This day in baseball history

A long-time reader filed this dispatch from the 1961 baseball season:

On July 11, 1961, the National League All Stars defeated their American League counterparts 5-4 in 10 innings at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The game is remembered, if at all, for National League relief pitcher Stu Miller (of the hometown Giants) being called for a balk when a gust of wind “blew him off the mound.” That, at least was the headline at the time, and so it has remained. Thus, a press release issued by Giants in 2007 in commemoration of the ’61 All Star game stated: ”Stu Miller, who was blown off the mound while pitching in the 1961 All-Star Game at Candlestick Park will throw out the first pitch.”

In fact, however, it is almost certain that Miller was not blown off the mound. The 165 pound reliever was indeed called for a balk for a movement caused by a gust of wind. But the movement seems to have been a slight one that in no way resembled being blown off of the mound.

This is Miller’s account of the event:

The flag was straight down. But around the seventh inning, the flag started to flutter. By the eighth inning, it was blowing straight out. . . I had never seen the wind blow that hard. By the time I got in there, it had gotten worse. I came in and anchored myself. There was a man on first and second with one out. Before I threw a pitch, I went into a stretch position and then there was an extra gust of wind and I just wavered a bit. I don’t think any of the fans knew what happened. . . They were probably wondering why did those runners move up [on the balk call]. Anyhow, the next day in the papers the headline says, ‘Miller Blown Off Mound’ . . . I didn’t move a hell of a lot. The papers made it sound like I was pinned against the center-field fence.

Miller doesn’t dispute that he balked, but he has estimated his movement due to the gust at three or four inches

Apparently, there is no video of the event, but the contemporaneous play-by-play call supports Miller’s recollection:

Miller out of the stretch. And now takes a long look and delivers. Time has been called as the batter [Rocky Colavito] swings on and missed. Sam Landis called time. He might have called a balk. Landis called a balk on him. Miller had hesitated in his swing [i.e., his pitching motion] and a balk is called.

A hesitation in delivery is consistent with a slight waver, not with an ejection from the mound.

In any event, the balk and the Candlestick wind were at the heart of a wild top of the ninth inning in which the American League rallied from a 3-1 deficit (earlier, George Altman had homered for the NL and Harmon Killebrew for the AL) to send the game into extra innings. The inning began innocently enough when Roy Face (who weighed less than Miller) fanned Jim Gentile. But the Detroit Tigers duo of Norm Cash and Al Kaline produced a run on a Cash double and a Kaline single.

With Roger Maris due up, NL manager Danny Murtaugh went to a left-hander, none other than Sandy Koufax. Maris singled Kaline to second base. Now Rocky Colavito (another Tiger) was the hitter, so Murtaugh pulled his southpaw and called on Stu Miller. It was at this point that the famous balk occurred.

After that, things got even crazier. Ken Boyer, a fine defensive third baseman, erred on a grounder by Colavito, which enabled Kaline to score (Maris held at second base). Some have claimed, implausibly it seems to me, that the wind blew the ball out of Boyer’s easy grasp.

Next, Tony Kubek hit a wind-blown foul pop that catcher Smokey Burgess dropped, but Miller struck Kubek out. Then, Don Zimmer booted a Yogi Berra grounder, loading the bases.

Pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm was due up next, and AL manager Paul Richards apparently had already used all of his non-pitchers (17 players), so Wilhelm batted. Miller retired him on a fly ball.

The AL took the lead in the top of the tenth. With two out, Miller walked Nellie Fox and another Boyer error, on a ball hit by Kaline, enabled Fox to score from first.

But the Nationals won the game in the bottom of the inning through the contributions of four future Hall of Famers: Hank Aaron, batting for Miller (single), Willie Mays (double), Frank Robinson (hit-by-pitch) and Roberto Clemente (single). All of the damage came at the expense of Wilhelm, who failed to retire anyone in the inning.

Coupled with his triple and run scored earlier in the game, Clemente’s game winning hit made him the star of stars on the day. But Stu Miller, the winning pitcher, didn’t do badly either. In one and two-thirds, he struck out four, walked one, and gave up no hits or earned runs. Oh, and one balk and no blown of the mounds.

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