BLACKFOOT – With the 2019 Major League Baseball All-Star game on the horizon (Tuesday night), it only seems fitting that we have another edition of “It’s My Dime,” featuring the 10 best MLB All-Star games.
Now, this is not an issue of me picking my favorites and not giving you a chance to argue for your favorite. There are many reasons to have a favorite, it may be a game that you attended or remember fondly for any number of reasons from your favorite player hitting a game-winning home run or something else like it was a game that your father took you to or that you took your kids to. Anything can make a game a great game in your mind.
These are simply the games over the course of history that have stuck in my mind and are some of my favorites.
If you disagree, please feel free to contact me and let’s discuss the reasons. I can be persuaded pretty easily if you make a good enough case.
Nearly a century’s worth of All-Star Games have brought us a little bit of everything: walk-offs, spectacular defense and dominant pitching performances, to name a few. But some classics have truly lived up to the nickname, thrilling fans from start to finish with heart-pounding drama and unforgettable story lines. Below is a ranking of the 10 most memorable showdowns between the American and National Leagues. These are my picks so feel free to let me know what your picks are and why.
1. 1994 — NL 8, AL 7 (10 innings)
The NL was determined to snap a six-year losing streak, and it needed all their mettle to overcome the American League in this one. The game began with a first pitch from Willie Stargell to the delight of the Pittsburgh crowd at Three Rivers Stadium. The leagues traded leads twice until the bottom of the ninth, when the NL erased a two-run deficit thanks to Craig Biggio’s hustle to beat out a double play and Fred McGriff’s game-tying, pinch-hit homer off Lee Smith. McGriff’s dramatic blast sent this one into the 10th, when Tony Gwynn led off with a single and then motored home for the winning run on Moises Alou’s double to the gap. The play got this response from Gwynn after the play: “It’s the only time in my career I really acted like I was in high school,” Gwynn later recalled. “[I just let out] a spontaneous, ‘Yeah!’”
2. 2008 — AL 4, NL 3 (15 innings)
This game took place in the old Yankee Stadium and the biggest stars in baseball almost seemed intent on giving the fans a taste of old style baseball.
Josh Hamilton led off the festivities with a mind-boggling 28 home runs in the first round of the Home Run Derby, while Twins star Justin Morneau eventually outlasted Hamilton to take home the derby crown.
The following night became an instant classic. Miguel Tejada scored on Adrián González’s sacrifice fly to give the NL a one-run lead in the top of the eighth, but Evan Longoria’s ground-rule RBI double tied it up in the bottom half. The National League forced out two potential game-winning runs at home plate in the bottom of the 10th, and then Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth threw out Rays catcher Dioner Navarro at home in the 11th. The NL had its own chance to score with the bases loaded in the top of the 12th before Joakim Soria and George Sherrill struck out back-to-back hitters to strand the runners. On the game went into the 15th inning, tying for the longest All-Star contest in history, when Morneau raced home to score on Michael Young’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly and give the AL a hard-earned marathon win.
3. 1970 — NL 5, AL 4 (12 innings)
This was the famous game where Pete Rose ran over catcher Ray Fosse to win the game and ended Fosse’s career. Cincinnati completed state-of-the-art Riverfront Stadium just in time for the 1970 midsummer classic, and Reds fans were treated to five of their own stars (Johnny Bench, Jim Merritt, Tony Perez, Pete Rose and Wayne Simpson) on the NL roster. President Richard Nixon delivered the first pitch, becoming just the second sitting U.S. president to attend the All-Star Game after Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937.
The pomp and circumstance coming into the game was topped by the action on the field. Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer delivered on a pitching match-up for the ages by trading three shutout innings apiece. The AL eventually took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth, where Giants catcher Dick Dietz led off with a homer off Catfish Hunter. The NL scored two more runs on Willie McCovey’s RBI single and Roberto Clemente’s sac fly to send the game into extras. The real fireworks set off in the bottom of the 12th, when Jim Hickman singled and Rose thundered toward home plate and barreled into Indians catcher Ray Fosse to jar the relay throw loose. The NL won the game, but Fosse suffered a career-altering separated shoulder after one of the most famous moments in All-Star Game history.
