Callison's All-Star heroics are for the ages

ASSOCIATED PRESS With umpire Ed Sudol and A.L. catcher Elston Howard looking on, Johnny Callison watches his game-winning home run in the ninth inning of the 1964 All-Star Game.
ASSOCIATED PRESS With umpire Ed Sudol and A.L. catcher Elston Howard looking on, Johnny Callison watches his game-winning home run in the ninth inning of the 1964 All-Star Game.
Posted: July 15, 2013

NINTH INNING of the 1964 All-Star Game, score tied, two on, two out. Johnny Callison borrows a bat from Chicago's Billy Williams because it's lighter, because it's getting darker, because that's Dick Radatz out there for the American League. Radatz was 6-foot-6 and at least 250, which was enough to get him nicknamed "Monster." That, and his 99-mph fastball and his wicked sidearm motion.

Pow. Callison lashes that lighter bat and rips a fastball into the rightfield seats at Shea Stadium for a walkoff three-run home run. The Nationals beat the Americans, 7-4.

They have been playing the All-Star Game since 1933, sometimes twice a year (you could look it up), and that was the only time a Phillies player was voted the game's MVP.

"This is the year of the blue snow," catcher Gus Triandos said soon after. Why not? Jim Bunning had pitched a perfect game on Father's Day in that same ballyard. Callison had bowled a 300 game earlier in the season. (Take that, Andrew Bynum.) Dick Allen's rookie year was on pace for 201 hits, 29 homers, 91 RBI, even if they didn't pick him for the All-Star roster.

The Phillies overachieved for 150 games, came back from a fascinating road trip, 6 1/2 games in front with 12 to play. And then the blue snow turned to gray-as-ashes slush. Ten losses in a row, including a game against Milwaukee in which Callison hit three - count 'em, three - home runs.

Yo, this isn't about rehashing the nightmare of '64. This is about Callison and his All-Star heroics, because the game is back in the Mets' home park after all these years. And because for years around this time, Callison would get calls, asking about that homer off Radatz. It helped chase the blues when he'd tell 'em the bat was in the Hall of Fame, but he still had the baseball and it had a gash where his dog, Inga, had taken a bite out of it.

Callison died too young, too unappreciated. From '62 to '65, he threw out 90 overly ambitious runners from rightfield. Let the record show that Roberto Celemente had 59 assists in those years.

Callison loved the game, hated talking about it.

"If you keep your mouth shut," he once explained, "they won't know how little you know."

The Phillies traded third baseman Gene Freese to the White Sox to get Callison before the 1960 season. It doesn't beat Rick Wise for Steve Carlton, but it's in the photo for second-best deal the Phillies ever made.

Manager Gene Mauch adored him. How much? Well, on the final day of the 1962 season, a game against the Reds, Mauch rested him, because he was hitting exactly .300, even though pitcher Art Mahaffey was going for his 20th win.

Mahaffey threw 20 complete games that year, but he got beat, 4-0, that day. Pitched in the big leagues 4 more years, completed only nine more games.

Mauch disliked pitchers, and Mahaffey was near the top of that list. He thought it was more important that Callison finish at .300. In subsequent years, when the rightfielder struggled, Mauch would say, "Think of all the fun he'll have, getting to .300."

He would also say things like, "Extraordinary people do extraordinary things." Which makes you wonder what he'd be saying about the wretched outfield the Phillies are sending out there these days.

Callison was a reluctant interview. Shy, not sullen. He opened up just once, late September in '64, raucous clubhouse scene in Los Angeles, some of the other players showing off shotguns they'd bought in Houston.

"They're spending the money," Callison grumbled, "before we've earned it."

He was right as the rain that melted the blue snow. Ten consecutive losses, starting with Chico Ruiz stealing home on Mahaffey. Callison got sick during the streak, flu-like symptoms.

He did not start one game against the Cardinals. And then Mauch sent him up to pinch-hit and he singled. Got to first base and the batboy shuffled out there with a windbreaker. It was against the rules, and Mauch knew the rules better than anyone in the league.

Callison's hands shivered. St. Louis first baseman Bill White reached over and buttoned that windbreaker for him, one of the more memorable moments of sportsmanship I've ever seen.

The Phillies lost that night, the Cardinals won the pennant, third baseman Ken Boyer beat out Callison for Most Valuable Player.

That's sad. But look at it another way. Look at that photo of the National Leaguers swarming Callison at home plate after that All-Star game-winning homer. Someone counted, and there are nine Hall of Famers in that photo. Nine! Congratulating Callison, the only Phillies player ever to be voted All-Star MVP.

Callison cherished that memory. We should, too.


Email: stanrhoch@comcast.net

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