A Curious History of Washington D.C. All-Star games

This year’s All Star Game will mark the fifth time that the exhibition game has been played in Washington.  There is plenty of history involved.  A listing of players involved in the games played here is long and loaded with Hall of Famers. The games themselves were not particularly classics.  But, they have provided some food for thought as we await the first pitch.

Washington’s first All Star Game was in 1937 at Griffith Stadium.  It was the fifth of the series.  President Roosevelt threw out the ceremonial first pitch from the stands.  The assembled players included Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmy Foxx, and Mel Ott among many other notables.  The game was the only one of the four games here won by the American League in an 8-3 breather.  In the bottom of the third inning National League starting pitcher Dizzy Dean gave up a two-run homer to Lou Gehrig.  The next batter was Earl Averill, an outfielder for Cleveland.  He smacked a hard liner that found Dean’s left foot.  Dizzy Dean was a winning workhorse.  He entered the game with 137 wins in just 5 &1/2 seasons while averaging over 300 innings. The liner that hit his foot broke his big toe.  He would never be the same pitcher.  He would win just 13 more games throughout his remaining 4 years of baseball.

The skipper for the American League was Joe McCarthy of the Yankees.  He left all eight starting position players in the game for the entirety of the contest.  Not a single Washington Senators’ player took the field.

The game returned to Griffith Stadium in 1956.  A new crop of future Hall of Famers took the field including Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, and a National League reserve named Henry Aaron.  There were four home runs in the game.  One each was hit by Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Stan Musial.  Unlike the earlier game at Griffith, one Washington player actually played in the game.  Mickey Vernon got the start at first base.  He ingloriously went 0-2.  At the All Star break the Senators were 31-50, good for next to last in the League.  They were 22.5 games behind the Yankees, but only 2 behind Baltimore.  Attendance at the game was about 2500 less than in 1937.

President John F. Kennedy throws out the ceremonial First Pitch at DC Stadium, 1962.

By 1962 the original Senators had departed for Minnesota.  Baseball had given the city an expansion team and the All Star Game to validate the premise.  It was the first of two ASGs that year played nearly three weeks apart.  At then DC Stadium, President Kennedy threw out the first pitch to a group of players that included Brooks Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, and Don Drysdale.  In a low-scoring affair the National League won the game 3-1.  The only Washington representative was pitcher Dave Stenhouse.  He did not play in the game.

The most recent game was played in 1969.  Originally scheduled for prime time on July 22, the game was moved to the afternoon of the next day when a patented summer thunderstorm derailed plans.  The group of players included Rod Carew, Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson, and Willie McCoveyFrank Howard started the game in Left Field, hit a home run and took a walk.  His five bases that day are the only ones in any of the four games played here by a Washington player.  The National League won in a walk as Willie Mc Covey smacked two home runs.

The real intrigue of the game centered on the starting pitcher for the American League.  Denny McLain was scheduled to start.  He had won 31 games in 1968.  McLain took the opportunity of the afternoon game to have a Dentist’s appointment in Detroit during the morning.  He then flew himself to Washington on his private plane arriving at the stadium in the second inning.  He remains the only starting All Star pitcher to ever miss his start.  But, he would gain even more infamy with Washington.  In 1970, after McLain had clearly lost his fastball on route to a 3-5 season, Senators’ owner Bob Short traded for him.  It is arguably the single worst trade by one team in the history of baseball.  The Sens sent Emilio Rodriguez, Eddie Brinkman, Joe Coleman, and Jim Hannan to Detroit for McLain, Don Wert, Elliott Maddox, and Norm MacRae.  McLain was a total disaster in Washington pitching to a 10-22 season record in 1971.  He openly clashed with manager Ted Williams while organizing resistance in the clubhouse.  The club finished 33 games under .500.  At the end of the season Short announced the team was moving to Texas.  The trade was a poison pill that clearly worked.

The 2018 All Star Game will be the first in Washington played under the lights.  It will mark the first time Washington has been the National League host city.  It will also be the first ASG here where fans voted in the starting lineup.  It may also be the first where the starting Right Fielder is batting around .215.  Washington’s curious connection to the “Mid-Summer Classic” continues.

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