Memories of the All-Star Game
In 1979 I was 11 years old; Todd Warren, my best friend was a year younger. We were both avid baseball fans; we collected cards, memorized trivia, and even perfected the art of playing ball one-on-one in the middle of busy Seattle streets. Frequently, whenever we could get together, we would walk a couple miles to the nearest store, where we would plunk down the only change we had in order to buy a measly two packs of baseball cards. On the hike back (Todd lived at the top of Magnolia hill at the time, so this was somewhat of a trek), we would talk about cards we got, all the while chawing on the stale, often brittle slab of gum that came in each pack -- gum that arguably didn’t taste much different than one of the cards themselves.
We had both been to Mariners games before, but in the summer of 1979, Todd’s parents managed to get tickets to the 50th Annual All-Star Game in the Kingdome. Better yet, Todd’s General Managers called my General Managers, and were willing to talk trade: The Warrens would send Todd’s sister, Heather, and a sleeping bag to be named later to my house in Everett for a visit with my sister. In return, the Floms would send me to the Warrens’ for a couple of days. I would be rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game. Heather would be punished by having to spend time in Everett. If you grew up there, like I did, you’d realize what a sweet deal this was for me.
Way up in the Rafters
The excitement was such that I really don’t remember anything about that trip to Todd’s house except the game itself. It started earlier than usual, at 5:35 p.m., probably to accommodate East Coast television viewers, but we got there even earlier so we could take in the pre-game ceremonies.
However, this was not before we made an obligatory stop at a souvenir booth outside the Kingdome, where we hemorrhaged money by stocking up on programs, All-Star pennants, and the like. I bought an “official” hard hat; I forget which team. They were suppose to be replicas of a team’s batting helmets, but were actually pretty useless as a safety device. They were made with such flimsy plastic that a real baseball probably would have shattered it to pieces. But then again I was raised in the 70’s, when having asbestos insulation in your home was perfectly okay, and when it was not uncommon for small children to supplement their diets with a few lead paint chips from around the house. The possibility of a few shards of plastic imbedded in my skull was an acceptable risk.
We went with Todd’s parents, Lloyd and Jan, his Grandpa Doral, and a family friend, Al Beard. Our seats weren’t all together, so Todd and I went with his parents, while Grandpa Doral and Al Beard headed off to their seats in a different part of the Dome.
Todd and I were so excited that we didn’t really care that we were sitting in the upper deck near the left field foul pole, probably the farthest away from home plate someone could get in the Kingdome. Nor did we care that our bleacher seats were positioned so that we couldn’t see the replay screen at all; I think these were the days before the sailboat races on the Diamond Vision screen, so we probably weren’t missing anything, except maybe a few close plays at the plate.
True, the players were so far away we could barely see them, but if you asked us, these were the best seats in the house -- or at least the best seats that $10 could buy. No, that’s not a misprint -- nosebleed seats at the 1979 All-Star Game went for a mere $10. Nowadays, a $10 seat at Safeco Field for any game, let alone the All-Star Game, puts you a grassy freeway median on the west side of Beacon Hill. Todd and I were so pumped that we didn’t even mind when the guy in back of us had christened our seats with a full Coke. As far as we were concerned, this was all part of the baseball experience.
Getting Through the Formalities
The pre-game ceremony was your typical pomp and circumstance -- not your modern home run derby or old-timer’s game, but a show that was only slightly better than the average halftime event at a high school football game. There were player introductions, and a ceremony featuring the flags of all 50 states, which for some reason were laid on the ground when the American flag was finally presented. Todd’s dad was quick to remind us that, despite what we’d seen on the field, we should never, ever lay a flag on the ground.
Following the national anthem, entertainer Danny Kaye, at the time a part owner of the Mariners, threw out the first ball. Fifty children surrounded him when he made his toss, each of them concealing their own Styrofoam ball. When Kaye threw, catcher Darrell Porter of the Kansas City Royals suddenly found a torrent of balls headed in his direction. Cute, but not all that exciting.
Then the ballgame got underway. The starting pitchers were Nolan Ryan (California Angels) for the American League, and Steve Carlton (Philadelphia Phillies) for the National League. For those who grumble about how many Mariners are slated to start in the 2001 All-Star Game, it’s nice to note of the nine N.L. starters, four were members of the Phillies: Carlton on the mound, Bob Boone (father of the M’s Brett Boone) behind the plate, Mike Schmidt at third base, and Larry Bowa as shortstop. (And, lest we forget, yet another famous Phillie, first baseman Pete Rose, was selected as an N.L. reserve.) The situation was no better on the American League team, where the Royals and Boston Red Sox each had three representatives in the starting nine, the California Angels, two. The Mariner’s lone representative on the squad was first baseman Bruce Bochte; because the 1979 game was not observing the designated hitter rule, another viable Mariner candidate, Willie Horton, was passed over when reserves were selected.
Unfortunately for my own posterity, the excitement of being at an All-Star Game tended to overshadow the fact that there was an actual game going on, and a pretty good one at that. Nolan Ryan started the game by striking out Davey Lopes of the Dodgers and the game’s eventual MVP, Pittsburgh’s Dave Parker, on a total of seven pitches. Even so, the Nationals struck for a two-out rally, taking a 2-0 lead by the end of the first inning.
