As a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, I had the privilege of watching some fun Pirates teams during my formative years. It was after the Pirates had already started their long winding road towards historic failure that I experienced my favorite Pittsburgh baseball moment – the 1994 Major League Baseball All Star Game at Three Rivers Stadium.
The 1994 season was a dark one for baseball, with the players strike looming and the season in jeopardy. Even with that dark cloud hanging over the season, amazing things were occurring all over the major league world. On July 12, the baseball world turned it’s attention to the Steel City and Three Rivers Stadium for the 65th playing of the Midsummer Classic, a culmination of a historic first-half of the season. The old cookie-cutter stadium on the North Side of Pittsburgh would play host to a virtual who’s-who of stars from a generation that gave fans some of the greatest players in the history of the game. The stars that defined the 1980’s were still hanging around, crafting the final act of their magical careers. The mega-stars of the 1990’s were in the prime of their careers, and a few young stars were just getting started on the road to potential Hall of Fame careers.
Three Rivers Stadium was a dump by 1994. The place was falling apart, and several straight brutal Pittsburgh winters had taken its toll even further on the concrete monster. Even though we all knew Three Rivers would have to be replaced for baseball to remain in Pittsburgh, there was something about the place that was special. I had spent my childhood running through the undersized corridors, eating the runny nachos, and carving every final score into the plastic seat back in front of me. Three Rivers Stadium was my Disneyland, and in the summer there was no place I wanted to be more. I had been to many Pirates games that drew less than 3,000 fans to Three Rivers, and other than for playoff games in the early 90’s I had very little experience with a full stadium for baseball. For the All Star Game, Major League Baseball did their best to turn the stadium into a little slice of baseball heaven. Seeing 60,000 fans packed into their seats was a sight to behold, and that was before the players began to filter out to the field for introductions. Once we settled into our seats in left field, the festivities began. American League Player introductions started, and I was in awe.
Cal Ripken Jr.
Ken Griffey Jr.
By the time the AL introductions were over, I had goosebumps at being in the same stadium as so many of these stars that I had never been able to see live in the era before Interleague play ruined the significance of separate leagues.
The National League All Stars began to hit the field, now these were players I was familiar with! To see them all together was a sight to behold. Mike Piazza – the young stud catcher of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Matt Williams – the man chasing down Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1994, Ozzie Smith – the Wizard, Barry Bonds, David Justice, Greg Maddux – just before he became the best pitcher EVER, Bret Saberhagen – who could forget his gutty performances in the AL postseason in the 80’s, Jeff Bagwell- the young muscle-bound slugger, Fred McGriff – the Crime Dog, Craig Biggio, Barry Larkin, Moises Alou, Tony Gwynn……..an endless array of baseball’s heroes were standing on the most beautiful stretch of bright green astroturf in the world.
The day before, I had attended the Home Run Derby – another of my favorite baseball memories. The sight of a young Ken Griffey Jr. hitting balls into the high upper deck in right field was a sight to behold. Most of the balls he hit didn’t “land”, they just simply hit something and stopped. Hat backwards, grinning from ear to ear – it was “The Kid” at the best he ever was. Frank Thomas – “The Big Hurt” – was just as amazing, hitting a few balls that were estimated to have traveled over 500 feet. Seeing these guys hitting homeruns in a batting practice scenario was one thing, but watching Ken Griffey Jr. jog out to his spot in center field and smile at the young fans clamoring for his attention was even more special. No player ever gave off the aura of being “untouchable” the way Junior did. Seeing Tony Gwynn march out to the same spot was a sight to behold as well, a pudgy man who looked like he could have as easily been pumping your gas as chasing down .400. What I remember most about the game was the manner in which Gwynn played, so smooth and effortless and always with a big smile. In his prime and playing his heart out, Tony Gwynn was a sight to behold.
