10 greatest All-Star Games ever

It’s that time of year. A little later than normal, but just like every July, the All-Star Game is upon us. We’ve had 83 over the previous 80 years (there were two per season from 1959 to 62, and in 1945 baseball cancelled the game due to World War II). With that many, it makes sense to look back and see what were some of the most exciting and greatest contests ever.

The list below isn’t intended as a litany of the most memorable moments. A lot of those came in games that weren’t always very memorable. For example, while people still remember Reggie Jackson’s monster homer in the 1971 game, or Fred Lynn’s grand slam in 1983, those games themselves weren’t all that special. We’re looking at the overall game, not just the moment.

Based on that, here’s a list of the greatest All-Star Games.

10. July 7, 1964: NL 7, AL 4

This was a fun back-and-forth game for quite a while. The American League took an early 1-0 lead when Harmon Killebrew singled home Jim Fregosi in the top of the first, but the National League crawled back for a 3-1 edge by the end of the fifth.

The AL wouldn’t stay down, though, as Brooks Robinson tripled home a pair in the sixth and Fregosi drove home the go-ahead run in the seventh.

(Yes, starting shortstop Fregosi was still in the game. He was one of four AL players to last the entire game, as did three NL starters. It would’ve been more, but the AL pulled Mickey Mantle for a fielding replacement in the ninth, and the NL used a pinch runner for Orlando Cepeda at the end, as well. The leagues actually cared about the All-Star Game back then).

AL reliever Dick Radatz easily retired the side in the eight, putting the AL just three outs from victory. The ninth didn’t go the way he wanted it to, though.

Leadoff hitter Willie Mays—one of the men who played all nine innings—drew a walk and then stole second. That turned out to be a key baserunning feat, for it allowed Mays to score when Cepeda hit a blooping pop to shallow right that no one could get to in time.

First baseman Joe Pepitone tried to nail Mays out at the plate but threw it away instead, allowing Cepeda to advance to second.

Now it was 4-4. With Cepeda representing the winning run, NL manager Walter Alston pulled him for pinch-runner Curt Flood. AL skipper Al Lopez left Radatz in despite having Whitey Ford, Jack Kralick, Gary Peters, and Juan Pizarro on hand in his bullpen. It was a different time.

For a bit, Radatz make Lopez look smart. He retired Ken Boyer on a pop-up and then intentionally walked the next batter in hopes of getting a double play. However, with Ron Hunt coming up next, Walter Alston knew this would be a good time for a pinch hitter. As it happened, he had this nice hitter named Hank Aaron sitting on his bench. Uh-oh. No worries for Radatz, though; he fanned Bad Henry. It looked like he’d get out of this jam after all and send the contest into extras.

Or not. Outfielder Johnny Callison came up next and promptly smacked one out of Shea Stadium for a three-run, walk-off homer and a 7-4 NL win. It became the second straight NL All-Star victory, a streak that would go on for quite a bit longer.

Fun fact: until this week, that’s still the only All-Star Game to take place in the Mets’ home stadium.

9. July 11, 1967: NL 2, AL 1 (15)

46,309 fans got to see the greatest pitching duel in All-Star Game history. Dick Allen hit a homer to lead off the second inning against Dean Chance, but that was it for the NL for quite some time. They could muster just three hits in the first eight innings. It looked like that would be enough until Brooks Robinson matched it with a solo shot in the sixth.

So it went for nine more innings until Tony Perez went deep against 21-year-old Catfish Hunter. You could excuse Hunter for the bad pitch. It was, after all, his fifth inning of work against the NL. AL manager Hank Bauer really wanted this one. He left six of eight starting position players in all game long.

It was the fifth straight All-Star Game won by the NL.

8. July 25, 1972: NL 4, AL 3 (10)

The AL was so close to victory they could just taste it. They had just battled to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth on a two-run homer by, of all people, Cookie Rojas. He’d hit just three homers in 1972—four if you include this one—but he’d come through in this crucial spot.

Heading into the bottom of the ninth, the junior circuit just needed Wilbur Wood to hold on. Instead, he gave up a pair of singles and a productive groundout to tie it up, 3-3.

Okay, but it wasn’t over yet. True, but it soon would be. In the 10th, Padres star Nate Colbert said hello to new pitcher Dave McNally by drawing a walk. Shortstop Chris Speier advanced McNally to second on a bunt, allowing Joe Morgan to drive him in on a walk-off single. Once again, the NL had won a nail-biter with late-inning drama.

For the NL, it was sweet revenge for having lost the previous year’s contest and gave them nine wins in the last 10 Midseason Classics.

7. July 9, 1941: AL 7, NL 5

When I first thought up this column, I assumed this would be the easy pick for the top slot. This isn’t simply a great game; it features the most famous ending of any All-Star contest. But when I looked them over, some games just struck me as more impressive.

About that ending. In the bottom of the ninth, with two on, two out, and the AL trailing by a run, Splendid Splinter Ted Williams came to the plate and promptly knocked an offering from Claude Passeau out of the park for a walk-off, 7-5 AL win. The footage of Williams clapping his hands in celebration as he rounded first is one of the great visuals of the All-Star Game. It was a great moment for one of the game’s greatest hitters in the midst of his greatest season ever, the year he hit .406.

