In 1963, an All-Star game was played that few fans watched, and 59 years later, nobody remembers.
The game, comprised exclusively of Latino players from the American and National Leagues, took place at the New York Giants’ historic Polo Grounds – the last game played at Coogan’s Bluff. The exhibition game, played before 14,235 fans, was a charity event to benefit a new Latin American Hall of Fame.
The Polo Grounds, temporary home to the New York Mets during their first two seasons in 1962 and 1963, had showcased some of baseball’s greatest players – 373-game winning pitcher Christie Mathewson, 511 home run slugger Mel Ott, and Willie Mays, the “Say Hey Kid.” Baseball’s most dramatic moment, Bobby Thompson’s 1951 “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” thrilled Polo Grounds’ bugs.
Nearly six decades ago, on that warm and sunny October 13th day, a week after the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the New York Yankees in the World Series, the lineups were filled with Latin American and Caribbean nations’ players – Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama and Mexico. Black or multiracial, they endured the same bigotry as African Americans.
Among them were future Hall of Famers Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente and Luis Aparicio. Others honored included a Minnesota Twins’ future three-time batting champion Tony Oliva, and his teammates MVP Zoilo Versalles and Vic Power. There was also San Francisco Giants star outfielder and future manager Felipe Alou, the Washington Senators’ Minnie Minoso, and the New York Yankees’ Hector Lopez, coming off his fourth straight World Series appearance.
Unlike the 2022 All-Star Game, the Latinos played their game in obscurity – no television, no media hoopla and no promotional advertisement. Three of Latin music’s biggest talents, however, performed on field before the game – bandleaders Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez and Cuban bombshell singer La Lupe.
For the Latin stars, the game was emotionally charged. Marichal, the “Dominican Dandy,” remembered: “There was a lot of emotion among all the players, and you could tell the fans were excited about it, too.” Manny Mota, a Dominican and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder then in his second major league season, stressed how proud the players were to represent their countries – “prestige and pride” were his words.
For all its historical importance, the game was a snoozer. The National League, who had won the official 1963 All-Star Game in Cleveland, pulled away by the ninth inning, 5-0. Alou, Mota, the St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Julian Javier, and the Pirates’ Alvin O’Neal McBean contributed the winning RBIs. Alou’s single came off the Twin’s losing pitcher, the Cuban Pedro Ramos.
Giants ace Marichal, a 25-game winner in 1963, hurled four innings of shutout ball, allowing just two hits, no walks and fanning six. But the win went to McBean, who followed Marichal to the mound with four shutout innings of his own.
After the game, the players lined up in the clubhouse to collect their $175 stipend, a far cry from what today’s All-Star game participants receive. While not paid in folding green, the 2022 All-Stars get six free tickets to the game and to the Home Run Derby, free first-class airfare and hotel, the daily $117.50 MLB meal stipend, and a swag bag. Don’t forget that the crème de la crème ASG players have negotiated into their contract’s bonuses for up to $500,000 just for being chosen.
But at least three of the Latin players had the last laugh. Cepeda, Clemente and Power were such unfamiliar faces that after getting paid the first time, they went to the back of the line, and unrecognized, collected a second time. Said Cepeda, “The guy never realized he paid us twice.”
Copyright 2022 Joe Guzzardi, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers’ Association member. Contact him at [email protected]