There was no Home Run Derby. There was no fan fest. There was just a game. A game of stars. I was shocked to be even invited – we had so many guys that were already goin’ – Vida, Reggie, Rudi, Rollie, Campy, Tenace, too, I think. I don’t remember if someone got hurt or what not, but our GM at the time called me into his office and said, “You’re going to Milwaukee. You’re going to the All-Star Game.” Didn’t matter how I made the team, I was glad to be there. 1975.
I never really thought about it, because the All-Star Game is basically a popularity contest . I had pretty good numbers at the break – I was hitting in the 3rd spot of the lineup at that time, but I was just a kid, not even 21 years old, didn’t think it was my time, though I did feel I would get there, sooner or later. I flew in late Monday night, was coming from Oakland to Milwaukee, took my Mother and my aunt. I missed the downtown luncheon that the league threw for the incoming players, which would’ve been nice to see and be a part of, but that all changed when we arrived at the hotel.
The Pfister in Milwaukee was maybe the nicest spot in town back then. Teams usually stayed there when playing against the Brewers. They say that the halls and rooms of the Pfister are haunted, that even today in this world of 25 players and 25 hotel keys, some teammates bunk together when they stay at the Pfister, just because. There were no ghosts when we got there. Just stars, lots of stars in the lobby. A nod hello to the Cleveland Indians young dude, George Hendrick. Shook hands with Freddie Lynn of the Red Sox, who had a really good first half, spoke briefly, acknowledged each other and moved on. To be honest, I just wanted to get my Mom and aunt settled in. Spoke to the Traveling Secretary, who made all the arrangements, made sure my family found everything they needed before I headed to the ballpark for my first All-Star Game.
Walking into the clubhouse at County Stadium was an experience I’ll never forget. I played with some great legends on the A’s; Billy Williams, Reggie, Vida, but on this day I got to meet Hank Aaron. As a teammate. It was awesome. Sometimes, you sit back and think about it. I just missed playing in the league with Willie Mays by one year; he retired in ’73 and I came up the following season. Would’ve been cool to meet him on the field or at a game like this. Al Kaline was still there in 1974, so was Juan Marichal, who was with Boston that year, but neither of them played in the All-Star game, and both were gone by the middle of ‘75. Wonderful experience meeting Aaron and those guys – Hank was soft-spoken and laid back. I wasn’t sharp enough at that time to even to pick his brain, get some pointers, even if the AL All-Star Clubhouse is probably not the best place for a class on hitting to the opposite field, or something like that. You know, thinking back, in terms of knowledge of the game, it seems that guys that I played with early on, and to be fair, I wasn’t really asking, there wasn’t very much guidance in terms of my development. Nobody offered much insight into what you’re doin’ and certain situations – there was never any talks about situational hitting. It wasn’t until I got to Chicago (in my final months there, actually 1980) and Orlando Cepeda, the White Sox hitting coach, would sit down next to me on the bench during a game, and he was amazing. He taught me situational hitting, he could predict the next pitch better than anyone I had ever met in Baseball. Orlando would call pitches one after the other – Fastball down and in, Slider, Change, Forkball – Cepeda called them all. It spoke to the success he had in his career, like he could read the mind of the man on the mound. Never figured how he always knew. He never divulged that information and I never asked.
Once I reached my locker in the All-Star clubhouse, it hit me. They were there, they were all there. All the great men that I admired. You know, when you’re playing strikeout in the sandlots as a kid, or the young dudes in New York City playing stickball, you pretend you’re Willie Stargell, you pretend you’re Al Oliver, folks like that. These were the men I watched only three, four years earlier. Don’t forget, I was still in high school in 1972, 1973. I grew up in Berkeley rooting for the A’s. As a teenager, we’d be in my house watching Vida Blue toss 96 mile- an hour darts on the Saturday Afternoon Game of the Week, and I would laugh with friends, saying crazy things like, “Man, I can hit that,” and my friends, they’d get all over me. “Man, shut-up, that ain’t nothin’ like what we’re doing out here,” but I believed I could hit ‘em. I had the confidence, I had the hand-eye coordination, you see the ball, you hit the ball. Throw in some bat speed and you can find yourself on the field with those guys. The opportunity presented itself two, three years later, I’m on the same team as Vida Blue. It’s incredible. All these feelings came rushing back to me stepping into that clubhouse. Aaron. Vida, my other teammates. Bobby Bonds, who was a Yankee at this point but was a superstar in the Bay area with the Giants for many years. Mickey Mantle was there, too, the honorary captain of our squad. Mick was a good guy to me. Saw a lot of him when I played with the Yankees before he passed. Mick was always around the clubhouse – he and Billy (Martin) were real close.
The most wonderful moment, the moment that will always make me smile, is that moment when we were brought out onto the field for the opening ceremony. I know what you think, that the players are all cool and calm when they announce our name as we stand out on the baseline, we just tip our cap, just nod, maybe crack a smile. It’s nothing like that. This was one of the greatest moments in my baseball career. If you watch the game tonight, if you get to check out the opening ceremony and there’s some young player, some 1st-time All-Star tipping his cap to the crowd, he might look cool and collected, but believe me, this will be the thrill of his lifetime. I dunno, maybe kids coming up through the system are different today. It was a thrill for me. I was in awe.
I will say this; when I was invited again in 1984 with the Atlanta Braves, the whole All-Star experience had changed a bit. In terms of marketing players – it was like more of your time was demanded in ’84 as opposed to the ‘70’s – with television, radio and all that stuff, they always had something for you to do, someone for you to meet, some V.I.P. that needs to shake your hand. That’s probably why more and more players started shying away from the event – it was now an event - a lot of guys, once they went a few times, as they got older, some of those guys just wanted that week off to rejuvenate their bodies. “Oh, I made the team,” a superstar told me once, “But I need these three days, I don’t want to turn them down because I don’t want any bad stuff with the press, but I could use the time off and I wouldn’t get mad if I didn’t get picked again. “ You would be criticized – they still do, I guess - if you didn’t attend certain ceremonies during the All-Star week. Even in 1984, there was media coming from all over to get a piece of you. I don’t even want to know what it’s like today behind the scenes.
1975, though, it wasn’t all this big thing. It was ‘ol Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and some dude with a camera, spend a little time with you, each one of us, but basically, they spent most of their time just talkin’ to the big wheels, the superstars. So it was easier for me. My point of view, I wasn’t the main guy on the block, I wasn’t even 21, I hadn’t arrived yet. There were no demands for my time.
Win or lose, though, it was an honor to have been a part of that team. A wonderful moment in my life, a thrill without the fanfare. It wasn’t an event, it wasn’t a party for TV people and their advertising clients, it was just a very special game.
An All-Star Game.
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The phone rang in my kitchen.
After I see a film, I might read 25 reviews.
Having enjoyed the experience of close to 13 seasons in the Major Leagues, a second life touring
"Oh shit, Johnny, there's a T in the road,” Randy Moffitt yells, beside me in the shotgun seat, l