SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Stu Miller wants to set the record straight. Despite the headlines, myths and stories, he wasn’t actually blown off the mound at Candlestick in the All-Star game.
One of the most famous plays in All-Star history is a topic once again as baseball’s midsummer classic returned to San Francisco for just the second time since that truly blown save in 1961. And the central figure in the play wants to clear some things up.
“The next day in the paper there was a banner headline: ‘Miller Blown off Mound,”‘ he recalled. “They couldn’t have made it any bigger. They made it out to be like I was pinned against the center-field fence. It wasn’t about Mays scores winning run but ‘Miller Blown off Mound.”‘
Miller entered the game for the National League trying to protect a 3-2 lead with runners on first and second and one out in the ninth. With Rocky Colavito at the plate, Miller relieved Sandy Koufax – “Take that hacker out of there,” he joked.
A calm day had turned windy, some of the harshest gusts Miller saw in the three years that Candlestick was his home park while he played for the Giants. He remembered Harvey Haddix chasing his hat as it was buffeted around the infield and the flags nearly blowing off the poles.
“Just as I was ready to pitch, an extra gust of wind came along and I waved like a tree,” he said. “My whole body went back and forth about 2 or 3 inches. The AL bench all hollered balk. I knew it was a balk, but the umpires didn’t call it at first. I went ahead and threw the pitch and Colavito swung and missed. The umpire then took off his mask and motioned the runners to second and third.”
An error by third baseman Ken Boyer allowed the tying run to score. Then the wind played havoc with another All-Star.
Catcher Smoky Burgess dropped a foul pop by Tony Kubek before Miller recovered for a strikeout. Don Zimmer’s error at second base loaded the bases before Miller escaped the jam by retiring opposing pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm.
But it’s Miller’s balk that became symbolic of the wind at Candlestick.
“If they played at 12 o’clock, there might not be no wind. Then by 1:30, all hell breaks loose almost every day. It was crazy,” Zimmer said. “He was a little guy. He might have been lighter than a guy like (Greg) Maddux. I remember him going backward to throw a pitch and he just kept going. With the wind, Candlestick could do that to you.”
Miller allowed an unearned run in the 10th inning on another error by Boyer, but he also struck out the side that inning. He ended it by fanning Roger Maris with a runner on third, striking out the man who was on his way to becoming baseball’s single-season home run king.
“Why would I have memory of that? I struck out nine of those guys that year,” said Miller, who also pitched in a second All-Star game later that year at Fenway Park.
Miller earned the win at Candlestick when Willie Mays hit an RBI double and scored on Roberto Clemente’s single in the bottom of the 10th. But it was the balk became the defining moment in a career that included 103 wins, 154 saves, an NL ERA title in 1958 and a changeup considered one of the best of its time.
“I guess that’s better than ‘Stu Who?”‘ he said. “I’d rather be remembered for something.”
When the All-Star game returned to San Francisco in 1984, the NL All-Stars were hoping the elements would play as big a factor as they did 23 years earlier. Expos catcher Gary Carter said before the game that he hoped the AL All-Stars would experience the frustrations NL players got each year on their visit to Candlestick.
His wish came true.
“What I remember most about Candlestick was how cold it got,” said Royals manager Buddy Bell, an All-Star third baseman for the AL that year. “I had never played there before. I’d always been in the American League. The game started at 5 and it was beautiful. But by about 6:30 we were all freezing, especially the American League guys.”
It was the twilight start that played the biggest role, making it nearly impossible for batters to see the pitches.
Carter’s home run in the second inning gave the NL the lead for good in that game and earned him the MVP award, but it was the pitching that was the story of this game.
On the 50th anniversary of former Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell striking out Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in succession, the NL pitchers combined to better the mark by one.
Fernando Valenzuela struck out future Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson and George Brett in order in the fourth inning. Then 19-year-old Dwight Gooden, the youngest All-Star ever, whiffed Lance Parrish, Chet Lemon and Alvin Davis in order in the fifth, sending the NL on its way to a 3-1 victory.