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The calendar has yet to turn from April to May, but the
calls for Jerry Manuel’s head have already begun to sound in New York. A second straight loss to the
previously slumping Marlins has created a sea of discontent, with much of the
focus centered on some bizarre strategy by Manuel in the ninth inning of
Wednesday afternoon’s loss to Florida.
With two outs and the bases loaded and the Mets down by a run, Manuel called
back Ramon Castro, who had banged out two hits in four at-bats. He summoned
backup catcher Omir Santos from the bullpen to pinch-hit, then watched him hit
a soft pop-up to end the game.
While the hue and cry for a change in managers is silly at
this early stage of the season, Manuel left me scratching my head with this
decision. Castro is a much better hitter than Santos, a career minor leaguer who has always
had a reputation as a good-field, weak-hit catcher. A few good games with the
Mets this past week should not have erased that reputation, nor should it have
fooled Manuel into thinking that Santos
posed more of an offensive threat than Castro. Bad move.
If Willie Randolph had pulled such a managerial rock, the New York media would
have roasted him. Manuel, who is a genuinely good guy and a great interview,
will probably be given a pass by most of the writers, but the fan base is beginning to lose patience with the Mets’ continuing ineptitude. In the meantime, expect
everyone to turn up the heat on David Wright, who looks lost at the plate and
in the field. Another target can be found in the Mets’ bullpen, which
was directly responsible for the one-run loss to the Marlins. J.J. Putz walked
the first two batters of the eighth inning, setting the stage for Florida’s comeback
rally. A few more outings like that, and we’ll start to hear speculation on
when Billy Wagner might be able to return this summer from Tommy John surgery.
It’s easy to forget that Wagner remains under contract to the Mets; just imagine a
three-man crew of Wagner, Putz and Francisco Rodriguez putting out fires in the
eighth and ninth innings of late-season games…
In anticipation of the new month of May, we’ll be changing our
baseball card image (which currently honors the late Dock Ellis) this weekend.
Feel free to submit nominations for a new card, either by posting a
recommendation here or by sending me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Topps cards are
preferred, but we’ll consider Upper Deck, Fleer, and Donruss cards, as well.
Heck, if the suggestion is a good one, we’ll consider just about any company…
On a promotional note, my 2006 book, The Team That Changed Baseball, is now out in paperback. The book
tells the story of the 1971 Pirates, who fielded major league baseball’s first
all-black lineup on the way to winning the world championship over the heavily
favored Orioles. For more information, or to purchase a copy (hint, hint),
please visit the website www.westholmepublishing.com.
My thanks to publisher Bruce Franklin for his continued support and faith in
By now most of you have heard that former Pirates ace Dock Ellis died on Friday. He was only 63, waiting for a liver transplant that never came. Ellis never won a Cy Young Award, never won as many as 20 game in a season, and will never make the Hall of Fame, but nonetheless forged one of the most fascinating lives of any ballplayer in major league history.
Everyone seems to have a distinct memory of Ellis; some remember him for pitching a no-hitter while on LSD, while others recall him for once wearing hair curlers during pre-game workouts at Wrigley Field. I’ll certainly remember him for both of those bizarre incidents, but also for a whole lot more, including his contributions to the 1971 Pirates, his battles with George Steinbrenner, and his one-man war against the Reds. I’ll also remember him for the good work he did after he retired, counseling youngsters against the ills of drug use, a problem that plagued him throughout his own playing career. Ellis once said that he was “on drugs every time I took to the field.” He didn’t make that statement with any pride, or with any hint of laughter; if anything, he was ashamed, and determined to prevent kids from repeating the same mistake that he did.
I’ll also remember Ellis for the fine work he did in trying to institute prison reform in Pennsylvania. As a member of the Pirates, Ellis regularly visited inmates throughout the state, asking them about their lives and how it could be improved behind bars. This wasn’t glamorous work, nor did it bring him much recognition, but it exemplified Ellis’ belief that even convicted criminals deserved to be treated with some level of decency.
Perhaps Ellis sensed that he himself might eventually spend some time in jail. After all, with his heavy drug abuse and wild lifestyle, prison might have seemed like a real possibility. Thankfully, Ellis turned that lifestyle into something far more productive. For nearly 30 years, he counseled youth against drug abuse, using his experiences and his motivational speaking ability to make a difference.