The game was one of the classic All Star Games in baseball history. The American League got off to a quick start with Wade Boggs scoring on a line-drive single by Frank Thomas that barely escaped the glove of Gwynn in center field. In the bottom of the first, Barry Bonds got his “Welcome Back” moment from the Pittsburgh fans – getting booed off the field after his sacrifice fly scored the Cardinals Gregg Jefferies to tie the game. The game slowed a bit in the second inning, with both starters registering scoreless innings. It would be the National League who broke the game open first, scoring three runs off of David Cone – who was in the midst of his Cy Young season with the Kansas City Royals – highlighted by a Tony Gwynn double that scored Jeff Bagwell and Jefferies, followed by a two-out single by young slugger Mike Piazza that scored Gwynn.
The Montreal Expos – who were on their way to the best season in club history – began to make their presence felt in the middle innings as Ken Hill pitched two scoreless frames before being replaced by former Pirates hurler Doug Drabek in the sixth. Drabek got shelled by the powerful AL lineup, all started by a single and stolen base by Blue Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar. Griffey Jr. drove him in with his second hit of the game, followed by a two-out rally that included a Frank Thomas single, a Matt Williams throwing error on a ground ball by Joe Carter, and an RBI single by future Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett. With the scored tied 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth inning, those pesky Expos struck again. This time it was OF Marquis Grissom hitting a home run off of the Mariners Randy Johnson – a former Expo. Montreal players would spend the night showing the baseball world just why they were the best team in the league, and there was plenty more to come.
The seventh inning would seem to be the undoing for the National League. Despite a fantastic diving play by SS Ozzie Smith to steal a sure RBI single from the Minnesota Twins Chuck Knoblauch, the Phillies Danny Jackson could not get through the inning. Jackson – another former Pittsburgh Pirate – gave up an RBI double to Red Sox third baseman Scott Cooper – the lone BoSox player in the game. That was followed by a 2-run single by Indians OF Kenny Lofton. The American league then got back-to-back scoreless frames by Pat Hentgen (Blue Jays) and Wilson Alvarez (White Sox) to take a 7-5 lead into the ninth. The end seemed to be near for the Senior circuit when AL Manager Cito Gaston turned to his bullpen once more and brought veteran closer Lee Smith in to bury any NL hopes of a comeback.
Smith – the once dominant closer who had rejected retirement to forge a remarkable comeback season with the Baltimore Orioles – promptly walked Marquis Grissom to start the inning. A sure double play ball hit by Craig Biggio to third baseman Cooper was bobbled slightly, allowing Biggio to reach base. That set the stage for pinch-hitter Fred McGriff, who NL manager Jim Fregosi had saved for just such an occasion, to come up with the game on the line. The “Crime Dog” smashed a dramatic 2-run homer into the center field seats to tie the game. Three Rivers Stadium exploded with cheers, and the National League had new life.
As the game headed to extra frames, the crowd was in a frenzy. They had witnessed perhaps the best All Star Game of all time, and it wasn’t over yet. Once again, it would be the Montreal Expos – and a former Pittsburgh Pirate – who would put the final touches on the 1994 All Star Game. After Phillies closer Doug Jones managed to get through the top of the 10th despite giving up singles to the A’s Ruben Sierra and the Rangers Ivan Rodriguez, the National League had a chance to end the affair in the bottom of the inning.
Tony Gwynn – who had played the entire game and recorded five plate appearances – led off with a typical chopper up the middle for a single. That brought up OF Moises Alou, the final batter of the evening. Alou had come up through the Pirates system in the late 1980’s and was thought to be a future star for the Bucs. When the Pirates found themselves in a bitter division race with the New York Mets in 1990, they made a trade for veteran starter Zane Smith – sending Alou in a package to the Expos. In the following years, Alou would become a key player in Montreal, culminating with his first All Star game appearance in the home stadium of his former employer.
White Sox pitcher Jason Bere went 1-0 on Alou before trying to sneak a fastball past the Expos slugger. Alou promptly blasted the pitch into the left centerfield gap. Gwynn hustled around the bases and headed for home. The relay throw by Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. was perfect, but Gwynn manage to slide in under the tag of Ivan Rodriguez to score the winning run.
While there have been many All Star Games that were filled with drama, none compare to the 1994 game. Unfortunately for baseball, the looming strike would steal the thunder from the game and steal a historic season from fans everywhere. The 1994 season will always be remembered for what didn’t happen – the World Series, for instance – but for one night, all was right with the game.
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