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Notes on the National Pastime
Page 2
"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."
-- Jacques Barzun
In Detroit, where the [1941] All-Star game was to be played ... [m]any of the All-Star players had "candid cameras," as the newly popular 35-mm cameras were called, and some had movie cameras. All of them took pictures of [Joe] DiMaggio. When the All-Star teams were introduced he and [Bob]Feller received the greatest applause from the Detroit crowd (except for Rudy York, the lone Tiger in the American League lineup.)

DiMaggio batted third for the American League while [Ted] Williams hit fourth. Feller pitched the first three innings and shut down the National League with only one hit. Williams drove in the first run of the game with a double off Paul Derringer in the fourth, and after six innings the American League led 2-1.

Then the presumptive hero of the game emerged. He was Arky Vaughan, the renowned shortstop of the Pittsburgh Pirates .... Vaughan hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning to put the National League ahead 3-2, and in the eighth he hit another two-run homer to make the score 5-2.

The American League, the dominant league in those days, had won six of the first seven All-Star games, but the Nationals had won the year before when they shut out the Americans 4-0. Then the Nationals won the World Series for the first time in six years, and now they were winning the All-Star game again. People gave credit for this success to Bill McKechnie, the Cincinnati Reds' manager, who piloted the National League All-Stars in both 1940 and 1941 ....

DiMaggio had not yet had a hit, not that it mattered as far as his [45-game hitting] streak was concerned. The All-Star game was an exhibition not a regular-season game. But the crowd wanted a hit from Joe and yelled for him to get one each time he batted, and it felt let down each time he failed. In the eighth inning, to the joy of the crowd, Joe doubled, and a moment later, after [Claude] Passeau struck out Williams, he scored on his brother Dominic's double. But that was all the American League could do. The Nationals still led 5-3 going into the last half of the ninth.

McKechnie ... let Passeau stay in the game for a third inning. The big righthander ... got the first man out on a pop-up to Billy Herman, who was playing second base for the Nationals. But Ken Keltner hit a hard ground ball to short that took a bad hop and hit Eddie Miller, who had taken over for Vaughan, on the shoulder. Keltner was safe. Joe Gordon followed with a clean single to right. Passeau went to a three-and-two count on Cecil Travis and walked him, filling the bases with one out, and the great DiMaggio came to bat.

....But DiMaggio hit a bouncing ball to the shortstop, a grounder made to order for a fast, game-ending double play. Miller fielded it, hurried his throw and tossed the ball a little off-line to Herman at second base. Herman, veteran of a thousand double plays, caught the ball just as Travis slid in hard and relayed it a little awkwardly to first base. They missed the double play. Herman's throw pulled the first baseman off the bag and DiMaggio, running hard as always, was safe. The run scored. The game, which seemed over, was not over. The American League still had life.

Gordon was on third base, DiMaggio on first. There were two out, the score was 5-4 in favor of the Nationals, and Williams was up. He was a lefthanded hitter opposing the righthanded Passeau, who was facing his sixth batter in this third inning of pitching, and yet McKechnie stayed with him. He remembered that Passeau had struck out Williams in the eighth.

"Passeau was always tough," Williams said in his autobiography. "He had a fast tailing ball he'd jam a lefthanded hitter with, right into your fists, and if you weren't quick he'd get it past you...."

The first pitch was low for a ball. Williams fouled the second down the first-base line. The third was high and inside for ball two. The fourth was the tailing fast ball Williams spoke of, in on the fists. Williams was waiting for it .... He hit the ball. Briggs Stadium in Detroit was famous as an easy home-run park, but Williams' towering blast down the right-field line ... would have been a home run anywhere. It soared on a high arc and hit against the green woodwork at the front of the roof high in right field. Three runs scored .... [T]he American League had won, 7-5. Williams, laughing, clapping his hands, leaping like a young colt, bounded his way around the base paths and touched home plate. The All-Stars on the American League bench ran ... like small boys to pound Williams on the back, pat him, shake his hand ....

There had been dramatic moments in earlier All-Star games --Ruth's home run in 1933, Carl Hubbell striking out five great hitters in a row in 1934, Feller coming on in relief in 1939 with the bases loaded and one out and ending the uprising with one pitch that was hit into an inning-ending double play. But Williams' homer, coming after Vaughan's two, made this the first truly exciting All-Star game, and in half a century since there hasn't been another to top it.

....If there was a precise moment when Williams was fully accepted by the baseball fraternity, this was it.

"I'm delighted," he kept saying. "Boy, was I glad to beat those guys this way. That's a moment I'll never forget."

He never did. He played another sixteen seasons, batted .400, won six batting titles, won the Most Valuable Player award as his team won the pennant, hit three more homers in All-Star play, hit another 450 homers in regular-season play, and was elected to the Hall of Fame. When it was all over he said the home run in Detroit was "the most thrilling hit of my life. It was a wonderful, wonderful day for me."
--Robert W. Creamer
Baseball in '41

 Baseball in '41, Robert W. Creamer
Copyright 1991 by Robert W. Creamer
Published by Penguin Books (New York), 1992

available at ABEBOOKS