Tribe Stars Shined in Cleveland’s 1954 All-Star Game
Bob Toth | On 13, Jul 2019
For the 21st time ever, the best of the American and National Leagues met on the diamond for the annual Midsummer Classic and for the second time, the event headed to Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday, July 13, 1954.
The ’54 season had all the makings of being a special year for the Indians and it only seemed fitting that the top club in the American League (Cleveland held a half-game lead over New York with one fewer loss at the break) had the opportunity to host the event for the first time since 1935, when a then-record 69,812 filled the seats along the shores of Lake Erie. It was a star-studded event as All-Star Games tend to be, with 17 of the 55 players and three of six managers/coaches on the collective rosters eventually taking up residence in Cooperstown.
The day did have a dark cloud over the steamy 93 degree day in downtown Cleveland. Hall of Famer and Indians legend Tris Speaker was unable to attend the festivities after suffering a heart attack the day before. In the press box on the day of the game, telegraph operator Elmer Stilwell of Western Union died of a heart attack.
The game itself was a prolific offensive affair the likes of which would not be exceeded for more than 40 years, headlined by a trio of Tribesmen in the American League lineup. A total of five Indians – position players Bobby Avila, Larry Doby, and Al Rosen and pitchers Mike Garcia and Bob Lemon – were on the team, with Avila starting at second and Rosen starting at first base after being the leading vote getters at their respective positions.
With Mel Allen (1972 Hall of Famer who called 24 different All-Star Games) working his first Midsummer Classic as a television play-by-play man and his third on TV and Gene Kelly providing color for the game for NBC Sports and Al Helfer (2018 Ford C. Frick Award winner calling his sixth All-Star Game) and Cleveland’s own play-by-play man Jimmy Dudley (1997 Ford C. Frick Award winner) working the radio booth, the game was hushed for the first two and a half frames as New York’s Whitey Ford and Philadelphia’s Robin Roberts kept the opposition off of the scoreboard.
Ford got a double play ball in the second, erasing a leadoff single by St. Louis’ Stan Musial on a grounder to Avila by Cincinnati’s Ted Kluszewski. Roberts had a more difficult path, giving up a single through the hole on the left side to Avila with one out and a two-out walk to New York’s Yogi Berra before striking out the Indians’ Rosen in the first. The American League wasted a one-out Hank Bauer (New York) single in the second.
Ford worked around a walk with one down in the third by Brooklyn’s Roy Campanella before the big AL bats got to work against Roberts. The former Indian and Chicago outfielder Minnie Minoso drew a leadoff walk and scampered to second on a single to left by Avila, his second in as many trips. The Yankees’ duo in the three and four holes could not deliver though as Mickey Mantle struck out and Berra chopped to first for the second out. Rosen’s big day at the plate started as he made up for his first inning strikeout with a deep fly over the left-center field wall to put the AL stars up by a three-spot. For good measure, Detroit’s Ray Boone, another former Tribesman, drove one out to left as well to make it a 4-0 game.
Ford left with the lead as AL manager Casey Stengel went to Chicago Cuban Sandy Consuegra for the fourth. He started out well, retiring New York’s Al Dark on a fly to center, but the next five batters reached as the NL tied up the game and knocked Consuegra out of the exhibition. Back-to-back singles by Brooklyn’s Duke Snider and Musial put runners on the corners and a single over Rosen by Kluszewski scored Snider with the senior circuit’s first run. Ray Jablonski of St. Louis added another run with the fourth straight single in the inning to score Musial, and Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson doubled off the wall in right-center to bring home a pair to tie the game at four. Cleveland starter Lemon came on in relief for Stengel and retired Campanella before a Don Mueller (New York) double scored Robinson with the go-ahead run. Lemon got Philadelphia’s Granny Hamner to ground to Boone at third to stop the bleeding.
The Giants’ tough left-hander Johnny Antonelli came on for NL skipper Walter Alston for the bottom half of the fourth, but he was unable to protect the lead. Chicago’s Chico Carrasquel lined a single to left. Boston legend Ted Williams pinch-hit for Lemon and struck out. Minoso singled to put runners on the corners and Avila came through with the sacrifice fly to left to tie the game at five. Antonelli got Mantle to ground to Jablonski at third to end the inning.
