I’ve been to a million baseball games over the years. At the major league level, I’ve seen some terrific things happen, but only twice have I witnessed something that’s never happened before.
The first time was Aug. 3, 1959, when my dad took me to the All-Star Game at the Los Angeles Coliseum. It marked the first time in the 29-year history of the contest that a second-of-the-season All-Star Game was played.
The MLB players were trying to add to their then-paltry pension fund and two All-Star outings were held for several seasons after that.
Then last Sunday, with my son and daughter at AT&T Park, we saw Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner hit grand slam homers — the first time in baseball history that members of the same battery hit slams in the same game.
Before we knew the historical significance, we kinda thought it was something special and wondered if it had ever happened before. Confirmation came while listening to the postgame show on the way home.
With the All-Star break at hand, I drifted into an attempted discussion of that 1959 Coliseum game I attended. But Nick and Julie had heard the story 100 times before and the chat quickly turned to the Angel Pagan bobbleheads we had just received.
(Both of my kids sold theirs for $40 online within moments of posting. I wonder what my Stan Musial foul ball from that ’59 All-Star Game might be worth, if I still had it.)
Anyway, while they reveled in their salesmanship, the memory of being at the Coliseum with my dad became more and more vivid.
It’s an experience that is backed up by my father’s 8-mm film of pregame batting practice and player interaction. That old documentary lives in my storage shed on a DVD.
Sure, the guys in this year’s All-Star Game are great ballplayers. Clayton Kershaw, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera seem on course for the Hall of Fame — but that 1959 game. Yikes.
The American League won that day, 5-3. Rocky Colavito, Frank Malzone and Yogi Berra homered for the winners. Frank Robinson and Junior Gilliam knocked ’em out of the park for the NL.
But the lineups … Holy smokes.
Chicago White Sox Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio were up the middle. Berra was behind the plate and the outfield had no less than Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
Harmon Killebrew and Al Kaline had to take seats on the bench.
For the National League, there was a field of dreams with Musial in left, Willie Mays in center and some guy named Hank Aaron in right. Ernie Banks was the shortstop with Robinson and Eddie Mathews waiting in the dugout.
In all, 17 Hall of Famers played that day.
My dad got pictures of Mantle talking with Musial in front of the NL dugout. He caught Williams smiling. Ted Williams smiling …
The Braves’ Warren Spahn was my favorite player. I have film of him showing Pirates reliever Elroy Face something about throwing a fork ball (a slower version of the split-finger fastball).
Spahn, the all-time winningest left-hander (363 victories), didn’t even pitch in the game! What’s up with that?
Ken Boyer is seen talking to Early Wynn and there are shots of Bobby Richardson, Minnie Minoso and Mantle hitting. (My dad ran out of film during batting practice.)
It was an incredible afternoon — and not for one second has any of it been lost on an 11-year-old kid who 55 years later remembers it like yesterday, thanks to my dad.
While I Have You Here: There’s always something curious about an All-Star Game. There is always a why-is-he-here? factor.
That second All-Star encounter in 1959 featured starting pitchers Don Drysdale and Jerry Walker. Dodger Drysdale deserved to be there and was the darling of the game (he and Los Angeles outfielder Wally Moon were NL cast members).
But Walker? Raise your hand if you remember Walker.
Walker, now 75, was a Baltimore Oriole bonus baby. He was 8-5 with a 2.64 earned run average when he got the All-Star nod. Curious. He did, however, pitch three innings, allowed a run and two hits and was the winning pitcher.
Walker went on to be 11-10 that season, finishing his career with a 37-44 record.
I guess there’s one other person who remembers that All-Star Game as fondly as I do.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.