Once every generation or so, Major League Baseball chooses Cincinnati to host its All-Star Game, the “mid-summer classic” that brings together the best players in one ball park.
When the first pitch is thrown Tuesday night from the Great American Ball Park mound by the National League starter, it will be the fifth time Cincinnati has hosted the All-Star Game since it began at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1933 and the first in the ball park that has been the Cincinnati Reds’ home since 2003.
The previous All-Star Games at Crosley Field and Riverfront Stadiums were not quite the week-long extravaganzas that this one will be – the modern day All-Star Game is a festival that lasts for five days. It’s no longer just a home run-hitting contest, followed the next day by a match-up of the American and National League All-Stars.
Now it is a five-day FanFest that will fill the Duke Energy Convention Center, a Futures Game giving the best minor league players from each team the chance to shine in a big-league ball park, a Legends Game, which is essentially a softball contest between former baseball stars and some celebrities from the entertainment world; a workout session and a Home Run Derby, and, lest we forget, an actual All-Star Game to be played Tuesday night.
Major League Baseball likes to constantly remind fans that, unlike the four previous All-Star games held here, the All-Star Game is more than a fun but meaningless night of watching the best and brightest from both leagues – it counts for something now, Major League Baseball says. The winner of Tuesday night’s game will see its league champion at the end of the regular season have the home field advantage in the World Series.
They may not have had all the hoopla and hype of this year’s All-Star games, but those previous four All Star games – two at Crosley Field, two at Riverfront Stadium – are forever a part of the lore of the Cincinnati Reds, the first professional baseball team and an organization with a deep and rich history.
Each had its special memories for generations of Reds fans:
It was the city’s Bicentennial year; and the All Star game that drew a standing room only crowd of 55,837 to the round stadium on the riverfront was the capstone of a year-long celebration of the city’s history.
Three Reds were on the National League roster for that game – a 26-year-old rookie third baseman named Chris Sabo, who would go on to be the National League Rookie of the Year that season; shortstop Barry Larkin, now in baseball’s Hall of Fame and then only in his second full season as a major leaguer; and pitcher Danny Jackson, who would have an astounding 23 wins and only eight losses that year.
Two years later, Sabo, Larkin and Jackson would be major contributions to the “wire-to-wire” Reds team that stayed in first place all season and sweep the Oakland A’s in the World Series.
Larkin went 0-2 as a sub in that game, while Sabo made an appearance as a pinch-runner; and Jackson didn’t get into the game.
Much to the chagrin of the National League crowd that jammed Riverfront Stadium, it was the unlikeliest of All Stars who was the hero and MVP of the game – Terry Steinbach, a catcher for the Oakland A’s, who hit a solo home run and drove in another run on sacrifice fly to give the American League a 2-1 victory.
Steinbach, the unlikely hero, earned himself a place in baseball history that night at Riverfront Stadium – he became the only player in Major League Baseball history to hit a home run in his first career at-bat and his first at-bat in an All-Star game.
Needless, the fans of the Reds and the National League on hand at Riverfront were not altogether thrilled with Steinbach’s performance.
You can read the box score here.
Pete Rose. Ray Fosse.
Those are the two names that baseball fans will remember forever from the 1970 All Star Game at Riverfront Stadium, where a crowd of 51,838 watched President Richard Nixon throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Their collision at home plate in the bottom of the 12th inning, which had Rose bowling over Fosse to score the winning run, has become an iconic image in baseball in the years since.
Rose was by no means the only Red on that 1970 National League team. It was the dawn of the Big Red Machine era - Johnny Bench was the starting catcher; and third baseman Tony Perez and pitcher Jim Merritt were also on the squad.
Bench went 0-3 in that game – struck out three times. Perez, the starting third baseman, went to the plate three times and struck out twice. Merritt followed starter Tom Seaver of the Mets and pitched two shut-out innings.
But it was Rose who stole the show at Riverfront in a play at home plate in the 12th inning that baseball fans are still talking about – and arguing about – 45 years later.
In the bottom of the 12th, with the score tied 4-4, Rose singled and went to second on a single by infielder Billy Grabarkewitz of the Dodgers.
Then Jim Hickman of the Cubs stepped to the plate and stroked a single to center field. Amos Otis, the outfielder from the Kansas City Royals charged in, scooped up the ball and fired a bullet to home plate, with Rose rounding third.
Fosse, a catcher for the Cleveland Indians, blocked the plate, but Rose tucked in his head and slammed into Fosse, sending him flying. Rose was called safe; and the National League had won its eighth straight All Star game.
Fosse was hurt on the play; and his baseball career was never the same after that collision. Many blamed Rose for the hit, but Fosse himself said Rose had done nothing wrong – it was his job to block the plate and Rose’s job to take him out.
It has gone down in baseball as perhaps the most exciting end to an All Star game.
You can read the box score here.
This was not a great year for the Reds, by any means.
They ended up in sixth place in a National League that, in those days, had eight teams, with a record of 68 wins and 86 losses.
But Crosley Field, the old bandbox of a ball park at the corner of Findlay Street and Western Avenue, played host to the All Star game that summer.
A crowd of 30,846 packed into the stands at Crosley on July 14 to root for a National League that featured future Hall of Famers like Stan Musial, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Warren Spahn and others.
The Reds had only two players on that National League club – the mighty slugger Ted Kluszewski, who started at first base and went 1-3; and outfielder Gus Bell, who started for the Nationals in centerfield and went hitless in three at bats.
The National League ended up winning the game 5-1.
It was a game that featured one of the great defensive plays of All Star Game history. Outfielder Enos Slaughter of the St. Louis Cardinals ran down a line drive by the Tigers’ Harvey Kuenn, diving along the right field line in what seemed to be an impossible catch.
And the crowd got to see the legendary Satchel Paige, , who was 47 at the time. He had reached the Major Leagues in 1948, the year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and became the first black player in Major League Baseball. Once Paige, who pitched for the St. Louis Browns, reached the big leagues, many of the game’s greatest hitters said he was the toughest pitcher they had ever faced. But July 14, 1953 at Crosley Field was not Paige’s day – he pitched the eighth inning but ended up giving up three hits and two runs.
Read the box score here.
The 1938 All Star game – only the sixth in history – took place at Crosley Field on July 6 before a crowd of 27,607. And it was a game where the National League squad was victorious – 4-0.
No less than five Reds were named to that National League squad – catcher Ernie Lombardi, first baseman Frank McCormick, outfielder Ival Goodman, and pitchers Bucky Walters, Johnny Vander Meer and Paul Derringer.
It was a harbinger of good things to come for the Reds – the next season, they won the National League pennant, only to lose the World Series to the New York Yankees; and, in 1940, they repeated as National League champs and won the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
McCormick was involved in one of the strangest plays in All-Star history – a “home run bunt” by Dodger Leo Durocher.
What happened was this: McCormick led off the seventh with a single. Durocher, the next batter, was given the bunt sign. Durocher laid down the bunt; and American League third baseman Jimmy Foxx charged in to field it. But Foxx’s throw to first went sailing into right field. The great Joe DiMaggio, playing right field that day instead of his customary center field, picked up the ball and fired it home. But the throw went sailing over the head of Yankees’ catcher Bill Dickey and McCormick scored. Durocher never stopped running and scampered home to score.
Durocher’s bunt didn’t go down in the box score as a home run, but it has always been known as the “home run bunt.”
Vander Meer – who, that same summer, made history by pitching back-to-back no-hitters – was the winning pitcher in a game the Nationals won 4-1.
Read the box score here.