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Today in Wrigley Field history: The Cubs host an All-Star Game

Including the story of an enterprising future BCB reader who got in!

Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images

Let’s take a break from trade chatter for a bit to acknowledge a significant anniversary of a famous Wrigley Field event.

From 1959 through 1962, MLB played two All-Star Games. Why did they do this? Money, of course:

Profits from the second All-Star Game went directly into the players’ pension fund under the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association.

That was good for players, not so good for the game, and after that four-year experiment the second ASG was dropped and since 1963 there’s been one per year. All told, $215,000 was raised for the players’ pension fund from the extra games, roughly equivalent to about $2.1 million today.

The second All-Star Game in 1962, the last of the dual ASG years, was played at Wrigley Field.

Regular BCB commenter ernaga went to that game and tells this story about how he got in, and about the game itself:

Two All-Star Games may be a perfect example of wretched excess, but it sure didn’t seem that way on a hot and beautiful July 30, 1962, as I turned the corner at Waveland, walking east, and saw a crowd waiting to buy bleacher tickets already doubled-up at 10 a.m. Earlier that morning, I listened to a neighbor tell me what a waste of time it was to go without tickets and, as I looked for the end of the line, I realized he probably was right. To this day, I don’t know if some or all bleacher tickets for that game were supposed to be reserved, but with almost no movement on the line that morning, the unofficial word went out: “No more seats.” That rumor sent a few people home, before an official came out to mark a cutoff that was well ahead of me. As many more fans started walking away, I too was about to give up and head over to Henry’s for lunch.

Suddenly, and likely to his regret, that same official stepped back to announce that an unknown number of additional tickets now would be made available. His words instantly changed the air pressure along Waveland and produced the sound of a thundering herd from the west – a classic bums’ rush was about to achieve critical mass, and who was I to remain on the sidelines? Sure enough, the mad scramble paid off. Order was restored only after at least 50 of us rushed the line, bought tickets and headed up the ramp. Turning right at the concession stand, I saw the bleachers already packed, except, of course, for the Batter’s Eye section that had been closed since 1952. I looked around again and, incredibly, a smiling Andy Frain usher was holding open the chain-link gate to that centerfield section and beckoning me to step inside. Immediately, I headed down past rows of rotting bleachers to the best seat in the house, front row, slightly left of dead center, and watched batting practice as the rest of the Eye filled up behind me. Not bad for $2 and a few splinters. FWIW, I sat along the aisle of the left (westernmost) of the three sections that had been closed for a decade.

Here is what a bleacher ticket purchased before the day of the ‘62 All-Star Game looked like:

But I didn’t get a ticket like that. The likely makeshift ticket I received that day might have been given only to very late arrivals who were about to enter the rare environs of the lower center field bleachers, off-limits since 1952. The ticket was something I had never seen at Wrigley: standard grandstand-size, but printed black only on sea-green stock, instead of the typical black and red ink on a blue background used on regular grandstand tickets of that era.)

As for the ‘62 ASG game itself, the less said the better. Perhaps the highlight of the whole affair came in batting practice, when a large piece of paper gently floated down from the bleachers’ upper deck, and scored a perfect three-point landing in right center between Roger Maris and Rocky Colavito. A roar went up from the bleacher crowd: the paper was a Centerfold, and there was Miss July, in all her glory. Maris glanced down, smiled, then looked up to grab a fly ball. As he did, Colavito reached down to pick up this gift from a generous spectator, then folded it carefully before stuffing it in his pocket. It should be noted that Rocky later sent a seventh inning three-run smash out to Kenmore Avenue, icing the game for a rare (in those days) AL win.

At the time, I’m sure I thought Wrigley management might keep those center field sections open for regular season games. Of course, that never happened, with the Whitlow Fence going up the following year, along with many other changes made through the years to maintain a Batter’s Eye unblemished by the rotting bleachers of 1962.

It only took me another several decades to figure out the reasons for my incredible good luck that day: The relative novelty of network sports broadcasts in color, the need for MLB to show its best face in the ASG showcase, and the eyesore those empty, rotten centerfield bleachers must have been to network and MLB executives looking at color monitors. All these things created the need for a short-term fix, and placing fans in the Eye provided an ideal last-minute cover to make Wrigley Field picture-perfect and ready for its first-ever close-up in a national telecast of an important game.

38,359 squeezed into every corner of Wrigley Field — remember, seating capacity was lower then than it is now — and watched the AL stars defeat the NL stars 9-4. Just two Cubs were on the NL team. Ernie Banks replaced Orlando Cepeda at first base in the top of the fifth and went 1-for-2 (a triple in the eighth), and Billy Williams played the last three innings in left field and drove in Banks with an RBI groundout.

About a year and a half ago, former MLB player Mike Stenhouse posted a 21-minute video from the game on Facebook, as his dad Dave Stenhouse pitched in this game for the AL, and appears in the video.

One thing you’ll notice right away is how much larger foul territory was at Wrigley Field in 1962 — seating added over the years has reduced that area to maybe half of what it was back then. The wall behind the plate is also much higher than it is now, again because seats were added in front of the ones that existed in 1962.

The video includes player introductions and action from the first two innings of the game. Two of the voices you hear belong to Curt Gowdy and Vin Scully. You can also clearly hear the voice of Wrigley PA announcer Pat Pieper. The commercials are also a great time capsule of TV in that era.

ernaga’s take on this broadcast:

I should mention that the behind-the-plate camera shots of the Stenhouse/NBC video clip seem to validate my take on the main reasons the centerfield section was opened that day: NBC didn’t want their nationwide color broadcast defaced by either the Baby Ruth sign on Sheffield or the empty, poorly maintained centerfield bleachers that had been closed for years. Of course, the last-minute bleacher re-opening gave Chicago media the chance to commend Phil Wrigley for what on its face seemed to be only a fan-friendly gesture by the owner. Whatever the reasons, it did make for one of my best days as a baseball fan.

It all happened 60 years ago today at Wrigley Field, Monday, July 30, 1962.