Amid spectacle of 1964 ASG, Callison shined brightest
Walk-off homer left lasting impression in a game featuring 18 Hall of Famers
The 1964 World's Fair, with its giant steel globe Unisphere -- as futuristic as it got back then -- was in full bloom only a few hundred yards from spanking new Shea Stadium.
It was my fifth All-Star Game as a reporter, but on that sunny hot July 7th afternoon, there were so many distractions it was difficult to concentrate on the National League vs. the American League.
Just seeing Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Juan Marichal, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Don Drysdale, Casey Stengel et al, on the same field made it impossible to be the hard, cold journalist I was expected to be.
It was my second trip to Shea, which had opened on April 17. On Father's Day, I'd been there as Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game for the Phillies against the Mets.
Ah, yes -- the Phillies.
That's what made this trip to New York so meaningful. The Phillies, the team I covered, were leading the NL by 1 1/2 games and three of their players were on the All-Star team -- Bunning, Chris Short and Johnny Callison.
That the Phillies, under Gene Mauch, seemed en route to their first pennant since 1950 and were represented in the All-Star Game made it special.
As we prepare for the 84th All-Star Game at Citi Field on Tuesday night, next door to where Shea once stood, it's not a stretch to realize how important the 1964 game was among the 46 I've covered.
Little did I know then that there were 18 future Hall of Famers on the field and that during this journey as a reporter, I'd be in Cooperstown when virtually all of them were inducted. Or that with the game returning to Queens on Tuesday night, I'd be digging deep into years of accumulated scorebooks to rehash that memorable afternoon.
It happily turned out to be more ballgame and less a spectacle, which is the way they all should be.
There's a tattered, yellow newspaper photo of the NL All-Stars swarming Callison near home plate after he blasted the game-winning, thee-run homer off Dick Radatz to win the game, 7-4.
For Callison, who died in 2006 at the age of 67, that moment was one of the brightest of his career. He never received the recognition he deserved.
In his later years, folks often asked Johnny about that home run, but as was his custom as a player, he said little.
Too bad he's not around to participate in the myriad of events planned for this week's game. He'd be a main attraction.
The expression of walk-off homers wasn't used back then, but seldom has there been a more dramatic end to an All-Star Game. With Callison's blast to the right-field seats, he joined Stan Musial and Ted Williams then as All-Stars who hit game-enders.
The archives and notes from the 1964 game are intriguing.
Forgotten was the fact that beginning in 1958, the starting lineups, with the exception of pitchers, were chosen by a poll of each league's managers, coaches and players. The remaining players on the 25-man squads were picked by the All-Star managers. The fans weren't involved.
Chicago White Sox skipper Al Lopez managed the 1964 AL team, replacing Ralph Houk. Houk's Yankees won the '63 AL pennant, but he moved up to general manager for the '64 season.
The Dodgers' Walter Alston managed the NL squad.
Mays' returning to New York for the All-Star game after all his memorable moments at the Polo Grounds before the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958 was special.
And it was Mays who ignited the ninth-inning rally that set the stage for Callison's heroics.
Radatz, the 6-foot-6 hard-throwing Boston Red Sox reliever, had pitched the seventh and eighth innings for the AL. He threw two quick strikes to Mays, who then fouled off five pitches before getting a walk.
Willie immediately stole second and scored on Orlando Cepeda's single to right field when Joe Pepitone made an errant throw to the plate. That pulled the NL even at 4-4.
Alston sent Curt Flood in to run for Cepeda, and after Ken Boyer popped out, Johnny Edwards was passed intentionally. Aaron batted for Ron Hunt and fanned. That brought up Callison, who sent Radatz's fastball to right field and into the history books.
As an aside, it's interesting that most of the premier All-Stars were still in the game in the late innings. That wouldn't happen in this era.
"[Radatz] really hummed [fastballs]," Callison said in an interview. "I remember how hard he threw when I faced him in the seventh, so I used a lighter bat in the ninth. I barrowed one from Billy Williams."
For Callison, Bunning and Short, the All-Star Game propelled them and the Phillies to a tremendous second half.
But with 12 games to go and a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL, the Phillies lost 10 games in a row and blew the pennant -- one of the biggest collapses in baseball history.
The nightmare also undoubtedly cost Callison the NL MVP Award.
As the game unfolds Tuesday night at Citi Field, I'm certain somewhere up there Johnny Callison will be looking down and re-living his shining moment.
With a smile on his face.