Last Updated: July 11. 2011 7:42PM1971: When legends came out to play in Detroit
Gregg Krupa/ The Detroit News
Forty years ago this week, the old ballpark remained a sea of green.
Tiger Stadium would not be sold to the City of Detroit for another six years, and the $9 million renovation that dramatically changed the lush scene to a blue stadium with orange and blue seats was yet to come.
Fans often remarked that the old, verdant setting seemed cooling, somehow. And as they poured into the stands on the hot, spectacularly-sunny evening of July 13, 1971, all of that green, the low humidity and a continual breeze added to a sense that the night would unfurl just about perfectly.Officially, 53,559 spectators witnessed one of the greatest Major League Baseball games ever played within those confines.
Over the years, many more claimed to have been there.
The game remains, decades later, one that fans wanted to see — and for much more than a famous home run by Reggie Jackson, which remains a singular memory.In the last 60 years of Briggs and Tiger Stadium
, the 1945, 1968
and 1984 World Series
were played; along with the 1972
and 1987 American League Championship Series
and the 1941
and 1951 All-Star Games
. But because of the players who played, their significance in the history of the game and what they did that night, the '71 All-Star Game is a pinnacle.
As a 14-year-old "junior usher" that summer, I seated fans in the reserved areas of sections 17 and 18 in the upper deck, just above the Tigers' on-deck circle. Fans, writers and broadcasters often asserted that the box seats there were among the best in baseball, and their loss was widely noted when the Tigers moved to Comerica Park.
The prized seats were both close to the field and at a perfect height for sight lines that provided a true reach-out-and-touch-the-players perspective.
As I watched batting practice for the National League, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, leaning against the batting cage were, from my left to right, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. They were all future members of the Baseball Hall of Fame whose careers now are part of the mythology of the game.
It was the first of several moments that, for a teenaged, rabid fan, gave rise to goose pimples.
In the top of the second inning, 23-year-old Johnny Bench, of the Reds, the National League catching prodigy already proclaimed "the best ever," hit a home run to deep right-center field. Willie Stargell, of the Pirates, scored ahead of Bench. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
Then, in the top of the third, Aaron, with his irregular, off-the-front-foot hitting style, buried one deep in the right field stands.
The runs came off of the 21-year-old American League pitching sensation, Vida Blue of the Oakland A's.Legendary swing
In the bottom of the third, a teammate of Blue pinch-hit for him. And with one swing, Jackson, then in only his fourth season, began an evolution from young power hitter to legend that also carried him into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Luis Aparicio, who — you guessed it — is also enshrined, led off the inning with a single to center off the Pirate hurler, Dock Ellis. With Aparicio taking his normal, daringly large lead at first, Ellis delivered a pitch that Jackson hit like few ever have been hit.
Much has been said about the great length of that two-run home run, which provided ample, early evidence of Jackson's flair for the dramatic. But, even all of these years later, it is not so much the distance that impressed me. And although it struck the transformer housed on the massive light standard, high atop the right-center field roof, it was not so much the height, either.
It was the velocity.
The massive shot, estimated at 520 feet, crashed back to earth as Jackson, walking cockily up the first base line immediately after his swing, completed only his third step.
At that moment, in the stands, fathers looked at sons, wives looked at husbands, longtime season-ticket holders looked at longtime season-ticket holders, and more than a few wondered aloud if they had seen precisely what they had seen.
"That home run Reggie Jackson hit at Tiger Stadium was the hardest-hit ball I ever saw," said the late Ernie Harwell, in an interview with MLB.com in 2008. "I didn't think it would ever land anywhere."
With Ellis rattled — so rattled, in fact, that five years later he threw a fastball into Jackson's face to retaliate — the next batter, Rod Carew of the Twins, walked. Carew also is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Ellis got the next two batters. Then, another future member of the hall strode to the plate.
Detroit fans booed Frank Robinson that night. One of the stars of the Baltimore Orioles, who had largely supplanted the Yankees as the Tigers' archrivals beginning in 1966, the sense was that, despite representing the American League and providing heroics, Robinson deserved disapproval.
But the home run "F. Robby" then hit would have been remembered for the power, too, if it had not been for what Jackson did minutes earlier.
It also made Robinson the first player to hit home runs for both leagues in All-Star appearances, and it gave the American League its first lead since 1964.
Fans gathered to watch in the sports-mad city might have thought their evening full. But it was only the bottom of the third.Pitching takes over
Juan Marichal of the Giants replaced Ellis. Jim Palmer of the Orioles replaced Blue. Marichal and Palmer also are in Cooperstown. As the sun set, they pitched like it, shutting out the powerful lineups for two innings.
