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The Mid-Summer Classics of 1966 and 1971

July 7, 2012

Hugh Atkins

The 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star Game is set for this Tuesday night in Kansas City. Every year about this time, I reminisce about the first All-Star Game I watched. It was 1966 and they played it in the spanking new Busch Stadium II in St. Louis.

There were 26 American League all-stars in 1966 and 27 in the National League. This year there are 35 players on each squad, mainly because there must be a player chosen from each major league team. The same requirement was in place in 1966 but back then there were only 10 teams in each league. Today there are 14 teams in the American League and 16 in the National League.

© T.C.G.

In 1966 the San Francisco Giants led the National League by a game at the All-Star break and they sent an impressive gang of six players to St. Louis. In addition to Tom Haller and Jim Ray Hart, the Giants sent future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey and Gaylord Perry. My favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, sent three players to the game–Henry Aaron, Felipe Alou and Joe Torre.

The Detroit Tigers had the most players on the American League team with five: Norm Cash, Bill Freehan, Al Kaline, Dick MAuliffe and Denny McLain.

In 1966 the National League team had 11 future members of the Hall of Fame on its roster –Aaron, Jim Bunning of the Philadelphia Phillies, Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals, Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Marichal, Mays, McCovey, Joe Morgan of the Houston Astros, Perry and Willie Stargell of the Pirates.

The American League team featured six future members of the Hall of Fame – Jim “Catfish” Hunter of the Kansas City Athletics, Kaline, Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles and Carl Yastzremski of the Boston Red Sox.

In 1966 the National League had nine pitchers on its team, six starters and three relievers. The American League also had nine hurlers, eight of whom were starters. This year both teams have 13 pitchers, with each squad having eight starters and five relievers. I believe this is a reflection of one of the biggest changes in the game. In 1966 starters were expected to pitch complete games. Today every team uses at least three pitchers per game so I guess it makes sense that so many of the All-Stars are relief pitchers.

© T.C.G.

The 1966 game was a pitchers’ duel. McLain started the game for the American League and mowed down all nine batters he faced, including four future members of the Hall of Fame (Mays, Clemente, Aaron, and McCovey). The game went into extra innings and the National League prevailed 2-1. Maury Wills of the Dodgers drove in the winning run–in the person of hometown player Tim McCarver–in the bottom of the tenth. The American League scored their only run on a wild pitch by Koufax in the second inning. Perry pitched two scoreless innings in relief to get the win.

I always will remember fondly the 1966 All-Star Game but the 1971 Mid-Summer Classic, played at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, is my personal favorite. This is a bit odd since I’m a huge National League fan and the American League won the ’71 game 6-4. It was their first win since 1962 and they would not win another one until 1983. But as it was with All-Star Games back then, the outcome was not important.

Reading an account of the 1971 All-Star Game reveals that it was no ordinary affair. It featured 20 future members of the Hall of Fame, 15 hitters and five pitchers. Six of these sluggers would hit more than 500 homers in their careers.

The 1971 All-Star Game rosters had six major leaguers with 20 or more homer runs at the break. Stargell led the majors with 30, though he would finish the season with “only” 48. Bill Melton of the Chicago White Sox, the eventual American League home run champ, had 20 at the break and would finish with a whopping 33 for the season.

Aaron (24), Lee May of the Cincinnati Reds (23), Bobby Bonds of the Giants (20) and Cash (20) round out the list of 1971 all-stars with 20 or more homers. Deron Johnson of the Phillies, who clubbed three homers on the Sunday prior to the All-Star Game, was left off the National League squad despite finishing the first half of the season with 21 homers.

© T.C.G.

Mays, still graceful at age forty, was the first batter of the game. In the second inning, Aaron hit his first All-Star homer; it came against rookie sensation Vida Blue of the Oakland Athletics. Six different players hit homers in the 1971 game–all future Hall of Famers. In addition to Aaron, Johnny Bench of the Reds, Reggie Jackson of the Athletics, Frank Robinson, Killebrew and Clemente also homered. Jackson’s home run would have left Tiger Stadium if it had not struck a transformer mounted on the roof over the right-field stands.

In fact, future members of the Hall of Fame scored all 10 runs in the game. In addition to the six runs scored on the home runs, Stargell was on base when Bench homered, Luis Aparicio of the Red Sox was on base when Jackson homered, Rod Carew of the Twins was on base when Robinson homered and Kaline was on base when Killebrew homered.

The National League got the home field advantage in the World Series in 1966 and the American League had it in 1971, but it had nothing to do with the outcome of a mid-summer exhibition game. And that is as it should be.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. R. Dale McCarver permalink
    July 7, 2012 6:51 am

    Maybe I’m showing my age, but do young baseball fans today have the Aarons, the Mays, the Killebrews, the Kourfaxes, etc. I remembered fondly every one of the stars you cited… and even though I’m not the fan you are, I could tell you a story about each one of those folks. Do kids today have the same caliber of superstars that you and I enjoyed back in the 60s and 70s?


  2. July 7, 2012 8:58 am

    I’m afraid we are showing our age. I think there are two parts to it. The players you mentioned were better than anyone playing today but they always seemed grateful for the priviledge of playing in the big leagues. Today’s players seem to act as if it were a given that they would be professional ballplayers. Also, younger fans do not seem to care as much about the history of what they have witnessed in person, on televison, or on the radio (assuming they’ve ever listened to a game on the “wireless”). They seem to wipe the slate clean after the World Series each year.


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