Even though Ellis is gone now, we can still learn from his lesson. We can–and do–make mistakes. But once we recognize our failing, let’s do our damndest to make up for it.
The events of September 1, 1971 have never received much media attention, paling in comparison to the coverage of Jackie Robinson’s historic entrance into the major leagues. Yet, the happenings in Pittsburgh on that date, 35 years ago, constitute one of the most significant milestones in the racial history of major league baseball.
That afternoon, while sitting in his office at Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh prepared to oppose the Philadelphia Phillies and left-handed pitcher Woodie Fryman. Murtaugh filled out the following names on his lineup card:
Rennie Stennett, 2B
Gene Clines, CF
Roberto Clemente, RF
Willie Stargell, LF
Manny Sanguillen, C
Dave Cash, 3B
Al Oliver, 1B
Jackie Hernandez, SS
Dock Ellis, P
At first glance, Murtaugh’s lineup seemed to represent nothing particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, the lineup appeared typical of ones that he would use against left-handed starters like Fryman, with the exception of the lefty-swinging Al Oliver at first base in place of the right-handed batting Bob Robertson. Upon further review, however, observers in the press box noticed that the lineup consisted exclusively of African-American and dark-skinned Latin American players. Baseball experts surmised that for the first time in the history of baseball, and 24 years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier, a major league team was employing an all-black lineup.
Gene Clines, one of the players in the lineup that evening, initially believed that the Pirates had used an all-black lineup several years earlier. Willie Stargell, one of the senior members of the 1971 Pirates, corrected Clines’ speculation. “No, this is the first time,” said Stargell, the Hall of Fame outfielder-first baseman who died in 2001. “Back in 1967, in Philadelphia, [former Pirate manager] Harry Walker started eight of us, but the pitcher, Denny Ribant, was white.”
Although Murtaugh’s decision to write out an all-black lineup drew relatively little attention from the fans and media, it was immediately noticed by some Pirate players in the clubhouse prior to the game. “We saw the lineup on the [clubhouse] wall… Oh yeah, we were aware,” recalled pitcher Steve Blass, the eventual winner in Game Seven of the 1971 World Series.
In 1971, the Pirates represented baseball’s most heavily integrated team, with black and Latino players accounting for nearly fifty percent of the club’s roster. The Pirates also featured one of baseball’s most harmonious teams, with friendships and gatherings often crossing racial lines. White players often socialized with black and Latino players, either at bars and restaurants after games, or at barbecues and parties organized by one of the team’s leaders, Willie Stargell. Considering the unity of the team, the players’ reaction to the all-black lineup was not surprising. “We had a loose group, [so] we were all laughing and hollering about it and teasing each other,” said Blass. “I thought that was a great reaction.”
Third baseman Richie Hebner, who sat out the game with an injury, said the players’ pre-game reaction to the lineup typified the kind of good-natured racial humor that was prevalent with the Pirates. Hebner said such humor was doled out purely for fun, and not intended to be taken seriously. “Some of the guys joked around the clubhouse, saying, ‘Hey, you white guys, you can take a rest tonight’… Back then, Ellis and Stargell would get on us [white players] and we’d get on them. You could do that,” Hebner recalled.
Other players, like Al Oliver, didn’t realize that the Pirates were actually using an all-black lineup until the middle of the game. “I had no clue,” Oliver said, “Because as a rule we had at least five or six [black and Latino players] out there anyway. So, two or three more was no big thing. I didn’t know until about the third or fourth inning. Dave Cash mentioned to me, he says, ‘Hey, Scoop, we got all brothers out here.'” Oliver pauses for a moment and laughs. “You know, I thought about it, and I said, ‘We sure do!’ “
The fact that Oliver even started the game was strange for several reasons. Why was Oliver, primarily a center fielder in 1971, playing at first base instead of usual starter Bob Robertson? Even more strangely, why was Oliver starting against a left-hander, when Murtaugh had benched him against many southpaws that summer? “That’s a good question,” Oliver replied. “That’s a good question, because to this day when people ask me who was the toughest pitcher I ever faced, it was Woodie Fryman.” One article indicated that Robertson sat out the game with a minor injury, but didn’t specify what the injury was. According to Oliver, Murtaugh may have been looking to light a fire under a slumping Robertson, who had gone 2-for-14 in his previous four games. “Bob Robertson normally would have played that day, but Dave Cash had told me within the last [few] years, and I never knew this, that Murtaugh was kind of disappointed in Bob for whatever reason. I don’t know what the exact reason was, but he was disappointed in Bob, so he sat him down. He played me that night at first base.”
