Here’s an 1970s All-Star Baseball: A History of the Decade’s All-Star Games excerpt from the chapter on the 1971 Mid-Summer Classic. Enjoy!
Detroit was selected to host its first All-Star game in 20 years, and the formerly named Briggs Stadium, now known as Tiger Stadium, was the site of a six home run game in both years. This time, the American League finally emerged victorious, breaking an 8 game skid. Earl Weaver again piloted the AL team, and chose Oakland’s 21-year-old rookie lefty Vida Blue, tallying a record 17 wins at the break, as his starter. The National League manager, Sparky Anderson of the Reds, went with Pirates’ ace Dock Ellis, who would win a career-high 19 games in his only All-Star season. The fans selected Sparky’s backstop Johnny Bench again as the catcher, and outfielder Hank Aaron enjoyed a second straight year as the overall leading vote getter. Willie Mays again got the call as the center fielder, while his San Francisco teammate Willie McCovey, a feared slugger walked intentionally 40 times in 1970, and coming off 3 consecutive seasons leading the majors in a stat not yet invented, on-base plus slugging, was the first baseman. Another lefty masher, Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell was the left fielder. Glenn Beckert of the Cubs, on his way to a .342 full-year batting average was a repeat selection at second, and Bud Harrelson of the Mets, who won a Gold Glove in 1971 was the shortstop. The Cardinals Joe Torre, in his first full year moved out from behind the plate and en route to a major league-best 230 hits, 137 RBI, and .363 average, was picked to play third base.
Keystone combination Rod Carew of Minnesota and Luis Aparicio, now with Boston, were selected again as starters, as were outfielders Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox and Frank Robinson of the Orioles. The Birds’ Boog Powell was a repeat pick as the first baseman, but was injured and replaced by Detroit’s Norm Cash. Two other elected starters needed to be replaced due to injury; last year’s starter Bill Freehan of the Tigers took over for Cleveland’s Ray Fosse, and the Yankees’ Bobby Murcer, working on what would become a career-best .331 batting average, filled in for the eventual 1971 AL batting champ, Minnesota’s Tony Oliva (.337). 1970 World Series MVP Brooks Robinson was the third baseman.
After a scoreless first inning, the young fireballer Blue ran into quick trouble in the 2nd. He hit Willie Stargell and then yielded a homer to Johnny Bench. Hank Aaron then hit a solo shot off Blue in the top 3rd, and it looked like another long night for the American League as they faced a 3-0 deficit. But in the bottom half of the third, Dock Ellis, who had retired 6 of his first 7 batters to start the night, yielded a leadoff single to 8th place hitter Aparicio, and faced Oakland’s Reggie Jackson, pinch hitting for Blue. Jackson hit the longest homer of the decade, and possibly in All-Star game history, a 540 foot blast that hit a light transformer on the roof in right-center field. Ellis walked Carew, then retired Murcer and Yaz on infield popups. But Frank Robinson launched a 2-run shot of his own, giving the American League a 4-3 advantage before Ellis fanned Cash to end the inning.
Weaver turned to Jim Palmer in the 4th, and he rewarded his skipper with two shutout innings, matched by the Giants Juan Marichal. Another Oriole, Mike Cuellar, pitched a 1-2-3 6th, and in the bottom half, the AL expanded their lead when Detroit’s Al Kaline, who had come on to play right field, led off against Chicago’s Ferguson Jenkins with a single, followed by a 2-run missile over the left field wall from Harmon Killebrew, the new first baseman. Cuellar pitched around a Johnny Bench single for a scoreless 7th, and Houston’s Don Wilson retired the AL in order.
Detroit’s Mickey Lolich fanned the Giants’ Bobby Bonds to start the 8th, then yielded an opposite field home run to Pirates legend Roberto Clemente, in what proved to be his last All-Star at-bat. The homer was the sixth of the game, all hit by future Hall of Famers. It also turned out to be the final hit of the night, as the American League and Lolich held on for a 6-4 win, its first since 1962.
Frank Robinson, on the night he became the first man with an All-Star homer for each league, was selected as the game’s Most Valuable Player. The starters, Vida Blue and Dock Ellis, were the winning and losing pitchers respectively, and Mickey Lolich picked up the save. Juan Marichal and Don Wilson of the National League, along with Palmer and Cuellar for the AL, each contributed 2 scoreless innings apiece in a game that lasted only 2 hours and 5 minutes (the 2008 15-inning game took 4 hours, 50 minutes). But the game’s signature moment was provided by Jackson, a muscular former Arizona State football player representing a future powerhouse Oakland A’s team that had yet to play in the post-season, and making just his 2nd of what would become 14 All-Star appearances. Though he had hit 47 homers back in 1969, Jackson’s tape measure wallop marked his first time to truly shine in the national spotlight. It would be a stage Reggie enjoyed stepping into again and again as he rose to become one of the greatest post-season players in baseball history. The erratic Ellis, for his part, would eventually repay Anderson’s confidence in giving him the start by intentionally hitting the first 3 Reds and throwing at the heads of the next two batters in a 1974 contest. He eventually avenged Jackson’s famous homer but putting the slugger in the hospital with a pitch to the face in 1976.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His new book, 1970s All-Star Baseball: A History of the Decade’s All-Star Games was just released on Amazon:
His bestselling 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: