Monday, July 12, 2010

2010 All-Star Game revives memories of 15 inning epic in 1967

As Major League Baseball finishes the first half of the regular season, fans and baseball's elite will descend upon Angel Stadium as it hosts its third All-Star Game. Anaheim's previous contests hold a tremendous amount of significance in the history of the midsummer classic. The first contest in Anaheim on July 11, 1967 went 15 innings with the 2-1 National League victory being decided by a 15th inning home run courtesy of Tony Perez. Ironically, each of the three third basemen playing in the game provided the scoring via home run. The 1967 game would mark a record for the longest game in All-Star Game history, which lasted for 41 years when the 2008 game also spanned 15 innings.

Freehan catches all 15 innings

As foreign as it sounds today in an All-Star Game, ten of the sixteen position players who started the game played the game in its entirety. American League catcher Bill Freehan of the Detroit Tigers was behind the dish for the whole game and recounted some of his experiences of that epic contest during a recent interview.

"If you look back to that All-Star Game, it reads like a who's who of the Hall of Fame," said Freehan from his Michigan home.

Manager Hank Bauer elected to keep Freehan in the game when he had two other catchers ready to go in.

"I was surprised," he said. "He came to me and asked, 'Are you okay? Are you okay? Can you keep going?' He was afraid that I was going to be worn out. In the papers, the next day Mayo Smith jokingly said that Bauer was trying to wear me out for the pennant race. I replied to Bauer, 'Heck yeah! [I can keep going.] We're trying to win this thing.' Unfortunately we didn't. It was fun to do it though, and that game is still a record. The other two catchers [Paul Casanova and Andy Etchebarren] were good players, but I think that it had something to do with me having prior All-Star experience that factored into Bauer sticking with me during a tight game."

A close view from the dugout

Freehan's iron man status left first-time All-Star Casanova on the outside looking in. That was Casanova's clearest memory of the game.

"They played 15 innings and I never got in the game," said Casanova via telephone. "You don't let a guy go to the All-Star Game and catch 15 innings. The only reason he [Bauer] never played me is because he didn't want Andy Etchebarren to feel bad about it. I was picked as the number two catcher. He brought Etchebarren on his own. He didn't want to play me ahead of Etchebarren. That's the only reason he did it."

Casanova recalled Senators manager Gil Hodges later approaching Bauer about Casanova's benching.

"Gil [Hodges] got mad at him," he said. "When we went back to Washington, we played Baltimore at home. Gil called him to the side and said, 'If you would have played Casanova, you guys would have won the game because he hit good in Anaheim. (Casanova hit .432 at Anaheim Stadium that year with two home runs.) He [Bauer] said, 'I don't want to him to feel bad about it because I don't want Andy to feel bad.'"

Another player who also watched from the bench was Indians pitcher Steve Hargan. A few of the pitchers didn't appear in the game because they had pitched the day before, but Hargan was the victim of a freak injury that prevented him from helping out the American League club.

"The last game with the Indians prior to the All-Star Game, I pulled a leg muscle rounding third," said Hargan speaking from his California home. "I got caught in the grass and pulled a hamstring, so I could hardly walk; that's the reason why I didn't pitch that day."

It dampened what was one of the highlights of Hargan's career.

"I felt bad about [the game] going that long and not being able to pitch. Catfish [Hunter] pitched five innings. Here it was one of the most important games in my life, [and I was hurt]. That was my biggest recollection of not being able to participate because of pulling a muscle. I don't think I've ever pulled a muscle before in my life and haven't since."

Hargan felt similarly to Casanova when regarding playing time in the All-Star Game.

"Everyone who makes the All-Star team should play if they're physically able."

The lone man at shortstop

National League shortstop Gene Alley was also another iron man going the distance, handling three errorless chances. The game in many ways exceeded his expectations.

"Well, I didn't expect it to go 15 innings," said Alley from his home in Glen Allen, Virginia. "I was ready to play nine. It was a thrill to play the whole game. I watched All-Star Games and they have at least two people at each position. I thought I might play five innings and someone else would play the rest. I don't know why they didn't substitute. The game was going along, there wasn't a lot of hitting in the game, so it went by pretty fast."

He didn't expect the Hall of Fame laden lineup to be silenced by the arms of the American League.

"There were a lot of great players," he said. "I'm not talking about myself; these guys who went into the Hall of Fame, they were great hitters and the pitching made everybody look bad."

Alley attributed the lack of hitting to the ominous backdrop of Anaheim Stadium.

"I remember the Angels said that at that time of the day [5pm] the ball would be hard to pick up. They were right, it was. The background wasn't that good that day. I think that had a lot to do with it. There were a lot of good hitters in that game and the pitching just dominated that game."

Perez gives the National League the winning run

Perez in the top of the 15th inning, hit a home run off of Catfish Hunter that led to the National League's victory. Alley said it sparked a great deal of emotion in their dugout.

"We were happy! Here we can finally maybe get the game over with and win. At that time the National League really went in trying to win them."

A young Tom Seaver would make his first of twelve All-Star appearances to close out the game. Alley went to the mound to offer the rookie some words of advice.

"I remember going up to talk to Tom Seaver and I told him, '"Look, just pitch the way you do against us and you'll be alright.'" 

Seaver blanked the American League in the bottom of the inning to preserve the victory.

While these All-Stars are past their playing days, they will be eagerly tuned into the game. For Hargan and Alley, the game will rekindle the spirits of the inaugural game at Anaheim Stadium.

"I'm going to be watching the game," said Hargan. "It brought back some old memories. My first win was against the Angels when they were playing in Chavez Ravine. I enjoyed pitching there because it was one of the newer stadiums at the time. Most of the parks were older."

Alley is excited to see how the new park looks.

"I'm anxious to see this year's game," he said. "I don't remember too much about the stadium, but it doesn't look the same now as it did when I played there when I see it on TV."

The 81st annual MLB All-Star game will be televised July 13, 2010 8:00 PM EST on Fox.

More Info
1967 All-Star Game Box Score and Play by Play - Baseball-Reference.com
Anaheim ready to make more ASG memories - MLB.com
1967 All-Star Game: A different world - Orange County Register
Casanova didn't get in the game - The Free Lance-Star
A chance for underdogs - St. Petersburg Times



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