Ted Williams & Pedro Martinez Provided the Two Greatest Moments in MLB All-Star Game History
With the MLB All-Star game taking place tonight down in Miami Florida, all of the players and all of the commentators will talk about their favorite MLB All-Star game moments. This is usually a subjective answer with no wrong responses. However, when it comes to the MLB All-Star game, there are only two correct answers. The two greatest moments in MLB All-Star game history happened in the span of an hour and a half, and both were provided by Boston Red Sox players at the place they called home.
The 1999 MLB All-Star game took place at America’s oldest professional ballpark, Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. Fenway Park had seen numerous amazing moments in it’s lifetime, but ironically, few of those can compare to the two moments that occurred during an exhibition game in the summer of 1999. The game happened in the heart of the steroid era, a night after (now admitted) steroid user Mark McGwire thrilled the over capacity crowd with a then record of 13 home runs in the first round of the Home Run Derby (Ken Griffey Jr. would of course go on to win the second of his back-t0-back titles).
There were two questions on everybody’s mind before the start of the game: what kind of show would American League starter Pedro Martinez put on against the stacked National League lineup, and how would the Boston Red Sox honor “the greatest hitter that ever lived” Ted Williams. Within the span of an hour and a half, both of those questions would be answered in dramatic fashion.
Ted Williams’ Legacy in Boston and in Baseball
First a trip down memory lane. For those that are unaware of Ted Williams’ history with the Boston Red Sox organization, it was a tumultuous one. For years the Boston media harangued Williams to the point that he refused to tip his cap to the crowd in his final days as a ballplayer, even after hitting a home run in his final major league at bat. After retiring he spent some years as a manager and hitting instructor before really retiring to a life of fishing (his favorite pastime). By the time the 1999 MLB All-Star Game rolled around Williams’ health was failing. Williams was almost totally blind at that point, but the one thing that was stronger than ever was Boston’s love of Williams. But why was the relationship every estranged to begin with?
The Boston Red Sox have a tremendous history when it comes to charity work. The reason for that is The Splendid Splinter. The Jimmy Fund and Ted Williams will forever be linked and with the death of the old guard of Boston sports writers, Williams’ legacy went from somewhat tarnished to dazzling bright (as it should have been his entire career). This is the point where it should get pointed out the Boston media successfully lowered Williams’ status around the country so much so that he inexplicably did not win the MVP award in two years where he won the Triple Crown (1942 and 1947) and did not win the MVP when he batted .406!!! Go back and look at the stats and you will see how much of a joke it was Williams was not named MVP (especially in 1941… yes, even in the year of Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak Williams was the much better choice).
Williams was the ultimate American. Yes, he was the best player to ever live, but like most players of his era, he lost some of the prime playing years of his life to military service in World War II. Unlike most of the players of his era though, Williams wanted to put his better than perfect eye sight to good use so he entered the United States Marine Corps and became a pilot. Furthermore, he missed the vast majority of two more years of relative prime for the Korean War, playing in three games in 1952 and just 37 in 1953. If baseball is America’s pastime, and the USMC is America’s backbone, Williams is right up there with George Washington for most iconic Americans. And yet, he is rightfully remembered for his efforts on the diamond.
Back to the 1999 MBL All-Star Game. So how on earth do you honor a man who was the best hitter of all time and defended America when she needed it most? The answer? Perfectly.
The Red Sox intertwine everything that Ted Williams stood for in the span of a couple of sentences, “He wore the uniform of the Boston Red Sox for 22 years. He wore the uniform of the United States Marine Corps for four and a half more. He owned left field at this very ballpark. He was the last man to hit .400 in a season, and he did 58 years ago. He hit 521 home runs, including one on his last at bat. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the Greatest Hitter that Ever Lived… Number Nine… Hall of Famer… Baseball Legend… Ted Williams!” If you do not get goosebumps watching that intro you are not alive. Williams, known for never tipping his cap in his later years as a ballplayer in Boston, takes his (abomination of a) hat off and waves it around to the point where his arm almost falls off. The moment cannot get better… until it does.
As Williams is carted to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch, the smiles on the faces of the players are wider than a country mile. They know they are in the presence of true baseball greatness and have no idea how to contain their excitement… so they do not. Everybody on the field, both the American League All-Star roster and the National League All-Star roster mob Williams. The greatest players in the game during the 1999 season lose their composure and just want to shake the hand of the greatest hitter to ever live because even as All-Stars they are all just kids in the presence of Williams.
The players are wait anxiously to shake Williams’ hand. The first to greet him is McGwire, followed by Sammy Sosa (Williams needs help being directed to Sammy’s hand because Williams is mostly blind at this point). Mike Piazza looks like a child that just got told he can have ice cream for dinner… Williams tells Cal Ripken Jr. how good of a job his dad did before referring to Griffey as “Kenny.” They are all children in the presence of Williams.
Then my favorite (and many other’s) moment of the scrum. Tony Gwynn makes his way to Williams. Gwynn, probably the best pure hitter in the game during the Steroid Era, gets to chat to Williams, and goes to pull away, but Williams holds him and starts talking about his favorite subject… hitting. That conversations invigorates Williams. He calls back McGwire and asks, “do you ever hit a ball so hard that you can smell the wood of the bat burning?” Chuckles all around. The PA announcer tries to get a hold of the situation and tell the players (and Legends) to return to their marks, but nobody wants to leave Williams.
