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Silverman: 1965 National League All-Star Team Was Greatest Ever Assembled For Mid-Summer Classic

Steve Silverman
July 17, 2018 - 4:25 pm

The 89th All-Star Game has quite a bit of significance to it in addition to bringing the best players in the American and National League together one more time.

When the two leagues put their best players on the first- and third-base lines Tuesday night at Nationals Park in Washington D.C., they will come together with the all-time series tied at 43-43-2. The American League has won the last five games, and it has also put together a run of 23-6-1 starting with the 1988 game.

The All-Star Game series has seen long runs of dominance by both teams, as the American League came out of the gate firing, winning 12 of the first 16 games. That wasn’t a surprise because they had Babe Ruth hitting a home run in the first All-Star Game in 1933, and they followed with stars such as Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams leading the way shortly thereafter.

The National League started to turn things around in the post-World War II years, but the Senior Circuit didn’t truly hit its stride until 1963. Starting with that season’s All-Star Game in Cleveland, the National League simply overpowered the Americans by winning 19 of the next 20 games.

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The American League wouldn’t end that embarrassment until 1983, when Fred Lynn of the California Angels hit the first -- and, to this point, only – grand slam in the history of the All-Star Game in a 13-3 American League win.

While it has been basically an American League-dominated game since the late 1980s, the teams that the National League put together in the 1960s and ‘70s were the most relentless squads the All-Star Game has ever seen.

The makeup of the team in the mid-1970s was quite a bit different than the mid-1960s and late-'60s/early '70s, but all of those teams always found a way to beat their American League counterparts.

A look back at all the rosters is a trip back to the game’s heyday – depending on your age and perspective – and it’s difficult to find an All-Star team better than the one the National League put on the field at Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota in 1965.

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The starting lineup is as dangerous as one we have ever seen in any era, and Philadelphia Phillies manager Gene Mauch was not going to screw this up.

The starting lineup included Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants batting leadoff in center field, Hank Aaron of the Milwaukee Braves in right field and a young and powerful Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates batting third and in left field.

Philadelphia’s Dick Allen, perhaps the strongest man to ever swing a bat, played third base and batted cleanup, and he was followed by catcher Joe Torre of the Milwaukee Braves. Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs batted sixth and played first base, while Cincinnati Reds sparkplug Pete Rose played second base and batted seventh. Shortstop Maury Wills of the Los Angeles Dodgers batted eighth and Juan Marichal of the Giants got the starting assignment on the mound and batted ninth.

If that lineup was not good enough, the National Leaguers had Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente, Cincinnati’s Frank Robinson and Chicago teammates Billy Williams and Ron Santo coming off the bench.

As talented as that group was, the pitching staff may have been even more impressive. In addition to Marichal, who may have been the best pitcher in baseball during the 1960s, the Senior Circuit had Bob Gibson of the Cardinals, and Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale of the Dodgers. Mauch also had a couple of other pitchers, in Jim Maloney of the Reds and Bob Veale of the Pirates, who were not in the same class with the Hall of Famers named previously.

The American League really didn’t compare in those days, and it’s quite a tribute that they were able to stay close in this game, dropping a 6-5 decision. The best players in the American League starting lineup were Brooks Robinson of the Orioles and Harmon Killebrew of the hometown Twins, but other starters such as Dick McAuliffe and  Willie Horton of the Tigers, Earl Battey of the Twins and Felix Mantilla of the Red Sox were ordinary by comparison.

Mickey Mantle was on that team, but the Yankee slugger began his downturn in ’65, and he did not even get an at-bat. The best American League reserves were Tony Oliva of the Twins, Bill Freehan of the Tigers and Joe Pepitone of the Yankees.

Milt Pappas of the Baltimore Orioles started for the American League, and he was touched for three runs and four hits in one inning of work. One of the runs Pappas gave up came on a leadoff home run by Mays, a blow that set the tone for the game.

Other American League pitchers included Jim “Mudcat” Grant of the Twins, hard-throwing Sam McDowell of the Cleveland Indians and an outstanding young pitcher for the Yankees in Mel Stottlemyre, who was in his first full season with the Bombers.

Some of the National League teams that followed were nearly as good, including the 1969 team that added Johnny Bench, and the loaded teams of the mid- and late-1970s that had pitchers Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton, along with superstars Joe Morgan, Steve Garvey and Dave Parker, were also brilliant.

The American League teams of the 1990s would offer their own level of greatness, as Ken Griffey Jr., Kirby Puckett, Roberto Alomar and Cal Ripken would regularly outclass their National League counterparts.

But the 1965 National League team that had Mays in the leadoff spot, along with Aaron, Rose, Stargell and Allen, and could bring Clemente, Frank Robinson and Williams off the bench was unstoppable and the best of all-time.

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