Dennis Janson: Remembering MLB's All-Star Games hosted in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI -- When it comes to All-Star Game luck, I am among the luckiest guys going.

The last two times Cincinnati hosted baseballs Mid-Summer Classic, the planets aligned so as to insure that a kid from Price Hill had a front row seat to history.

In July of 1970, I was working at WSAI Radio as a swing man in the newsroom. In today’s vernacular, a swingman refers to a basketball player who can play both the small forward and shooting guard positions. In broadcasting, a swingman is a broadcasting handyman, a guy who could fill in at a moment’s notice on any shift that needed staffing. I was attending the University of Cincinnati at the time, selling ladies shoes at Baker’s in Western Woods Plaza and doing whatever else it took to keep myself in spare change and gas money. But there was always time to do something at the radio station.

The legendary Charles C. Bolland was news director at AM 1360 back in those days and I was his go-to guy. His swing man. He knew he could count on me to do whatever had to be done, on a moment’s notice, to his exacting standards. Bolland quickly made an impact on Cincinnati, to the extent that he not only secured a credential for himself to the 1970 All-Star Game at Riverfront Stadium but two tickets as well. One for his wife Nancy, the other for...hold on now….you guessed it…..his swingman: Me!

Good seats too. Down the first base line, 10 rows up so we had a perfect line of sight to see Pete Rose bowl over Ray Fosse with the game winning run. Bolland has since returned to his roots in the great northwest where he became a radio icon in Seattle.

By the time the 1988 All-Star Game rolled around, I was sports anchor at 9 WCPO-TV. And along with Sports Director John Popovich we covered it like a blanket. We shadowed every move of Reds owner Marge Schott and had a presence at every ASG related event.

At one such event we had the chance to take batting practice against Tom Seaver. On the diamond right off Martin Drive where the old Eden Park reservoir once stood, I stood in against Tom Terrific.

I was nervous. But I wasn’t over anxious. I took Seaver’s first pitch, a manageable dart right down the pipe.

“Whattaya want?” barked the Hall of Famer.

I yelled back: “My dad always told me to take one to see what he’s got.” 

His reply: “Well tell your old man, that’s the only one you get that’s hittable.”

So I’m down a strike and determined to make the most of my closest ever brush with the “bigs”. I got out in front of his next pitch, lining it foul down the left field line. No balls. Two strikes. His next delivery was wide. I’m still alive. Until he threw one seemingly at my head, buckling my knees before gracefully arcing over the heart of the plate for a called strike three.

The day would get better for me, worse for Schott. Equitable Insurance, which had a big operation in Mt. Adams in those days, sponsored the Equitable Old-Timers and did they ever deliver. A galaxy of stars, many of them Hall of Famers were made available to clients and media members and the autographs flowed like fine, aged win. Brock, Boudreau, Aaron, Mays, Kiner, Branca. A bat with their signatures and many more remains one of my most cherished sports collectibles.

Schott’s memories of the festivities though weren’t nearly as warm. A cold rain saw to that. The Home Run Derby the night before the game, which of course drew a huge crowd, was rained out. I’ll never forget Schott’s reaction to news that the contest had been called off:

“Why does this sh_t always happen to me?”

That’s our girl. And frankly that was the sentiment shared by thousands who went home disappointed that soggy Monday night.

Tuesday didn’t turn out much better for Schott. Reds ace pitcher Danny Jackson didn’t get into the game, Barry Larkinalso making his All-Star debut went hitless in two at bats while Chris Sabo, another ASG rookie, managed a stolen base after pinch running late in a 2-1 American League win. Edgewood, Kentucky’s Randy Marsh had the best night of any local. He was the left field line umpire and didn’t make a bad call all night!

Marsh is still in the game, as an umpiring supervisor for Major League Baseball and will undoubtedly be part of next year’s festivities here. Same for Barry Larkin who will be serving in a broadcast capacity for ESPN’s 2015 production.

And John Popovich will be anchoring 9 On Your Side's wall-to-wall coverage, just like old times. But without this old-timer. 

That's my 2 cents.

 

Denny Janson's "My 2 cents" column is published every Monday and Wednesday on WCPO.com. His video commentary airs every Friday at 6 p.m. 

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