SI Vault
 
OFF WITH A BLAST
Steve Wulf
August 17, 1981
Big league baseball came back with a barrage of homers as the National League won its 10th straight All-Star Game
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 17, 1981

Off With A Blast

Big league baseball came back with a barrage of homers as the National League won its 10th straight All-Star Game

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Major league baseball and the city of Cleveland put on a happy face Sunday night for the 52nd All-Star Game—one hopes, the last Mid-Summer Classic to be held in late summer. The National League, of course, won—its 5-4 victory now makes it 10 in a row and 18 of 19. Montreal Catcher Gary Carter hit two home runs, and Philadelphia Third Baseman Mike Schmidt had a game-winning two-run blast, but the real star of the game was Everyfan.

A record All-Star crowd of 72,086, which was almost as many people as attended the exhibition football game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers the night before, welcomed baseball back with a symbolic kiss bestowed on Indian Pitcher Len Barker by that renowned dancer Morganna. The fans were courted with parachutists, a band, a color guard, Bob Hope, Vice-President George Bush and an American flag that covered almost as much ground as Dusty Baker. When local favorite Rocco Scotti, whose voice can make grown dogs weep, reached "bombs bursting in air" in the national anthem, fireworks lighted up the sky. Baseball and Cleveland were obviously taking no chances.

The players staged their own pyrotechnics. Ken Singleton of Baltimore homered off Cincinnati's Tom Seaver in the second inning to give the AL a 1-0 lead. If the barons of baseball wanted to be consistent, they would have declared the American League the winner of the first three innings, canceled the next three and played the last three, with the winner of the first three playing the winner of the last three, unless.... But the NL homered four times in four innings to come from behind, as it had the three previous years.

This was a big sports weekend in Cleveland, what with the football game, the American Bridge Association convention and the Roberto Duran-Nino Gonzalez fight. Like baseball and Duran, Cleveland is trying to make a comeback, so it was quite happy to get the All-Star Game, even if it was a month late. Mayor George Voinovich proudly quoted the philosopher Joe Garagiola: "It takes a good city to field a good hop, but it takes a great city to field a bad hop."

Like Duran, baseball was trying to make the public forget that it had walked out. The All-Star party was revived to put what Commissioner Bowie Kuhn calls The Great Dispute behind us, and lo and behold, it worked. The media settled down to the burning question of whether the pitchers are ahead of the hitters. The fans bought a record number of tickets and the players were genuinely thrilled to be in Cleveland. Seattle Outfielder Tom Paciorek said, "If the air traffic controllers' strike had kept me from flying here, I would've walked." Gushed San Diego Catcher Terry Kennedy, "I can't believe I'm here with the elite of baseball." Pittsburgh Outfielder Mike Easier took home movies of the commissioner's pregame luncheon. Even though he couldn't pitch, Yankee Reliever Rich Gossage made the trip anyway. If nothing else, the luster of the All-Star Game was maintained.

The real heroes, the fans, took over the night fairly early, lustily booing the NL lineup, grandly cheering the AL and giving standing O's to the Indians: Manager Dave Garcia, Catcher Bo Diaz and Barker, who would have been the starting pitcher had Kansas City Manager Jim Frey had a better sense of public relations. Instead he went with Detroit's Jack Morris, while Philadelphia Manager Dallas Green, who had a better feel for the dramatic, went with L.A.'s Fernando Valenzuela. Morris pitched two scoreless innings, although he did give up a lead-off single to Philadelphia First Baseman Pete Rose, who was starting at a record fifth different position. Barker followed with two perfect innings to the chants of "Len-ny, Len-ny." After that, though, the AL staff started serving up batting-practice pitches.

Carter homered off California's Ken Forsch to make the score 1-1 in the fifth, and Dave Parker of Pittsburgh crushed a pitch by Oakland's Mike Norris in the sixth to give the NL a 2-1 lead. The AL came back in the bottom of the inning with three runs off Los Angeles' Burt Hooton on five singles. There would have been more had Baker not robbed Texas' Al Oliver with a sprawling catch in the muck of leftfield. The Municipal Stadium ground crew deserves some sort of hand for turning a soggy football field into a soggy baseball field overnight.

The AL had a 4-2 lead, but in playing for the big inning, Frey depleted most of his bench. He had planned for California's Fred Lynn to play center in the seventh, but Lynn hurt his knee breaking up a play at second base, and Frey had to put Oakland's Tony Armas in the outfield.

In the seventh inning Carter, who was chosen the game's MVP, hit the first pitch from the Yankees' Ron Davis over the centerfield fence to bring the National Leaguers one run closer. In the eighth, Milwaukee's Rollie Fingers came in to protect the lead, but as he later said, "I should have stayed in my hotel room." He walked San Diego's Ozzie Smith to start the inning. Smith stole second, but was caught in a rundown trying to go to third as Fingers made the tag and took a pratfall. "I thought I deserved a 9.5 for that dive," he said. Then Fingers walked Easier and fed Schmidt a fastball that landed on the other side of the center-field fence to give the NL a 5-4 lead. Fingers gave up another hit and made a bad pickoff throw before sheepishly handing the ball to Frey. Toronto's Dave Stieb got the AL out of the inning.

Houston's Nolan Ryan set the AL down in order in the eighth. In the ninth Green went with Bruce Sutter, who had two wins and a save in the last three All-Star Games. Although he has since moved from the Cubs to the Cards, nothing has really changed. As if that weren't enough bad news for the AL, Frey had run out of hitters, even though the roster had been expanded to 30. This meant that Stieb would have to hit for himself with one out in the ninth. Stieb hadn't swung a bat regularly since 1978, when he was a pitcher-outfielder in the Florida State League, but he was the best hope of the league that doesn't let its pitchers hit. "I borrowed Rick Burleson's bat, Buddy Bell's gloves and Tom Paciorek's helmet," Stieb said afterward. "I should've borrowed somebody else's stroke." He waved at one split-fingered fastball, fouled another down the third-base line and whiffed on the third. "I was proud of that foul ball," he said. "If I had gotten a hit, I would have fainted on the way to first."

Continue Story
1 2