This week, the Minnesota Twins are hosting the All-Star Game for the third time. The first time they did, in 1965, the National League squad represented quite possibly the most talented team in baseball history.
That 1965 NL team had Cubs outfielder Billy Williams, en route to 3,000 career hits; Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, a Gold Glover with a big bat; Reds outfielder Frank Robinson, soon to become the only man to win the MVP award in both leagues; and Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh rightfielder whose intensity still resonates.
All made the Hall of Fame. And for the NL at the 1965 All-Star Game, all were reserves.
The NL starting lineup that day in Minnesota: Leadoff was Willie Mays, unsurpassed for all-around virtuosity. Second was Hank Aaron, who is first all-time in RBIs. Third was Willie Stargell, the fearsome left-handed Pittsburgh slugger. Philadelphia third baseman Dick Allen hit cleanup, followed by Milwaukee Braves catcher Joe Torre and Cubs first baseman Ernie Banks. In the Nos. 7-8 spots were Reds second baseman Pete Rose and Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills, who that season won his sixth straight NL stolen-base title.
Of those eight starting position players, all won the NL MVP at least once except Allen, who in his first year away from the NL won the AL MVP.
Batting ninth and pitching (the DH was several years away) was Giants right-hander Juan Marichal, exotic with his sky-scraping leg kick and his bottomless array of pitches. Marichal got the nod over Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson.
In the first inning, Mays led off with a homer, and Torre hit a two-run homer. Marichal singled in the second and scored on a two-run homer by Stargell. Marichal handed a 5-0 lead for the fourth to Reds fireballer Jim Maloney, who twice that season held a team hitless for 10 innings.
The AL scored a run off Maloney in the fourth, then caught up against him in the fifth on two-out, two-run homers by the Tigers’ Dick McAuliffe and the Twins’ Harmon Killebrew. Metropolitan Stadium rocked as hometown hero Killebrew circled the bases on his tying drive.
Koufax kept the tie with a scoreless sixth. Santo drove in Mays in the seventh to put the NL ahead. The NL still led by a run when Phillies manager Gene Mauch summoned Gibson for the eighth. Few starters have ever been better finishers than the Cardinals’ Gibson, who threw a complete-game win in seven straight World Series starts.
With the NL ahead by a run, Gibson gave up a Leadoff double in the ninth to Minnesota’s Tony Oliva. A sacrifice attempt was popped up. Gibson then fanned Killebrew and the Yankees’ Joe Pepitone to save the 6-5 win.
This was the first All-Star Game for Rose, who came to symbolize the NL dominance in All-Star Games that extended into the 1980s. But the NL would never reassemble a galaxy as glittering as in 1965.
The Reds traded Robinson that offseason to Baltimore for Detroit native Milt Pappas, the AL starter who in this ’65 game gave up those first-inning homers to Mays and Torre. Koufax retired due to elbow pain after ’66, a season that culminated when the Robinson-led Orioles swept the Dodgers in the World Series.
Koufax in 1965 went 26-8 for the Dodgers and won his fourth straight ERA title; he set the single-season record for strikeouts and threw his fourth no-hitter, a perfect game; he struck out 311 more hitters than he walked (382-71); and in the season’s final game, on two days’ rest, he clinched the pennant.
Back in Minnesota, he threw a three-hit shutout to win Game 7 of the World Series, despite working on two days’ rest and not having his curve. The only place he wasn’t a standout that year was at the All-Star Game, where on a team for the ages he was the sixth-inning reliever. But, befitting of Koufax, he wound up as the winning pitcher.