Showing a sense of place and a concern for the hometown fans, Walter Alston gave Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver a spot on the National League all-star team. Then, Alston gave McCarver a chance to play a key role. McCarver delivered.
Fifty years ago, on July 12, 1966, McCarver sparked a 10th-inning rally and scored the winning run in the NL’s 2-1 victory over the American League at St. Louis.
Played on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon two months after Busch Stadium II opened, the game is best remembered for the searing heat and humidity. Game time temperature was 100 degrees and the thermometer reached a peak of 105 during the game.
Asked his opinion of the new stadium, Casey Stengel, an honorary coach for the NL, famously replied, “Sure holds the heat well.”
NL right fielder Roberto Clemente of the Pirates told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “You could have put salt and pepper on me and fried me out in right field.”
The game attracted 49,936 spectators _ the most then for a sports event in St. Louis and the largest for a baseball game in Missouri _ and 135 received first-aid treatment for ailments related to the heat, according to The Sporting News.
Often overlooked is the performance of McCarver and the role Alston played in giving the Cardinals catcher a chance to thrill the St. Louis fans.
In 1966, players, managers and coaches _ not the fans _ selected the position player starters for the All-Star Game. The NL catchers who received the most votes were Joe Torre of the Braves and Tom Haller of the Giants. As was customary then for the runner-up pick, Haller was placed on the all-star squad as a reserve.
Because he had led the Dodgers to the 1965 NL pennant (and World Series championship), Alston was named manager of the 1966 NL all-stars. He chose the pitchers and the reserves. Alston selected three Cardinals for the team: pitcher Bob Gibson, center fielder Curt Flood and McCarver.
Gibson developed a sore elbow and was replaced on the all-star team by Dodgers reliever Phil Regan. Asked by The Sporting News why he chose McCarver as a third catcher for the NL, Alston replied, “Bob Gibson was forced off the squad. This is McCarver’s town.”
In the third inning, Alston had Flood pinch-hit for starting pitcher Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers. Facing starter Denny McLain of the Tigers, Flood hit a sharp grounder. The ball deflected off McLain to second baseman Bobby Knopp of the Angels, who fielded it behind the bag and threw out Flood.
That left McCarver as the only remaining Cardinals player.
“I didn’t think I’d get in the game because Tom Haller was still on the bench and he was voted No. 2,” McCarver said.
In the eighth, McCarver, not Haller, replaced Torre.
“I wanted very much to play,” Haller said. “I just didn’t think it was right that I didn’t.”
Said Alston: “The game was in St. Louis and the only Cardinal I’d used … was Flood and he only pinch-hit. The Giants already were well-represented with (Willie) Mays, (Willie) McCovey, (Juan) Marichal, (Gaylord) Perry and (Jim Ray) Hart. So I used Tim, the hometown boy.”
Lefty vs. lefty
McCarver, playing in his first All-Star Game, caught the eighth, ninth and 10th innings.
In the NL half of the 10th, with the score tied at 1-1, McCarver, a left-handed batter, led off against left-hander Pete Richert of the Senators.
“I know McCarver could handle left-handed pitchers pretty well,” Alston said.
McCarver said he was determined to swing at the first pitch “because I don’t like to get behind, especially against a good lefty.”
Richert threw a fastball and McCarver pulled it sharply on the ground and into right field for a single.
The next batter, Mets second baseman Ron Hunt, a St. Louis native, executed a sacrifice bunt, moving McCarver to second base.
Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills stepped to the plate and worked the count to 2-and-1. “I tried to make Wills hit the ball on the ground,” Richert said.
Instead, Wills lifted a line drive to short right field for a single.
“I had a good jump and I felt I had to make them try to throw me out in that situation,” McCarver said. “I was going all the way.”
Pirates manager Harry Walker, coaching at third, had a good view of the play unfolding. Walker, a former Cardinals player, coach and manager, gave McCarver the green light to head toward home.
“When I saw Tim coming to the (third-base) bag, (right fielder) Tony Oliva (of the Twins) was just getting to the ball.” Walker said. “It was off-center and Oliva had to turn a little to throw it. Tim’s speed helped a lot in making up my mind.”
McCarver scored easily with the run that gave the NL its victory. Boxscore
Among the first to greet him were Perry, the winning pitcher, and Mays.
“This is my biggest thrill in baseball outside of winning the (1964) World Series,” McCarver said. Video
Previously: Stan Musial and his 1955 All-Star Game home run