Reggie Jackson still is astounded that he had such an impact on the 1971 All-Star Game. His mammoth blast at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium is remembered as the longest home run in All-Star Game history.
“There were so many stars on the team, I spent most of my time getting autographs,’’ Jackson said last week from Carmel, California. He was a last-minute replacement for the injured Tony Oliva, and the 25-year-old Jackson received specific instructions from A’s teammate Sal Bando. “Whatever you do, don’t strike out and embarrass us,’’ Jackson, 72, said of Bando’s edict.
Tiger Stadium had been the site of some other classic home runs, none longer than Mickey Mantle’s smash in 1960 that went over the rightfield roof. Forensic researchers have said that ball landed in a lumber yard 643 feet away.
In this 1971 Midsummer Classic, six future Hall of Famers hit home runs. None was more dramatic than Reggie’s.
It was the first All-Star matchup of African-American starting pitchers: A’s lefthander Vida Blue and Pirates righty Dock Ellis. The National League had a 3-0 lead — on home runs by Johnny Bench and Hank Aaron — when Luis Aparicio singled in the fourth and Jackson pinch hit for Blue.
Jackson already had demonstrated home run prowess with 76 in his first two seasons, including 47 in 1969.
Jackson recalled: “The count goes to one ball and two strikes and I step out of the batter’s box and all I can think of is Sal Bando saying, ‘Don’t strike out, don’t make us look bad.’ For the first time in my life, I choked up about an inch on the bat. I got this bat that’s 35 1⁄2 inches long, 37 1⁄4 ounces.
“Dock Ellis hung a slider and I hit one into the dark of the night.’’
The ball struck the light tower, on the roof above the second deck. The drive was estimated at 532 feet.
“I saw it hit one of the squares that were around the transformer of the light,’’ Jackson said. “I was just so surprised how far it had gone. I remember the ball came back down on the field and Willie Mays threw it into our dugout. I got it, took it home, gave it to my father. I could hit the ball far always, but I didn’t know I was hitting the ball that far.’’
Fellow All-Star Frank Howard, who knew something about hitting tape-measure home runs, said from Aldie, Virginia, “That ball had to travel close to 600 feet, if not 600 feet. It will rate with anybody’s shots.’’
Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson and Harmon Killebrew also homered in the AL’s 6-4 win, which snapped an eight-game losing streak. “The National League was great but not invincible,’’ the 81-year-old Howard said.
Jackson said he and Ellis never spoke of that game, even when they were teammates on the Yankees in 1977. “I never really got along with Dock Ellis,’’ Jackson said. “He was always a different [person].’’
In 1976, Ellis, pitching for the Yankees, hit Jackson, then with the Orioles, in the face. It sent Jackson to the hospital, but he was not seriously injured.
Jackson said he didn’t think it was retaliation for the All-Star Game blast, though Ellis had been quoted as saying Jackson “styled’’ around the bases after that homer. “I was always just a little leery of him,’’ Jackson said, “but I don’t think it was retaliation. I wouldn’t go there.’’
Ellis died in 2008.
Jackson said that on his list of achievements, his All-Star Game homer is “up there’’ but certainly is not No. 1. Hint? Think Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.
“I think,’’ Jackson said, “what I’m most known for, obviously, is the three-home-run game.’’