The second post in Red Reporter's count down of the 10 Greatest Moments in Reds All Star History. This is my attempt to rank the most memorable and exciting moments relevant to the Cincinnati Reds franchise in the history of the Mid-Summer classic.
August 3, 1959
"Just stand up and lambast the next pitch" - Frank Robinson, famous plate-crowder, when asked what his approach was to brush-backs
Starting in 1959 - and ending mercifully in 1962 - major league baseball scheduled an extra All Star Game during the season, in part to raise money for the players' pension funds. This was before the era of free agency allowed most players to become broke through bad investment ideas, rather than the normal way. And it was a solid generation before the Home Run Derby (b. 1985) and the Taco Bell All Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game (b. 2001) were used to expand All Star festivities.
The first All Star Game of 1959 took place at legendary Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Eddie Matthews and Hank Aaron homered, Willy Mays tripled and the NL won 5-4. Reds greats Johnny Temple, Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson were all elected to the team, but only Temple played in Pittsburgh, going 0-2. The second game of the "double-header" - the first second game in history - was on the West Coast, at the jury-rigged LA Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum was the holding tank for the Dodgers while Dodgers Stadium was being built and is notable for being the birthplace of the term "moonshot": a fly ball home run over the left field screen. The eponymous Wally Moon started for the NL in both Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
Frank Robinson did not start the August 3 tilt, but he was subbed in at first base for Stan Musial by NL manager Fred Haney in the Top of the 5th. Robinson entered the game hitting a healthy .317/.404/.583, a line that was actually on its way down from July. August 1 was the first time Robinson had been below a 1.000 OPS in almost a month. Like the Reds' modern-day first baseman, Robinson had spoiled the fans. For him, a few games without an extra-base hit looked like a slump.
Robinson was only 23 when he took the field to replace the elder Musial - who, despite being 38, still had a 379 PA season of .330/.416/.508 hitting 3 years in his future. Fresh-faced though he was, Robinson was an established star, having won the Rookie of the Year in '56. This was already his third All Star Game and he had 100 HRs under his belt before his 24th birthday. Roughly speaking, 1959 would kick off the prime years of his career. From 1959-1969, The Judge would OPS over .950 seven times, hit 30+ HRs eight times and even steal 20+ bases three times, all while getting on base consistently at a 40% clip. He was like Adam Dunn with (not "on") speed and outfield capability.
First base was Robinson's primary position in '59, though he went back to full-time outfield by '61. (He even saw two innings at 3B in '60 and '61.) He entered the game with the Phillies' Gene Conley on the mound, who would retire Nellie Fox, Ted Williams and Yogi Berra after giving up a lead-off walk to Pete Runnels. The AL lead 3-1 as Robinson lead off the bottom of the fifth, digging in against future HOFer and Hall of Name-er, Early Wynn of the White Sox. Though I was unable to find any archival footage among my VHS collection, I can only guess Robinson's forearms were looming just off the zone. He destroyed an offering from Wynn to deep left-center, over the makeshift screen. A Moon Shot in the purest sense.
Robinson would go on to single in the bottom of the sixth and in bottom of the ninth. Though he did play a role in a botched pick-off attempt that sent Tony Kubek to 2nd base and presaged a 3-error inning for the NL, Robby rounded out the game with the highest Win Probability Added (.242) and most bases (6) on either team. He went 3-3 despite only playing 4 innings. It was a signal performance in a season that helped cement Robinson as one of the greatest hitters of his generation, mentioned after only Mays and Aaron among sluggers who played the bulk of their careers in the 50s and 60s.
It's not quite the same as if Joey Votto, replacing Albert Pujols, were to club a home run into the Chase Field swimming pool in right. But it's not altogether different either.