Popular and patriarchal, Murtaugh had become a comforting, father-like figure for almost all of the Pirate players, regardless of skin color or nationality. In the past, he had not hesitated in giving significant amounts of playing time to black and Latino players, and now seemed to be showing pioneering courage in making out the first all-black lineup when he was under no pressure to do so. So why did Murtaugh write out the lineup the way he did on September 1, 1971? Given the decision to start Oliver over Robertson, was it possible that Murtaugh was looking for a way to put an all-black lineup on the field? Oliver doesn’t think so. “In my estimation, I think Danny was just putting the best team on the field, and he probably didn’t notice [the all-black lineup] until later. I didn’t know until the third or fourth inning.”
Steve Blass said Murtaugh was concerned with winning games–not with making social statements. “This was not a statement, nor a device,” Blass said. “The thing I remember about it, when he was interviewed afterwards, Murtaugh said, ‘I put the nine best athletes out there. The best nine I put out there tonight happened to be black. No big deal. Next question.’ ” Blass said Murtaugh handled the matter with the proper attitude and perspective. “He was aware of the repercussions that might come out of it,” said Blass. “But he didn’t have a problem with it.”
So, for the first time since the demise of the Negro Leagues in the early 1960s, a professional major league-caliber baseball team fielded a starting nine consisting exclusively of blacks. The results? The Phillies scored two runs against Dock Ellis in the first, but the Bucs countered with six hits and five runs in the bottom half of the inning. The Phillies added four more runs in the second, knocking out Ellis, who was replaced by long reliever Bob Moose. Down 6-5, the Pirates rallied for three runs in the second. Gene Clines singled and Roberto Clemente walked. After Clines stole third, Willie Stargell produced one run with a sac fly, and Manny Sanguillen added two more on a home run.
Bob Veale, also a black player, relieved Bob Moose in the third inning, and struck out the one batter he faced. Ironically, Luke Walker, a white pitcher from Texas, relieved in the fourth and emerged as the Pirate pitching star of the day. Walker held the Phillies to one run over six innings and picked up the win in a 10-7 victory for the Bucs. On offense, Clines, Clemente, Stargell, Sanguillen, Oliver, and Rennie Stennett each collected two base hits, and Clines and Cash each stole a base. The all-black lineup had produced a win in its very first major league go-round. Unfortunately, only 11,278 fans were on hand at Three Rivers Stadium to witness this intriguing piece of baseball history.
At the time, most of the Pirates’ players and fans didn’t grasp the historical relevance of the first all-black lineup, but they have grown to appreciate its importance. “[In 1971], I didn’t even think anything about it,” Oliver said. “Nothing about it at all.” Once his playing career ended in 1985, Oliver took a step back and emerged with a different perspective about the night of September 1, 1971. “But now, of course, it means something. Once you’re out of the game, you look back and [you realize] you could be a part of baseball history. To me, that’s something that I feel good about, being part of baseball history.”
Bob Robertson never did make an appearance in the game, but like Oliver, has a similar perspective on its importance. “I think it’s a great thing that really happened there,” Robertson said. “That was the type of ballclub that we had. It didn’t make a difference if you were black, yellow, green, purple, whatever. We enjoyed each other’s company. We got along fine. We had a lot of respect for one another. I thought that was a great evening, to see that.”
According to some baseball historians, the all-black lineup of September 1,1971, remains significant because it exhibited how progressive the Pirate organization was in drafting and signing blacks and Latinos at all positions. In the past, major league teams had shown a willingness to sign many black infielders and outfielders, but had tended to avoid developing minority pitchers and catchers. Oliver agrees that the all-black lineup demonstrated the Pirates’ belief that blacks and Latinos could play the “thinking man’s” game behind the plate or on the mound. “I signed with the Pirates in 1964,” Oliver recalled. “In 1965, it was really my first spring training in Daytona Beach. The Pirates had signed, if you look at the catcher’s position, they had many [black] catchers. If you looked at the pitchers, there were many black pitchers that they had signed or drafted… I think what it came down to was that the Pirates were not afraid to draft black and Latin players because they were interested in one thing, in my opinion,” Oliver said, “And that was winning.”
