By Daniel Dullum
MLB’s All-Star Game is scheduled for Tuesday in Washington, D.C. The game doesn’t have the luster it once did, but for a mid-season exhibition, it’s had its share of historic moments. Due, in part, because of all the pro all-star games, baseball’s is the only one that seems to work.
One of those moments happened during 1961’s first of two All-Star Games, played at then-new Candlestick Park in San Francisco (From 1959 through 1962, two All-Star Games were played per season to help kick-start the players’ pension plan). The notorious gusty winds at Candlestick Point played a key role at the expense of Giants reliever Stu Miller.
Years later, when the 1962 National League champion Giants had a reunion in 2002, Miller gave me a personal demonstration of what is arguably the most noteworthy balk ever called in the majors.
Since getting that first-hand account, Pacific Bell Park has changed its name to AT&T Park, and Miller passed away in 2015. To the end, Stu would tell anyone who would listen that the balk called on him was heavily exaggerated.
Miller was also known as the master of the changeup. But that’s another story for another time. Here’s my visit with Stu Miller from June 2002:
SAN FRANCISCO – With 41 years to develop, the legend of Stu Miller’s appearance in the first of two 1961 All-Star Games continues to take on a life of its own.
The San Francisco Giants’ right-handed relief ace was merely trying to close out the American League stars when one of Candlestick Park’s trademark gusts of wind created the most famous balk in baseball history, thanks, in part, to headline writers of the day and ongoing embellishment.
“They made it sound like I was pinned against the fence,” Miller, 74, who lives in Cameron Park near the Sierra foothills, mused. “I’ve told this story so many times, and the real story never wants to get printed.”
While visiting Pacific Bell Park on June 1 to take part in the 40th anniversary reunion of the Giants’ 1962 National League championship team, Miller was assured that this was his golden opportunity to set the record straight on exactly what happened on July 11, 1961.
“To preface that, it was the oddest day I’d ever seen,” Miller remembered. “I’d never seen a day that calm and sunshiny in Candlestick Park.
“By the ninth inning, it became the windiest day I’d ever seen in my home park. The wind was blowing unbelievably hard. They took (Pirates pitcher) Harvey Haddix out, because he couldn’t keep his cap on.”
With runners on first and second and one out in the American League ninth inning, Miller relieved the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax, trying to hold a 3-2 lead. Continuing his story, Miller gave an impromptu reenactment of what he experienced while preparing to face Detroit slugger Rocky Colavito.
“I hadn’t thrown a pitch yet … I get anchored and came to my set,” Miller said, then moved ever so slightly with a straight backwards hop to continue the demonstration. “(It happened) just like that. That’s it.
“The American League umpire is looking right at me and (the AL players) are yelling, ‘Balk!’ which it technically was, because my body moved after coming to my set position.
Miller continued, “There were six umpires, and nobody called it, so I went and threw my pitch to Rocky Colavito. He swung and missed at a slow hook. I remember it well. Stan Landes, the plate umpire, slowly comes out, takes his mask off and tells the runners to move up and called a balk.
“I said, ‘Stan, you know I moved, but the wind pushed me.’ He said, ‘I know what happened, but rules are rules and I’ve got to call a balk.’
“That was the end of that.”
What Miller saw in print the next day and in the ensuring years, often bore little resemblance to what he experienced.
“The media hated Candlestick Park. Anything they could get on Candlestick, they did,” Miller recalled. “The headlines: ‘Miller Blown Off Mound’ in as big a print as you can get. There were 30-to-40,000 people in the stands, and I’ll bet you a hundred of them didn’t actually see that I made a balk. And most of them probably wondered why the runners moved up.”
Eventually, the National League prevailed, 5-4 in 10 innings, with Willie Mays scoring on a single by Roberto Clemente, giving the noted slowballer Miller the win over Hall-of-Fame knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm of Baltimore.
The appearance of two relievers was rare in All-Star Games of that era, as the pitching staff selections generally included all starters with few exceptions.
“(Pittsburgh manager) Danny Murtaugh, bless his heart, picked me for the All-Star Game. He was the only manager that would pick a junk-baller,” Miller said.
Five years later, Miller earned a World Championship ring with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, but didn’t get to pitch in the four-game World Series sweep against the Los Angeles Dodgers, due to the efficiency of the starting rotation. After long-reliever Moe Drabowsky’s heroics in Game 1, Jim Palmer, Wally Bunker and Dave McNally finished the job with consecutive shutouts.
When Miller retired in 1968, he was third on the all-time saves list with 154. It’s been 34 years since Miller threw his final major league pitch for the Atlanta Braves, but he’s far from forgotten. One of his last claims to fame was surrendering Mickey Mantle’s 500th career home run in 1967.
“Do I remember it? I’m still getting people sending me stuff, pictures of that home run to sign,” Miller said in mock disgust. “People won’t let me forget it!”
Just like that infamous gust of wind up on Candlestick Point.
Pictured above: Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Stu Miller led both the American and National Leagues in saves in his 16-season career, but is best known for a balk called against him in the first 1961 All-Star Game. (Photo: courtesy San Francisco Giants archives)