For the first time this season Cleveland's Municipal Stadium will be filled to near capacity, a feat which during the regular season is only possible, if at all, when the Yankees are in town. The occasion for the gathering will be the All Star game, scheduled to commence at noon.
Like most All Star conclaves, the impending one will probably be a disappointment. This is inevitable, as the glitter of the assembled luminaries can only build up expectations quite impossible to fullfill. Everyone is subject to bad days, and for some reason, some of the biggest stars in baseball tend to go into eclipse during this annual meeting.
There are ther reasons for the occasionally undistinguished quality of All Star contests. Managers of the teams are often reluctant to have their best pitchers throw for three innings in what is, after all, an exhibition game, when such a stint might cost a turn on the pitching rotation schedule.
The rule which prohibits a pitcher from going more than three innings has also caused the games to be a bit erratic. Some normal starters have trouble coming into a game that is already in progress, and the knowledge that they will only be in three innings causes some pitchers to throw too hard too fast, destroying their pace.
Despite the numerous chances for disaster in an All Star clash, such as the lack of team co-ordination, personal friction, and super-eagerness on the part of the younger men, the game does have a magical attraction, making it hard for a fan to keep away from the television set. With all that high priced talent around, there are bound to be fireworks of one sort or another.
The American League has taken a definite lead this year in providing fireworks, at least fireworks of the verbal variety. Boston's Dick Stuart made the first pregame bang when he publically let it be known that he was miserably unhappy over the failure of Houk to name him to the team. Stuart, who placed second to Joe Pepitone in the players vote, found his omission intolerable. Houk refused to get drawn into an extensive debate, but casually noticed that Stuart had been benched by his own club after a disastrous error in Yankee Stadium.
Aside from this, though, the pre-game atmosphere has been remarkably subdued. Years ago when the fans chose the starting players, there was constant complaints over the inadequacies of popular democracy. Now, with the players deciding who among them are the fairest of the fair, the teams often lack those established stars who are no longer able to play up to their reputation but they are more representative of the best of the current talent in the majors.
A look at the American selections quickly shows the changing character of the League. Gone are Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris, Minnie Minoso, Vic Power, Norm Cash and other big names of the past. Only two players catcher Earl Battey (.270) and left fielder Leon Wagner (.333) repeat from last year's team, although the incomparable Mickey Mantle (.310) won the vote despite his injury. Neophyte Pepitone (.273) is the only Yankee in the starting team, and Zoilo Versalles (.283), Minnesota's shortstop, is practically an unkown. Some old reliables, such as Nellie Fox (.277) at second, Al Kaline (.320) in right, and Frank Malzone (.333) at third, will encourage American League fans but an Albie Pearson (.311) starting in center is hardly reassuring.
By contrast, the National League line-up looks like a collection of old friends. Willie Mays, despite a miserable .221 year, will be in center, and Hank Aaron (.318) is in right. Tommy Davis (.335) completes what is clearly the superior outfield. Julian Javier (.277) at second is a surprise, but then League has a dearth of really good second sackers, Ken Boyer (.311) is easily the best third baseman in the business, and Bill White (.328) is a superb first baseman in a League which has a lot of excellent ones. Dick Groat (.325) at short and Ed Bailey (.252) behind the plate are adequate, if not quite stellar.
If the National League has an edge in starting strength, the American bench may be good enough to make the difference. Carl Yastremzeski, a new star with considerable brightness, Harmon Killbrew, Bob Allison, and Elston Howard can seriously alter the course of any ball game, and defensive specialists such as Luis Aparicio and Bobby Richardson can hold the margin.
Still, the Nationals have Stan Musial and Duke Snider, and both have shown a relish for All Star kudos. Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey can also deliver, although not always in tough places.
Pitching is always hard to evaluate, but it seems certain that Juan Marichal (13-3), Jim O'Toole (13-6) and Sandy Koufax (13-3) will hurl some scoreless innings. The American League lacks such impressive and tested starters but Boston's Dick Radatz (8-1) might very well be able to kill any National League enthusiasm long enough for the American bats to establish a permanent superiority.
Judging by player strength, then, Al Dark's National Leaguers should capture the prize. But such considerations are rarely helpful in rating All Star games. Only the uncertainty principle is true.