The last All-Star game played at Tiger Stadium will always be remembered for the incredible home run hit by Oakland’s Reggie Jackson along with dingers slammed by five other Hall of Famers. Some consider the greatest All-Star game ever.
And although Detroit baseball fans were especially excited about seeing legendary National League superstars Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Roberto Clemente swing for the inviting fences at Tiger Stadium, they were also anxious to see the American League end its nine consecutive losing appearances.
With a game time temperature of 85 degrees and a wind tunnel to rightfield that gusted up to 35 m.p.h., Tiger catcher Bill Freehan, appearing in his 8th of 11 All Star appearances, anticipated a slugfest.
“During batting practice you knew Tiger Stadium was going to take a beating,” Freehan me in a 2001 interview. “With the conditions and those big hitters, the balls were just flying to the far reaches of the upper deck. You did not want to be a pitcher that night,” said Freehan, who as a youngster from Royal Oak, attended the 1951 All Star game.
The National League fireworks started in the second inning when the Red’s Johnny Bench drilled a Vida Blue serving into the right centerfield bleachers to take a 2-0 lead. In the third inning Hank Aaron hit an opposite field homer to right giving pitcher Dock Ellis a 3-0 cushion.
But in the bottom of the stanza, the American League struck back as 25 year old Oakland slugger Reggie Jackson hit the game’s signature blast, a two run blow that is still talked about today in reverence by those who personally witnessed it along with the 60 million NBC TV viewers.
With a 1-2 count, Jackson choked up on his Adirondack and rocketed the ball into the light transformer on the roof in right center, before it bounced back onto the field. It was estimated to have traveled 520 feet when its flight was interrupted. “All I can say is that ball had places to go,” Jackson told me in 2001.
Decades later, Al Kaline and Sparky Anderson (the National League’s manager) remained awestruck by Jackson’s blast.
“It was one of the most amazing home runs,” Kaline told me. “It wasn’t even at its peak when it hit the transformer.” Added Anderson, “for me that’s the hardest home run I’ve ever seen.”
In a 2008 Detroit News article by Lynn Henning, Henning reported that a Wayne State University study conducted in the 1970s concluded that Jackson’s ball traveled an estimated 650 feet.
Two batters after Jackson’s homer, Baltimore’s Frank Robinson became the first All-Star to homer for both leagues when he gave the American League a 4-3 lead with his two run shot into the right field stands. Before the night ended in a 6-4 American League triumph, Pittsburgh’s Roberto Clemente and Minnesota’s Harmon Killebrew added to the Hall of Famer home run barrage.