Trio of Hall of Famers share KC All-Star history

Trio of Hall of Famers share KC All-Star history

Trio of Hall of Famers share KC All-Star history
KANSAS CITY -- This city has something unique in common with Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Brooks Robinson.

Those three Hall of Famers were the only three players to have been in the previous two All-Star Games in Kansas City -- 1960 at old Municipal Stadium and 1973 at what was then called Royals Stadium. That's a pretty good feat considering the games were 13 years apart. But those three gentlemen had long and distinguished careers.

"That was my first All-Star Game, in '60, and I was the backup to Frank Malzone," said Robinson, the Orioles third baseman who would win the first of his 16 consecutive Gold Gloves that season.

"Malzone had a good year and that was my rookie year and getting to be in an All-Star Game was something I'd dreamed of more than anything else. That was really the first good year; I think I finished third in the MVP vote that year to [Roger] Maris and [Mickey] Mantle. I got quite a few votes and we went down to the last couple weeks and ended up losing, but we had a great shot at winning the pennant."

Even though Robinson would be selected to play in 17 more All-Star Games, there are some things he'll never forget about his first.

"Ted Williams was on that team and that, of course, was his last year, so that was kind of exciting. And to get a chance to play in the game was even better," Robinson said.

Williams pinch-hit for the American League in the second inning and his appearance set off a chain reaction by National League pitcher Bob Friend, who first balked, then threw a wild pitch. Finally, though, he got Williams to ground out to second base.

Robinson went 0-for-2 for the AL and Braves slugger Aaron was 0-for-4 for the NL. But Mays, in his prime for the Giants, went 3-for-4 and darn near hit for the cycle. He opened the game with a triple down the right-field line off Bill Monboquette and scored on Bob Skinner's single. The Say Hey Kid singled and doubled in his next two times up. Up for the fourth time, he flied out to deep right field, coming a bit short of the cycle. That was in the sixth inning and manager Walter Alston replaced him with Vada Pinson.

"I told Alston to let Vada play. We were five runs up," Mays said.

That was one of the years when two All-Star Games were played, so, after the NL's 5-3 victory, the players flew to New York for the second game at Yankee Stadium. Robinson remembers sitting on the plane near Williams and Lew Fonseca, an ex-Major Leaguer who analyzed hitting techniques through use of film.

"Ted Williams and Lew were sitting together on the plane and Ted starting talking about the slider breaking .591 inches or something and I listened to them for about 10 minutes and I didn't know what the heck they were talking about," Robinson said. "I said, 'If hitting's this tough, I'll never get another hit.' "

Robinson, of course, got many hits in his career -- 2,848, as well as 13 in his 18 All-Star Games.

"We lost both those games," he said, recalling 1960. "I think I played in more losing games than any other American Leaguer. We won two when I played, maybe lost 15 and tied one. We had a tie game in Boston [in 1961] that got rained out in extra innings, I believe."

Fast forward to 1973. The Kansas City Athletics, hosts for the 1960 game, had been moved to Oakland by maverick owner Charles O. Finley. Now the host team was the relatively new Kansas City Royals, who had just settled into a new stadium hard by Interstate 70.

"I thought it was a beautiful stadium and it was AstroTurf, right?" Robinson said. "... we didn't have any in the American League, I believe."

The epitome of fielding excellence at third base, Robinson was a fan of artificial surfaces.

"In 1970, that was the first time we played on AstroTurf and that was in the World Series at Cincinnati," he said. "I loved AstroTurf. That was good for fielding. The bounces were pretty true unless they'd get on the sliding area. But you'd take a few ground balls on that and you're as good as you're gonna be. ... The ball gets to you a little faster but you can adjust to that."

Royals Stadium in 1973 also was known for its innovative fountains, championed by the first lady of the Royals, Muriel Kauffman, its wide-open vistas sweeping toward the highway and its roomy outfield. Now called Kauffman Stadium, with grass since 1995 and renovated three years ago, it shows off new amenities for this year's All-Star Game but the spacious outfield remains.

"I thought it was a great park but it was more of a pitcher's park than anything else," Robinson said.

Not that day in 1973, as it happened, for AL pitchers who were dealt a 7-1 loss by the NL. Johnny Bench, another future Hall of Famer, victimized the Angels' Bill Singer for a monster home run, estimated to have gone 480 feet, to left field.

Robinson started the game and was 0-for-2. Aaron this time was the starting first baseman and batted fourth for the NL, going 1-for-2 with an RBI single against Bert Blyleven.

The other returning alum of the 1960 game, Mays, playing for the Mets in his final season at age 42, was on the squad as a farewell gesture. He pinch-hit for Willie Stargell in the eighth inning and struck out on a slider from Sparky Lyle.

"I was picked as a captain of the team. I only pinch-hit. That last game, it wasn't like others for me," said Mays, who was in 24 All-Star Games. "They were important to me. I played from '54 to '73. I loved it."

Only Aaron has played in more All-Star Games, 25. He was back at Kauffman Stadium for Monday night's Home Run Derby, got a huge ovation as he waved to the crowd and was probably wondering why they didn't have such an event when he was here years ago. He probably would have done pretty well.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for reporter Chris Haft contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.