Washington righty Bob Porterfield took over for Lemon in the fifth in his only All-Star Game, but the NL struck through with another score. Snider singled to right with one out and after Musial popped out to shallow left, Kluszewski made his second hit of the day count as he homered to right to put the visitors up, 7-5.
Antonelli came back to the mound backed with the lead in the bottom of the fifth, but the hometown boy struck through again. Berra singled and Rosen crushed his second homer of the day to left, tying the score back up at seven. With his second roundtripper of the game, Rosen became just the third player to hit two homers in an All-Star Game (joining Pittsburgh’s Arky Vaughan in 1941 and Boston’s Williams in 1946).
Porterfield gave up a single to Campanella in the sixth, but left the runner at first before the AL offense got back to work backed by more Indians influence. Williams drew a leadoff walk off of new pitcher Warren Spahn (Milwaukee) and Minoso moved him to third on the hit and run with a single to right. Avila stepped in and delivered with his third hit of the day, singling to left to score Williams to break the tie (Minoso was thrown out at third trying to advance when the ball bounced off of Musial’s chest). Mantle followed with a slow infield single to short and Berra popped to second before Rosen loaded the bases with a single off of the third baseman’s left shoulder, but Boone left them full with a fly ball off of New York reliever Marv Grissom.
After four straight frames with runs tallied on the scoreboard, the seventh inning was scoreless as Porterfield stranded Snider after his third hit, a double to the left field corner, and Grissom retired the side in order after the stretch. But in the next inning, second-year Chicago right-hander Bob Keegan took over on the mound and let the NL get back out in front. With one out in the inning, New York’s Willie Mays singled to center. Keegan got the second out, striking out Campanella, but pinch-hitter Gus Bell (Cincinnati) went yard to right-center to give the visitors a 9-8 lead. The next two reached on a dropped fly ball by Minoso and a single by Dark to put runners on the corners, bringing Stengel back to the mound for Dean Stone, a rookie southpaw from the Senators. In a unique anomaly of sorts, Stone nabbed Red Schoendienst trying to steal home headfirst on a 1-1 pitch with the red-hot Snider at the plate to end the inning.
Per The Plain Dealer’s Harry Jones on July 14, 1954, “This decision touched off one of the most violent arguments in All Star history”. Both NL base coaches rushed towards home plate to argue with umpire Bill Stewart. The pair “were so incensed they kicked dirt around the plate and gestured menacingly” while arguing that Stone had balked.
“That call was a disgrace,” Giants manager and NL third base coach Leo Durocher remarked after the game. “Every person in the ball park saw the play except the one man who should have. He just missed it, and it cost us one run for sure and no telling how many more.”
“Stewart must have been looking at Red and not at the pitcher,” Braves manager and NL first base coach Charley Grimm shared after the contest. “He couldn’t have missed it that way, otherwise.”
Stone, per reports, did not look back at Schoendienst while bringing his arms up for the stretch position. Schoendienst broke for home and Stone was alerted by Rosen.
“Stone saw him on his way and he never completed his motion at all,” Durocher continued. “He just threw it home – and even then it was close. If he had gone through with his stretch, brought his hands down and stopped before pitching, Red would have been in the dugout before he got the ball to Berra.”
Stewart made his own case. “I saw the entire play perfectly, and there was no doubt in my mind about it at all…When he saw the runner break, he immediately brought his hands to his belt and threw. He quickened up his motion and just came to a brief stop – but that’s all right.”
After the commotion, the home town boys came through again in the clutch in the bottom of the eighth against Milwaukee rookie and 6’8” right-hander Gene Conley. He got a groundout from Minoso before Cleveland’s Doby grabbed a bat for the first time, pinch-hitting for Stone. He tied the game with a drive to left-center that cleared the fence. The AL loaded the bases on back-to-back singles by Mantle and Berra before Rosen joined them with a walk. A pitching change brought on Brooklyn’s Carl Erskine for his first and only All-Star appearance. He struck out pinch-hitter Mickey Vernon swinging before Chicago’s Nellie Fox put his team up by a pair on a two-out, two-run bloop single just past Dark to make it an 11-9 game.
