Rock On: 1980 Twins/Blue Jays game interrupted by concert

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Janey Murray

For anyone in and around the game of baseball, rain delays, postponements and cancelations are nothing new.

But a suspension for a rock concert isn’t something you see every day.

On Aug. 28, 1980, the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins, facing off at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, were forced to call it a day after 14 innings due to an upcoming concert scheduled to be held at the stadium that evening, featuring the rock band The Cars.

With the Canadian National Exhibition, an annual 18-day event held in Toronto, taking place, no inning could begin after 5 p.m. The game’s 1 p.m. start time would typically prevent that hurdle from arising – but not on this particular day.

“It was understood that no inning would begin after 5 p.m. and that if we ran into that situation, it would be a suspended game that would be completed the next day,” Howard Starkman, former vice president of media relations for the Blue Jays, said. “So we went into extra innings with the Twins, and the game was suspended after the 14th inning. Then, they took down the outfield fence, rolled the stage onto the field and let the fans in for the concert.”

The Blue Jays, whose general manager at the time was future Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick, built up an early lead in the bottom of the third, plating four runs on a pair of run-scoring singles and a two-run homer by first baseman Otto Vélez. But the Twins slowly began to chip away at Toronto’s lead, scoring one run on a sacrifice fly in the fifth and another on an RBI single in the seventh before grabbing a 5-4 lead on Jose Morales’ three-run homer in the eighth.

The Blue Jays answered in the bottom of the frame, as John Mayberry drove in Vélez on a single to even the score at 5-5.

After that, neither team would score again until the following day. From the ninth inning through the end of the 14th, the Twins and Blue Jays combined for only two hits each. Prior to the start of the 15th inning, the game was suspended, and was scheduled to resume the following day at 12 p.m., before the regularly scheduled second game of the series.

For Starkman, what was most memorable about the game was what unfolded the next day.

Following the suspension of the game, Vélez and Twins outfielder Bombo Rivera, who both grew up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, went out to dinner together and got into a car accident. Rivera suffered whiplash and a sore knee, while Vélez fractured his right cheekbone.

Vélez, who would miss the rest of the season as a result, could not play in the game’s conclusion the next day, and a replacement was needed for him at first base.

“Garth Iorg, who was in left field, went to first base, and of course we didn’t have any position players left, so [pitcher] Dave Stieb went out to left field,” Starkman said.

In some ways, it may have been the realization of a dream for Stieb.

“Stieb was an outfielder at Southern Illinois University, and he wanted to play outfield for us, but we convinced him to be a pitcher,” Starkman said.

Right-hander Jesse Jefferson took the mound for Toronto at noon on Aug. 29 to start the 15th and quickly found himself in trouble. The Twins scored a pair of runs on an RBI single and a sacrifice bunt to take a 7-5 lead. Jefferson worked his way out of the jam by inducing a double play, but the damage was done. Toronto couldn’t score in the bottom of the 15th, and Minnesota took the marathon contest 7-5, needing just one inning to wrap things up following the suspension.

Stieb did get one rare at-bat in the 15th but couldn’t manage anything more than a fly out. He would start the next game on the mound just moments later, taking the 5-2 loss for Toronto.

For The Cars, it was a footnote in a career that would see them inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

Thirteen days prior to their Exhibition Stadium concert, the group released its third studio album in three years – Panorama – and were riding high on the success of hits like “Just What I Needed”, “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Let’s Go”.

The 1980 incident was famous enough to be recounted – with some timeline errors – by Casey Kasem in an American Top 40 episode in 1982.

To Starkman, Stieb’s performance remains the most memorable part of a very odd couple of days.

“I have no recollection what the concert was, but I’ve always remembered the game because Stieb had to play the outfield,” Starkman said.

Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series