This day in baseball history — Callison’s walk-off all star game homer

The Major League All Star Game has produced come from behind wins and walk-off home runs. The 1964 All Star Game, played on July 7, 1964 at Shea Stadium in New York, produced both.

The National League had won six of the previous eight contests and featured the stronger team in 1964. For example the starting NL outfielders — Billy Williams, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente — all ended up in the Hall of Fame. So did a fourth, the great Hank Aaron. The great Frank Robinson didn’t even make the squad.

In addition, the NL pitching staff included four future Hall of Famers — Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Jim Bunning, and Sandy Koufax, who didn’t pitch. The AL had only one — Whitey Ford, who also didn’t pitch.

Going into the ninth inning, however, the AL held a 4-3 lead. The NL had gone up 2-1 in the 4th inning on solo home runs by Billy Williams and Ken Boyer off of John Wyatt. And they stretched their lead to 3-1 the next inning when Dick Groat doubled home Clemente against Camilo Pascual.

But the AL tied the score in the sixth. Brooks Robinson drove in both runs with a triple off of Chris Short that scored Mickey Mantle and Harmon Killebrew, both of whom had singled. Robinson, Mantle, and Killebrew were the three non-pitching future Hall of Famers on the AL team (Al Kaline and Luis Aparicio were unavailable due to injury).

Prior to Short’s unsuccessful stint, his Philadelphia teammate Jim Bunning had continued his All Star Game mastery with two scoreless innings in his first appearance for the NL stars. The Detroit Tigers had traded Bunning during the off-season. His ERA at the All Star break was 2.14 to go with a 9-2 record. And he had pitched a perfect game in Shea Stadium on Father’s Day.

The AL took the lead in the top of the 7th inning against ex-Phillie Dick “Turk” Farrell. Rocky Colavito, another star “off-loaded by the Tigers during the off-season, was the key man in this inning. His double sent Elston Howard (who had been hit by a pitch) to third base. Jim Fregosi drove in the run with a sacrifice fly.

AL manager Al Lopez then called on Dick Radatz for a three-inning save. Three-inning saves are all but extinct today, never mind in an All Star Game where a relief pitcher is lucky to pitch one full inning.

But Radatz specialized in relief shifts of that duration or longer. I wrote about one of them here.

In 1964, “The Monster” was the most overpowering relief pitcher baseball had ever seen. It would not see a comparable one until more than a decade later when Goose Gossage came into his own.

Radatz mowed down the National Leaguers in the seventh, striking out Johnny Edwards and Ron Hunt, and retiring Johnny Callison on a fly ball. Similarly, in the eighth, he fanned Bill White and Leo Cardenas, and retired Billy Williams on a grounder.

Lopez let Radatz bat in the 9th inning so he could close out the game. In fairness, all-star teams had few relief specialists in those days. Wyatt, the only other one on the AL roster, had already been used.

In addition, Lopez’s only remaining options were left handers — Ford, Jack Kralick, Gary Peters, and Juan Pizarro. And the first three due batters from the NL — Mays, Orlando Cepeda, and Boyer — were all outstanding right-handed batters.

But my guess is that Lopez would have stayed with Radatz regardless of what his other options were and regardless of the NL batters due up.

Mays led things off by earning a walk in a tough at bat. He then stole second base. Cepeda followed with a bloop hit to shallow right. Second-baseman Richardson probably would have caught it had he not been shading towards second base out of fear that Mays would steal third.

Joe Pepitone’s poor throw enabled Mays to score with Cepeda taking second. One weak batted ball; one NL run to tie the score; and the winning run in scoring position.

Radatz then retired Boyer on an infield pop-up. With first base open, Edwards received an intentional walk. This set up a possible double-play, but meant that Radatz would have to pitch to Hank Aaron, batting for Hunt.

No problem. Radatz made Aaron his fifth strike-out victim.

That brought Callison to the plate. When we last encountered Callison, Al Lopez and the White Sox had foolishly traded him to Philadelphia for Gene Freese. Callison went to become one of the emerging stars of the National League and an all-star in 1963.

Now he had the chance to be the hero against the manager who had discarded him.

Callison stepped to the plate with a bat loaned to him by Billy Williams (who had hit his home run with the same bat). Callison normally used a heavier bat, but wanted a lighter one in order to cope with Radatz’s heat.

Here’s how Callison, in his autobiography, described what happened next:

He reared and threw me a high hard one … As soon as I swung, I thought it was a homer. You can just feel it — hear it! … I was on cloud nine as I rounded the bases. By the time I rounded second, I saw Radatz throw his glove into the dugout. Curt Flood, Johnny Edwards, and the rest of the National League All-Stars mobbed me at home plate.

Joe Torre, the starting NL catcher, said he had never seen more joy on a baseball field.

Naturally, Callison was named the All Star Game MVP. It was his second and last Midsummer Classic. Same with Radatz.

Radatz died in 2006; Callison died the following year. You can read an excellent tribute to the stellar right-fielder here.

And here is Callison’s walk-off homer from 50 years ago today:

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