TAKE TWO… AND HIT TO RIGHT
By John Garner, Jr.
For the first time since 1999, the Cape League’s mid-summer classic last Saturday night was held at Spillane Field in Wareham and by all accounts it was one of the most successful.
Not only did the 45th CCBL All-star Game attract a crowd estimated at 5,591 fans and close to 100 major league scouts, but it also secured its first-ever title sponsor, Under Armour, in a multi-year deal finally signed the day before the game was played.
The Leading Banks of Cape Cod were once again presenting sponsors of the event, while the Baseball Express underwrote the popular home run hitting contest, won by hometown favorite Luke Murton, whose older brother Matt Murton captured the 2002 event before being drafted by the Boston Red Sox and eventually traded to the Chicago Cubs.
Along with a live broadcast on National Public Radio stations of Cape Cod and the islands (WCAI 90.1fm, WNAN 91.1fm and WZAI 94.3fm), the game was also telecast on NESN Monday at 7 p.m. in the Prime Time slot usually occupied by the Boston Red Sox.
Impressive performances were turned in by West MVP Aaron Crowe of Falmouth, who fanned all three batters he faced in the first inning and East MVP Dan Rayben of Brewster, who belted the eventual game-winning home run.
The hard-throwing Crow led the league with a microscopic 0.52 ERA along with a 3-1 record and 32 K’s, while Rayben had clouted six homers and a league-leading 32 RBI.
While Crowe started for the West squad, the East squad’s starting hurler was Eddie Burns of Yarmouth-Dennis, the first hurler to reach five wins this season. In a game once again dominated by pitching, the all-star game also featured mid-inning fireworks, thanks to home runs by Rayben and James Darnell of the Hyannis Mets.
The Cape League’s all-star game brings back distant memories of past Major League Baseball mid-summer classics, which began in 1933 when sports editor Arch Ward brought together baseball’s brightest stars at Comiskey Park in Chicago for a game won by the AL, 4-2 on a two-run homer by the immortal Babe Ruth.
The next year brought one of the most heralded games in All-Star history at the Polo Grounds in New York where local favorite King Carl Hubbell struck out five straight Hall of Famers in Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and future Cape Cod resident Joe Cronin, despite a 9-7 win by the AL.
Among those who witnessed the game was my father, John “Zeke” Garner during his senior year at Lowell Textile Institute (now UMass-Lowell), while visiting New York with his father, brother and cousin.
“Of course, we had no idea how (historic) this game would become,” said Garner. “I remember the left-hander (Hubbell) coming in and striking all those guys out with his screwball. We just walked into the park, bought our tickets and sat in the right field stands.”
Ironically, Garner, a member of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame, pitched with Hubbell’s N.Y. Giants teammate, Prince Hal Schumacher and Johnny (No-Hit) Vander Meer, on the U.S. Navy Team during World War II, while stationed in Samson, N.Y., and Coronado Island in San Diego, Calif.
A clutch three-run homer by Ted Williams in the ninth inning off Claude Passeau captured the 1941 classic for the AL and the “Splendid Splinter” clouted two more homers at Fenway Park in the 1946 All-Star Game to pace the AL to a 12-0 victory.
Thanks to a more aggressive style signing Negro players, the NL captured seven out of 11 all-star tilts in the 1950’s, including a 6-5 win at Milwaukee when Boston Celtics backup center and Red Sox right-hander Gene Conley struck out the side in the 12th inning and Stan “The Man” Musial hit the game-winning homer.
Fenway Park was the sight of the second MLB All-Star game in 1961, which ended in a 1-1 tie, despite a homer by Rocky Colavito. Sandy Koufax and Jim Bunning were two pitching standouts.
My first memories of watching a MLB All-Star game were when Tony Perez’s home run in the 15th inning at Anaheim Stadium in 1967 gave the NL a 2-1 win in the longest game in All-Star history, and the great Willie Mays scoring the only run during the “Year of the Pitcher” in the Houston Astrodome in 1968.
The AL ended an eight-game winning streak by the NL in 1971 on the strength of home runs by Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson and a gargantuan shot by Reggie Jackson off the third upper deck in Tiger Stadium.
Fred Lynn’s grand slam, the first in All-Star Game history, gave the AL a 13-3 win at Comiskey Park in 1983 and Bo Jackson and Boston’s Wade Boggs hit back-to-back home runs to lift the AL to a 5-3 win in Anaheim in 1989 as the 42-year-old Nolan Ryan became the oldest winning pitcher in the first game played with a DH.
As Dean Martin once sang, “That’s what memories are made of.”