You can see Rafael Palmeiro literally trying to shake the nerves out of his body because he is so awestruck. You then hear the voice of Joe Buck come on, and for all of his faults during this portion of his career when he did not have his voice and lacked any and all enthusiasm, Buck does an amazing job of not saying anything for more than five minutes. It really is difficult as a broadcaster to know when to shut up, but Buck lets the moment breathe and you can in fact understand the magnitude of the moment. But can it get better? Yes. Gwynn helps the aging Williams to his feet and although Williams cannot see his battery mate for the first pitch (just some guy named Carlton Fisk), Williams who cannot see and can barely stand somehow gets the ball to Fisk through the air.
Pedro Being Pedro in the 1999 MLB All-Star Game
The 1999 MLB All-Star game has not even started and it is already amazing. There has to be a drop off in enthusiasm because nobody, not even the great Pedro Martinez can match that atmosphere… wrong:
The 1999 National League Roster might have been the greatest collection of power hitters in the history of baseball. And what does Pedro do? He does this:
First up: Barry Larkin:
Great at bat from Larkin, but after fouling off a couple of 2-2 pitches, including a 97 MPH fastball on the black, he gets an 85 MPH changeup and misses it by a day and a foot. Strikeout No. 1.
Next up: Larry Walker:
First pitch change. Next pitch 97 MPH ched fouled away. 96 on the white for a ball before 97 MPH on the black and he’s done. Strikeout No. 2.
No. 3 Batter: Sammy Sosa… who had hit 66 home runs the year before:
First pitch, a filthy curveball that buckles Sosa for Ball One. Another buckling deuce, this time for a strike, 1-1 (although Tim McCarver is was not paying attention and refers to it as the first curveball). 96 up and away, 2-1. 86 MPH change to make it 2-2 after a flail and miss by Sosa. The crowd is revved up. Nobody has ever started an MLB All-Star game by striking out the side… until Pedro smokes a 96 MPH moving fastball by Sosa. Bedlam in Boston.
To keep that type of surreal atmosphere up would be impossible, and Pedro cannot quite get there when he comes out for the fourth, but his performance is far from slouch worthy.
Top of the second, the fourth batter: Mark McGwire… who had hit 70 home runs the year before:
Look at those numbers for the year after he hit 70 home runs. 65 blasts and 147 RBI. And yet… he sees a first pitch breaking ball from Pedro at 81 MPH for a ball and a 1-0 count. Pedro combos it with another yakker, this time at 80, which not only bends the knees of Big Mac, but also splits the plate. 1-1 count. So, how about an 85 MPH changeup that has McGwire almost falling over as he swings an hour ahead of it. So of course Pedro smells blood in the water and gasses it up to 97 to blow it right by the hickory stick of McGwire. Four up, Four down, Four strikeouts. The Fenway Park crowd is going completely bananas.
No. 5 batter: Matt Williams:
Williams, seeing the first four batter look like little leaguers against Danny Almonte, figures to swing at the first pitch. It is a hilariously filthy changeup that is dribbled to second. Roberto Alomar botches it and Williams reaches on the error.
No. 6 batter: New England native Jeff Bagwell:
Bagwell, who walked an astounding 149 times on the season while scoring a 143 runs takes the first pitch outside for a strike (it was a good five inches off the plate), 0-1. Pedro overthrows the 0-1 curveball to even the count at 1-1 before countering with a hard change at 86 MPH, dotted on the black of course, to move the count to 1-2. Pedro wants another strikeout so overthrows a fastball, clocking in at 97 MPH about two feed wide and the count is all square at 2-2. Another hard fastball, this time in the attic, but Bagwell is patient and the count runs full as Ivan Rodgriguez tries to snap throw down to first, but Williams gets back in time. On a 3-2 count Pedro throws one of the best pitches I have ever seen; an 83 MPH changeup that moves downwards roughly six inches and breaks at least a foot and a half in on Bagwell. Bagwell misses the pitch by two feet as Williams takes off for second, but Pudge is Pudge and guns downs Williams. Pedro faces the minimum amount of batters and strikes out five while walking none and not allowing any hits. The American League would go on to win the game 4-1 and Pedro would become just the second host player to be named the game’s MVP.
Of the six batters that Pedro faced in those two innings: Four were Silver Sluggers. The two that were not finished fifth and third in the MVP races while driving in 147 and 142 RBI respectively. Five of the six batters finished in the top 10 in the MVP moving. He faced batters that finished second, third, fifth, ninth and tenth in the voting. Five of the six batters finished with at least 35 home runs on the season and five of the six had at least 115 RBI on the year. Yet, for all their firepower, Pedro Martinez gunned them down like John Wick after finding out someone killed his dog and stole his car.
The 2017 MLB All-Star game is going to be fantastic. The Home Run Derby last night was one of the best in recent memory. The change to a timed format was superb and the Miami crowd was as intense as if it was a playoff game. The young stars leading the way (including Derby Winner Aaron Judge and local favorite Giancarlo Stanton) portend great things for the game of baseball. They might make some fantastic memories, and in fact already have. However, it will have to be something spectacular to come close to the greatest hour and a half in MLB All-Star game history.