Forty-seven years ago this month, Atlanta hosted its first Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
The 43rd Midsummer Classic, which took place July 25, 1972, at what was then known as Atlanta Stadium, was memorable for a number of reasons. Among them:
• The game featured an astounding 29 future Hall of Famers among its players, managers and coaches. The National League boasted 16 eventual Cooperstown enshrinees, the American League 13.
The NL’s starting lineup included seven Hall of Famers: Joe Morgan, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Willie Stargell, Johnny Bench, Joe Torre and Bob Gibson. The AL had “only” five: Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer (Luis Aparicio was elected to start, but could not play due to injury).
The All-Star Game was also the last for Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente, who was chosen for the NL team but did not appear in the game. Clemente reached 3,000 hits in the final week of the regular season, and was killed that December in a plane crash while helping transport humanitarian aid supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.
• The National League won 4-3 in 10 innings, running its All-Star Game series lead to 24-18-1 with its ninth win in 10 years. The victory also started an NL streak of 11 straight wins over the American League that wouldn’t be snapped until 1983.
Attendance at the game was 53,107, the seventh-highest in All-Star Game history to that point and still the 21st-largest ever. It remains one of 24 All-Star Games ever to draw more than 50,000 fans.
• The famously intense Gibson caused a minor uproar in the days leading up to the game when he said he preferred not to start in the game because it wasn’t important. He later clarified that he meant only that the All-Star Game was not as meaningful as the regular season and that starting in Atlanta on July 25 meant he would miss his regular rotation turn two days later in Montreal.
As it turned out, Gibson started and pitched two shutout innings, allowing just one hit. He did miss his start July 27 in Montreal, but started the next day, pitching his seventh straight complete game but losing 3-1 to the Expos.
Not that it mattered. The Cardinals finished 75-81, 21 ½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL East.
• Aaron — who was amazingly the only Brave in the game — homered in the sixth inning. Aaron’s two-run shot to left-center off Gaylord Perry was one of just two he hit in 25 career All-Star Games (he also went deep in 1971).
Aaron told reporters after the game that the homer was “the most dramatic” of his career to that point (he’d hit a slightly more dramatic one in the same stadium — and to nearly the same location — some 21 months later). He also said the home run came against Perry’s famed spitball, but “not one of his best” spitters.
Aaron was also the last All-Star to homer in his home park for the next 25 years, until Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar turned the trick in 1997 at Jacobs Field.
• The 38-year-old Aaron was then in the midst of his worst season since his rookie year, reaching the All-Star break with a .258/.385/.491 slash line with 20 homers but only five doubles in 78 games. He ended the year at .265/.390/.514 with 34 homers and 10 doubles in 129 games, still well-above-average numbers but nothing like his previous standards.
Aaron’s bWAR in 1972 was 3.9, ahead of only his final three seasons (1974-76) and his 1954 rookie campaign. He rebounded with his last great season in 1973, slashing .301/.402/.643 with 40 homers and posting 4.7 bWAR.
• After the American League went on top 3-2 in the eighth inning on Cookie Rojas’ two-run homer, the NL tied it in the bottom of the ninth on Lee May’s RBI fielder’s choice. Tug McGraw retired the AL in order in the top of the 10th, then the NL won the game in the bottom of the inning.
Nate Colbert drew a walk off Dave McNally to begin the inning, then took second on Chris Speier’s sacrifice bunt. Morgan followed with a single to center, scoring Colbert and ending the game.
• Dignitaries at the game included Atlanta mayor Sam Massell, Georgia Gov. (and eventual President) Jimmy Carter and former Atlanta mayor Ivan Allen, who was credited with bringing the Braves to Atlanta in 1966. Then-president Richard Nixon was invited to the game as Massell’s special guest, but did not show.
A trio of newly elected Baseball Hall of Famers — Sandy Koufax, Buck Leonard and Early Wynn — threw out the ceremonial first pitches in Nixon’s stead.
• According to an ad placed in the Atlanta Constitution, tickets to the game cost a mere $12 for field level, $8 for upper and pavilion levels and $4 for outfield upper deck. By contrast, upper level tickets to the 2019 MLB All-Star Game in Cleveland are going for more than $300 on the secondary market.
The ticket-buying process was a little different back then, as orders were filled only by mail (with payment accepted in the form of money order or cashier’s check, NOT personal check). Also, tickets did not go on sale until June 22, 1972, a little more than a month before the game.
Despite the sluggish ordering format, tickets sold out in two days. According to a report by United Press International, the Braves’ ticket office was forced to turn down some 20,000 requests.
• The 1972 All-Star Game would be the only one at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the last in Atlanta until 2000 at Turner Field. The Braves have secured the 2021 game at SunTrust Park.
The Braves also hosted the 1936 All-Star Game in Boston and the 1955 game in Milwaukee (which Aaron also played in). They were the first franchise to host an All-Star Game in three different cities, and one of only two ever to do so (the Athletics also hosted in games in Philadelphia in 1943, Kansas City in 1960 and Oakland in 1987).
Sources: BaseballReference.com; BaseballAlmanac.com; The Sporting News Archives (via Paper of Record); Newspapers.com