Kevin Haskin: Topekan Ken Berry recalls inglorious All-Star appearance

Former White Sox outfielder observes 50th anniversary getting to pinch-hit in 15th inning

Big-leaguers on Friday played their first games after the All-Star break.

 

For those who participated in the Midsummer Classic for the first time, the satisfaction from being recognized as one of the game’s elites can freshen their outlook on baseball.

Fifty years ago, Ken Berry was in that category. The Topekan’s debut appearance as an All-Star, however, was not quite as cheery.

The Chicago White Sox outfielder started the year red hot at the plate. Although he was in a slump when the All-Star Game rolled around, Berry had been picked fourth among American League outfielders back when voting was conducted by players and managers.

“It was a big deal when I got voted fourth,’’ he said.

That deal, however, did not inspire the AL manager, Hank Bauer of the Baltimore Orioles, to select Berry as a reserve outfielder.

The White Sox, in fact, were visiting Baltimore for a series just prior to the All-Star Game and Bauer informed reporters he was not going to take Berry. Writers then flocked to Berry, who was in his sixth MLB season. Berry didn’t blast the decision, but instead saved his retort for Bauer.

That night, Berry homered and while rounding third shouted something savory at Bauer, who was in the O’s dugout.

The next day, AL starter Frank Robinson of Baltimore suffered blurred vision after attempting to break up a double play at second against the White Sox. On Sunday, another All-Star, Al Kaline of the Detroit Tigers, broke a bone in his hand slamming his bat in disgust after a pop-out.

Suddenly, the AL was short on deserving outfielders. Bauer relented and took Berry, who learned late arriving back in Chicago that he needed to board a plane and fly to Los Angeles.

At that period in baseball, pitchers often dominated. The All-Star Game only strengthened their advantage since a 5 p.m. start time on the West Coast had hitters batting in shadows.

The showdown required 15 innings to complete, on a game-winning homer by the NL’s Tony Perez in the 15th.

A whopping 30 strikeouts were recorded. Including the last out, Berry’s lone at-bat.

“I was on the bench as far away from Bauer as I could get,’’ Berry said. “There were two outs and I hear, ‘Berry, get a bat.’ I faced Tom Seaver and he threw three fastballs on the outside corner. That was my All-Star appearance.’’

Fifty years later, Berry is still asked about the opportunity.

“People say, ‘I bet it was really fun,’’’ Berry said.

The two-time Gold Glove winner always tells the truth. With far less varnish than what was left, unblemished, on his All-Star bat.

He still does not know what prompted the late Bauer to snub him … and Berry even remembers hunting with the ex-Yankee once, along with former Royals manager Whitey Herzog,

Other moves Bauer made in the game, which I noticed in the box score, found Catfish Hunter of the Oakland A’s pitching the last five innings among just five AL pitchers used. Also, Tigers catcher Bill Freehan never came out, though two AL catchers were picked as backups.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t care, because I wanted to be there,’’ Berry remembers, a half-century later.

“But after I didn’t get to play and my forte’ was defense, not offense … OK, I made the All-Star team, but it was a real bummer for me the way it worked out. It was nice getting out there and being with all the superstars and all that, but it wasn’t what I’d have drawn up if I could have.’’

Berry still went on to log 14 big-league seasons, but the glow from being selected an All-Star was, well, not the same as most first-time picks.

Contact Kevin Haskin at kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.

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