Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 13, 1971: Remember that scene from The Natural?

DETROIT - Long before he was Mr. October, the famous number 44 in Yankee pinstripes, Reggie Jackson was "Buck," number 9 for the green-and-gold-clad Athletics. As a 25-year-old in 1971, Jackson didn't have anywhere near the fame he would later in his career. He was recognized as a great player, but since Oakland had yet to make the playoffs, he wasn't yet a household name.

After the 1971 All-Star Game, that would all change.

The American League entered the 1971 game on July 13 in the midst of an eight-game All-Star Game losing streak. Jackson wasn't voted to start the game at Tiger Stadium, but he was named to the team with the expectation that he'd probably only get one at bat.

Jackson's chance came earlier than he probably expected, as he was sent to pinch-hit for teammate and starting pitcher Vida Blue in the fourth inning with a man on base and the AL trailing 3-0. Pittsburgh pitcher Dock Ellis, who had thrown a no-hitter the year before, was on the mound.

When Jackson walked up to the plate for that plate appearance, he was a star. When he got back to the dugout, he was a legend. Hitting a home run off the light tower will do that for you. The ball was hit so high, and left the park so fast, that the television cameras couldn't follow it; fans watching the game at home saw a shot of the right-field upper deck, then a ball fall straight down in front of it.

The light tower Jackson hit was 380 feet from home plate, but considering it was on the roof of Tiger Stadium, its estimated that his home run would have 530 feet had it been allowed to soar uninterrupted. It was an incredible shot by a man who would soon become famous for those.

For the AL, the home run was the turning point. They took the lead that inning on their was to a 6-4 victory, their only All-Star Game victory in a 20-year span. For Jackson, it was just the start of his fame. The Athletics made the playoffs for the first time in Jackson's career that fall, and he hit two home runs in a losing effort. In all, he would play on five World Series champions in two cities. He hit 18 postseason home runs, including at least one in every World Series he played in. But surpringly, considering his flair for the dramatic, the incredible blast in the 1971 game was Jackson's only All-Star Game home run.

July 13, 1934: DETROIT - The game is most memorable because of Babe Ruth. In a game against the Tigers, Ruth crushed a pitch from Tommy Bridges deep into the right-field bleachers at Tiger Stadium for his 700th career home run. The blast helped the Yankees beat the Tigers and leapfrog them into first place. However, the game is notable for another reason, as Lou Gehrig had to be helped off the field in the first inning with severe lower back pain. In retrospect, Gehrig's spell of lumbargo was likely the first noticeable sign of the ALS that would later end his career.

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