In overview, the racial mix of the 1971 Pirates–culminating in the use of the all-black lineup–occurred as a product of the organization’s aggressive approach to seeking winning talent of any color, and the willingness to play blacks and Latinos at any position–first base, outfielder, catcher, utilityman, pitcher. “Obviously, we were looking for talent,” said Joe Brown, the architect of the ’71 Pirates, in an article that appeared in Baseball Digest in 1995. “We didn’t care where they came from or what color they were. If they happened to be black, so be it.” Unlike the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early fifties, the Pirates had not imposed a limit of four black players on their starting lineup. While other organizations had made progress in integrating parts of their major league rosters, the Pirates had taken a comprehensive, no-holds-barred approach in populating their entire roster with both African Americans and Latinos, top to bottom. The Pirates’ philosophy not only helped the team win the World Championship in 1971, but also sent the following indirect message to other major league organizations: expand the available talent pool to include black and Latino players, select the best players at each position regardless of color, and you will increase your chances of winning.
Prominent players from other teams took note of the composition of the Pirates’ roster. Frank Robinson, often mentioned as a candidate to become the major leagues’ first black manager, offered some admiring comments about the Pirates in a 1972 interview with Sport magazine. “Last year the Pirates may have had more black players than any team in baseball,” Robinson said. “They became the first team to start an all-black lineup in a game. And they won a world title.” Robinson described a direct connection between winning and the presence of minorities on a team’s roster. “Color shouldn’t matter anymore,” said Robinson, “except it’s clear if you have most of the top black players, you have a lot of top players, which gives you an edge in talent.”
Although it is difficult to prove conclusively, many of the subsequent championship teams of the 1970s seemed to have followed the lead of the Pirates. Evidence of such a trend cannot necessarily be found in any publicly attributable statements from baseball front office officials, but can be traced through their own tangible actions in assembling major league rosters. The Oakland A’s, who won three straight World Championships from 1972 to ’74, featured a changing, increasingly integrated roster. Having already developed a number of minority players, including Campy Campaneris, Reggie Jackson, and Vida Blue, by the time the Pirates won the 1971 World Series, Oakland would add a large number of African Americans and Latinos in ’72, ’73, and ’74. For example, the A’s acquired several minorities, while giving up mostly white players, in a series of trades engineered during the 1972 season. Oakland dealt onetime Cy Young winner Denny McLain to the Braves for Puerto Rican first baseman Orlando Cepeda, stole .300-hitting Dominican Matty Alou from the Cardinals for two marginal players, acquired outfielder “Downtown” Ollie Brown from San Diego for catcher Curt Blefary, and picked up Cuban utility infielder Marty Martinez from St. Louis for outfielder Brant Alyea. During the summer, the A’s promoted Venezuelan pinch-hitter Gonzalo Marquez and Panamanian speedster Allan Lewis from the minor leagues. After the season, the A’s sent pitcher Bob Locker to the Cubs for a black outfielder, Billy North, and dealt first baseman Mike Epstein to the Texas Rangers for a Mexican reliever, Horacio Pina.
During the ’73 campaign, Oakland purchased three accomplished Latino hitters (Rico Carty, Vic Davalillo, and Jesus Alou) and promoted three other minorities (Manny Trillo, Jose Morales, and Tim Hosley) from the minor leagues. In 1974, the A’s recalled top prospect Claudell Washington from the Southern League, signed sprinter Herb Washington as the game’s first “designated runner,” and acquired pinch-hitter Jim Holt from the Twins. While Oakland’s controversial owner and general manager, Charlie Finley, had come under fire for various offenses during his reign in the Bay Area, critics would have been hard-pressed to knock his frequent acquisitions of black and Latino players during Oakland’s glory years of the early 1970s.