4. 2003 — AL 7, NL 6
This game began with some old-school flair, as the center-field scoreboard at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field (now Guaranteed Rate Field) shot off fireworks during the National Anthem in a nod to the old Comiskey Park.
It was also a game that the National League felt that if they could get to the ninth inning with a lead, they would win it. After all, the Dodgers’ Eric Gagne was in the midst of a string of 84 consecutive successful saves in the regular season. He was also in the middle of his “perfect” 2003 season where he was 55 for 55 in save opportunities.
It ended with a genuine shocker. Dodgers closer Eric Gagne came on with a two-run lead in the eighth and allowed an RBI single to Vernon Wells and a huge, two-run homer to Hank Blalock. Red Sox closer Keith Foulke held up his end with a perfect ninth, and Angels slugger Garret Anderson (3-for-4 with a double and a homer) took home the game’s MVP honors one night after winning the Home Run Derby.
5. 1961 (first game) — NL 5, AL 4 (10 innings)
This Midsummer Classic saved its drama for the end. The NL carried a 3-1 lead into the top of the ninth, when Al Kaline singled home Nellie Fox. Sandy Koufax, making his first All-Star Game appearance, gave up a single to Roger Maris in his only batter faced, and then a balk and an error brought Kaline home for the game-tying run. The AL went on to load the bases with two outs, but manager Paul Richards chose to leave pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm in to bat. Wilhelm, a career .088 hitter over 493 plate appearances, flied out to left.
The American League jumped ahead in the top of the 10th when Nellie Fox scored on another NL error, but Maris, who would hit a then-record 61 home runs during the regular season, struck out to strand Detroit’s Al Kaline at third. That left the door open for the bottom of the 10th, when Willie Mays doubled home Hank Aaron to tie the game at 4. If that’s not enough star power for you, Roberto Clemente ended the game two batters later with a walk-off single off Wilhelm to right field.
The two leagues were about as evenly matched as one can imagine in ‘61, as they played to a 1-1 tie in the summer’s second All-Star contest three weeks later (from 1959-1962, two All-Star Games were played).
6. 1955 — NL 6, AL 5 (12 innings)
This one appeared to be wrapped up early when the AL put up four first-inning runs on a wild pitch and a three-run homer by Mickey Mantle. The American League would tack on another run later to carry a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh. That is when Willie Mays and Hank Aaron scored to trim the deficit to three. Mays came home again the next inning on Randy Jackson’s RBI single, followed by Aaron’s two-run game-tying single. The contest remained locked at 5 until the bottom of the 12th, when St. Louis Cardinals legend Stan Musial hit the first pitch he saw from Red Sox pitcher Frank Sullivan for a walk-off homer.
Rumor has it that Musial turned to AL catcher Yogi Berra and said “Let’s end this thing,” (to which Berra replied, “I’m tired”) before doing just that. Stan the Man’s walk-off continues to rank among many fans’ favorite All-Star Game moment.
7. 1950 — NL 4, AL 3 (14 innings)
This was the first time that the All Star Game would go into extra innings. “Free baseball” and it came in the All-Star Game. If you like late-game heroics, this one’s for you. The AL looked to be on the cusp of its 13th victory in the All-Star Game’s first 17 iterations until Pirates star Ralph Kiner clubbed a long game-tying homer to lead off the top of the ninth. That set forth a series of extra innings in the Midsummer Classic. The two leagues traded zeros four the next four innings. Cardinals star Red Schoendienst — who had sat on the bench for the game’s first 10 1/2 innings — finally broke the deadlock with a solo shot to lead off the 14th, but Bob Feller, one of the game’s star pitchers who was a strikeout artist, came in to snuff out any additional NL runs. Ferris Fain reached on a single in the bottom half, bringing a crowd of 46,126 at Comiskey Park on its feet for the Yankees Joe DiMaggio. Reds pitcher Ewell Blackwell won the day, however, getting the iconic slugger to ground into a double play and bring this thrilling contest to an end.
This All-Star Game went on to have a lasting effect: Ted Williams ran into the wall on a first-inning catch attempt and broke his elbow, but stayed in the game to go 1-for-4. He underwent surgery after the game and did not return until early September.
