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ALL-STAR GAME : PITCHERS' PARADISE : '67 Game Was a Mound of Fun With Twilight Start and a Sympathetic Umpire

July 10, 1989|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

Twilight was never Dean Chance's favorite time.

In the early years of the Angels, he and Bo Belinsky, who combined to cut a swath wider than the Sunset Strip, were at their best when the night was darkest and the neons were brightest.

But as Chance, then 26 and a member of the Minnesota Twins, walked into Anaheim Stadium in mid-afternoon on July 11, 1967, he was given reason to believe, he recounted recently, that his twilight assignment as the American League's starting pitcher in the first All-Star game at the Big A might lead to something special--or unusual, at least.

"Walking in that day I happened to run into a gentleman named Ed Runge and he said to me, 'Dean, we're going for the record today.' I didn't know what he meant at the time, but I found out a few hours later."

What the hitters couldn't see in the twilight shadows, plate umpire Runge could.

Known as a pitchers' umpire with a strike zone that Ron Luciano, a former American League umpire turned author, once decribed as stretching from dugout to dugout, Runge would emerge as the only umpire to receive consideration for the All-Star game's Outstanding Performer Award.

Tony Perez of the Cincinnati Reds received the award for hitting a home run that mercifully ended history's longest All-Star game, which the National League won in 15 innings, 2-1.

The NL had come in with a team batting average of .306. The American League averaged .273. But it became a game to be remembered for futility and failure as Chance and 11 other pitchers took advantage of Runge's strike zone and the 4:15 twilight zone to register an All-Star record 30 strikeouts, 11 called.

"No umpire ever lived who had a strike zone as big as Ed Runge's," Chance said. "I once gave him a gold cigarette lighter with the inscription, 'To the Greatest Strikeout Man in Baseball History.' Of course, he couldn't use it until he retired."

Chance, 48, lives in Wooster, Ohio. He has managed boxers and carnivals and now operates the midway at the Ohio State Fair, his life still illuminated by neons.

Runge, 74, spent 17 years as an American League umpire, retired in 1970, and lives in San Diego. His son, Paul, umpires in the National League.

"I once asked someone what kind of strike zone Paul had and they said, 'Big, real big,' " Chance said. "He must have learned from the old man."

The senior Runge laughed when informed of Chance's recollections and said he walked into Anaheim Stadium that day with the other umpires, that he did not encounter the AL's starting pitcher, that he would never have told a player they were going for a record and he did not recall receiving a cigarette lighter from Chance.

"Dean has always been a little wacky," Runge said.

Our memories play tricks, of course. Sometimes conveniently, sometimes not. The march of time erodes details, but neither Runge nor Chance are on trial here. The commissioner has enough problems, and there are other witnesses to Runge's role in that game.

John Hall, who covered the game for The Times, alluded to the strikeouts in his lead as he wrote:

"It was a burning, boiling Orange County afternoon, but baseball's biggest hitters selfishly turned on all the fans."

Perez, now a coach with the Reds, recalled, "Between the umpire and the shadows, the hitters didn't have a chance. Roberto Clemente struck out four times. That tells you how tough it was."

Perez added that he got lucky in the 15th inning, that Jim (Catfish) Hunter simply threw a pitch that hit his bat, that he didn't get a good look at it and was as surprised as anyone that he hit it out.

In a game that featured 16 future Hall of Famers, American League hitters struck out 17 times, NL hitters 13.

Richie Allen homered off Chance in the second inning, then struck out three times. Tony Oliva, a .304 career hitter, also struck out three times. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays struck out as pinch-hitters.

Ferguson Jenkins, the second National League pitcher, struck out six in three innings, an All-Star record he still shares. Jenkins also gave up the only American League run on a sixth-inning homer by Brooks Robinson, who was hitless in his other five at-bats, striking out twice.

Al Downing, then with the New York Yankees and now a radio talk- show host, reflected on his two-inning stint as the American League's fourth pitcher, and said:

"The hitters knew they had to be hacking at anything around the plate. Runge's reputation preceded him. Bill Freehan was catching that day and I had never thrown to him. But I remember that the first thing he said to me when I came in was, 'Let's go for a Runge strike.' That meant low and away. You could throw it six inches off the plate early in the count and get a strike. But once you had two strikes, he (Runge) made you throw it over the plate. I don't know if he was a pitchers' umpire as much as he wanted to see the hitters up there swinging and quick games."

Although lasting 15 innings, the game took a relatively short 3 hours 41 minutes.

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