The more profound wits among the baseball writers covering the All-Star Game in Baltimore last week pounced like greedy children upon the phrase "most forgettable of All-Star Games" to describe to their readers back home the general tone of this 25th midyear congress of baseball's best players.
The mot follows a popular and often successful baseball writing technique known as the reverse clich� ("overconfidence may yet cost the Dodgers sixth place" is a revered example; and "though Jones can't hit, he's a poor fielder"), but in this case the clich� is not only reversed, it is inaccurate. The Lord knows, this year's All-Star Game was not one of the great moments in time, but it was a good deal more than a dreary, trying bore. And for the nearly 50,000 people in the stands, most of whom were Baltimoreans, it was a wonderful show, complete with a small vial of despair and a great beaker of happy ending.
The despair—Baltimore's—came when Casey Stengel, managing the American League, called Baltimore's pride, Gus Triandos, back to the bench in the sixth inning and sent up to the plate in his place the New York Yankees' (and Stengel's) Yogi Berra.
Now, Baltimore does not like the New York Yankees, not any time, not even a little bit, and when a New York Yankee displaces from the All-Star Game in Baltimore Baltimore's only All-Star starter, the dislike burgeons rapidly into utter loathing. Great, pulsating boos rolled down from the grandstand, inundating Stengel to his hips and Berra to the button on his cap. Baltimore was insulted. Baltimore was furious. But when Berra swung on the very first pitch and lifted the sickest little pop fly you ever saw to third base, Baltimore was absolutely delighted. Even though the crowd was rooting for the American League and though the score was tied and a man was on base, an exultant, whooping cheer went up.
Any guilty consciences in the crowd growing out of this traitorous rooting against the league were eased when the Americans scored in the inning anyway to go ahead to stay. It was sort of funny, the voice of the crowd when the winning run scored, because the base hit that sent it across the plate was tapped by yet another Yankee, Gil McDougald. The boos and cheers were so perfectly blended that it seemed each fan must have booed with his lungs as he applauded with his hands.
And then, of course, Stengel, the stage manager supreme, brought in Baltimore's Billy O'Dell to pitch to the National League in the next inning, entrusting the slender lefthander with the responsibility of protecting a one-run lead. This might have been a political gesture by Casey, who though immune to booing usually has a sharp eye for the dramatic situation, or it might have been practical, since the National Leaguers had cleverly arranged to have their bench all but devoid of right-handed pinch hitters. Whatever his reasons, Stengel's move to O'Dell brought bliss to Maryland and provided the happy ending to which all felt entitled.
Billy, a lean-jawed, crew-cut Southerner with a humorous face and a quick mind, pitched impeccably, putting down nine men in succession, including Stan Musial, who has the highest batting average in the major leagues, and the National League's leading right-handed home-run hitters: Frank Thomas, Ernie Banks, Lee Walls, Willie Mays and Henry Aaron. A fly ball into the seats by any one of these and the game was tied; but none got the ball out of the infield. Afterward O'Dell was named the outstanding individual performer and was given a huge plaque, the first such award ever made for an All-Star Game.
Beyond Berra, O'Dell and Baltimore's triumph, there were other memorable things. Some were slightly comic, the antics in left field for instance. Bob Cerv made three spectacular catches, but none could be described as good; Ted Williams misjudged a line drive, then made a wild leap and caught it; Bob Skinner, who fields ground balls like a man trying to pick up quicksilver, watched politely while Willie Mays ran from a point near Wilmington, Delaware, to pick a fly ball off Skinner's eyebrows. On the other hand, there were at least three fielding plays that were superb: Frank Malzone charged a topped grounder down the third base line and in one fluid motion picked the ball up and threw back to second base for a force play. Willie Mays sprinted into left center field to cut off a powerfully hit drive by Mickey Mantle and threw the ball back into the infield in time to hold the speeding Mantle to a single. Gil McDougald threw out Mays, who's pretty fast himself, from deep in the hole at shortstop, and did it so easily that it seemed routine. (" McDougald is a frustrating ball player," said Shortstop Rocky Bridges, Washington's lone representative on the American League team. "At least, he frustrates me. He makes plays like that look so simple.")
Two National Leaguers lived up to their special advanced billing. One was Willie Mays, who scored two of his team's three runs and created the second of these with his spectacular base running.