8. 1979 — NL 7, AL 6
The 50th Midsummer Classic was held at the Kingdome in Seattle, and was a memorable one for Mets centerfielder Lee Mazzilli, who made the most of the only All-Star Game of his 14-year career. Pinch-hitting for Gary Matthews in the top of the eighth, Mazzilli (who finished his career with just 93 home runs over 4,831 plate appearances) took Jim Kern deep to tie the game at 6. In the next frame, it was Mazzilli who drew a bases-loaded walk off Yankees ace Ron Guidry to bring in the go-ahead run.
Mazzilli wasn’t the NL’s only hero; the ‘79 All-Star Game is arguably remembered more for the defense of outfielder Dave Parker. The Pirates star gunned down Boston’s Jim Rice with a throw to third base in the seventh, then followed with an unbelievable throw on the fly to nail California Angel Brian Downing at home plate in the eighth to set the stage for Mazzilli’s unlikely heroics.
Sometimes you just never know who the stars really are until they reach the All-Star game.
9. 1941 — AL 7, NL 5
Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t around to watch this game, but the accounts that I have read about this year are pretty tremendous. The 1941 season was, of course, a special one for Williams and his year-end .406 batting average, the last time that any player in the Major Leagues would hit above the .400 mark. But if the ‘41 All-Star Game wasn’t exactly Williams’ coming-out party (he led the majors with 145 RBIs as a rookie two years prior), it might have catapulted him to another level of stardom nonetheless.
Williams’ average stood at .405 when he suited up for his second Midsummer Classic, but he and his AL companions trailed, 5-3, in the top of the ninth. The American League loaded the bases for DiMaggio (in the midst of his own magical season in which he compiled his 56-game hit streak), who beat out a double-play grounder to keep the rally alive. That set the stage for Williams, who belted a fastball from Cubs pitcher Claude Passeau into the right-field stands for a walk-off homer — and one of the most famous home runs in All-Star Game history.
Once again, you never know for sure who the “Star of the Game” might be until the final out has been played.
10. 2002 — NL 7, AL 7 (11 innings)
This is the only All-Star Game that ended in a tie. It is also famous for a number of other things. The 2002 All-Star Game at Milwaukee’s Miller Park had the farthest-reaching impact of any Midsummer Classic thanks to its ending. But one shouldn’t overlook the moments that happened before the final pitch. Red Sox All-Stars Johnny Damon, Nomar Garciaparra and Ugueth Urbina unveiled a No. 9 in the outfield grass in honor of the late Ted Williams, who had passed away days before. Torii Hunter made perhaps the greatest catch in All-Star Game history in the bottom of the first, leaping over the wall to rob Barry Bonds — and getting a playful earful from the Giants slugger on his way back to the dugout. Bonds got his revenge two innings later with an absolute laser home run off Roy Halladay.
But, of course, this game is remembered for its ending. The leagues remained deadlocked after the top of the 11th, and managers Bob Brenly and Joe Torre met with Commissioner Bud Selig by the first-base dugout. Selig declared that the game would end in a tie if the NL didn’t score in the bottom half, and Freddy Garcia pitched a scoreless 11th. Part of the issue was that the American League was down to their last player, pitchers included, and the commissioner felt that it wouldn’t be fair if the teams had to resort to using regular position players to complete the game on the mound as they would have done in the regular season. This decision has led to an expanded roster for the teams and at least one player from each team being represented. The teams also play every one on the team whenever possible, so many changes came about because of the outcome of this one game. The game’s controversial tie led Major League Baseball to award home-field advantage in the World Series to the team from the winning league in the All-Star Game, beginning the following season, in an effort to add competitive incentive to the showcase game. That system would remain in place through the 2016 season.
There you have it, my picks for the ten best Major League All-Star games in history. This year’s game will take place in Cleveland and will be held on Tuesday evening.
I hope that everyone who loves baseball will take this chance to watch and create some memories on the Midsummer Classic. We are at the so-called halfway mark of the baseball season and things will be heating up for many of the teams as contenders try to bolster their rosters and teams out of contention may begin the process of rebuilding a bit early for 2020.
In any case, enjoy and if you disagree with my selections, drop me a line and we can discuss and you will have a chance to make your case. Who knows, maybe you will convince me and I will change my tune a bit! PLAY BALL!
(Major League Baseball and Matt Kelly contributed to this article)