Baseball’s midsummer classic paid three visits to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull – in 1941, 1951, and 1971 – and on each occasion the All-Stars put on a demonstration of long-ball muscle. Collectively, a remarkable 15 home runs were hit, including Reggie Jackson’s blast off a light tower in the ’71 contest.
As memorable as Jackson’s tater was, the most dramatic All-Star homer came in the ’41 game. Ted Williams, the author of that home run at Briggs Stadium, always considered the place his pet ballpark. During his storied career, Williams hit 55 home runs at The Corner, the most of any foreign field. Tall, rubbery, and blessed with uncanny eyesight, the Boston outfielder was the first player to hit a fair ball out of the double-decked stadium, bombing one over the right-field roof as a 20-year-old rookie in 1939. “I just shook my head,” remembered Barney McCosky, who was in center field that day for the Tigers. “No way. That’s a good drive in a Model T Ford.”
On July 8, 1941, two years after he became the first to hit a ball completely out of Briggs Stadium, Williams was one of a galaxy of stars assembled at the park for the ninth annual All-Star Game. A partisan American League crowd of 54,674 turned out on a pleasant Tuesday afternoon to watch the likes of Bob Feller, Bill Dickey, Joe Cronin, Lou Boudreau, and the DiMaggio brothers (Joe and Dom) take on the National League’s best. Catcher Birdie Tebbetts, first baseman Rudy York, and pitcher Al Benton represented the Tigers. Del Baker, who had led the Tigers to the 1940 pennant, managed the Americans.
Feller started and the Cleveland speedballer held the Nationals to one hit, striking our four during his three innings. Whit Wyatt of Brooklyn was nearly as effective for the Nationals. The game remained scoreless until the fourth, when Williams lined an RBI double to left.
The sides exchanged sixth-inning runs, making the score 2-1 in favor of the American League entering the seventh. Enos Slaughter led off the frame with a single to left off Washington’s Sid Hudson. Williams fumbled the ball, allowing the Cardinals outfielder to take second.
This brought up Arky Vaughan, who had singled in his previous at-bat. This time the quiet Pittsburgh shortstop pulled Hudson’s pitch into the upper deck in right, giving the Nationals a 3-2 lead. The lead grew to 5-2 when, facing Chicago’s Eddie Smith in the eighth inning, Vaughan yanked another two-run homer to right.
The Americans retaliated with a run in their half of the eighth, Boston’s Dom DiMaggio driving in older brother Joe with a single. The score was still 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth when the Americans filled the bases against the Cubs’ Claude Passeau.
At bat was Joe DiMaggio, who started the day having hit safely in 48 consecutive games. His eighth-inning double had some in the stands wondering whether it extended his streak. It didn’t (only regular season games counted), though he would go on to collect a hit in eight more games after the All-Star break before his legendary hitting streak ended at 56 games.
Of more immediate concern was what Joltin’ Joe would do in the late-afternoon shadows of Briggs Stadium. Passeau got two quick strikes on him, then delivered a pitch that DiMaggio slapped to Boston Braves shortstop Eddie Miller. It was a made-to-order double-play ball that should have ended the game with the National League a 5-3 winner. Instead, Brooklyn second baseman Billy Herman made a hurried throw on the relay, pulling the first baseman off the bag. A run scored on the play, making the score 5-4, Nationals.
Herman’s mistake left the Americans one run behind with runners on first and third, two out, and Williams at bat. Passeau, a big right-hander known for his competitiveness, had fanned Williams the previous inning. “He had a fast-tailing ball that he’d jam a left-handed batter with, right into your fists, and if you weren’t quick, he’d get it past you,” Williams recalled.
As Williams came up with the game on the line, he lectured himself: “Damn it, you’ve got to be quicker, you’ve got to be more in front of this guy. You’ve got to be quicker.”
Passeau worked the count to two balls and one strike. Many fans who had been streaming out of the park to get an early jump on traffic had returned and were clotting the aisles. “The excitement in Briggs Stadium was terrific,” Williams said later. Passeau tried to slip a letter-high fastball past Williams, who whipped around in an all-out home run swing.
Charlie Ward of the Detroit Free Press described what happened next: “Williams swung, the crowd roared, Baker danced like a dervish as the ball struck the third deck of the rightfield stands and bounced back onto the playing field. American Leaguers rushed from their dugout to congratulate the willowy Williams as he trotted around the bases in the footsteps of Gordon and DiMaggio as the American Leaguers scored a 7-5 triumph.”
In his autobiography, My Turn At Bat, Williams called the storybook swat his greatest thrill in baseball. “Well, it was the kind of thing a kid dreams about and imagines himself doing when he’s playing those little playground games we used to play in San Diego. Halfway down to first, seeing that ball going out, I stopped running and started leaping and jumping and clapping my hands, and I was just so happy I laughed out loud. I’ve never been so happy, and I’ve never seen so many happy guys.”
As Baker pounded Williams on the back, a photographer asked him to give the big guy a hug for the camera. “Hell,” Baker exclaimed, “I’d be willing to hug a porcupine for a hit like that!” Then he kissed Williams.
No National Leaguer lost more than Arky Vaughan, whose two home runs, three successive hits, and four RBI – each an All-Star Game record – perished under one magnificent swish of Williams’ bat.