All-Star memories rich for Hall of Famers
Sutton, Aaron and others remember past Midsummer Classics
NEW YORK -- The memories and images are as vivid as Willie Mays, cap flying off, swirling from first to third, as sharp as the break on a Sandy Koufax curveball.
Favorite All-Star Game? For Don Sutton, as for Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs and Gary Carter, it's a snap.
"It's right there with the four or five most memorable events of my life," Sutton said on Tuesday as Hall of Famers gathered at a midtown hotel before their All-Star Game Red Carpet Parade Presented by Chevy.
"Yankee Stadium, 1977," he said. "It was an awe-inspiring experience."
Sutton started and worked three scoreless innings, yielding one hit and one walk while striking out four American Leaguers. The Dodgers' ace had a dream ending to his dream day. He was named Most Valuable Player of the National League's 7-5 win, which had begun with a four-run first inning bang highlighted by homers by Joe Morgan and Greg Luzkinski.
Reconstructing the events of that magical Midsummer Classic meant returning to his Deep South origins. A Clio, Ala., native, Sutton grew up dreaming of pinstripes and sharing a clubhouse with the likes of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford.
"I'd already played in Yankee Stadium thousands of times in my head," Sutton said. "I played with Andy Carey, Yogi, Johnny Blanchard. Mentally, I had pitched with Bob Turley, Tom Sturdivant, Johnny Kuchs, all those guys.
"Everything I wore as a kid had number 7 on it. I wanted to be Mickey Mantle, but I couldn't switch-hit or run. I couldn't think of anything but playing for the Yankees. I held out up to 10 minutes before I signed with the Dodgers hoping of signing with the Yankees, but they had a scout who said I wasn't a Major League prospect."
So, Sutton embarked on the journey that would lead to 324 wins and a plaque in Cooperstown. Along the way, there was that very first Yankee Stadium visit, in his 12th Major League season.
"No. 1, I had no idea I'd be starting," Sutton said. "Sparky [Anderson] was the manager, and when he told me, that was exciting. I came to the ballpark the day before the game and went out and stood by the monuments and talked to the ghosts. They were there. I got over the awe on Monday so I could go to work on Tuesday.
"The game itself was the stuff of dreams. It all became almost a blur. I do remember Johnny Bench, who was catching, saying, `Hey, nothing but the same old [stuff] you do all year long.' It was a hair-raising experience, but it went pretty well."
For Aaron, the king of swing, the first of his record 25 All-Star Game appearances came in his home ballpark, Milwaukee's County Stadium, and remains unsurpassed.
"My first year, in 1955 -- my first All-Star Game -- that would have to be the best," Aaron said. "Stan Musial hit a home run in the 12th inning to win it. I didn't start the game and neither did Willie [Mays], but that's the one I remember most.
"There was also the one in Detroit [in 1971] when I hit a home run and the big guy [Reggie Jackson] hit the transformer. That was a good one. But the first one is my favorite."
McCovey, joining Giants teammate Mays in the lethal NL lineup for the first time in 1963, had his most memorable All-Star Game in 1969 at RFK Stadium in Washington, where the NL won its seventh in a row, 9-3.
Big Mac accounted for three of those runs with a pair of monster blasts.
"All the politicians were there, the president [Richard Nixon] was there," McCovey recalled. "It was always fun to get together with all the guys. We had Mays, Aaron, Ernie Banks ... the megastars of the time. And it meant a lot to me that with all those great hitters, I always seemed to hit fourth.
"I hit one of the home runs into the scoreboard in right center, and the other one went to left center. I hit one off Dennis McLain, who'd won 30 games, you know, and the other off Blue Moon Odom. That's right near the top of my list of biggest thrills, along with my first Major League game, when I went 4-for-4 with two triples."
In 1966, in St. Louis' new Busch Stadium, Perry made his All-Star Game debut one to remember in the company of Giants teammates Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Jim Ray Hart and Tom Haller.
"Koufax started for us, and we had Marichal, Gibson, guys like that," Perry said. "There's no way Gaylord Perry's gonna pitch. We get to the ninth inning, and it's tied [at 1], and the phone rings in the bullpen and they tell me to start throwing.
"I go in and pitch the ninth and 10th and got the win [when Maury Wills singled home Tim McCarver]. I was so concerned about not letting them score. The game really meant something in those days. [NL president] Chub Feeney came in before the game and said, `Hey, guys, we've gotta beat those guys. We won't take anything but a win."
Starting for the American League in a losing cause in 1974, Perry was even more dominant.
"I struck out Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose in the same inning," he said. "You could look it up."
Marichal pitched in eight All-Star Games and delivered 18 innings, falling four outs shy of Don Drysdale's record. His most unforgettable Midsummer Classic came in Minnesota in 1965, when he faced the minimum nine batters as the starter in the NL's 6-5 win.
"Luis Aparicio got an infield hit, and it was 5-0 when I left the game," Marichal said. "I was the MVP. In those days, Mays, Aaron, they played all nine innings. Playing for your league meant a lot."
For Carew, an observation by the ever-alert Rose helped make the 1978 game in San Diego his most memorable.
"I hit my second triple of the game, and as I was sliding into third, Pete Rose was yelling, `That's a record,'" Carew said. "That's Pete. When he ran into [Ray] Fosse at home plate [in 1970 in Cincinnati], that's the way the All-Star Game was played."
No one made the Midsummer Classic his own domain the way the electric Mays did in setting records for hits (23), runs scored (20) and sharing the total bases standard of 40 with Musial.
"I loved Willie," Carew said. "He was the ultimate player. If you couldn't sit back and watch him play and not enjoy yourself, there was something wrong with you."
Boggs was a major part of an explosive 1989 show in Anaheim, following Bo Jackson's monumental leadoff homer with one of his own against Rick Reuschel to ignite a 5-3 AL triumph.
"I hit it over the camera stand in center field," Boggs said. "It was a 3-2 cookie down the middle by Reuschel, and I got extended."
One of four men to win two All-Star Game MVP awards -- joining Mays, Steve Garvey and Cal Ripken Jr. -- Carter savors most his 1981 performance in Cleveland when the players returned to the game after a stoppage to resume the season.
"Coming back off a 50-day strike, having a game like that [two homers in a 5-4 NL victory], that was very special," said Carter, who claimed his second MVP distinction three years later with a homer in a 3-1 triumph made memorable by Dwight Gooden and Fernando Valenzuela striking out six consecutive hitters.
"Ah, the All-Star Game -- I love everything about it," a beaming Willie McCovey said, summing it up for stars of all eras, ages, shapes and sizes.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.