Getting sidetracked while conducting baseball research can be both a blessing and a curse. A new trail is a fun diversion and may even provide information for the original task. On the other hand, precious time is lost.
Such is the case with something I am currently working on. As I was looking at contemporary accounts (New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times) of the 1961 All-Star Game in San Francisco, I was struck by the fact that what I read about Stu Miller’s balk in the ninth inning did not match up with what I had read about it through the years. As the story goes, a strong gust of wind blew Miller off the mound. The accounts I had just read suggested something closer to blown off balance.
From 1959 to 1962, Major League Baseball, in order to raise money for the player’s pension fund, fielded two All-Star Games. The first of two in 1961 was held at Candlestick Park on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 11. Going into the top of the ninth, the National League held a 3-1 lead. Jim Gentile led off the inning and was struck out by Roy Face. The veteran Pirate reliever then gave up a double to Norm Cash and a single to Al Kaline. (Nellie Fox, who ran for Cash, scored). Sandy Koufax, making his All-Star debut, came on in relief. The fire-balling southpaw gave up a single to Roger Maris. (Kaline went to second).
Skipper Danny Murtaugh then brought in Miller. Miller was originally signed by the Cardinals in 1949. After an excellent rookie season with St Louis in 1952, the 5’10”, 155-pound righty struggled in ’53 and ’54 and didn’t play at all in 1955. On May 11, 1956, the Cards traded Miller along with Ben Flowers and Harvey Haddix to the Phillies for Murray Dickson and Herm Wehmeier. Five months later, Philadelphia shipped Miller to the Giants for Jim Hearn.
Effective with deliveries made overhand and sidearm and an excellent change of pace, (players and writers quipped he had three speeds - slow, slower, and slowest), Miller had an outstanding ’58 season (182 IP, 160 H, 49 BB, 119 SO). Starting in 21 of 40 games, his ERA of 2.47 led the league. For the ’61 season, the Giants used Miller solely out of the pen. On his way to winning the N.L. Fireman of the Year award, Miller sported a 2.73 ERA at the break. This mark was fourth best in the senior circuit and helped him earn his first spot on an All-Star squad.
It was unseasonably hot at Candlestick that afternoon, with temps reaching the mid 80s. For the first five innings or so, the fans at the boomerang-shaped park felt little or no breeze. Then the famous winds arrived. Picking up speed as they crossed over Bay View Hill, the gusts played havoc on batter, pitcher, fielder, alike.
Miller, used to the windy conditions, looked in for the sign from catcher Smoky Burgess. Rocky Colavito, the Tigers’ strong-armed slugger, was the batter. As Miller began his wind-up, a strong gust caused him to balk. What exactly happened is what I wanted to find out.
In 1978, Giants’ fan Mike Mandel conducted an oral history with 59 Giants players, coaches, officials, announcers and writers. Miller spoke about the balk. (SF Giants: An Oral History).
“And I got ready to throw to the hitter, took my stretch position. And just then, an extra shot of wind came along and I just weaved in the wind back and forth…. And the next day in the paper it’s not, “Miller Wins All-Star Game,” but “Miller Blown Off Mound.” I went to the writer and said, For crying out loud, what kind of headline is that? I made a balk, sure. But blown off the mound? He says, I just write the story, somebody else puts in the headlines.”
Even before I read this passage, I had always believed that the “blown off the mound” description was an exaggeration. A handful of authors, including Glenn Dickey (SF Giants: 40 Years), and Nick Peters (Tales From the Giants Dugout) have challenged the legend, but these efforts are few and far between.
Dickey and Peters, like Miller, remembered that it was the headlines in the next day’s papers that said “Miller Blown Off the Mound.” When I looked at the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner, I too expected that to be the case. But I didn’t see any such headlines. Rather, it was in the articles themselves.
...even Miller of the hometown Giants, explaining a late inning balk said he was actually blown off the mound..."
“The wind blew me off the mound,” Miller declared.
And “Miller replaced Koufax. On his very first pitch, the wind literally blew him off the mound.”
After reading those accounts (The Sporting News had similar comments), I began to wonder. Maybe Miller did stumble off the mound. Einstein and Rosenbaum, two writers whose credentials speak for themselves, and witnesses, I’m assuming, to the balk, said nothing else to clarify what actually happened on the play.
Wanting to check some other sources, I ran a search at The Baseball Index. Art Spander, who covered the Giants back then, spoke with Miller about the game and the balk. (Legend of a Wind-Blown Balk, July 23, 1977).
“I came to a stretch position, anchored myself, and then a big gust came up and moved me like a tree branch. The plate ump (Stan Landes) didn’t see it at first, and I went on to deliver the ball. Then he came out and motioned the runners up.”
Seven summers later, on the occasion of the All-Star Game returning to Candlestick, Miller tripped down memory lane with guest columnist Gene Kelly (All-Star Lore: The Big Wind, The Sporting News, July 9, 1984).
“Just as I got ready to deliver, a sharp gust of wind hit me, causing me to move three or four inches.”
One of the points historian Dave Smith makes in his research piece on Dubious Memories (Click on Research) is that memories can’t always be trusted. In this case, however, it seemed that Miller’s clarifications were legit. Still, I wondered. The All-Star Game wasn’t televised until 1967. But maybe there was a video clip somewhere.
If there is a Hall of Fame for people who help researchers, Dave Kelly at the Library of Congress is in it. His recommendations led me to several sources, including the Moving Images librarian at the LOC; the Film, Video and Recorded Sound Collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame; the National Archives & Records Administration and the UCLA Film and Television Archive (Commercial Services) in Hollywood, California.
Unfortunately, the first three did not have any film of the game. The UCLA Film and Television Archive has a News of the Day for the game but it is not available at this time.
The Archive does hold a few archival 35mm film elements related to the 1961 All Star Game…. but I am afraid that these 35mm negatives and/or preprint materials are not available for research viewing. It is possible that these print elements may be available for commercial license.
In a follow-up conversation with Mark Quigley, (Coordinator, Archive Research & Study Center at the UCLA Film and Television Archive), he explained that the film is in the form of a negative and needs to be “telecined.”
Giving up the video search, I turned to the possibility of a radio broadcast. Doak Ewing, who runs a company called Rare Sportsfilms , had given me the number of John Miley of The Miley Collection. Turns out John has an amazing collection of radio broadcasts. I purchased the ’61 All-Star Game from him and listened to the play. I believe Jimmy Dudley made the call, alongside Jerry Doggett.
“Miller out of the stretch. And now takes a long look and delivers. Time has been called as the batter swings on and missed. Sam Landis called time. He might have called a balk. Landis called a balk on him. Miller had hesitated in his swing and a balk is called.”
The All-Star Game returns to San Francisco in 2007. It will be interesting to see how the Miller balk is covered. In the program for the 1984 All-Star game held at Candlestick, Jack Lang, the 1986 recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, wrote a lengthy piece entitled Masters of the Mound. He closes the piece with, “But forever, Miller’s claim to fame in All-Star games will be the fact that he was blown off the mound.”
Miller actually pitched quite well that day. Although he was charged with a blown save (no pun intended), he picked up the win. Of his five outs, four were strikeouts including striking out the side in the tenth. He gave up just one walk and no earned runs.
Somehow, all that is forgotten.