This day in baseball history [UPDATED]

Just like this year, the 1966 all-star game was played on July 12. The venue was brand new Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

The National League of the 1960s probably was as good a league as baseball has ever produced. During the decade, the National League’s record in all-star games was 12-1 (there were two all-star games in the first three years of the decade).

The superiority of the National League was apparent from the pitchers used by both teams in the 1966 game. For the NL it was: Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning, Juan Marichal, and Gaylord Perry. For the AL it was: Denny McLain, Jim Kaat, Mel Stottlemyre, Sonny Siebert, and Pete Richert.

The NL starting lineup was mighty impressive too. How is this for a first four: Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey? The next two weren’t bad either: Ron Santo and Joe Torre. At the bottom of the order, Jim Lefebvre and Leo Cardenas gave the AL pitchers a bit of a respite.

The AL lineup was less imposing: Dick McAuliffe, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson, Tony Oliva, Brooks Robinson, George Scott, Bill Freehan, Bobby Knoop. Without Frank Robinson, who had just come over from the National League, the mismatch might have been as pronounced as at any all-star game in the history of the pageant.

In all, the American League squad included six future Hall of Famers. The National League had seven in the starting lineup and 13 total. [Note: Joe Torre is in the Hall based, as I understand it, on his career as a manager]

The game, though, was a tight affair in which pitching dominated. The teams managed only six hits apiece over ten innings.

Koufax surrendered the only American League run and it wasn’t mainly his fault. With one out in the second, Aaron lost Brooks Robinson’s fly ball in the sun. It fell for a triple. With two out and Freehan at the plate, Koufax unleashed a wild pitch to score the run.

The National League tied the game in the fourth inning against Kaat, using three of their six hits to do it — singles by Mays, Clemente, and Santo.

Little else of note took place until the tenth inning. It’s worth noting, though, that Jim Bunning continued his long-time mastery in all-star games. With two innings of shut-out relief (during which he gave up just one hit), Bunning turned in his sixth scoreless performance in seven all-star game appearances (this would be his last). Bunning’s career all-star game ERA is 1.00 (two earned runs in 18 innings).

In the top half of the tenth, Brooks Robinson singled to lead off. He moved to second on a wild pitch, still with no one out. However, Perry retired Norm Cash, Bobby Richardson, and Jim Fregosi to keep the score at 1-1.

AL manager Sam Mele brought in Richert to pitch the bottom half of the tenth. Richert was the lowly Washington Senators sole representative at the all-star. He had pitched very well in 1965 and was following up that performance up with a good first half of 1966. Although Richert accomplished little of note thereafter, he deserved to be an All Star.

The initial matchup favored Richert. The southpaw would face left-handed hitting Tim McCarver. Lefthanders didn’t hit Richert a lick in 1966 (they batted .127 against him) and McCarver was struggling against lefties (.238 average that year).

However, McCarver led off the 10th with a single. Ron Hunt bunted him to second base. Switch-hitting Maury Wills (always better against righties than lefties) drove McCarver home to win the game.

Despite playing for the losing team, Brooks Robinson was the game MVP. He had three of his team’s six hits, including the triple.

The American League wouldn’t win its next all-star game until 1971, and not again until 1983.

UPDATE: FiveThirtyEight considers the 1966 National League team the best all-star team ever.

The game was played in sweltering heat. When asked how he liked the new Busch Stadium, Casey Stengel, who attended the game, answered: “It sure holds the heat real well.” (Via Mark Arnold)


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