All-Star Games in D.C.: 1937, 1956, 1962, 1969 and 2018

During the depth of the Great Depression, with a quarter of the American workforce unemployed, baseball attendance had fallen by 40 percent. A World’s Fair was scheduled in Chicago in the summer of 1933, and the city’s mayor wanted a major sports event to accompany it. He asked the publisher of the Chicago Tribune for help. The publisher, Robert McCormick, turned to one of his editors.

Arch Ward, the Tribune’s sports editor, envisioned a one-time “Game of the Century” to be played by the best players in both leagues at Comiskey Park. Fans would be able to vote on each league’s starting lineup. Ward, certain of his idea, said his own paycheck should be withheld if the game was not a success.

Several hundred thousand ballots, printed in dozens of newspapers, were cast for baseball’s most famous players. The game, played on July 6, 1933, drew 47,595 fans. The American League team won, 4-2. A decision soon was made to play another all-star game the following year.

At the 1934 game, played at the Polo Grounds in New York, the crowd was 48,368.  The 1935 game at huge Cleveland Municipal Stadium drew 69,813. The next year, however, just 25,556 fans showed up at Braves Field in Boston for the All-Star Game game. The Braves’ stadium had a capacity of more than 41,000.  

After the 1936 game was played before those thousands of empty seats, Clark Griffith convinced his fellow owners that he could produce a full house if the next game were played in Washington. Thus, the fifth midsummer classic, was held on July 7, 1937, at Griffith Stadium. The American League beat the National League 8–3, before a capacity crowd of 31,391. President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

 The 1937 game is most often recalled for a play that eventually shortened the career of Hall-of-Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean. The Indians’ Earl Averill hit a screamer up the middle that struck the Cardinals’ star’s toe and fractured it. Recovering from the injury, Dean altered his motion, hurt his arm and was never the same.

Pitcher Wes Ferrell and his brother, catcher Rick Ferrell as well as second baseman Buddy Myer represented the Senators on the A.L. team. Former Senators Joe Cronin, the Red Sox shortstop, and Sam West, the Browns’ center fielder, started for the A.L. In an era before mass All-Star substitutions, Cronin and West played the entire game, while the three Senators did not appear.

The All-Star Game didn’t return to D.C. during Griffith’s lifetime, but the 1956 game was scheduled to be played in Washington before the Old Fox died on October 27, 1955. On July 10, 1956: a full house of 28,843 at aging Griffith Stadium saw Washington’s Mickey Vernon start at first base for the A.L. Nats’ slugger Roy Sievers was a reserve and manager Chuck Dressen was a coach. The game’s program cover called it the “Clark C. Griffith Memorial All Star Game.” The N.L. won, 7-3. Four of the game’s all-time greats homered: Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.

The opening of a new stadium prompted the scheduling of another All-Star Game in Washington. On July 10, 1962, before a crowd of 45,480, the new D.C. Stadium hosted the first of the two All-Star games played that season. The National League won, 3-1. D.C.-born Maury Wills, the Dodger’s record-setting base stealer, became the game’s first Most Valuable Player. President John F. Kennedy threw out the ceremonial first pitch, the second chief executive after Franklin D. Roosevelt to do so at an All-Star game.

Nats’ Manager Mickey Vernon was one of the A.L. coaches. The Senators’ lone All-Star, pitcher Dave Stenhouse, didn’t appear, but ended up starting the second All-Star game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on July 30. Dodgers’ catcher John Roseboro, who finished his career with Washington, was a reserve with the N.L. all-stars.

Seven years later, the All-Star Game was back in D.C. On July 23, 1969, at the recently renamed Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. Before 45,259 fans, the N.L. won the last All-Star game played during the day. Senators’ slugger Frank Howard homered for the A.L.

My 1969 Topps card of Hondo

The game was supposed to have been played the previous evening, but was postponed by rain. President Richard Nixon, who had been scheduled to throw out the first pitch, missed the rescheduled game to greet the Apollo 11 moon-landing astronauts. Vice President Spiro Agnew substituted.

The Tigers’ Denny McLain, later a 22-game loser after his disastrous trade to the Nats, had been scheduled to start for the A.L. but arrived late on his own plane. The Giants’ Willie McCovey, who might have played in D.C. if the Padres had relocated in 1973, was the game’s MVP. He homered twice.

Nationals Park hosted its first All-Star Game in 2018. The Nats’ Max Scherzer, the N.L.’s starting pitcher, yielded a homer to the Yanks’ Aaron Judge in the second inning. Bryce Harper of the Nationals started in center. The game, played on July 17, featured a record 10 home runs. (Harper had won the Home Run Derby the day before, but was 0 for 2 in the game.) For the second year in a row, the A.L. won in 10 innings.  A crowd of 43,843 was on hand.

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