It was the summer of 1970, and I was nine years old.
The Big Red Machine had arrived on the scene, and Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and crew were tearing up the National League. The Reds had closed their old ballpark – Crosley Field – at the end of June and moved their show downtown to Riverfront Stadium, which would soon be hosting the MLB All Star Game. And I was pestering my Dad on a daily basis as to whether he had – or would be able to score – some tickets. At the ripe old age of nine, I had already begun my list of the world’s greatest sporting events, and was dying to check the first one off.
But first was that matter of tickets. As luck would have it, our next door neighbor at the time was Bill DeWitt, Jr., the current owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, whose father had owned the Reds from 1961-1966. Apparently my father was badgering Bill just as I was badgering him, and a week before the game, Dad gave me the good news: we had four tickets. Needless to say, I was thrilled. I grew up a huge baseball fan, a passion share by my father, and I share many great memories with my father around the national pastime.
Dad took me to my first Reds’ game on Labor Day, 1966. The Reds faced the Dodgers’ Hall of Famer Don Drysdale that day, and I still remember the smell at old Crosley Field, a combination of beer, popcorn, cigars and paint, with a few other aromas mixed in. I also remember the Reds’ second baseman racing out to short right field to corral a pop up, losing his hat, and turning after the inning ending catch to sprint back to the dugout, leaving his hat for a teammate to pick up and spiking the ball on the mound as he ran by.
“Who is that guy?” I asked my Dad.
“He’s Pete Rose,” Dad replied, “and he’s going to be a big star someday.”
Dad pitched to me on many nights after work on the double driveway we shared with the DeWitts, which was a perfect set up for batting practice.
We also played the Ethan Allen All Star Baseball Game on an almost nightly basis in the summer. It was a game where each player had a circular card which you placed on a spinner. Each of his tendencies – singles, home runs, ground outs, strike outs – was in proportion to his actual performance. You would place the player’s card, flick the spinner, and see where it ended up; hopefully 7 or 13 for a single, 11 for a double, 5 for a triple or 1 for a home run.
There were many players not included in the game, so Dad and I would buy the Who’s Who in Baseball book each spring and add the players we wanted. Over the years we added Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente, each of whom was headed to Cincinnati for the Midsummer Classic.
When the rosters were announced, about half my team would be in Cincinnati for the All Star Game, and I would be there to see them in person. And four years after my first game, Pete Rose was in fact a star and would be part of the National League’s squad.
The day of the game was typical summer in Cincinnati: hot and humid. My Mom, Dad, sister and I stopped at Graeters on Fourth Street to cool off and grab an ice cream on our way to the stadium, and we emerged to see President Nixon’s motorcade creeping through the downtown traffic as he headed to the stadium to throw out the first pitch. Downtown was bustling with activity, and you could sense the excitement in the air.
Twenty one future Hall of Famers took the field that night in Cincinnati, including five starters for the National League – Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Willie Mays, Tony Perez and Tom Seaver – and five for the American League – Luis Aparicio, Harmon Killebrew, Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski. Although the game started slowly – the first run didn’t score until the sixth inning – it picked up steam and ended up as one of the all time greats.
Trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth, the Nationals plated three runs, the final one a sacrifice fly by Roberto Clemente scoring Joe Morgan, to send the game into extra innings. But Clemente’s ninth inning heroics merely set the table for what has been called the greatest moment in MLB All Star Game history.
With two outs in the twelfth inning and the game still tied 4-4, Pete Rose singled, and moved to second on a single by the Dodgers’ Billy Grabarkewitz. The Cubs’ Jim Hickman followed with a single to center field, and the Royals’ Amos Otis threw a strike just left of the plate. Rose and the ball arrived simultaneously, and Indians’ catcher Ray Fosse, while attempting to block the plate, was bowled over by Rose in a huge collision and couldn’t hold onto the ball. Rose scored to give the NL a 5-4 victory, and Fosse suffered a separated shoulder. It was a play that effectively ruined Fosse’s career and one that defined Rose’s.
My first Ultimate Sports List event, and it was a classic. Not a bad way to get started.