Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Play Ball: All Star Game Memories

Cleveland hosted the 1954 All Star Game.
I've mentioned before how when I was born my parents named my four Teddy bears after the Cleveland Indians starting rotation. It was 1952 and these were indeed Stars -- Bob Lemon, fireballer Bob Feller, Mike Garcia and Early Wynn. Feller, who was an All-Star eight times and a Hall of Fame shoe-in, had a bad year in '52. He rebounded, however, and would ultimately be ranked #11 of all time amongst Hall of Fame pitchers. In 1954 the Tribe would be the first, and last, Major League team to have four 20-game winners on the squad.

Early Wynn, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, would later become a 300 game winner. I remember going to Cleveland Metropolitan Stadium to see him try to win his 300th game at age 43. His first and last game in the Major Leagues were both on September 13.

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Bob Lemon, a seven-time All-Star, was also later elected to the Hall of Fame. In short I was surrounded by a great set of teddy Bears. I can't remember whether Feller or Lemon was my favorite. Both were black and white, though I believe Lemon was skinny with a white torso and long black limbs and must have lasted the longest of this set of bears.

In 1954 the Tribe not only had four 20-game winners for a starting rotation, Cleveland also hosted the All Star game. What a contrast between the 1954 game of stars and the 1963 Cleveland-hosted game that I attend in 1963. In '54 the Indians had several stars, including my mom's favorite player Bobby Avila. In the '63 team, there were no real stars on the Cleveland team, but our home town team did get one representative, Jim "Mudcat" Grant.

All these memories were triggered by an interview I heard on the radio with Grant, who was later traded to the Twins where he helped lead Killebrew and Crew to the World Series. Meanwhile, the Indians were shamefully bad. The best way to understand the demise of the Indians would be to read Cleveland sports journalist Terry Pluto's The Curse of Rocky Colavito.

1965 was another year in which the team that hosted the All Star Game also went to the World Series. Both teams took it on the chin in the post-season.

Miscellaneous Observations 
A lot has changed since those early All Star Games, especially the salaries. Bob Lemon made $40,000 in a typical year once he was a star in 1950s. The average player today makes four million.

I still have this card.
Last night's Major League Baseball All Star Game was a night game. There's big revenue from television, hence these big games are played under the lights. You seldom hear baseball players complain about being overpaid.

The first All Star Game in Minnesota (1965) was played in the afternoon. The game I went to in Cleveland (1963) was also an afternoon game. The sun was bright and the weather pristine. I remember the American League had Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio at second base and shortstop. I thought they were so cool.

There were many Stars in that 1963 game, including Mickey Mantle. The starting right fielder for the American League was Rocky Colavito, who was back with Cleveland after being traded away at the end of a 1959 season in which he led the league in Home Runs. After retirement, the slugger went to Pennsylvania and had mushroom farms.

There were five Cuban-born players in this year's All Star Game.

Derek Jeter, now 40, is one of the baseball's all-time icons. In last night's game, his 14th as an American League All Star, he received an extremely warm, extended standing ovation from the Minnesota crowd. TV watchers heard a snippet from Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" as Jeter graciously acknowledged the crowd and hugged every player in the clubhouse. The song was selected because of the songwriter's connection to Minnesota.

The two baseball bats at the top of the page have the names of Ed Matthews and Pete Rose on them. Mathews was power hitter and all star with the Milwaukee Braves. In the old days they had a television show called Home Run Derby and guys like Eddie Mathews would go head-to-head (or swing-to-swing) against one another.

The current version of Home Run Derby, which started in the 1980's, is a once a year event held the day before the All Star Game. Like everything else it has a corporate sponsor, so it is called the Gillette Home Run Derby.

Pete Rose was one of the great hitters of all time, ultimately surpassing the Ty Cobb's unbelievable record. Sadly, he had a gambling addiction and was ultimately banned from baseball.

Two weeks ago I finished reading a really good book about baseball called Catching Lightning without the Bottle. It's a great baseball story, and also involves a superstar with an addiction problem. Great plot twists and insights into human nature as well as the game we grew up in love with.

Meantime... life goes on. Live it!

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