The 1971 all-star game, played in Detroit 50 years ago today, is memorable for at least three reasons. The first is all those home runs — six of them, the most memorable of which by were Reggie Jackson and Roberto Clemente. The second is that the American League won — its first all-star victory since 1962. The third is all of the top-tier Hall of Famers who participated.
1971 was the year of Vida Blue, and it was only natural that he started for the American League. His National League counterpart, Dock Ellis, was considerably less formidable.
Ellis and Blue are both Black. A few days before the game, Ellis had said, “Ain’t no way they’re gonna start two brothers against each other in the All-Star Game.”
Since Blue was obviously going to start for the AL, Ellis was saying that NL manager Sparky Anderson wouldn’t select him. He reportedly believed that Anderson had it in for him.
Yet Anderson did select Ellis, bypassing superior pitchers like Tom Seaver, Juan Marichal, and Steve Carlton.
It turned out not to be a great call, although Blue wasn’t that much more effective than Ellis. (Ellis would later claim he was “high” when he took the mound.)
Blue was fine in the first inning. Willie Mays, Blue’s boyhood idol, led off by grounding out. Hank Aaron also grounded out and Joe Torre popped out.
Ellis also sailed through the first inning, retiring three future Hall of Famers — Rod Carew, Carl Yastrzemski, and Frank Robinson.
Blue began the second inning by hitting Willie Stargell with a pitch. He then struck out the NL’s third Willie (McCovey). However Johnny Bench followed with a two-run homer, a prodigious opposite field shot that might still be remembered had not Jackson topped it a few innings later.
Blue gave up another homer in the third inning, this one to Aaron. It was the first all-star game home run, and indeed first extra base hit, for Hammering Hank. It came in his 17th game and (if I counted correctly) his 59th at-bat.
Ellis took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the third. However, the NL countered with four runs in that frame.
The first two came from Reggie Jackson’s home run — a monstrous shot that hit a light tower 540 feet away. This is probably the longest all-star game home run ever, or would have been but for the tower. A professor later estimated that Jackson’s blast would have traveled 650 feet had it not been interrupted.
Jackson says he hit the shot after choking up on the bat. Jackson never choked up, but he did this time, he says, because teammate Sal Bando had admonished him not to strike out at the all-star game, as Jackson did so often during the regular season. (In the video of the home run below, Jackson does appear to have choked up slightly.)
Jackson also says, “That might be the longest one I ever hit. I couldn’t have hit it any farther if I stood at second base with a fungo bat.”
The next two runs came from a Frank Robinson home run. With it, Robinson became the first player ever to hit all-star game home runs for both leagues. He had homered for the NL in 1959.
In the fourth inning, a pair of future Hall of Famers — Jim Palmer and Juan Marichal — replaced Blue and Ellis. Both pitched two scoreless innings. The only hit in these two frames was a Willie Davis singled off of Palmer.
Palmer was aided, though, by a fielding gem from his teammate Brooks Robinson. The great third baseman had robbed Bench and his Cincinnati teammates on multiple occasions during the previous World Series. Bench responded to this latest fielding gem by throwing up his hands and wondering why he kept hitting the ball at Robinson.
Another Oriole ace, Mike Cuellar, took over for Palmer in the top of the sixth. He would pitch two more scoreless innings.
Ferguson Jenkins, another Future Hall of Famer, came on for the NL in the bottom of sixth. Home town hero Al Kaline greeted him with a single. Harmon Killebrew was the next batter. He smashed a home run, the fifth of the contest.
Killebrew’s blast put the AL up 6-3. The NL cut the lead to 6-4 in the top of the eighth, when Clemente homered off of another home town hero, Mickey Lolich. This would be Clemente’s last all-star game at-bat.
Clemente’s home run is memorable because he was standing on only one leg when he hit it. Don’t believe me? Watch for yourself below. (You can also watch Jackson’s shot just below Clemente’s.)
Lolich was able to retire the next five National League batters to close out the game. The AL had broken its eight game losing streak.
In all, 21 future Hall of Famers played in the 1971 all-star game. Five others participated as managers, coaches, or (in the case of Doug Harvey) as an umpire. All six home runs were by Future Hall of Famers.
Was this the most memorable all-star game ever? It is for Detroiters of a certain age. And for many others, too.