Story of 1970 Game honoring Martin Luther King told through HOF collection
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The East-West Major League Baseball Classic, in honor of Dr. King, took place at 2 p.m. before 31,694 fans at Dodger Stadium, including Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, on a sunny and warm Saturday afternoon, March 28, 1970.
Inside in the game program, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, in an open letter to SCLC President Rev. Ralph Abernathy, wrote, in part, “It seems only right that Baseball should pause today to pay tribute to one of the great disciples of integration and brotherhood, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“As Commissioner of Baseball, and as an American, I am proud to give my blessing to this classic which demonstrates that Baseball is democracy at work.”
Before the game, a taped recording of part of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was played, pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant of the Athletics sang a soulful version of the National Anthem from center field, and Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. King, threw out the first ball to Reds Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.
The crowd was addressed by Rev. H.H. Brookins, president of the SCLC West; Rev. Abernathy, Dr. King’s successor as SCLC president; and Baseball Commissioner Kuhn.
A pair of Hall of Famers served as the day’s managers, with Joe DiMaggio, the great Yankees center fielder, skippering the East squad, assisted by coaches Billy Martin, Satchel Paige, Stan Musial and John McNamara. Roy Campanella, the Brooklyn Dodgers catcher paralyzed in a 1958 automobile accident, managed the West stars, with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Newcombe and Elston Howard serving as his coaches.
Tom Seaver of the Mets, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, picked up the win, starting for the East and tossing three scoreless innings in a 5-1 victory. Working behind home plate was Emmett Ashford, big league baseball’s first African-American umpire.
Lew Krausse of the Brewers, who came on in the third inning in relief of the starter, Don Wilson of the Astros, took the loss for the West. Ron Fairly of the Expos, the first batter to face Krausse, hit the first pitch he saw into the right-field grandstand to make it 1-0 for the East. The Cubs’ Ron Santo homered off Krausse in the fourth inning, the ball clearing the 330-foot mark in left field.
“This is the first game they’ve had like this and I’m really honored to have played in it,” Santo said.
The West’s only run came in the eighth inning off the Phillies’ Grant Jackson when Willie Davis of the Dodgers singled and later scored on a double to deep center by the White Sox’s Ken Berry.
The East added three runs in the eighth inning off Grant on a single to center by Detroit’s Al Kaline, a double to left by St. Louis’ Lou Brock, Roberto Clemente’s double to center and a single to center from the Washington Senators’ Ken McMullen.
“One heckuva day,” Campanella said. “Even though we didn’t score many runs, it was a beautiful day.”
A total of 15 future members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame appeared in the game: Al Kaline, Frank Robinson, Lou Brock, Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson from the East; Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench, Orlando Cepeda, Joe Morgan and Willie Mays from the West.
Mays travelled the farthest, as his Giants were in Japan for a series of exhibition games and he made a 12,000-mile roundtrip to participate.
“It doesn’t matter what the score was,” said Commissioner Kuhn after the game. “The real winner was Dr. Martin Luther King.”
Fairly was named MVP of the game, a selection made by the players, and was presented the trophy by Coretta Scott King.
“It’s quite an honor for me to just have been invited to participate in this game,” Fairly said. “I was a little surprised the guys picked me, but it is quite an honor for me, something I’ll remember for a long time.”
According to the SCLC, the game netted more than $30,000. Ticket prices: Box seats went for $10, reserved seats for $5 and $3.50 and general admission for $2.
“I’m sure my husband would have been very proud of what has been accomplished today,” said Coretta Scott King. “I want to thank Commissioner Kuhn and his office for their help in this event and give special praise to the players involved and their clubs, who paid the expenses and allowed their players to take part.”
Bill Francis is a Library Associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum