In '58 as now, city's been a most congenial host ALL-STAR GAME July 13 1993 Baltimore

John Steadman

July 13, 1993|By John Steadman

After an absence of 35 years, the heart grows fonder. The All-Star Game stayed away much too long. On two occasions, the Baltimore Orioles actually rejected chances to be the host, which is why the city waited more than three decades for tonight's return engagement.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was still president when it was here for its first and only time, but he passed up the chance to throw out the first ball and instead sent his bullpen specialist, Vice President Richard Nixon.

The 1958 event was a sellout, 48,829, which meant it was the sixth highest crowd count among the 24 games played before the staging of the Silver Anniversary celebration of what is romantically called baseball's midsummer classic. Baltimore didn't have to make any apologies for the way it conducted the show.

Yet the Orioles subsequently feared if the All-Star Game was placed in Baltimore, poor attendance might be an embarrassment to the team and city. The Orioles had the right to pass on any invitation and in two different years decided against it, citing lack of hotel space. But this was an excuse used for defensive purposes because four World Series were to be played here and visitors didn't have to sleep on benches in Druid Hill Park.

Through no fault of the players, with names such as Williams, Mays, Musial, Aaron, Mantle and Banks listed on the marquee, the game itself was the most non-descript in all of All-Star history, from its origination in 1933 to the present. All 13 hits were singles. There were four errors and every play was routine. Not once was the crowd moved to its feet in response to any excitement it might have felt.

It took only 2 hours, 13 minutes to play on a day when the heat (90 degrees) and humidity (95 percent) turned Memorial Stadium into a blast furnace. The players hoped to get it over with and didn't want to prolong the physical agony. Not even a mild protest of an umpire's decision. If something had happened to bring on extra innings there would have been anguish in the dugouts.

The game's most controversial moment occurred in the sixth inning when manager Casey Stengel sent Yogi Berra up to pinch-hit for Gus Triandos, the hometown hero. "Casey had seen enough of me," joked Gus in talking about it yesterday from his home in San Jose, Calif. "I guess I turned his stomach."

But Triandos said it was the place to use Berra, a left-handed hitter, against right-hander Bob Friend, and he never took personal exception to the change. He is too much of a man to let something so insignificant bother him. Orioles manager Paul Richards wasn't here for the game, going off to Atlantic City, probably to play golf, which annoyed his critics.

For the first time, the All-Star Game in 1958 had a most valuable player, selected by the sportswriters of the then Baltimore News-Post and other Hearst newspapers in the press box. Selecting the winner was easy -- Oriole Billy O'Dell, who retired nine batters in a row.

If there was a glitch in any of the proceedings it's that two men, Matt Thomas, and Ed Roecker, were engaged to sing the national anthem. Thomas prevailed. The situation might have best been resolved if they had been told, at that moment, to "go out and do a duet."

The pre-game parade, from downtown to the stadium, found both team's players, managers and coaches riding in open cars with placards identifying them. When it was over, Ted Williams provided the most meaningful endorsement:

"It was the best staged of any All-Star Game I've seen. The parade was wonderful. It couldn't have been any better. It wasn't overdone or prolonged. It was perfect."

Later Stengel made amends, not that he had to, with Triandos. He told Gus he ought to ask the Orioles for a raise because "every time I come here they will sell a lot of tickets to people who want to boo me and you are gonna be the one responsible for all this new business."

Eleven players never even got in the game, including Elston Howard, Harvey Kuenn, Rocky Bridges, Tony Kubek, Sherm Lollar, Richie Ashburn, George Crowe, Eddie Mathews, Walt Moryn, John Roseboro and Bob Schmidt.

But the All-Star Game is one of the best shows in sports.

The players, wearing their own uniforms, rather than the same jerseys worn by those in other All-Star Games, give it a unique distinction not found in similar contests put on by football, basketball and hockey.

Be assured, the All-Star Game will be back, after all other clubs get their turn -- making it the year 2020.

Send in ticket requests now so you won't be shut out.

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