his primary victims was Bench. There is no visible reaction from either player after the missed bunt, and none following the subsequent single. Rerun the same sequence with the same backstory today, and I think you'd see mugging galore from Robinson and Bench. Different game--better or worse, I'm not sure (I thought Kruk was pretty great patting down his heart against Johnson). 9) Clemente is every bit as unorthodox a hitter as legend has it: as plain as day on the replay, he hits his eighth-inning home run completely off his front foot. 10) Player I most wanted to see who was there but didn't get into the game: Sudden Sam McDowell. My friend also gave me tapes of Games 6 and 7 from the '71 Series. I was rooting for the Orioles, so it would be the first time baseball really made me sad.

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