The 2020 MLB All-Star Game would have taken place this week, if it hadn’t been canceled by the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, we’re taking a look back through the history of the Oakland A’s at the Midsummer Classic.
The A’s have hosted the All-Star Game three times, once in each of the cities they’ve called home. Shibe Park in Philadelphia was the venue in 1943, Municipal Stadium in Kansas City held the action in 1960, and the game was played at the Oakland Coliseum on July 14, 1987.
In 52 seasons in Oakland, ‘87 is the only time the A’s have hosted the All-Stars. The 33 years since then are the second-longest drought in the majors, behind only the Dodgers, who were set to host this summer but will instead do so in 2022. After that, the A’s will have gone the longest without housing the game, and that wait will surely continue until whenever they open a new ballpark (maybe 2024 or beyond?).
Let’s take a closer look at that 1987 game, the only one ever in Oakland.
The A’s were more than a decade removed from their three-peat championship dynasty of the mid-70s, and they were still a year shy of their next trip to the World Series. They ended up finishing at exactly .500 in ‘87, and appropriately they got two representatives in the All-Star Game — more than a lone rep, but not the longer list you’d expect for a true contender.
One of the A’s players picked was veteran reliever Jay Howell, who had previously repped for the team in 1985. In retrospect the righty seems like an odd choice in ‘87, as at the break he had a 4.86 ERA with mediocre numbers across the board, but his 15 saves ranked fifth in the AL and that was apparently enough to get him in.
This proved to be just about the end of the line for Howell in Oakland, though, as within a month he’d lost the closer job to a newcomer named Dennis Eckersley. Howell finished the year with a 5.89 ERA and was traded to the Dodgers after the season, in a mutually beneficial swap that netted the A’s a new starter in Bob Welch. Between them, Eck and Welch would earn five All-Star berths and two Cy Youngs in the green and gold, plus the ‘89 World Series. Howell also rebounded in Los Angeles, where he helped beat his old team in the ‘88 Series and then made it back to the Midsummer Classic in ‘89 for his third and final bid.
The A’s other All-Star in 1987 was a rookie named Mark McGwire. The first baseman had just shocked the sport with 33 homers in the first half, something that hadn’t been done in the majors since Reggie Jackson nearly two decades earlier. He went on to rep the A’s each July for six straight years and nine out of 11, missing out twice during that span only due to injury. and he went a dozen times total including his famous stint in St. Louis.
In addition to their players, two A’s coaches got to be on the All-Star staff on their home turf. Manager Tony La Russa and third-base coach Rene Lachemann served under AL skipper John McNamara of the Red Sox, which was especially appropriate since Lachemann had worked for McNamara in Boston for two years before coming to Oakland in ‘87.
The game itself was slow, to say the least. The two sides went scoreless for 12 innings, breaking the previous record of five goose eggs to start the contest. The NL finally broke through in the 13th with a pair of runs, for a 2-0 victory that somehow took only 3:39 to complete.
Unfortunately, the losing pitcher was none other than Howell. He tossed a 1-2-3 frame in the 12th, but in the 13th he let a rally build. With two on and two out, future Hall of Famer (and future Athletic!) Tim Raines tripled to drive in both runners. McGwire also couldn’t offer any help for the AL, going 0-for-3 at the plate against Rick Reuschel once and Lee Smith twice, though he nearly homered into the right field corner in his first at-bat.
Thanks to the modern magic of YouTube, you can click here to watch the entire 1987 All-Star Game. (Trigger warning: Rickey Henderson in a Yankees uniform.) Or, click here for the box score, and nerd out on some fun old names from the 80s.
The extra innings brought a quirky moment to enjoy. The game went on so long that now-Hall of Fame closer Lee Smith pitched three frames out of the bullpen. That was long enough for the Cubs reliever to see his spot in the lineup come up, forcing him to bat in the 13th inning (the DH wasn’t used at all in the ASG until 1989). However, he had not brought a helmet with him, given the extreme unlikeliness of needing it, so he borrowed an Expos helmet from an NL teammate and went to the plate with the mismatched headgear.
The Coliseum will surely never see another All-Star Game, but at least it got one during its long reign in Oakland. Here’s looking forward to 2025 or so, when we can all go see it in the East Bay again at Kaval Park.