Baltimore took '58 game to heart, as kid writer did a grouchy Williams 1993 ALL-STAR GAME July 13 Baltimore

Bill Tanton

July 13, 1993|By Bill Tanton

When it was first announced that the 64th All-Star Game would be held here, people at the news conference began talking about the other All-Star Game played in Baltimore.

That was the one held at Memorial Stadium -- 35 years ago.

"It must have been a dull All-Star Game," Larry Lucchino said to me when he learned I had covered the game. "It was the only one that had no extra-base hits."

The Orioles president and CEO knew his All-Star history, all right. That game, won by the American League, 4-3, produced 13 hits. All were singles, the only time in 63 All-Star Games that has happened.

But Lucchino was wrong in assuming the game was dull. It certainly wasn't dull to any Baltimorean.

An event, to be properly understood, has to be viewed in terms of the time and place in which it occurred.

When the first All-Star Game was held here, Lucchino was a 12-year-old in Pittsburgh. He can't be expected to understand what was in Baltimore's heart.

In '58, I was a young sportswriter, a native son just starting out with this paper.

What you have to remember is that this city was new to the major leagues then. Baltimoreans had grown up on International League baseball, in which the Orioles played until 1954.

Our heroes had been Triple-A players -- Howitzer Howie Moss, Fireman John Podgajny, Kenny Braun.

Suddenly, our town was in the big leagues. The biggest stars in the American League were coming to 33rd Street. And at midsummer in '58, all the major-league stars were here.

To the fans in a city that recently had escaped the minors, the All-Stars' very names were -- and still are -- awe-inspiring:

Williams. Mays. Aaron. Musial. Mantle. Banks. Spahn. Eleven participants in that "dull" All-Star Game are now in the Hall of Fame.

Some of tonight's All-Stars will wind up at Cooperstown. Bonds will. So will Ripken and Boggs. Griffey. Bet you there won't be 11, though.

Anyway, it's widely felt that ballplayers in this era of strikes, lockouts, franchise jumping, drug scandals and $6-$7 million contracts lack the luster of the players from. . . well, from 1958. That year, there was a parade from the All-Stars' hotel, the Emerson at Calvert and Baltimore streets, to the stadium.

Players rode in convertibles so that proud and curious Baltimoreans could see them.

The game, incidentally, was a sellout, despite the frequent and erroneous recent statements to the contrary by Mayor Schmoke and Gov. Schaefer.

"For the '58 game," recalls Bob Brown, then the Orioles' public relations man, "we put in extra, temporary seats at the field level beyond the dugouts. We sold all 48,829 seats. It was the largest crowd ever to have seen a game at Memorial Stadium at that time."

But, again, perspective. Baseball wasn't the big deal in Baltimore then. The football Colts were.

The '58 Orioles weren't much. They finished sixth. They drew only 829,991. The '93 Orioles, in a half-season, have more than doubled that.

While the '58 All-Star Game was great for civic pride, it also was to be the most disillusioning experience of my sportswriting life.

As a kid, I idolized Ted Williams. My father was from Boston, and our family went there each summer and visited the grandparents.

At least once each visit we went to Fenway Park, where Williams was hitting baseballs as I have never seen anyone hit them to this day.

Ted was my man. His picture was on my bedroom wall. His No. 9 became my number. It remained my number even when I played high school and college sports.

Then I became a sportswriter and Ted Williams came to Baltimore for the All-Star Game. I introduced myself to him.

"A sportswriter, huh?" he snarled. "Well, you're horse---- like the rest of them until you prove otherwise."

I felt sick to my stomach.

"Why would you say that?" I asked. "You don't even know me."

"You heard me," Williams said. "As far as I'm concerned, you're horse---- until you prove otherwise."

I never proved otherwise, as far as he was concerned.

In the American League clubhouse after the All-Star Game, I tried him again. Ted was one month shy of 40 at the time.

"Would you like to manage when you're finished playing?" I asked him.

"You are really horse----," Williams said angrily. "We have a great guy like Mike Higgins managing our ballclub and you ask me if I want his job. You are horse----."

At first I thought he was just having a terrible day. But Ted played through the '60 season and things never did get any better between us. In fact, they got worse.

Neal Eskridge, the late Baltimore baseball writer, wrote a story from Boston saying that Williams was going to Fenway Park in the morning and shooting pigeons. Williams was enraged. Worse, he confused me with Eskridge for some reason. From then on, horse---- was one of the kinder terms I heard from Williams.

Last weekend I went to the Babe Ruth Museum and watched the film of the '58 All-Star Game. After all these years, I still get chills watching Ted hit. There was no one like him.

Hey, Ted -- next month you'll turn 75. Enough, already. Want to shake hands? I do. I'd like my lasting memory of you to be better than the memory from the '58 All-Star Game.

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