Behind the scenes of San Diego's first two All-Star Games
The Padres made a statement during the 1978 and 1992 Midsummer Classics
By Andy Strasberg
Special to MLB.com |
As the Padres welcome baseball's All-Stars to the city of San Diego for the third time in the team's nearly 50-year history, I thought it would be fitting to look back on the club's first two Midsummer Classic hosting gigs. As the vice president of marketing for the Padres from 1975-96, I played a role in facilitating the All-Star Game both times it came to town, which happened to be near the beginning and end of my 22-year tenure, in 1978 and '92, respectively.
In each instance, my fellow employees and I recognized that the All-Star Game would profoundly shape the image of our team locally, nationally and internationally. We not only needed to get it right, but also had to exceed the expectations. Now, as Petco Park welcomes the 2016 All-Star Week events, I'd like to tell you my stories -- from the innovations that worked, didn't pan out or never came to fruition -- from when San Diego hosted its first two All-Star Games.
The concept of opening up the All-Star Game workout to the general public was the brainchild of Padres VP of Business Operations Elten Schiller. When he attended the Monday workout hosted by the Yankees in 1977, he noticed that there were dozens of young kids hanging around outside Yankee Stadium hoping for a glimpse of the stars. Back then, fans were not permitted to watch the practice.
When it came time for the 1978 All-Star Game, Elten decided to open up San Diego Stadium for the Monday workout. Admission and parking were free so that fans who could not afford or secure tickets to the game itself would still get a chance to see the world's best ballplayers up close.
About a month before the 1978 All-Star Game, the Padres held an Old-Timers Game at San Diego Stadium. To ensure that the retired sluggers were able to hit with some pop, I commissioned special baseballs that were purported to travel 25 percent further than regular ones when hit.
Most fans don't remember who won that mid-June game. But three weeks later, on July 10 at the All-Star Game workout, those special baseballs secretly came into play again.
Padres coach Whitey Wietelmann had stowed away a bunch of the highly compressed "rabbit baseballs" and made sure that National League hitters were served the special balls during their batting practice. As the American Leaguers looked on in bewildered amazement, one National League hitter after another crushed pitches deep into the stands. When the American League's turn in the batting cage came, regular baseballs were served up. Many landed deep in the outfield, with just a few hitting the seats. Only much later did Whitey reveal his secret, with his usual sly, twinkling grin.
Fans who came for the All-Star Game workout were treated to a show unlike any before, and the success helped spawn the Home Run Derby, now an integral part of the annual All-Star Game festivities.
Four years after debuting as his famed mascot, Ted Giannoulas, the only person to perform as the San Diego Chicken, made a guest appearance at the 1978 All-Star Workout Day. "As Dave Winfield stepped into the box, I asked batting practice pitcher Jimmy Davenport if I could try out my wing against Winny," Ted recalls. "Dave started laughing, but I could tell he was concerned about my accuracy.
"Keep in mind that I was wearing white gloves and could see through just a two-inch portion of my beak. I threw six or seven pitches, all strikes. I then went out to shag balls in the outfield and met Vida Blue and played catch with Greg Luzinski. Man, we had fun that day."
For the Padres' second go at All-Star Game hosting duties, the staff thought it would be appropriate to have the host teams' primary uniform colors reflected in the baseball's stitches instead of the traditional red, so we presented the idea to MLB.
The Commissioner's Office was concerned that it would be harder for a batter to see the ball with this new color scheme, so they decided to test the baseballs with blue-and-orange stitching by having Tony Gwynn, who had won four batting titles at that point, take batting practice with them. If Tony didn't like the multi-colored stitched baseballs, we would have to drop the project.
We explained the test to Tony and held our breath as he stepped into the batter's box. Gwynn started hitting ropes all over the place. After a dozen pitches with the test baseballs, he walked out of the cage and stood quietly.
He couldn't keep up the act for long, though, and soon erupted into that famous Tony Gwynn cackle. Waving his hand, he dismissed any concern. "They're fine," he said. "What did they think was going to happen?"
"So, we could use them in the All-Star Game and you don't think there would be a problem from batters?" I prodded.
"Only batters that don't get hits are going to complain," Tony quipped. "Yeah, tell 'em those balls are okay."
Bruce Binkowski, affectionately known as "Bink," became the Padres' part-time basso profundo-toned PA announcer in 1973 and was a permanent fixture by '86. For the 1992 All-Star Game, he graciously checked his ego at the door of the stadium PA booth in order to facilitate one of the most entertaining aspects of the game.
We thought it would be unique for every player to be introduced by his hometown PA announcer, rather than ours. We reached out to the teams and had most of the players' introductions recorded on individual audio cartridges ("carts") that could be played over the Jack Murphy Stadium PA system. The carts were stacked in the booth and ready for Bink to play when each player came to bat.
"What a thrill it was for me to share the microphone with all of my peers," he said. "It was a unique and classy approach to an element of the All-Star Game, and I was proud to be a part of that history-making moment."
In Great Company
Shortly before the 1992 All-Star Game, San Diego native Ted Williams and the game's six umpires were awaiting the arrival of President George H.W. Bush in the umps' locker room. When he entered, Ted embraced his old buddy, whom he had known since WWII. The umps then introduced themselves before approaching the President with baseballs to ask for his autograph. The unwritten rule for Padres employees was never to ask a player for an autograph. But this wasn't a player -- this was the President. I couldn't help but follow suit. Afterward, I watched as Williams and Bush sat and talked about airplanes. My attention was divided, though, because I was also listening for the cue in the pregame ceremony that would precede the introductions of both men for the game's ceremonial first pitch. Once I heard it, I took charge. It occurred to me then that I was the one directing one of baseball's greatest hitters and the President of the United States.
As President Bush got up, he took off his tie and asked Ted if he should wear his jacket. "No, for criminy sakes, take off the coat and roll up your sleeves," Ted blasted back at him. "This is baseball!"
I led the icons into the dugout along with the President's secret service detail. The stadium was decked out in red, white and blue bunting and filled with more than 50,000 fans watching intently as the warm California sun lit up the field.
Nearly 40 years ago, I wrote an article for the 1978 All-Star Game Program. It concluded with the following sentence, which I will leave you with again, as it still rings true: "Enjoy the game, and remember -- some of the easiest things to collect are great memories of baseball."
This article appears in the MLB Official All-Star Game Program. Click here to purchase a copy, and read more features on allstargame.com.
Andy Strasberg was the Padres' vice president of marketing from 1975-96. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.