In a Strat-O-Matic Hall of Fame matchup between Post-1960 National Leaguers and Pre-1960 American Leaguers, the senior circuit edged Bob Feller and his cohorts 6-5. To qualify, a National League player could have played before 1960, as long as he played at least five seasons after. Hence, the appearances of Willie McCovey and Willie Mays in the lineup, in addition to Warren Spahn relieving Don Sutton. There was no restriction on pinch hitters or substitutes—players of any era from any league were available.
The lineups were:
Post-1960 Nation League
- Lou Brock (Left Field)
- Joe Morgan (Second Base)
- Willie McCovey (First Base)
- Willie Mays (Center Field)
- Mike Schmidt (Third Base
- Andre Dawson (Right Field)
- Johnny Bench (Catcher)
- Ozzie Smith (Shortstop)
- Don Sutton (Pitcher)
Pre-1960 American League
- Joe Cronin (Shortstop)
- Home Run Baker (Third Base)
- Joe DiMaggio (Center Field)
- Hank Greenberg (Second Base)
- Goose Goslin (Left Field)
- Sam Rice (Right Field)
- Mickey Cochrane (Catcher)
- Bob Feller (Pitcher)
Lou Brock, a threat to steal as often as Jack Benny claimed he was 39 years old, led off the game by trekking to first on an error by Joe Cronin. Then, to nobody’s surprise, he stole second. The rest of the Cardinal legend’s game was not as productive—three strikeouts and a flyout to DiMaggio. Ozzie Smith, a fellow Cardinal, also struck out thrice.
Dawson singled in the second inning and Bench drove him in with a two-run home run. With a hint of the impossible—or, at least, highly improbable—Sutton, who hit no home runs in his career, smacked a solo home run to give the NL a 3-0 lead.
In the bottom of the third inning, the AL squad notched its first run when Feller doubled, went to third on a Cronin grounder to Smith, and scored on Baker’s sacrifice fly to Dawson.
Cronin made it a one-run game when he doubled in the fifth, moved to third on a Baker single, and scored when DiMaggio hit into a 4-6-3 double play. American League bats continued to hammer at Sutton in the seventh. Baker walked, then moved to second when Sutton threw out DiMaggio at first on a ground ball. He continued to third when Greenberg got to first on an error by Brock. With runners at the corners, Lazzeri singled home Baker and Greenberg went to second; Goslin followed with a double, which scored the Tigers’ slugger.
Down 4-3 going into the top of the eighth, the National League batsmen went to work. Morgan singled, then McCovey knocked a two-run homer to put his team ahead. Feller walked Mays, who went to third base when Schmidt tried to stretch a single into a double, but got thrown out. Dawson’s sacrifice fly to Goslin scored Mays, giving the NL a two-run margin.
Cochrane walked to lead off the bottom of the eighth, Gehrig struck out against Sutton in a pinch-hitting appearance, and Cronin hit into a double play.
Feller kept the National Leaguers at bay in the ninth by striking out Smith, getting pinch hitter Wade Boggs out on a fly ball to DiMaggio, and obtaining a similar result when Brock hit one to Rice.
Baker started the bottom of the ninth by flying out to Mays. DiMaggio made the score 6-5 when he went yard off pitching substitute Warren Spahn. But that’s as far as the AL got. Greenberg grounded to Spahn. Lazzeri amped up the adrenaline when he singled, but Goslin ended the game with a fly out to Dawson.
McCovey’s knock that put the National League ahead in the top of the eighth inning exemplified the power that sent 521 balls over the fence—including 18 grand slams—in a 22-year career. Débuting with the San Francisco Giants in 1959, McCovey bashed his first career round tripper on August 2nd against Ron Kline of the Pittsburgh Pirates, compiled a .656 slugging percentage, and a .354 batting average. He won the 1959 National League Rookie of the Year Award.
The Giants traded McCovey to the Padres for lefty Mike Caldwell after the 1973 season. Bucky Walter of the San Francisco Examiner quoted Giants president Horace Stoneham regarding his rational for the trade: “We badly needed a lefthanded pitcher. Caldwell was very impressive against us last season.” Walter reported, “The young southpaw started twice against the Giants. He snuffed them out on five hits, 4-1. He lost a tough 2-1 decision to Ron Bryant.”
McCovey played 1974, 1975, and part of 1976 for the Padres, finished America’s bicentennial year with the A’s, then moved back to San Francisco, where he ended his career during the 1980 season. Appropriately, McCovey was the hero of his last game, hitting an eighth inning sacrifice fly to put the Giants ahead of the Dodgers 4-3—the boys from San Francisco won the game in the 10th inning. Final score: 7-4.
Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986, McCovey recounted getting called up to the show from the AAA Phoenix Giants. In his first major league game, McCovey went 4-for-4 with two triples and two singles. McCovey’s induction speech draft explained the circumstances, but the excerpt did not make the final draft: “The next night I’m facing a tough left-hander, Harvey Haddix, of the Pirates,” explained McCovey. “With the score tied in the bottom of the eighth inning, Mays leads off with a single. Bill [Rigney] comes storming out of the dugout waving his hands. So I step out of the batter’s box, and say to myself, ‘Now I know he’s not crazy enough to take me out for a pinch hitter is he?’—So he was, ‘If you be patient and take a couple of pitches that guy at first will steal second for you and you can win the game.’
“So I take the first pitch, strike one, I take the next pitch, and Mays steals second. The next pitch I single to right, Mays scores the go ahead run and we win the game.”
And so began the career that player that Bob Gibson deemed the “scariest hitter in baseball.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 21, 2016.