ALL-STAR GAME : PITCHERS’ PARADISE : ‘67 Game Was a Mound of Fun With Twilight Start and a Sympathetic Umpire
Twilight was never Dean Chance’s favorite time.
In the early years of the Angels, he and Bo Belinsky, who combined to cut a swath wider than the Sunset Strip, were at their best when the night was darkest and the neons were brightest.
But as Chance, then 26 and a member of the Minnesota Twins, walked into Anaheim Stadium in mid-afternoon on July 11, 1967, he was given reason to believe, he recounted recently, that his twilight assignment as the American League’s starting pitcher in the first All-Star game at the Big A might lead to something special--or unusual, at least.
“Walking in that day I happened to run into a gentleman named Ed Runge and he said to me, ‘Dean, we’re going for the record today.’ I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but I found out a few hours later.”
What the hitters couldn’t see in the twilight shadows, plate umpire Runge could.
Known as a pitchers’ umpire with a strike zone that Ron Luciano, a former American League umpire turned author, once decribed as stretching from dugout to dugout, Runge would emerge as the only umpire to receive consideration for the All-Star game’s Outstanding Performer Award.
Tony Perez of the Cincinnati Reds received the award for hitting a home run that mercifully ended history’s longest All-Star game, which the National League won in 15 innings, 2-1.
The NL had come in with a team batting average of .306. The American League averaged .273. But it became a game to be remembered for futility and failure as Chance and 11 other pitchers took advantage of Runge’s strike zone and the 4:15 twilight zone to register an All-Star record 30 strikeouts, 11 called.
“No umpire ever lived who had a strike zone as big as Ed Runge’s,” Chance said. “I once gave him a gold cigarette lighter with the inscription, ‘To the Greatest Strikeout Man in Baseball History.’ Of course, he couldn’t use it until he retired.”
Chance, 48, lives in Wooster, Ohio. He has managed boxers and carnivals and now operates the midway at the Ohio State Fair, his life still illuminated by neons.
Runge, 74, spent 17 years as an American League umpire, retired in 1970, and lives in San Diego. His son, Paul, umpires in the National League.
“I once asked someone what kind of strike zone Paul had and they said, ‘Big, real big,’ ” Chance said. “He must have learned from the old man.”
The senior Runge laughed when informed of Chance’s recollections and said he walked into Anaheim Stadium that day with the other umpires, that he did not encounter the AL’s starting pitcher, that he would never have told a player they were going for a record and he did not recall receiving a cigarette lighter from Chance.
“Dean has always been a little wacky,” Runge said.
Our memories play tricks, of course. Sometimes conveniently, sometimes not. The march of time erodes details, but neither Runge nor Chance are on trial here. The commissioner has enough problems, and there are other witnesses to Runge’s role in that game.
John Hall, who covered the game for The Times, alluded to the strikeouts in his lead as he wrote:
“It was a burning, boiling Orange County afternoon, but baseball’s biggest hitters selfishly turned on all the fans.”
Perez, now a coach with the Reds, recalled, “Between the umpire and the shadows, the hitters didn’t have a chance. Roberto Clemente struck out four times. That tells you how tough it was.”
Perez added that he got lucky in the 15th inning, that Jim (Catfish) Hunter simply threw a pitch that hit his bat, that he didn’t get a good look at it and was as surprised as anyone that he hit it out.
In a game that featured 16 future Hall of Famers, American League hitters struck out 17 times, NL hitters 13.
Richie Allen homered off Chance in the second inning, then struck out three times. Tony Oliva, a .304 career hitter, also struck out three times. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays struck out as pinch-hitters.
Ferguson Jenkins, the second National League pitcher, struck out six in three innings, an All-Star record he still shares. Jenkins also gave up the only American League run on a sixth-inning homer by Brooks Robinson, who was hitless in his other five at-bats, striking out twice.
Al Downing, then with the New York Yankees and now a radio talk- show host, reflected on his two-inning stint as the American League’s fourth pitcher, and said:
“The hitters knew they had to be hacking at anything around the plate. Runge’s reputation preceded him. Bill Freehan was catching that day and I had never thrown to him. But I remember that the first thing he said to me when I came in was, ‘Let’s go for a Runge strike.’ That meant low and away. You could throw it six inches off the plate early in the count and get a strike. But once you had two strikes, he (Runge) made you throw it over the plate. I don’t know if he was a pitchers’ umpire as much as he wanted to see the hitters up there swinging and quick games.”
Although lasting 15 innings, the game took a relatively short 3 hours 41 minutes.
Joe Torre, who caught the early innings for the National League and now does commentary on Angel telecasts, said:
“We had Juan Marichal pitching with Carl Yastrzemski up and Juan threw two pitches out of the strike zone that Runge called strikes and Yaz spun around and said, ‘those weren’t strikes and you know it.’
“But Runge said, ‘That’s my strike zone,’ and when I heard that I moved even farther outside. I knew between the time of day, the caliber of pitching and that strike zone, it would have to get dark before anyone would get a pitch they could see. It’s going to be tough again Tuesday night.”
Torre referred to the 60th All-Star game and the second to be played at Anaheim Stadium, which has been enclosed by outfield seating since 1967 but again will be bathed in shadows for the 5:30 start.
The twilight start in ’67 marked the first such All-Star concession to television and the prime-time Eastern viewers. There have been five West Coast All-Star games that started in the outdoor twilight and they produced a total of only 25 runs, or five per game.
“When you get guys like Nolan Ryan and Dave Stewart and Chuck Finley busting the ball between 5:30 and 7:30, there aren’t going to be a lot or runs scored in this game either,” said Bill Rigney, an adviser with the Oakland Athletics now and manager of the Angels in 1967, when he served as the American League’s third-base coach.
“The twilight had a lot to do with it, but I think it was more Runge,” Rigney said. “He was one of the American League’s best umpires, but if you had to categorize him, he was definitely a pitcher’s man. They knew that if they got the ball near the plate, it would be a strike.
“I remember when I was managing at Minnesota that I told Ed we had just brought up a kid he was going to love because he threw nothing but strikes. I was talking about Bert Blyleven.”
Blyleven, now 38, remains a control specialist who is enjoying a rebirth with the Angels but was snubbed in the All-Star selections and doesn’t expect to attend Tuesday night’s game as a spectator.
Runge was present Sunday for the Equitable Old-Timers game and said he would stay to see Tuesday night’s game, reliving memories.
Was it the twilight or strike zone in ’67?
“I think it was more me with my usual strike zone,” Runge said. “I was known as a pitcher’s umpire and that didn’t bother me. If the ball got any part of the plate it was a strike. I wanted to see the hitters swinging. That’s what the fans paid to see. But I didn’t change my zone depending on the count or batter.
“I remember Billy Martin saying, ‘He’s a pitcher’s umpire, but he’s consistent. He doesn’t call ‘em any differently for a .200 or .300 hitter.’ There were 30 strikeouts in that game, but only one or two guys turned around to question a call.”
Maybe it was because they couldn’t question what they couldn’t see.
“When the game ended, Bill Murray (an administrator in the commissioner’s office) came into our dressing room and said I had missed by only a couple votes of winning the MVP award,” Runge said. “He said that if the winning run had scored on a couple singles I might have won it, but with the home run they had to give it to Perez. Too bad. I’d have hung it right in my game room.”
Near the cigarette lighter he allegedly received from Dean Chance?