Although Cincinnati’s championship teams of ’75 and ’76 were not as heavily populated with minorities as the aforementioned A’s, the starting lineup of the “Big Red Machine” did contain six African Americans and Latinos. Infielders Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and Dave Concepcion, and the entire starting outfield of George Foster, Cesar Geronimo, and Ken Griffey, Sr. comprised a large part of baseball’s best offense. In the months after the 1971 season, the Reds had acquired both Morgan and Geronimo in a trade that had seen them net three black players (Ed Armbrister being the other), while losing only one (Lee May). The Reds then promoted Griffey to the majors two years later. Only two white players, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, played on a regular basis during the 1975 and ’76 seasons. In ’76, the Reds’ pitching staff included the names of three Latinos: veteran Pedro Borbon and two newcomers, Santo Alcala and Manny Sarmiento.
In 1977, the Yankees moved to the top of the baseball world, and did so with black players like Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Roy White, Mickey Rivers, and Reggie Jackson in the starting lineup. Although White had come up with the Yankees in 1965, the other players had been acquired through trades and free agent signings since the 1971 season. The Yankees picked up Chambliss, Randolph, Rivers, and Dock Ellis in a series of excellent trades, while surrendering only one African American–Bobby Bonds–in return. Off the bench, post-1971 trade acquisitions like Cliff Johnson, Paul Blair, and Elrod Hendricks, along with recently promoted minor leaguer Dell Alston, performed creditably in the pinch. In 1977, the starting rotation featured a Latino, Ed Figueroa, and a Mexican-American, Mike Torrez (acquired in a trade for Dock Ellis), who combined for 30 victories.
In 1979, the Pirates won their second championship of the decade. Much like the ’71 team, the “We Are Family” Bucs did so with an intriguing mix of nationalities and colors. Willie Stargell, Rennie Stennett, and Bill Madlock comprised part of the infield’s makeup, while Lee Lacy, John Milner, Dave Parker, Bill Robinson, and Panamanian Omar Moreno monopolized the playing time in the outfield. Manny Sanguillen, who had been traded and then re-acquired from Oakland, and another former Athletic, Matt Alexander, chipped in off the bench. Mexican right-hander Enrique Romo and African Americans Jim Bibby, Grant Jackson, and Dock Ellis (since returned to Pittsburgh) all contributed to the pitching staff. Except for Stargell and Stennett, all of the aforementioned players had been acquired or re-acquired in trades, or developed through the farm system since the 1971 World Series.
Although it is difficult to say with absolute certainty that the success of the integrated Pirates of ’71 directly influenced other successful teams of the seventies, it is quite possible that an indirect correlation existed. General managers in all sports, baseball included, have tended to adopt the following copycat philosophy: when they see other teams have success, they examine the reasons for that success and often incorporate similar blueprints for their own teams.
This much is certain: every World Championship team of the 1970s had at least one great star of minority descent, a player who not only excelled on the field but provided other black and Latino teammates with a leadership model, a point of reference. The A’s of the early seventies revolved around Reggie Jackson, the Reds of the mid-seventies leaned heavily on the talents and leadership of Joe Morgan, the Yankees of ’77 and ’78 also centered on Jackson’s presence, and the Pirates of ’79 fed off the ample influence of Willie Stargell. And let’s not forget Frank Robinson of the ’70 Orioles, and of course, Clemente with the ’71 Pirates. Black and Latino stars had not only made their marks in terms of sheer numbers, but also as full-fledged impact players on championship ballclubs.
Bruce Markusen is the author of the new book, The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, available from Westholme Publishing.
The last time that Detroit hosted an All-Star Game, fans at the ballpark and around the country were treated to arguably the greatest Midsummer Classic in history. The game not only provided a spectacular mid-season showcase for the National Pastime, but also came to represent an entire era of major league baseball.
The ’71 All-Star Game was played at Tiger Stadium, one of the game’s most traditional and beloved ballparks. Given the number of venerable stars who participated in the game (many of whom were nearing the end of long careers that began in the 1950s and early 60s), Tiger Stadium seemed like an especially appropriate gathering place for this particular Midsummer Classic.
