On the morning of July 19, 1977, my father told me that he and I were going to the MLB All-Star Game that night at Yankee Stadium, “for my birthday.” My birthday is July 20th, so my not quite yet seven-year-old self was confused as to why we’d be celebrating my birthday on a day that’s not my birthday. My father told me to trust him, and an All-Star Game with Dad at Yankee Stadium sure sounded pretty cool, so that worked for me.
The game would feature a long list of MVPs, Cy Young Award winners, batting titlists, home run champs, multiple time All-Stars, and show stoppers who were some of the biggest baseball names of the day: Dave Parker, Pete Rose, Thurman Munson, Ken Griffey, Steve Garvey, George Foster, Vida Blue, Fred Lynn, Reggie Smith, and Ken Singleton were on the rosters. They were joined by “The Bird,” “The Bull,” “The Penguin,” and Willie Montañez, who was a stylin’, bat flippin’, “Let the kids play” poster boy four decades before any of us knew what that meant.
Oh, and in addition to the above prodigious talent, 19 (nineteen) future Baseball Hall of Fame inductees would be on the field.
Players like Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench, who had already inserted themselves in the discussion of best-ever at their respective positions would be there. Players who were still relatively young but clearly special, like George Brett, Dave Winfield, and Mike Schmidt would be there.
Schmidt, it must be noted, had a broken finger and wasn’t expected to play. After a stretch in early July in which he reached base safely in 29 out of 44 plate appearances with five home runs, Michael Jack was plunked rather intentionally, and his finger was a casualty of the ensuing brawl. Schmidt went to New York anyway, thinking that although he wouldn’t be hitting, maybe National League manager Tommy Lasorda could use him as pinch-runner, or to stand in the on-deck circle as a decoy pinch-hitter.
Established, Cooperstown-bound stars like Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson, and Carlton Fisk would all be starters. They would be joined in the AL lineup by Rod Carew, who took a Ted Williams-esque .394/.463/.586 triple slash into the 1977 All-Star break. If your recollection of Carew is that of a skinny singles hitter, your recollection is flawed. The eventual 1977 AL MVP had a career slugging percentage 43 points higher than league average in his era, and as fans in attendance that night would soon find out, the man drove the ball.
Jim Palmer started for the AL, and he’d be one of eight pitchers on the field that night later enshrined in Cooperstown. Palmer entered the game having already thrown 187.1 innings over 23 starts by July 19, 1977. For some perspective, Zack Wheeler is the current leader in innings pitched with 119.2, and no pitcher has more than 19 starts.
Despite that buildup of anticipation for the game, the highlight of the night for me, and many in attendance based on crowd reaction, came in the pregame warmups.
Dave Parker, Dave Winfield, and Ellis Valentine were taking turns fielding fly balls in right field, and then throwing to second and third bases to warm up. For those of you who remember seeing the manner in which those players threw baseballs on television, trust me when I tell you it was jaw-dropping in person. After a few rounds each, Parker took his final practice fly ball and unleashed a clothesline of a throw that hit the catcher’s glove at home plate on a fly. Winfield, not to be outdone, then did the same. Valentine followed suit after Winfield.
“It’s on” wasn’t an expression in 1977, but with the crowd alternating between cheering and gasping, and with the players exchanging competitive smirks and eyebrow raises at each other, they stayed out there for a few more minutes to keep the show going. Parker would field a fly ball in medium-deep right field and unleash a laser that hit the catcher on a fly. Again, Winfield and Valentine would do the same. They continued, taking turns, with each round increasing in competitiveness, intensity, and crowd involvement. It was one laser after another, each one coming out of the hand like a rocket, and each one hitting the catcher on a line at home plate.
With the AL team needing to take the field, the trio left the crowd feeling like we already got our money’s worth and with many of us asking incredulously “Is it possible that Ellis Valentine has a better arm than Dave Parker and Dave Winfield?” Many of us in attendance that night felt that was the case, believe it or not.
When the AL took the field for their pregame warmups, it didn’t take long for the straw to stir the drink. Never one to put his ego on the back seat, Reggie Jackson took the first practice fly ball hit to him in right field and unleashed a throw to home plate that hit AL catcher Carlton Fisk chest-high on a fly. Fisk received the throw, paused, then turned and stared into the NL dugout for what was probably only three or four seconds but seemed like 30. Reggie wouldn’t become “Mr. October” to Yankee fans for another four months, but he showed us all who he was that night in July.
Once everyone was in their seats and the show was ready to begin, the pre-game introductions created another moment that was as memorable as any in the game itself. When Tom Seaver, who just five weeks earlier had been traded by the Mets to Cincinnati, was announced as a member of the Reds, he received a 30-to-40 second standing ovation from the 56,683 in attendance.
Obviously, there were many Mets fans in attendance, but there was certainly some combination of respect for Seaver’s greatness and perhaps an opportunity for fans of other teams to mock the Mets that night. If you’re joining us late, spoiler alert: Trading Seaver didn’t really work out for the Mets.
The game began, and a few things have stuck with me that may or may not have been in the box score or in the next day’s newspaper:
- I (along with most fans around me) was amazed by the heat that many of the pitchers brought. Seaver, Dennis Eckersley, and Rich Gossage stood out, but Jim Kern in particular got everyone in the stands chattering. In fact, allow me to insert my “old man yelling at kids to get off the lawn” voice: In the mid-to-late 1970s, Jim Kern threw as hard as anybody does today – maybe harder.
- Dave Parker hit two line-drive foul balls that went just over our heads so fast that it had me wondering why any fan would try to catch such a thing – something I still wonder today.
- The aforementioned skinny singles hitter Carew lined a ball approximately 420 feet that George Foster caught at the centerfield wall for a very hard out. In a game that included four home runs, that was likely the second-farthest and hardest batted ball of the night.
If you forget how the game turned out, that’s excusable. After all, the National League had a 4-0 lead and a win probability of 82 percent after only five batters in the top of the first inning. A late home run by Boston’s George Scott made the final score of 7-5 respectable, but this one was over pretty quickly. Luckily, I was able to witness a few other things that gave me long-lasting memories.
In fact, it ended with another good one: At the subway station on the way home, my father pointed to a clock that read 12:07 am. He said to me, “See? It’s your birthday!”