Chicago’s Virgil Trucks came on for the ninth to protect the two-run lead and promptly walked Snider. With the tying run coming to the plate for the next three outs, Trucks worked out of the mess, getting Musial to ground out sharply to Vernon at first and both New York’s Gil Hodges and Chicago’s Randy Jackson to pop out.
Stone, who did not retire a batter in his one-batter outing, got the unconditional win as the pitcher of record. Conley suffered the loss. Stengel’s All-Star victory as manager was his first in five stints leading the American League clubhouse.
The game shattered a handful of All-Star Game records. The two teams combined for 31 hits, better than the 26 hit in 1937. The AL broke its own record of 14 hits in 1934 and 1946 with 17 on the day. The 20 runs combined exceeded the 18 scored in 1949. The AL used a record seven pitchers and the combined 13 for the two clubs were two more than the previous high in 1950 (a 14-inning contest). The net receipts for the day were $259,204.01, more than $100,000 higher than Cincinnati had grossed the previous year, and 68,751 were in attendance, the second-highest attended All-Star Game to that date.
The game did not go well for all parties interested. Before the game, Baltimore’s Bob Turley needed three stitches above his right eye after running into the outfield fence shagging fly balls. He also sprained his right wrist, making him the only AL pitcher active on the roster not to get into the game.
Lemon pitched two-thirds of an inning for the AL, allowing one inherited run to cross on one hit. His Indians rotation mate, Garcia, was scratched from the game the weekend before, along with New York’s Allie Reynolds, with a broken blood vessel on one of the fingers of his pitching hand suffered in a start the previous week. Garcia was replaced by Consuegra on the roster.
The Indians trio of Avila, Rosen, and Doby came up big for the AL in the 11-9 win. Avila went 3-for-3 with three singles and a sacrifice fly out of the two-hole. He scored once and drove in a pair before he was lifted in a double switch. Rosen started at first while hitting fifth, but later moved to third and went 3-for-4 with a single, a walk, two homers, two runs scored, and five RBI (which tied Williams’ record set in 1946). Doby’s pinch-hit homer in the ninth tied the game up.
Collectively, the three went 7-for-8 with three homers, four runs scored, and eight runs batted in.
“I didn’t sleep hardly a wink last night and when I got up this morning the finger hurt worse than ever,” Rosen stated to The Plain Dealer’s Chuck Heaton after the game. “After batting practice I told Casey [Stengel] that I hadn’t been doing my team much good and didn’t think I would do much for this one. I told him to take me out anytime he felt like it.
“The fans voted me into the game and I wanted to start but I figured I’d be out of there after one time at bat. Probably would have been, too, if it hadn’t been for that strikeout. I couldn’t leave after that. I wanted at least one more crack at it.
“With this bum finger and being in a slump, I was scared to death about being the All-Star game goat. But that strikeout made me mad and, maybe, I forgot about the finger.”
Rosen had fractured his right index finger on May 25 and the digit was still problematic. He would have been an easy contender for All-Star Game Most Valuable Player for his efforts, but the award did not come into existence until 1962.
Stengel acknowledged his conversation with Rosen prior to the game and even talked over the situation with Commissioner Frick. “The Old Perfesser” remained with Rosen, even after his first inning strikeout.
“There wasn’t any question about Rosen not starting but he says that it might be a good idea to pull him out of there after his first swings,” said Stengel. “I asked the commissioner and he says it’s okay if he don’t go three innings like they’re supposed to but we’ll have to tell you guys all about it.
“He comes back after that strikeout and doesn’t say anything and I don’t say anything either. Sure he strikes out but he’s swinging good and I want him in there. Then he hits the home run and I look down the bench and tell Vernon to relax. I see this guy’s gonna be in there for a while.”
The decision to play Rosen and leave him in longer turned out to be a significant positive for the junior circuit, which improved to 13-8 all-time against the older rivals while ending a four-game losing skid to open the All-Star Games of the 1950s.
Photo: Rosen homer – Associated Press