In the historic summer of 1969 as the world watched in awe at the first moon landing and walk on the lunar surface by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, Major League Baseball was busy with final preparations for its annual All-Star Game, along with a couple of celebrations honoring past baseball legends.
I learned about this last week in a well-written article in Baseball Digest by Elliott Kalb entitled: “One Giant Leap for Baseball” with the 100th anniversary logo between leap and for. Preceding the article’s headline was a small 50th anniversary subheading. Following the headline was a longer subheading: “As Man Walked on the Moon, MLB Entered the Modern Age of Marketing with a Centennial Celebration that Reached for the Stars.”
The official MLB logo -- silhouetted batter and ball in red, white and blue -- was completed just weeks before the July 20 moon walk. The logo was created as a 100th anniversary marketing tool for the league’s Midsummer Classic, scheduled for Tuesday evening, July 22, at newly-named Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington D.C.
Prior to the game, there were numerous festive programs and activities planned, including a Monday evening Centennial dinner, which introduced two teams of baseball icons. One team, by position, was labeled as the “Greatest Players Ever,” while the other was dubbed the “Greatest Living Players.” Just a few legends were on both teams.
Think back to 1969 -- 50 years ago. Who were the players on both lists?
The select panel of baseball writers and broadcasters who picked the two teams, also came up with a single best “Greatest Player Ever” and a “Greatest Living Player.” Remember, this was in 1969. Might things have changed since then?
Before I get to the lists -- which are described in an article written by Marty Appel, containing color photos of Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron -- I want to mention a fact or two about the ’69 All-Star Game.
A torrential rain hit the nation’s capital during the afternoon of the 22nd and continued into the evening, soaking RFK and forcing the game’s postponement until Wednesday afternoon, July 23.
The word “flooded” was used in the article more than soaked. Playing conditions would have been impossible. The dugouts were like swimming pools.
Crews got the field ready for a 1:45 p.m. start the next day and the National League won 9-3 with MVP Willie McCovey hitting two home runs and Johnny Bench -- in just his second season in the league -- blasting his first All-Star homer. Detroit Tigers’ ace Denny McLain arrived late after flying his own plane back to Detroit for a morning dentist appointment, and pitched the fourth inning for the American League, giving up McCovey’s second round tripper.
Now back to the lists of the greats. How many were on both?
The correct answer is just three -- Harold “Pie” Traynor, Joe DiMaggio and Robert “Lefty” Grove.
Here are the complete lists, as announced by MLB on July 21, 1969 -- the day after Armstrong’s historic first step on the moon.
The “Greatest Players Ever:” First Base, Lou Gehring; Second Base, Rogers Hornsby; Shortstop, Honus Wagner; Third Base, “Pie”Traynor; Left Field, Ty Cobb; Center Field, Joe DiMaggio; Right Field, Babe Ruth; Catcher, Mickey Cochrane; Right-Handed Pitcher, Walter Johnson; Left-Handed Pitcher, “Lefty” Grove; Manager, John McGraw; Greatest Player Ever, Babe Ruth.
The “Greatest Living Players:” First Base, tie George Sisler and Stan Musial; Second Base, Charlie Gehringer; Shortstop, Joe Cronin; Third Base, Traynor; Left Field, Ted Williams; Center Field, DiMaggio; Right Field, Willie Mays; Catcher, Bill Dickey; Right-Handed Pitcher, Bob Feller; Left-Handed Pitcher, Grove; Manager, Charles “Casey” Stengel; Greatest Living Player, DiMaggio.
Those are the lists from ’69. How would you “adjust” them in 2019? Obviously, a whole new “Living Players” list would be needed.
Question: Which of the listed players was the president of the American League from 1959 through 1973?