It’s worth noting that the comeback was already well under way before Williams came to the plate. The AL began the inning trailing by three runs, and three of the first four batters reached base. Then Joe DiMaggio hit an RBI grounder to make it 7-5 and set up Williams for his moment of glory.

6. July 11, 1961: NL 5, AL 4 (10)

This was the first of two All-Star Games they had in 1961 and one well-remembered in its own right for a bizarre and iconic moment. It wasn’t an iconic moment in the history of All-Star history as much as it was the ultimate moment in the history of the stadium hosting it: San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.

For eight innings, things went nice and normal. The NL took a 3-1 lead into the ninth and then rued that they hadn’t played more quickly. In the ninth, Candlestick became the Candlestick people still have nightmares about. The wind picked up and went nuts. Not only was it cold and awkward, but the balls began to travel in that weird wind that only the Bay Area has.

The AL plated a run and had runners on first and second when NL manager Danny Murtaugh did the worst thing possible. He put in the physically slight Stu Miller. Though a great reliever, the nominally 165-lb. reliever was the worst person to deal with those conditions, a fact immediately proven when the wind essentially blew him off the mound. It’s the moment that forever established the park’s reputation as a wind tunnel, and his motion went for a balk, putting the tying run on third.

That was just the beginning of the fun for the NL. They committed three wind-aided errors between the balk and the third out, counting themselves lucky that the score was merely tied, 3-3.

In the 10th, Miller managed to beat the wind by not putting the ball in play, fanning the first two batters. But after a walk, the worst thing that could possibly happen happened: a batter hit one to third base. The wind turned it into yet another error, and now the AL led, 4-3.

But the NL still had to bat. AL pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm relied on his knuckler, which uses the air to move it to the plate. Maybe it was the windy air or maybe Wilhelm just didn’t have it, but he allowed two singles, a double, a hit batsmen, and a passed ball to give the NL a stunning, 5-4 comeback win.

It was the most bizarre great ending of any All-Star Game ever.

5. July 15, 2008: AL 4, NL 3 (15)

Purely on points, this is the greatest All-Star Game of them all. It had plenty of late drama and more clutch plate appearances than any other of these games.

But, like all recent contests, it suffers from one crippling flaw: no one really cared. Once upon a team, both leagues really did want to win, but that changed. I’d mark the NL finally winning in 1983 as the turning point that shifted the game from a competition to some midsummer goof-off session. Lord knows I can’t imagine the Fox coverage paid much attention to the drama.

So this one is knocked out of its otherwise rightful place in first, but because the game really was something, it makes the list anyway.

At the seventh-inning stretch, the NL led 2-0. Then the fun began. First, J.D. Drew tied it in the bottom of the seventh with a two-run bomb. When the NL immediately went ahead in the eighth, Evan Longoria tied it in the bottom half of the frame on a ground-rule double to make it 3-3. After plenty of late twists and turns, the game was tied.

Though another seven innings would pass until another run would score, those in-between innings did not want for drama. In the 10th, the AL loaded the bases with no outs (thanks to back-to-back errors by second baseman Dan Uggla). However, the NL got out with some nice defense, gunning down two straight runners at the plate on infield grounders and then getting another ground ball to end the inning.

No matter, because the AL had three singles and a walk in the bottom of the 11th. Wait, if they got three singles and walk in the 11th, how come the gain went 15? Well, Ian Kinsler was caught stealing, and Dioner Navarro was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on a single. That’s three guys out at the plate in two innings! And in overtime, no less.

It looked like the NL was going to make the AL pay for their wasted out in the 12th when the senior circuit loaded the bases with two outs. Yeah, but reliever George Sherrill entered and got a strikeout to prolong the game. In the bottom of the 12th, the AL put runners on second and third with two outs but once again couldn’t plate them. That had to have been maddening.

In the 15th, the AL loaded the bases again, and this time, finally, mercifully, scored on a sacrifice fly by Michael Young. It was the first-ever AL win in an extra-inning All Star Game.

4. July 12, 1955: NL 6, AL 5 (12)

Well looky here, it’s the biggest blown lead in All-Star history. The AL jumped out to an early 5-0 lead and had it in cruise control through six innings. Then Whitey Ford came in the game in the seventh, and with some “help” from a defensive error behind him, allowed two unearned runs.

However, he and reliever Frank Sullivan combined to allow another three runs in the eighth. Now it was tied, 5-5. And so it remained until Stan Musial smacked a walk-off homer in the eighth to send the senior circuit home happy.

3. July 17, 1979: NL 7, AL 6

This game had more twists and turns and lead changes than just about any other All-Star Game.

First, the NL went ahead, 2-0. Then the AL struck back for a 3-2 advantage of its own. Before they could get comfortable, the NL leapt ahead again, 4-3. However, the AL struck back for a 5-4 edge. Impressive, no? And that was just the first three innings.

