Tuesday’s All-Star Game marked the 50th anniversary of the greatest collection of baseball stars ever to grace the rosters of the American and National League teams.
The 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit, a 6-4 American League win, included the staggering total of 26 future Hall of Famers. Even third-base umpire Doug Harvey, so beyond reproach that he was known to players by the sobriquet “God,” has a plaque in Cooperstown.
Both managers are in the Hall of Fame. Sparky Anderson of the Reds and Earl Weaver of the Orioles combined to preside over 3,674 wins in their major league careers. And you can add NL coach Walter Alston to the list. The longtime Dodger skipper won 2,040 games during his tenure.
How good were these two teams? Future Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Lou Brock, Ron Santo, Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew weren’t even voted into the starting lineups!
The only position players in the NL’s starting lineup who never reached the HOF were second baseman Glenn Beckert, and shortstop Bud Harrelson.
Joe Torre of the Cardinals started at third base. The future HOF manager compiled his best season in 1971. He hit .363, an amazing figure for a guy with no speed playing on artificial turf. He also led the majors with 230 hits and 137 runs batted in.
Yet Torre was humbled by his teammates.
“All your baseball cards came to life,” he recently told Tim Kurkjian of ESPN. “It was like walking into the Hall of Fame. You say, ‘Wow, all of these guys are Hall of Famers.’ You’re still gaga over it.
“I was in awe. I was leading the league in hitting, but I was still overwhelmed.”
According to Kurkjian, no other All-Star Game has featured even 20 future Hall of Famers. This was truly an unparalleled gathering, a real Dream Game, to use my granddad’s expression.
The first six players in the NL lineup all had HOF careers: Willie Mays, CF; Henry Aaron, RF; Torre, 3B; Willie Stargell, LF; Willie McCovey, 1B; and Johnny Bench, C.
“I was 23. It was my fourth All-Star Game, but these were still my idols,” Bench told Kurkjian. “They were gods. You get to play with your heroes. I was standing next to McCovey, Al Kaline … I loved Al Kaline. When they came to the plate, it was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling.”
The NL pitching staff included a HOF rotation of Steve Carlton, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal, and Tom Seaver.
Rick Wise of the Phillies was also on the staff. He had his best season in ’71, going 17-14 with a 2.88 earned run average for a last-place team. On the night of June 23, 1971, Wise had the greatest game any MLB pitcher ever had: he no-hit the Reds, and hit a pair of homers.
He didn’t get to pitch in the All-Star game.
Oh, yes, Pete Rose was an NL reserve. “When I played the outfield,” the Hit King told Kurkjian, “I had to beat out Mays, Aaron, and Clemente to start. That was my competition. I mean, come on!”
The AL’s starting lineup included future HOFs Rod Carew [2B], Brooks Robinson [3B], Luis Aparicio [SS], Frank Robinson [RF] and Carl Yastrzemski [LF]. The only future HOF on the pitching staff was Jim Palmer.
“It was breathtaking being there,” Palmer told Kurkjian. “All those players, all those home runs, all in one game. It was unbelievable. It was so good Pete Rose didn’t even start. Tell him I said that!”
Ah, yes, those home runs. All 10 runs scored on homers, the six blasts tying an All-Star Game record. And each was hit by a future Hall of Famer. Bench hit a two-run homer in the second off AL starter Vida Blue. Aaron homered in the third. Incredibly, it was his first extra-base hit in an All-Star Game.
In the bottom of the third, Reggie Jackson pinch-hit for Blue, against NL starter Dock Ellis. This was the first All-Star Game featuring two Black starting pitchers. Jackson launched a legendary 520-foot, two-run homer that hit the transformer box at the base of a light tower on the roof at Tiger Stadium.
Teammate Sal Bando had advised Jackson not to strike out during the game. “Within two pitches, it was 0-and-2,” Jackson told Kurkjian. “I stepped out of the box and I said, ‘Oh, my God, Sal said, Buck, don’t strike out!’ So I choked up. Dock threw a ball. It was 1-and-2. Then I hit this ball up into the lights. The wind was blowing out that day. I connected with one. I was so proud. The first thing that entered my mind when I rounded third was, ‘Ok, Sal, I didn’t strike out!’”
Then, with two out and Carew on, Frank Robinson, the only man to win the MVP award in both leagues, became the first player to homer for both leagues in the All-Star Game.
The score remained 4-3 until the bottom of the sixth. Kaline thrilled his hometown fans with a pinch single. Killebrew then homered into the wind into the upper deck in left, off Jenkins.
Blue got the win, Ellis took the loss, and Tiger Mickey Lolich pitched the final two innings to pick up the first official save in All-Star history. But not before surrendering a homer to Clemente in the eighth. It would be Clemente’s final All-Star appearance.
The win was the AL’s first since 1962 and would be its only win until 1983.
“The NL always kicked our butts,” Jackson told Kurkjian. “It was finally good to win one.”