07/08/12 3:37 PM ET
KC's 1973 All-Star Game holds special memories
By Bob Wirz / Special to MLB.com
They were not needed to stage an event the baseball world found fascinating.
The breathtaking new Royals Stadium -- now Kauffman Stadium, so named for its civic-minded owner, Ewing Kauffman -- was showpiece enough, because it had opened just three months earlier. And Major League Baseball added a similarly glittering reunion by inviting back all the living members of the very first All-Star Game played 40 years ago.
Every new stadium creates a certain buzz because of what it means in its home environment, as well as for its uniqueness -- as Marlins Park did this past spring with its fish tanks and the gyrations of the multicolored center-field creation ready to explode every time one of Miami's heroes launches a home run.
Royals Stadium had a remarkable spectacle of its own -- which still dazzles fans 39 years later -- with its outfield water fountain, which went into operation less than a week before the 1973 All-Star Game.
Home runs brought the fountains to life with their color and variety and helped Kansas City remind visitors about another one of its showpieces, the Plaza, where posh stores and restaurants still lure gawking out-of-towners. But if each game did not provide enough opportunities to show off the fountains, the Royals staged a memorable show at the end of the game, which would send everyone spilling onto Interstate 70 with an exhilarated feeling, whether the home team had prevailed or not.
The Royals had another showpiece in their giant scoreboard, which was adorned with a crown and reached an alluring 12 stories skyward. Although for a time, it seemed that it would go dark for All-Star festivities when it was struck by lightning four days earlier.
Sports Illustrated called it the best scoreboard around, and there was not much room for argument. But Chicago Tribune scribe Richard Dozer took exception since Wrigley Field still had the capacity -- as it does today -- to post every half-inning of every Major League game by hand.
The 40th All-Star Game left something to be desired fairly soon, because the National League continued its dominance of those years by blitzing the American League in the middle innings, taking a 7-1 waltz back to the second half of the regular season.
But it doesn't seem many of the Kansas City-record crowd of 40,849 should have fretted about the lopsided score very long because of the presence of 19 of the original All-Stars and the parade of eventual Hall of Famers in uniform that night. But the national media reported the local faithful booed every Oakland A's player because owner Charlie Finley had moved the Kansas City Athletics to Northern California seven years earlier. It did not help the mood when Finley's ill-fated invention of an orange baseball was used for warmups between innings. He was among the attendees.
The eventual Hall of Fame turnout on the field started with Cooperstown-bound managers Dick Williams (AL), recovering from an appendectomy, and Sparky Anderson (NL) and ended with 17 players (among the record of 54) who would eventually receive the game's highest honor. In all, 27 people who have been elected to the Hall of Fame so far, including home-plate umpire Nestor Chylak and nine of the 1933 stars, took part in the festivities.
How could the fans, the national media and the estimated 50 million who watched on NBC not have been entertained by an evening in which Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson, Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver and their Hall of Fame mates put their talent on display?
While Mays only pinch-hit, he received a standing ovation when he appeared in his record-tying (Stan Musial) 24th Midsummer Classic. Bench homered, Aaron drove in a run, Joe Morgan scored twice and 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Ron Santo had a single in his only at-bat. Among the other Hall of Famers, Catfish Hunter started for the Junior Circuit, but had to come out of the game when a hard grounder by Billy Williams caromed off the thumb of Hunter's pitching hand. Hunter suffered a hairline fracture, but he still turned a 15-3 first-half record into a 21-5 season and then won three more postseason games, as Oakland captured the second of its three consecutive World Series. Eventual Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven and Nolan Ryan gave up two runs apiece.
Giants star Bobby Bonds, whom Anderson called "the best player in the National League" at the time, won the All-Star Game MVP Award because of his two-run, fifth-inning blast over the left-center-field fence that built a 5-1 NL advantage. He later had a hustle double to finish 2-for-2.
Baseball made certain the returnees from that very first 1933 All-Star Game shared the spotlight, with Commissioner Bowie Kuhn honoring them at a luncheon and presenting them Linde Star All-Star rings in claret red compared to the fern green color that highlighted the rings for the '73 players. Lefty Gomez and Bill Hallahan, the starting pitchers 40 years earlier, flanked Kauffman when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Bob Wirz was publicity director for the Royals at the time of the 1973 All-Star Game. He went on to serve as chief spokesman for Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth from 1974-85 and since has operated his own sports consulting firm, Wirz & Associates, in Stratford, Conn. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.