Pittsburgh provides Classic setting
Steel City conjures lasting memories of past All-Star Games
PITTSBURGH -- A pall of fear and uncertainty hovered over the city and nation when Pittsburgh held its first All-Star Game amid the bleakest times of World War II.
Gone overseas in 1944 were the game's premier players -- Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg and Bob Feller to name a few.
Only 29,589 attended the twilight contest, since many people were working night shifts in the city's war plants.
"A few of the more timid, thinking about the rigid blackout restrictions, wondered if all those lights would not create a sitting-duck target for a stray enemy bomber," the Pittsburgh Press reported.
Sixty-two years later, the Steel City is the host of the Midsummer Classic for the fifth time. When the first pitch is thrown on July 11 at PNC Park, there will have been a red carpet cavalcade of players, a weeklong Fan Festival expected to draw more than 100,000, the Home Run Derby, any number of galas, a parade -- a perpetual celebration.
Perhaps no other city offers a better illustration of the Midsummer Classic's evolution into the transcendent event it is today. From $25,000 paid for radio rights in 1944 to a game that will be seen by more than 100 million people worldwide. From a few newspapermen on hand at Forbes Field to more than 1,500 members of the media expected to converge in Pittsburgh this July.
And each visit has surpassed the last one.
In 1959, there was a motorcade of 50 convertibles that carried stars like Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Bill Mazeroski through the streets of Pittsburgh while they showered the throngs along the route with 10,000 baseballs. They were on their way to the first of two All-Star games to be played that season, the first of four years that baseball decided to make the All-Star game a twin bill.
July 11, 1944
|Pirates on Roster: Vince DiMaggio (CF), Bob Elliot (3B), Rip Sewell (P)|
|With many of the game's premier players overseas during World War II, a twilight crowd of 29,589 witnessed the National League's 7-1 win in the city's inaugural game. The game's highlight saw Pittsburgh's own Rip Sewell toss three scoreless innings, including a few displays of his famed "eephus" pitch.|
July 7, 1959
|Pirates on Roster: Bill Mazeroski (2B), Dick Groat (SS), Smokey Burgess (C), ElRoy Face (P)|
|In the first year baseball decided to stage two All-Star games -- played in July and August -- the National League took the twin bill's first feature. Vice President Richard Nixon and 35,276 others watched as Willie Mays hit the game-winning triple in the eighth inning to give his club a come-from-behind 5-4 win.|
July 23, 1974
|Three Rivers Stadium|
|Pirates on Roster: Ken Brett (P)|
|Ken Brett, Pittsburgh's lone All-Star representative, threw two scoreless innings of relief to pick up the win as the Senior Circuit topped the American League, 7-2, before a crowd of 50,706. It was the National League's 11th win in 12 years. Scoring off all four opposing pitchers -- Gaylord Perry, Luis Tiant, Catifish Hunter and Rollie Fingers -- their biggest blow came in the seventh, when Dodgers right fielder Reggie Smith hit the game's only homer.|
July 12, 1994
|Three Rivers Stadium|
|Pirates on Roster: Carlos Garcia (2B)|
|A Three Rivers Stadium record crowd of 59,568 witnessed one of the game's most dramatic endings in this extra-inning affair. With the American League ahead, 7-5, going into the ninth, Fred McGriff answered with a pinch-hit, two-run homer to send the game into the 10th. And in that extra frame, Tony Gwynn banged out a leadoff single that was followed by a Moises Alou double into the gap in left-center field. Pirates coach Jim Leyland, who was coaching third, waved the burly Gwynn home and watched as he just escaped the tag of catcher Ivan Rodriguez to give the National League a thrilling 8-7 win.|
In 1974, a then city-record 50,706 turned out to Three Rivers Stadium to watch their own Ken Brett notch the win with two scoreless innings against an American League lineup that included Rod Carew, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski and Brooks Robinson.
Two decades later, the 1994 game began to resemble the extravaganza it has become today. It had all the makings: the Home Run Derby, a weeklong festival at the Convention Center, a celebrity game, Meatloaf performing the National Anthem, extreme demand for tickets. Even seats in the stadium's upper reaches, with a face value of $45, were going for over $100 outside Three Rivers.
But Pittsburghers were not to be shut out, as a stadium-record 59,568 fans filed through the turnstiles.
The contest itself has also undergone a striking change from the days when this was a fiercely competitive game between the rival leagues to the largely ceremonial event it is today.
Take a look at 1944's game, for example. National League manager Billy Southworth was tossed after charging from the dugout and "bristled angrily" at umpire Carl Hubbard over a disputed call. And 1959's game. In the days leading up to the game, American League president Lee MacPhail commanded his representatives "to take the game more seriously" after falling short in 10 of the past 11 seasons. The president's efforts proved futile, as the Senior Circuit would "make it look almost too easy" in its 7-2 win, wrote the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The scribes of the time also treated the play on the field with a certain reverence not found today.
The Pittsburgh Press called the National League's 7-1 victory in 1944 an "artistic lacing" in praising the team's glove work ... "[The American League] was given a fancy lesson in fielding by the Nationals, with the errors standing three against the Americans and one for the victors."
To be sure, the game remains competitive -- the 1994 extra-innings duel at Three Rivers Stadium remains one of history's finest. Plus, with the rule that the winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series, there is more than bragging rights on the line for many.
Which means that someone may need to give the National League a pep talk. After dropping eight consecutive Midsummer Classics, the NL will try to bounce back at one of its home parks.
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.