Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.
The biggest difference between the 2012 All-Star Game and the first one hosted at Royals Stadium, back in 1973? Star power. Obviously, the more recent game is at a disadvantage here, but right now only three players from the 2012 game are in the Hall of Fame (Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, and David Ortiz). Certainly, more will get there someday. But the 1973 game had 10, plus Pete Rose, in the combined starting lineups. There were 10 more HoFers in the reserves and bullpens. Both managers (Sparky Anderson for the NL and Dick Williams for the AL), plus Whitey Herzog, serving as a coach for the AL, would also be inducted eventually.
These star-studded rosters were no accident. Although the 1973 game was an exhibition with nothing on the line except pride (compared to the 2012 game, which was in the rather silly era where the outcome determined home-field advantage in the World Series), the competition between the two leagues was much fiercer. Williams missed Oakland’s series the weekend before the All-Star Game due to an appendectomy, but he wasn’t going to miss his chance to manage in this one. Anderson was motivated after losing the 1971 game and losing two World Series.
“I’d like to be on the winning side for a change. That’s why I picked some of the ballplayers I picked. I wanted guys who could come off the bench and help me win.”–Anderson, quoted by the Associated Press, July 24, 1973
Unfortunately, the game itself was little better than the 2012 version. At least the American League was in it for the first two innings. Before a crowd of 40,489, including quite a few players from the first All-Star Game, in 1933, the AL held an early lead after Reggie Jackson led off the bottom of the second with a double against NL starter Rick Wise. Kansas City’s own Amos Otis, one of two Royals in the starting lineup, singled to score Jackson.
But that was about the last highlight for the AL. Heavy rains before the game meant batting practice was canceled, but that didn’t seem to bother the National League. They took the lead in the third, as Bert Blyleven walked Darrell Evans to start the inning, then walked Joe Morgan with one out. Singles from Cesar Cedeno and Hank Aaron produced a 2-1 lead.
Johnny Bench led off the fourth with a home run deep into the left field seats off Bill Singer, giving the NL a 3-1 lead. They pretty much put the game away in the fifth, as Morgan led off with a double and Bobby Bonds, who would be named MVP, hit a two-run home run, also off Singer. The NL capped the scoring in the sixth, as Nolan Ryan walked Ron Santo and surrendered a home run to Willie Davis.
At least Royals fans got a good showing from their guys. Otis collected two hits in two at-bats (and the fans booed Williams when he sent Dave May out to replace Otis before the top of the fourth; then again, the fans had booed Williams and the Oakland players when they were introduced before the game, with the specter of the Athletics’ departure from Kansas City still fresh in their minds). John Mayberry, the other Royal to start the game, went 1-3 with a double and a walk. And Cookie Rojas drew a walk in his lone plate appearance. The AL had five hits and three walks, and Kansas City hitters were responsible for half of those.
But, Bonds’ performance notwithstanding, the biggest star might have been the ballpark. The stadium was originally supposed to open in 1972, but labor troubles delayed the opening to 1973. So the Royals only had a few months to get the kinks worked out before becoming the focus of the baseball world. Weeks before the game, the team had to redo the outfield warning track, adding a pebbled surface so outfielders could sense they were near the fence. The water spectacular beyond the right field fence was completed just in time for the game. And this was likely the first time many in the TV audience had really seen the new stadium.