The ’71 game featured 20 Hall of Famers who were selected to participate in the game, a veritable “Who’s Who of Baseball” during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The list of 1971 All-Stars enshrined in Cooperstown is as follows: Hank Aaron, Luis Aparicio, Johnny Bench, Lou Brock, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton (who did not play), Roberto Clemente, Reggie Jackson, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Tom Seaver (who did not play), Willie Stargell, and Carl Yastrzemski. The careers of most of these players started in either the mid-1950s (Aaron, Aparicio, Clemente, Kaline, Killebrew, Mays, B. Robinson, and F. Robinson), or the early 1960s (Brock, Marichal, McCovey, Stargell, and Yastrzemski).
A 21st player, Pete Rose, would almost certainly be a member of the Hall of Fame if not for his banishment from Major League Baseball. Two other players (Tony Oliva and Ron Santo) remain strong candidates in future Veterans Committee elections. In addition, the two All-Star managers (Baltimore’s Earl Weaver and Cincinnati’s Sparky Anderson) have both gained election to the Hall of Fame.
In an intriguing and somewhat haunting side note, three of the game’s most tragic figures participated in the ’71 All-Star Game. Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson, and Don Wilson, who each appeared in the game as reserves, all died unexpectedly while they were still active players. Clemente and Munson perished in plane crashes in 1972 and 1979 respectively, while Wilson died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1975, in what was believed to be a suicide.
The ’71 Midsummer Classic made history by becoming the first All-Star Game to feature two African-American starting pitchers. In fact, no African-American had ever started an All-Star Game for either league prior to 1971. In 1965, Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants had become the first Latin-born pitcher picked to start an All-Star Game. In 1968, Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians became the first black Latino to start in the All-Star classic.
Prior to the naming of two African-American pitchers for the ’71 All-Star Game, Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates had created some controversy by predicting that National League manager Sparky Anderson would not name him the starter for the All-Star Game, for the specific purpose of avoiding a matchup of two minority starters. Ellis reasoned that with American League manager Earl Weaver likely to select the sizzling Vida Blue as his starter, baseball’s powers-that-be would want at least one white pitcher starting the midsummer classic in Detroit. “They wouldn’t pitch two brothers against each other,” Ellis told reporters. Ellis had offered a secondary reason for a possible snub. “Sparky Anderson doesn’t like me.”
Much to the pitcher’s surprise, Anderson announced that Ellis would start and would indeed face Blue in Detroit. Anderson denied that Ellis’ comments had, in any way, swayed his decision. “His 14-3 record and the fact that he hasn’t pitched since last Tuesday is what forced me to choose him,” Anderson said, while defending Ellis’ outburst against him. “I think everybody has a right to say what he wants.”
Ellis received a number of angry letters from fans, who criticized him for being so presumptuous about Anderson. Ellis also received a positive letter from the major leagues’ first black player of the 20th century. “I don’t mind those [negative] letters,” Ellis said, “but there was one letter I was particularly pleased with. Jackie Robinson wrote me a letter of encouragement. I met him last April in New York, and then I received this letter from him.”
On Tuesday, July 13, just hours before the start of the All-Star Game, Ellis offered no apologies for his recent remarks about African-American pitchers starting the national pastime’s showcase game. “When it comes to black players, baseball is backwards, everyone knows it,” Ellis told the New York Times. “I’m sort of surprised that I am starting, but I don’t feel my statements had anything to do with it.” Ellis also complained about the lack of endorsements for black athletes, compared to the commercial opportunities given to white players. A reporter asked Ellis if he had received any endorsement offers in light of his brilliant pitching in the first half of the season. “Aw, man, c’mon,” Ellis said incredulously. “Come to me for endorsements?”
Throughout his life, Ellis had bristled at racist treatment. During his first spring training in 1964, Ellis had argued or fought with seven different teammates who had used ethnic slurs in conversing with him. By 1971, instances of racism still bothered Ellis, but he had learned to use restraint. During the season, Ellis and a black friend visited a high school that had been affected by racial divisions. On the way to the school, a police officer called out to the two men, referring to them as “boys.” “That’s where I’ve changed,” Ellis told Sport Magazine. “Three years ago, I would’ve jumped on the cop’s chest. But all I did was to correct him [this time].”
