Mets first hosted All-Star Game in 1964, and it was an Amazin' finish
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Former Mets second baseman Ron Hunt does not attempt to hide his disdain for some modern-day ballplayers.
"They wear their pants down around their ankles, they wear their hats crooked," he said during a phone interview from his home in Wentzville, Mo. "It's a bunch of B.S."
Hunt, 72, also does not think much of the circumstances that surround the All-Star Game, especially the provision that a victory provides home-field advantage in the World Series as a way to ensure that players perform as if they give a damn.
"They attached that because some guys didn't want to play," Hunt said. "That tells you the story, doesn't it?"
The plain-spoken Hunt, who never shied away from being hit by a pitch when he had the opportunity to be awarded first base, vividly remembers what he views as a far better time.
He was 23 when he represented the Mets in the 1964 All-Star Game, which highlighted Shea Stadium's inaugural season. (The Mets played their first two at the Polo Grounds).
No World Series connection was needed to provide incentive. Teams did not maneuver to keep pitchers from being used. Pitchers did not live by one and done. "We thought it was an honor," Hunt said, "and we played it for the fans."
It was more ballgame than spectacle, a ballgame to be won. And the National League did win, 7-4, in what is viewed as one of the most dramatic All-Star Games since the first one was played in 1933. The NL rallied with a four-run ninth inning that featured a walk-off three-run home run to rightfield by the Phillies' Johnny Callison.
Callison, unable to find his own equipment, wore a Mets helmet when he delivered the blow off Red Sox relief ace Dick Radatz that allowed the NL to win for the sixth time in seven games and square the series at 17 victories. Callison joined legends Ted Williams and Stan Musial as All-Stars who belted walk-off homers -- even if that expression wasn't used in those days.
Phil Pepe, who covered the 1964 festivities for The World-Telegram & Sun, remembers that much of the pregame buzz had to do with the setting.
Shea Stadium, built on the 45-acre lot offered to Walter O'Malley in the 1950s before he took the Dodgers to Los Angeles, was the first stadium constructed in New York since 1923.
Officials broke ground on Oct. 28, 1961, but repeated labor strikes contributed to an opening a year later than planned. In fact, fresh sod still was being laid in the outfield during batting practice before the equally ill-prepared Mets lost to the Pirates, 4-3, on April 17, 1964.
The incessant roar of jet engines notwithstanding, Shea Stadium was celebrated then as Citi Field will be now. "At the time, Shea was considered like a Taj Mahal, top of the line," Pepe said. "It got old quickly, but it was brand new at the time."
Both teams were packed with star power. American League manager Al Lopez used this starting lineup: Jim Fregosi, Angels, shortstop; Tony Oliva, Twins, rightfield; Mickey Mantle, Yankees, centerfield; Harmon Killebrew, Twins, leftfield; Bob Allison, Twins, first base; Brooks Robinson, Orioles, third base; Bobby Richardson, Yankees, second base; Elston Howard, Yankees, catcher, and Dean Chance, Angels, pitcher.
The loaded lineup for National League manager Walter Alston: Roberto Clemente, Pirates, rightfield; Dick Groat, Cardinals, shortstop; Billy Williams, Cubs, leftfield; Willie Mays, Giants, centerfield; Orlando Cepeda, Giants, first base; Ken Boyer, Cardinals, third base; Joe Torre, Milwaukee Braves, catcher; Hunt, Mets, second base, and Don Drysdale, Dodgers, pitcher.
Not surprisingly, Mays ignited the NL's ninth-inning uprising. Radatz already had thrown two hitless innings and jumped ahead of Mays 0-and-2. But Mays fouled off five pitches in earning a walk. He immediately swiped second and scored on Cepeda's looping single to right when Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone made a poor throw home. After two quick outs and another walk, Callison nailed Radatz's fastball.
Shea Stadium rocked.