The A.L. came back in the bottom of the first to take a 3-2 lead, capped by a two-run homer by Boston’s Fred Lynn. From there the game became a back and forth battle -- the N.L. went up 4-3 in the top of the third, and the A.L. responded by adding a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning, again taking a one run lead at 5-4.
Giving the People What They Want
The one vivid moment of the game for me, and perhaps the one vivid moment for many in the Kingdome that evening, came in the bottom half the sixth inning. The National League had knotted the game at 5-5. Boston great Carl Yastrzemski singled to right, and was replaced by pinch-runner Rick Burleson, also of the Red Sox. Brian Downing then doubled to right-center, sending Burleson to third.
With no outs and the go-ahead run just 90 feet away, the situation was perfect to send up a pinch-hitter. The crowd must have sensed this, for a chant began all over the Kingdome -- soft at first, then louder and louder: “We want Bochte; We want BOCHTE; WE WANT BOCHTE!!”
A.L. manager Bob Lemon probably had bigger bats than Bochte’s riding the pine at that moment. But he was also no dummy. At some point, he was going to have to please the hometown fans by putting Bruce Bochte into the game. And the way the crowd was chanting, he probably wouldn’t have made it out of the ballpark alive if he had selected a different pinch-hitter.
Bruce Bochte was a good player, but there were few in the crowd who would have put him up there with Mike Schmidt, George Brett, or Gaylord Perry, the pitcher he was about to face. Still, he was the only Mariner player on the A.L. team, and this was his moment. Everyone got goosebumps as he emerged from the dugout; the crowd remained on their feet, screaming and chanting as he stepped into the batter’s box. Granted, the Mariners’ weren’t a great team, and Bruce Bochte wasn’t a great player, but I think all 58,906 in attendance that night wanted desperately for him to succeed.
Perry, a future Mariner then playing for the San Diego Padres, managed to get two strikes on Bochte before the first baseman slapped a sinker into left field for a single, bringing Rick Burleson in from third and giving the American League a 6-5 lead. As Bochte's hit sailed into the outfield, the crowd erupted into a frenzied roar -- one that was probably louder, and longer, than any other baseball cheer in Kingdome history, at least until the Mariners made their miraculous pennant run in 1995. That is something I’ll never forget.
Ends in a Fizzle
Bruce Bochte’s heroics kept the A.L. in the lead for a while, until the 8th inning, when Lee Mazzilli of the Mets tied the game with a homer. The end of the game was a mess, quite a letdown from the see-saw battle that had taken place during the previous eight innings. With one out, A.L. pitcher Jim Kern walked the bases full, and with Mazzilli returning to the plate, Ron Guidry of the Yankees, a strikeout pitcher, was brought in from the bullpen to get the A.L. out of the jam. Unfortunately, Guidry faired no better than Kern — he walked Mazzilli, forcing in the winning run. It was an anti-climactic end that brought the National League their eighth straight victory in the mid-season classic.
A View from the Stands
Unfortunately, except for Bruce Bochte’s at-bat, most of my memories of the 1979 All-Star Game have little to do with the game itself. In addition to my prized hardhat souvenir, I vividly remember the antics of the San Diego Chicken. Speaking strictly as an 11-year old, I’m always pleased with the opportunity to see six-foot farm animals taunt the umpires between innings.
Late in the game, Todd and I managed to peel ourselves from our sticky, Coke-saturated bleacher seats to get a better view of the game from behind home plate. We were hanging out in good company; apparently former President Gerald Ford, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, and Danny Kaye were sharing a box somewhere in the vicinity. If I saw them, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. Now the guy with the rainbow hair and the t-shirt that read “John 3:16,” there was a celebrity I would have recognized. We stayed long enough to see Pete Rose batting — the only time I ever got to see “Charlie Hustle” play — until a very uptight usher shoed us away for not having tickets on the 100 level.
There were other incidents that I recall. As was announced a couple of days before the game, a very, um, “gifted” stripper from Ohio named Morganna, who dubbed herself the “Kissing Bandit,” ran onto the field to kiss Kansas City third baseman George Brett as he stepped to the plate. Since it had been announced in advance, her stunt was hardly surprising. She came on, liplocked with Brett, and was casually escorted from the field. Later in the game, another man bolted from the stands, shook Pete Rose’s hand at first base, then was chased all over before Kingdome security managed to tackle him and drag him off the field. Two things I learned at the 1979 All-Star Game: 1) Never lay a flag on the ground, it’s disrespectful; 2) It’s not okay to run out onto the field, unless you’re a 29-year-old stripper from Ohio.
Gone, but not Forgotten
Since 1979, I've had the opportunity to see a number of events at the Kingdome: baseball, football, and even basketball, in particular the NBA All-Star Game when it was held there in the late 80’s. Even so, I held no fondness for the Kingdome as a sporting arena -- when it was proposed for demolition, it was good riddens to bad rubbish, as far as I was concerned.
But I thought again of the 1979 All-Star Game when, on March 26, 2000, my sixth wedding anniversary, the Kingdome was nuked into oblivion. In spite of the infantile portion of my brain that craves seeing things explode, I suddenly realized, while the countdown was on, that a really good childhood memory was about to come down along with the Kingdome roof.
Sad though that was, the feeling was quickly replaced by a sense of sheer terror, and the realization that I’ve now reached an age when I’m starting to have fond recollections of events that happened almost a quarter century ago. Pre-midlife crisis, here I come . . .