Ellis now found himself at Tiger Stadium for the All-Star Game, facing off against Blue in an historic matchup of minority pitchers. Furthermore, a total of five National League starters were black or Latino, while three minorities started for the American League. In total, a record-breaking number of 27 minorities (17 African Americans and 10 Latinos) were chosen for the 1971 All-Star Game. The game’s racial composition accurately reflected the integration of major league baseball that had begun to progress rapidly in 1959, when 16 black players (a record number) made their debuts in the American and National leagues.
Two of the game’s minority players took center stage in the bottom of the third. With the Nationals leading 3-0, Ellis faced Boston Red Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio, the inning’s leadoff man. Aparicio, who was batting only .209 in regular season play, singled up the middle. American League manager Earl Weaver called upon Oakland A’s slugger Reggie Jackson to pinch-hit for Vida Blue. Jackson, a last minute All-Star Game replacement for the injured Tony Oliva, drove a mediocre Ellis fastball deep toward right center field. The ball, seemingly still on the rise hundreds of feet away from home plate, caromed off the light tower that perched above the right field section of the Tiger Stadium roof.
Observers estimated that Jackson’s home run had traveled 520 feet. Reggie claimed he had never hit a ball harder. Aparicio and fellow All-Stars Al Kaline and Carl Yastrzemski said that Jackson’s blast was the hardest they had ever seen. Norm Cash said the home run was the longest he had seen. And Ellis, despite his brilliant first-half pitching, would now be remembered more vividly for giving up an embarrassingly gargantuan home run on national television.
Unfortunately for Ellis, his problems had just begun. After a walk to Rod Carew, Frank Robinson clubbed another Ellis fastball into the right field stands, giving the American League a 4-3 lead. Robinson, who had gone hitless in his last 14 All-Star at-bats, was on his way to winning the All-Star game’s Most Valuable Player Award. Ellis was on his way to a loss in his first All-Star game appearance.
In the eighth, with the American League leading, 6-3, Roberto Clemente to the plate to face Detroit Tigers’ left-hander Mickey Lolich. Although most of the 53,559 fans at Tiger Stadium were focusing their concentration on their hometown pitcher, their collective attention would soon shift to the batter’s box. Clemente was about to produce one of the game’s most memorable batting sequences.
Lolich, it seemed, wanted no part of pitching to Clemente. Even though Lolich enjoyed a three-run lead, he threw two consecutive pitches well out of the strike zone. Clemente, visibly upset, stepped out from his accustomed position deep in the batter’s box and flipped his bat in the air. Lolich delivered another pitch, one that appeared to be sailing high and away from Clemente, again out of the strike zone. Surprisingly, Clemente swung at the rising fastball. At first glance, it appeared that Clemente would be able to do nothing more than pop the pitch–which wasn’t close to being a strike–weakly toward the second baseman. Clemente flicked his wrists, and launched the ball deep toward right-center field. The ball carried–and carried some more–and finally landed in the right field bleachers.
It was as if Clemente had challenged Lolich to throw him a strike, and when he refused, he simply expanded his strike zone, determined to deliver a hard-hit ball. Clemente wanted no part of drawing a walk in baseball’s most exalted exhibition game. In a showcase like the All-Star Game, Clemente wanted desperately to show the nationwide fan base watching on television that he could hit.
Clemente’s home run was the sixth by an All-Star that night in Detroit, joining Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson, and Harmon Killebrew in the long ball parade. In addition to representing a new All-Star record, the six home runs were all hit by future Hall of Famers (In the 1956 All-Star Game, four home runs were hit, all by Hall of Famers.) While Clemente’s home run against Lolich failed to prevent the National League from losing the game, 6-4, and was overshadowed by the monstrous home run hit by Jackson–perhaps the most famous longball in All-Star game lore–it remains a stunning example of the intriguing confrontation between pitcher and hitter.
Still, the 1971 All-Star game represented so much more–even beyond the exploits of Clemente and Jackson. Virtually every superstar of the late 1960s and early seventies played in the game, truly indicating the era’s depth of talent. The ’71 All-Star Game also displayed the diversity of talent in baseball during that era. Black stars like Aaron and Mays. White stars like Bench and Yastrzemski. Latin American stars like Clemente and Aparicio. By merely watching a two-hour tape of the 1971 All-Star Game, one can obtain an accurate snapshot of what the national pastime was like in the era that began in the late 1950s, enjoyed its peak years through the sixties, and ended in the early 1970s.