Mike Cuellar, also of the Birds, replaced Palmer. Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs replaced Marichal. Jenkins is in the Hall. But the screwball-throwing Cuellar bested Jenkins, that night.
Cuellar faced seven batters in two innings, yielding only a single to Bench.
Jenkins' downfall began when Tiger Al Kaline, appearing in his 14th All-Star Game, trotted out of the dugout to an enormous ovation in the top of the sixth. Inducted at Cooperstown in 1980 on the first ballot, Kaline that night delivered a base hit in the bottom of the inning.
The next batter, the Twins' Harmon Killebrew, who died this year and who is similarly enshrined, hit a home run. Like each of the six home runs hit that night by six future members of the Baseball Hall of Fame — which provided for every run scored in the game — Killebrew's was nothing cheap. He hit it deep to left.
With the American League up 6-3 and threatening to win its first All-Star Game since 1962, another guy wearing the Old English D rode in to salt it away. Mickey Lolich retired six of seven batters for the save, with fans roaring and punching the air on every out.
"He knows the kinds of pitches you have to make here at Tiger Stadium," AL manager Earl Weaver said of choosing Lolich to close it out. Weaver is in the Hall of Fame.
The portly lefty's only hiccup was the final home run of the evening by a future denizen of Cooperstown. Clemente hit a solo shot to deep right-center field in the eighth.
As the sublime right fielder touched home and trotted to the dugout, no one could have known it was his All-Star Game farewell. An injury kept him from appearing in 1972. Then, that Dec. 31, while flying earthquake relief into Nicaragua, Clemente was killed in a crash.More legendsThe American League won 6-4.There were 20 future members of the Baseball Hall of Fame playing in the game that night
(those not yet mentioned: Lou Brock, Steve Carlton, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Tom Seaver and Carl Yastrzemski). Opposing managers Sparky Anderson (NL) and Earl Weaver (AL) are also in the Hall of Fame.
Other notables on the field were Billy Martin, Tony Oliva, Pete Rose and Joe Torre. Torre is likely to reach the Hall in 2014, his first year of eligibility as a manager.
And, on a night of notable performances, even an umpire got into the act.
Jake O'Donnell was at second base. O'Donnell would retire that season to become an NBA official. He's the only person to appear both as an umpire in an All-Star Game and as an official in an NBA All-Star Game.
Leaving the stadium that night, long after all of the fans had left Corktown, I sensed that I witnessed something quite special. But only the years would fully reveal just how special.1971 All-Star Game National League lineup
1. Willie Mays, Giants, CF
2. Hank Aaron, Braves, RF
3. Joe Torre, Cardinals, 3B
4. Willie Stargell, Pirates, LF
5. Willie McCovey, Giants, 1B
6. Johnny Bench, Reds, C
7. Glenn Beckert, Cubs, 2B
8. Bud Harrelson, Mets, SS
9. Dock Ellis, Pirates, PReserves: Pitchers
— Steve Carlton, Cardinals; Clay Carroll, Reds; Larry Dierker, Astros; Ferguson Jenkins, Cubs; Juan Marichal, Giants; Tom Seaver, Mets; Don Wilson, Astros; Rick Wise, Phillies. Catcher
— Manny Sanguillen, Pirates. Infield
— Nate Colbert, Padres; Lee May, Reds; Felix Millan, Braves; Ron Santo, Cubs; Don Kessinger, Cubs. Outfield
— Bobby Bonds, Giants; Lou Brock, Cardinals; Roberto Clemente, Pirates; Pete Rose, Reds; Rusty Staub, Expos.American League lineup
1. Rod Carew, Twins, 2B
2. Bobby Murcer, Yankees, CF
3. Carl Yastrzemski, Red Sox, LF
4. Frank Robinson, Orioles, RF
5. Norm Cash, Tigers, 1B
6. Brooks Robinson, Orioles, 3B
7. Bill Freehan, Tigers, C
8. Luis Aparicio, Red Sox, SS
9. Vida Blue, Athletics, PReserves: Pitchers
— Mike Cuellar, Orioles; Mickey Lolich, Tigers; Sam McDowell, Indians; Andy Messersmith, Angels; Jim Palmer, Orioles; Marty Pattin, Brewers; Jim Perry, Twins; Sonny Siebert, Red Sox; Wilbur Wood, White Sox. Catcher
— Dave Duncan, Athletics. Infield
— Cookie Rojas, Royals; Harmon Killebrew, Twins; Bill Melton, White Sox; Outfield
— Don Buford, Orioles; Frank Howard, Senators; Reggie Jackson, Athletics; Al Kaline, Tigers; Amos Otis, Royalsgkrupa@detnews.com
From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110711/SPORTS0104/107110320/1971--When-legends-came-out-to-play-in-Detroit#ixzz1Rs1YDd4a