Things settled down after that rollicking start but stayed hard-fought. Gary Carter tied it with an RBI single in the top of the sixth, but a few minutes later a Bruce Bochte single made it 6-5 in favor of the AL. The American League was on the verge of just its second All-Star win since 1962, but of course that didn’t happen.

Lee Mazzilli of the Mets tied it with a homer off Jim Kern in the eighth. Kern stuck around in the ninth, where he loaded the bases with two outs. Entering in relief, Louisiana Lightning Ron Guidry let in the winning run in the most ignoble manner: he walked in the run. The NL had won their 16th of the last 17.

2. July 13, 1954: AL 11, NL 9

If you like slugfests, this is the All-Star Game for you. And I like slugfests. It’s a gaudier and more offensively explosive version of the 1979 game, with plenty of back-and-forth.

The AL took a 4-0 lead against Robin Roberts, only to see reliever Sandy Consuegra (whoever the hell he was) give up five runs in a third of an inning in the top of the fourth. The AL tied it in the bottom of the fourth, 5-5. But the by the end of the fifth it was 7-7.

Heading into the eighth, the AL clung to a narrow 8-7 lead, but everyone knew that, in this game, one run wasn’t much of a lead. Gus Bell tried to play hero, smacking a two-run pinch hit homer in the eighth, but that just gave the NL a too-narrow one-run lead. Sure enough, a Larry Doby solo shot tied it, and a two-run, two-out single by Nellie Fox provided the margin of difference.

1. July 14, 1970: NL 5, AL 4 (12)

Sometimes you get lucky and find one of the greatest games featuring one of the most famous moments in All-Star Game history.

This one is famous for its last play. In the bottom of the 12th, Jim Hickman connected for a single to center, and Pete Rose tore around third and collided with Indians catcher Ray Fosse at the plate to score the winning run, a play that (in)famously left Fosse injured.

It’s worth noting that even prior to that heart-stopping finale, this was already an all-time great All-Star Game.

The AL was up 4-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth and looked like they finally were going to win one. After losing seven straight to the NL, the AL players were going to end the day as champions.

Instead, Catfish Hunter allowed a homer by catcher Dick Dietz to begin the inning, making it 4-2. Two of the next three batters reached base against Hunter, causing Earl Weaver to pull him for Yankees pitcher Fritz Peterson. Peterson immediately surrendered an RBI single to Willie McCovey.

Second baseman Joe Morgan glided into third base as the tying run and still just one out. Mel Stottlemyre came in to nail things down and retired both batters he faced, but the first was a liner to center that allowed Morgan to score.

Incredibly, down to their last inning, the NL scored thrice to tie the game. Is it at all surprising that the AL ended up losing in heartbreaking (and Fosse-breaking) fashion later on.

The NL had an incredible run of dominance from 1963 to 82, during which time it lost just one All-Star Game, doing so by winning an amazing number of squeakers.

References & Resources
Info comes from Baseball-Reference.com

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Comments

  1. Fabio said...

    oh, come on man, 1971 not in the top 10? two rosters full of hall of famers, 6 homeruns by 6 different hall of famers, Reggie blasting the ball to the canadian border.. what else did you want?

  2. Jim said...

    Consuegra was kinda like the Jason Grilli of this year.  Enjoying a career year and named to the All-Star game.

    Nice summary.  Glad you didn’t stick entirely with 21st Century games.

    I just looked at this year’s roster and there’s one HOFer, Rivera listed.  Probably Ortiz also.  But for the rest, they are still too young in their careers to say one way or another.  The younger players are so numerous that the older ones don’t get in (Ichiro), or are hurt (Jeter).  No sentimental players this year.

    To enforce your point on not caring, when the game was here in Denver in 1998, I had a chance to go for $40, but turned it down for that reason.  They just want to put in an appearance and then get on with their vacation.  Would we act differently?  Probably not.  As you like to say, times were different back then.

  3. Paul E said...

    Never notice this before, but the NL vote – in “starters” combined to go 2 for 19 in the victory in 1970

  4. John said...

    In the age of bb-ref the phrase “whoever the hell he was” should never appear in an article like this.

  5. John C said...

    My memory of the time when teams stopped using players for extended stints in the ASG has more to do with an obnoxious owner than the leagues simply stopped caring who won or lost.

    In 1987, the game went for 13 innings, the first 12 of them with no score. John McNamara, managing the AL team, let Dave Winfield play the entire game. For whatever reason, George Steinbrenner was mad about that, and complained in the media for weeks. He even had the Yankees’ media releases state “After playing 13 innings in the All-Star Game, Dave Winfield…” when referring to him.

    Managers have been more judicious about making sure they use every player and don’t keep anyone in the game too long ever since.

  6. chris said...

    Having attended the 1971 game and vividly remembering the very good but lesser 1970 and 1972 games I’d have to concur with the other readers.  The ‘71 games was truly special.  Reggie hitting his shot off the light tower, the American actually winning a game, breaking a long drought.  It was compelling stuff.

  7. gc said...

    “Then Joe DiMaggio hit an RBI grounder to make it 7-5 and set up Williams for his moment of glory.”
    presume that was 5-4.

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