Povich Rewind: AL falls again in 1969 All-Star Game

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Povich Rewind: AL falls again in 1969 All-Star Game
Jul 16, 2018

Not only was the late Shirley Povich witness to the four previous Major League Baseball All-Star games played in Washington D.C. – 1937, 1956, 1962 and 1969 – he covered all of them for The Washington Post, the newspaper for which he worked for 75 years. Over the next month – until the 2018 game is played at Nationals Park on July 17 – the Povich Center will rewind Povich’s coverage of those games, courtesy of The Washington Post. Check back every Monday for updates.

By Shirley Povich

RFK STADIUM — It was little surmised after the flood-stage torrents of the previous night that by the third inning of the All-Star Game the American Leaguers would be praying for rain. It was their only hope. The National League All-Stars were already in front, 8-1, and refusing to relax.

The American League’s seventh year of famine, consecutive, in the All-Star Game series was virtually assured with the contest only one-third done. The 40th All-Star Game was, for the 45,259 in RFK Stadium, no longer a contest. It was quickly reduced to the level of an exhibition by individuals.

The opening ceremonial pitch was tossed out by a member of the White House second team, Spiro Agnew. Actually he threw out two balls, to the starting catchers of both leagues, Bill Freehan and Johnny Bench, and the Vice President’s delivery was superb. He showed a fast ball with control. For several innings after the game started Mr. Agnew could get votes as the best pitcher from any American League city.

The Washington Post Sports page from July 24, 1969. Shirley Povich’s coverage of the MLB All-Star Game at RFK Stadium can be seen on the left side of the page. Click for an enlarged version.

The stadium was sufficiently dehydrated for the game to commence on time, and if they could get five innings in the $417,832 in gate receipts would be saved. Also the considerable television revenue. The outfield was a bit mushy, but the athletes out there could rationalize that it was all for the benefit of their prospering pension fund.

That the American Leaguers were not at their best was apparent. Only a year ago they had battled the NL All-Stars to 1-0, albeit unsuccessfully. Now they were doing very badly and their lack of sleep was showing. That was it, they had underslept. It all goes back to a wayward bus driver who took the wrong turn Tuesday night with the AL All-Star team aboard after the heavy rains had washed out the original date of the game.

It can be reported, on oath, that the American League All-Stars were not returned to their hotel Tuesday night until near midnight, on a three-hour bus ride from the stadium to the Shoreham Hotel. Their bus wandered into Virginia, where the driver finally asked directions at a gas station. One hour later he still was unable to find the bridge to Washington and decided to ask questions again. “Holy smoke,” said Reggie Jackson, “the same gas station.”

Eventually they made it back to the All-Stars’ hotel headquarters, where some of them would rejoin baffled wives and families who were awaiting the return of their loved ones on the official bus. Leaving the bus, Mickey Lolich, the Detroit Tigers’ pitcher, bethought himself and asked the driver, “Will you give me a note? My wife will never believe this.”

While the American League was trafficking in such minutiae as three straight one-run innings, the NL bullies were pouring it on against AL pitching with two runs in the second and five in the third. The NL was playing very sound baseball, getting their leadoff hitter on base in each of the first two innings against Mel Stottlemyre. Both scored, as did several others who came to bat in the NL third against Blue Moon Odom, Oakland’s contribution to the carnage.

Frank Howard figured in two notable episodes, the first time he tried to catch a ball in left field, and the first time he came to bat. He did not catch the ball hit by Hank Aaron and he will not go down in history as one of the all-time great left fielders. Aaron was safe on the two-base error by Howard, which also helped create the first run of the ball game.

But the first time Howard came to bat, it was different. Off the St. Louis Cardinals’ No. 1 pitcher, Steve Carlton, he hit a ball that, if it ever came down, would be one of the longest home runs in RFK Stadium. It did, and it was. The thing cleared the clock, banged into the mezzanine in the upper deck of center field, and gave the Nation’s television fans a clue to why Washington baseball writers have been devoting so many panegyrics to the big guy.

The fifth inning was most extraordinary. For the first time, the NL failed to score. But this was not extremely important. They had gotten those five runs off Odom in the third on five hits that were abetted by shortstop Rico Petrocelli’s bobble of a ground ball. The boos for Petrocelli were impersonal and actually were cheers for a favorite absentee, Senator shortstop Eddie Brinkman, who was not voted onto the AL team.

It was in that third inning that Willie McCovey first made a nuisance of himself to AL pitching. He hit a home run with one on that was a rocket high against the right-center field wall. Next time up he hit another, to account for the NL’s ninth run of the game. But Willie wasn’t playing smart baseball. With Cincinnati’s Lee May crowding him for the NL home run lead, 30 to 29, McCovey’s two All-Star homers were an utter waste.

Mayo Smith of the AL began managing a smart game after it was hopelessly lost. With five runs across the plate in the NL third, he brought in the Senators’ relief pitching hero, Darold Knowles, a ploy that cut off the boos that were gathering in force. And later, Manager Smith wheeled in three shutout pitchers, who braked the National Leaguers to a stop with one hit in the last five innings. But by that time the AL had nothing to protect except a 9-3 deficit, which remained static. However, the game’s five home runs produced high fan excitement. Howard’s was the daddy of them all. When pitcher Carlton watched Big Frank trotting around the bases his expression could not be read with exactness, but there is certainty he wasn’t wishing Howard better luck next time.

Courtesy of The Washington Post. Originally printed on July 24, 1969.

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