December 10, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Saturday, July 06, 2013
Thirty years ago, something happened that had never happened before, and has never happened since. Fred Lynn became the first (and still only) player to hit a grand slam in the All-Star Game.
It actually occurred in a rather special All-Star Game. July 6, 1983 was the 50th anniversary game. Since it had been exactly 50 years since the first one in 1933, the lords of baseball decided to hold it in the same facility, old Comiskey Park on the South Side of Chicago.
Heading into the game, the National League was the clear favorite to win. And why not—it had dominated recent All-Star Games to an absurd degree, winning 11 straight and 19 of the last 20. Not a single active player had been around last time the AL won back-to-back games, way back in 1957-58. While the AL had typically kept the games close, this was the All-Star Game, not horseshoes—close doesn’t count.
So it looked like more of the same old same old in the top of the first when the NL took a quick lead, thanks entirely to some terrible American League defense. Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax led off by grounding one to Blue Jays pitcher Dave Stieb, who fumbled it for an error. Sax then stole second and came around to score when Angels first baseman Rod Carew misplayed another ball. No hits, no walks, but two errors led to a run. Yeah, it looked like 20 out of 21 for the NL.
However, things soon changed. The AL scored a run in the bottom of the first and another in the bottom of the second. Incredibly, neither run was earned, because of a pair of NL errors. Through two innings, the game had four errors. Regardless of how ugly the play, it was 2-1 when the fateful third inning began.
NL starting pitcher Mario Soto was pulled by Whitey Herzog for Giants pitcher Atlee Hammaker, who at the time led the NL with an amazing 1.70 ERA. It’s a good thing for Hammaker that this outing didn’t count toward his ERA.
Jim Rice greeted Hammaker with a home run to make it 3-1 AL. Well, maybe it was just a nice swing. Maybe not—George Brett followed with a triple to center. Hmmmm .. maybe Hammaker doesn’t have his stuff? Well, he did respond to that by getting Ted Simmons to pop up for the first out. Let’s see what happens next.
What happens next is a Dave Winfield RBI single. 4-1 AL. Next, Manny Trillo singled, but then Doug DeCinces flew out, putting Hammaker one out from being done with this lousy inning.
Instead, Carew drove home Winfield to make it 5-1, and he and Trillo advanced to third and second respectively on the throw home. With defending AL MVP Robin Yount due up, and first base open, an intentional walk seemed a sensible move. That set up the force at every base.
And so up came Fred Lynn with the bases loaded against a struggling pitcher. And that’s how the only grand slam in All Star Game history happened. The AL now led 9-1, and it was pretty clear that it would end its losing streak in the midseason contest.
In fact, Lynn’s big shot isn’t just notable as the biggest blast in All-Star history, it’s also a turning point in All-Star Game history. The 1983 All Star game is arguably the last one that really mattered to both teams.
Once upon a time, the leagues had very clear and separate identities. Also, this was the only chance they had to play against each other. In the early decades of the game, trades weren’t allowed between the leagues, so there was a genuine rivalry. That had begun to erode as trades between the leagues became allowed, expanded, and common. Then came free agency, which further helped erode any strong sense of the leagues as institutions with different identities.
But still, both sides still really cared who won. The NL had the pride of extreme dominance, and the AL had the embarrassment of losing so many games. Lynn’s slam assured that the AL would finally end its drought, and so it did, triumphing 13-3.
In the years shortly after this game, the focus shifted. Because the 1983 contest became a blowout very quickly, almost all the starters soon left the game (which was unusual back then), and there was an effort to get as many guys in the game as possible. In fact, the 1983 All-Star Game became the first one where every team had at least one player make it on the field. Within a few years, that became common.
So Lynn’s grand slam is both one of a kind and a key moment in the transition of the All-Star Game. And it happened 30 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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