I’ve been lucky and not because I attended two Major League Baseball All-Star Games such as the one being held Tuesday in Cleveland.
I’m lucky because I didn’t die at either of the ones I covered. If that seems a little hyperbolic, well …
The first brush with death came at the 1976 game at Philadelphia and isn’t related to the near confrontation I had with the U.S. Secret Service, in town to protect President Gerald Ford while he threw out the first pitch.
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In the Veterans’ Stadium press box were a series of red phones, one of which I playfully reached toward, saying I’d like to call the President. The growl behind me from a German Shepherd dog indicated a no-joke zone.
The pen might be mightier than the sword, but those dog handlers and dogs were looking for swords, and any other destructive implements. Presidents don’t go anywhere alone.
In those Big Red Machine days, Cincinnati dominated the National League’s All-Stars lineup with catcher Johnny Bench, second baseman Joe Morgan, third baseman Pete Rose, shortstop Dave Concepcion and outfielder George Foster starting for manager Sparky Anderson, who added first baseman Tony Perez and outfielder Kent Griffey Sr. to his roster.
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On the other side of the field was Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, talented and goofy, who talked to baseballs on the pitching mound.
He also had a unique way of accessing equipment the day before the game, from his duffle bag, turning it upside down and dumping everything at the base of his locker.
Two pair of cleats emerged, but three of the shoes were for his left foot.
“Ho, I messed up,” said the pitcher. “It’s a good thing I brought two pairs. I wasn’t going to.”
A few years later, when the All-Star Game was played in Cleveland and jump-started the second half of a season interrupted by a player’s strike, my “press box” seat was in a temporary upper-deck location in the old Municipal Stadium.
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I watched most of batting practice from there and saw one foul ball going toward the media. One guy who didn’t see it soon enough looked up from his typewriter only to get smacked in the middle of his forehead by the ball. He survived, but wasn’t sitting too far from me, so I made sure I paid attention the rest of the game.
The real threat to my life was in Philadelphia.
A week following the 1976 All-Star Game, the American Legion held one of its conventions in Philadelphia’s venerable Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, a grand palace in Center City on the corner of Broad and Walnut streets.
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More than 2,000 Legionnaires attended the convention beginning July 21, and three days after the convention ended, one of the participants died of a heart attack. Eventually, 182 Legionnaires became sick and 29 died. The Bellevue’s heating and cooling system was said to have had something to do with that.
I can’t remember if I called a fellow journalist who was at the Philadelphia All-Star Game with me, or he called me. I do know in my desk I had some stationery from the Bellevue-Stratford. That’s where the media stayed for the game. That’s where Legionnaires’ Disease was named.
I threw out the stationery. My friend and I each assured ourselves we were fine. The hotel was closed by the fall and now is a mixed-use building with a small hotel operated by Hyatt. It lives and so do I.
I’ll watch Tuesday’s All-Star Game and not be fearful of anything.