I was born in New York City in 1967 but, because my parents didn’t care about the game, I didn’t start following baseball until 1975 when I discovered trading cards through my 3rd grade classmates. I only vaguely recall this, but the first time I watched the All-Star game was in 1975 and it was the only time I ever saw Hank Aaron live on TV. At 41, it was his final Mid-Summer Classic; he lined out to shortstop in a 2nd inning pinch hitting performance.
Two years later, the All-Star Game came to New York City, and, thanks to connections of one of my classmates’ father, I was privileged to attend my first Mid-Summer Classic in person, at the recently renovated Yankee Stadium. In the 1970’s, the baseball All-Star Game was a really, REALLY big deal. The players cared about winning and the television audiences were immense. At the age of 10 it was, for me, the biggest sporting event I had ever attended, bigger even than the several events of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal that our family attended.
The game featured 15 Hall of Famers who played in the contest, another three who didn’t make it into the game, plus Hall of Fame Manager Sparky Anderson, who was skippering the National League squad.
The game also featured several players who never made the Hall of Fame but were big stars. I’m talking about Pete Rose in particular but also Fred Lynn, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Vida Blue and Mark “the Bird” Fidrych.
The N.L. had dominated the game for years, having won 13 of the previous 14 contests. The American League starter, Jim Palmer of the Baltimore Orioles, had previously started the 1970 and 1972 games (against Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson), earning no-decisions in both. And, if the A.L. felt snake-bit, it didn’t help that the first batter of the game, Cincinnati’s Joe Morgan, hit a solo home run deep to right field. For me, as a ten year old kid, this should have been really neat to see, a home run by a member of the previous year’s World Championship team. But I had emotionally invested in the Boston Red Sox in the 1975 World Series (against Morgan’s Reds) and transferred that allegiance to the A.L. squad for the All-Star Game.
Much to my dismay, Palmer gave up an additional three runs in the first inning on an RBI double by George Foster (also on the Reds, who would go on to hit 52 home runs and win the ’77 N.L. MVP) and a two-run home run by the Phillies’ Greg Luzinski. In today’s game, Palmer would not have pitched beyond that first inning but he came back in the 2nd and the 3rd as well. After the Dodgers’ Steve Garvey led off the 3rd with another solo blast, manager Billy Martin (of the hometown Yankees) replaced Palmer with Cleveland’s Jim Kern.
On the other side, Don Sutton of the Los Angeles Dodgers was mowing down the American League lineup, laden with five Hall of Fame position players. Sutton pitched three scoreless innings and ultimately would be named the game’s MVP.
As a fan rooting for the A.L., I was pleased to see another Indians’ pitcher (Dennis Eckersley) toss two perfect innings in the 4th and 5th and that memory would eventually put a smile on my face when the Red Sox traded for him the following spring.
Now, being a Boston Red Sox fan in the 1970’s while going to school in New York City was not the easiest thing in the world. Fortunately, if you’re a baseball fan in the Big Apple, you get two teams to choose from so, in 1976, I also became a fan of the New York Mets. In July of ’77, however, I was a little down on the Mets because they had just traded their franchise ace Tom Seaver to the hated Reds.
So, at the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium just over a month later, the first time I ever got to see Tom Seaver live in person, he was wearing a Cincinnati uniform. Since I was rooting for the Junior Circuit, I was pleased that the newly minted Red gave up three runs in two innings of relief, tightening the score to 5-3.
In the 8th inning, to the delight of the home crowd, Martin brought the Yankees’ bullpen ace (Sparky Lyle, the eventual A.L. Cy Young Award winner) into the game. To the crowd’s non-delight, future Yankee Dave Winfield (then a young star with the San Diego Padres) hit a two-run single to extend the N.L. lead to 7-3.
In the 9th, with a two-run lead, Sparky Anderson turned the game over to the Pittsburgh Pirates stopper, flamethrower Goose Gossage. I didn’t know much about Gossage yet but he was in the middle of a dominant season that would earn him a big free agent contract with the Yankees after the season. After walking the A’s Bert Campaneris, Gossage struck out future teammate Nettles.
The next batter, the Red Sox’ George Scott then proceeded to hit a long home run to deep left-center field. Remember that, in those years, a home run to left-center at Yankee Stadium required a mighty poke. Because Scott (the original “Boomer,” a nickname also owned by my future colleague and friend Chris Berman) played first base (my position on my 5th grade softball team), he was my favorite member of the BoSox.
And so, although I was rooting for the A.L. and they wound up losing 7-5 (Gossage retired future teammates Willie Randolph and Thurman Munson to end the game), I left with the memory of my favorite member of the Sox hitting a home run in the ballpark of their biggest rivals and on one of baseball’s biggest stages.
Thanks for reading. And thanks to John Ittner, whose father brought me and my brother Paul us to this memorable classic.