A superb All-Star game remembered long ago

July 14, 1994|By Phil Jackman

It was a little squib of a note in the paper that always seems to catch the reader's eye: More than half the kids in the United States have their own televisions.

Hmmm, time was when half the households in the United States didn't have a TV, not even 20 percent, and it wasn't that long ago, either.

About two minutes later and on the next page, there was this under the "This Date in Baseball" feature: "1950 -- The All-Star Game returned to Comiskey Park, the site of the first game, and was won by the National League, 4-3, on Red Schoendienst's 14th-inning home run off Ted Gray. It was the first extra-inning All-Star Game, the first time the NL won at an AL park, and the first All-Star Game shown on network television."

Like it was played 15 minutes ago, I recall that '50 game for a multitude of reasons. First off, it was a time when baseball was played mostly during the day, few games of the big-league team in your region were on the tube and, even if they were, kids wouldn't have been plunked down in front of a set anyway. They were participants.

In fact, when word filtered down that the All-Star Game would be on national TV for the first time, most kids shrugged. See, we had softball in the mornings on the playground, swimming in a pool, river, lake or pond in the afternoon, then intermediate league baseball in the evening (under the lights, no less). It was tough working in meals.

After checking thoroughly, it turned out that only an acquaintance by the name of John Bent had the luxury of a TV. We weren't really pals, but with a couple of days to work on the situation I changed that. "But I don't wanna watch the game," complained John, "we're going swimming."

He was talked into inviting me over. Then he watched perhaps the first five minutes, grabbed his bathing suit and headed out, leaving me there.

The house was empty until Bent's mother came home from grocery shopping. She didn't know me from Jeffrey Dahmer, but she accepted my explanation that John would be right back after I had provided about four means of identification.

These All-Star affairs started real early in those days, allowing the players to make the late afternoon sleepers back to their home cities or the next port of call.

John's father came home from work and, after going through explanations of what this strange kid was doing sitting in the living room, he watched for a while. And asked where the evening paper was.

Oh-oh. See, one of the flyers on the deal was that I was to do Bent's paper route, which covered about a quarter of the town's inhabitants. I said nothing. The game roared on. And on. The AL was leading, 3-2, entering the ninth inning when Ralph Kiner tied it with a home run off Art Houtteman.

Unbelievable, because we're talking the days when the Americans rarely lost to the Nationals. Vic Raschi and Bob Lemon had preceded Houtteman and Allie Reynolds, Ted Gray and Bob Feller were to follow. Between them, these guys totaled 933 victories, half of them taking time out to fight a war.

The NL pitchers weren't bad either, Robin Roberts and Don Newcombe giving up runs early before Jim Konstanty, Larry Jansen and Ewell Blackwell combined for nine straight zeroes. Finally, in the 14th, Schoendienst, who was to hit just six home runs during the regular season that year, ended it with a homeric host.

Yes indeed, folks would be getting their Evening Gazette after all, and only about three hours late. Talk about walking on tippy-toes and sneaking the paper onto front porches.

Missing from the "This Day in Baseball" notice of the game at Comiskey Park in Chicago was one of the biggest news stories of that season. In the first inning, Ted Williams broke his elbow against the brick wall in left field while making a catch.

Ted missed 65 games in 1950, finishing with a .317 average with 28 homers and 97 RBIs in 334 at-bats. Worse, the Red Sox finished third, just four games back of the Yankees with a 94-60 record. What, Teddy Ballgame wasn't worth four victories?

More importantly and considering the magnitude of the player involved, there was serious talk of getting rid of this "meaningless" midsummer show if it was going to so devastate a team's chances of winning a pennant.

New England fans, for many seasons thereafter, did virtually no ballot-box stuffing on behalf of their heroes.

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