Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Amos Otis' All-Star thrills topped by '73 game in Kansas City


A five-time All-Star selection, Royals Hall of Famer Amos Otis has a lot of all-star memories but none to match playing in front of home town fans.

 “Of all the All-Star games, my biggest thrill,” says Otis, who holds the distinction of being both the first Royal to play in an All-Star game in 1970 and the first Royal selected to start an All-Star game in 1973.

Catcher Ellie Rodriguez was the first Royal to be selected to an All-Star team in 1969 but did not play.

Along with Steve Busby the first members of the Royals Hall of Fame, Otis will return to Kansas City for the All-Star festivities starting Friday when he and five Royals Hall of Fame teammates – Frank White, Hal McRae, John Mayberry, Fred Patek and Willie Wilson – will sign autographs prior to the T-Bones game with Sioux City.

In addition, he’ll be appearing at Fan Fest festivities at Bartle Hall.

For the immensely popular centerfielder known best as A.O., each of his five selections carried special significance but it is the 1973 game played at Royals Stadium July 21 that he remembers with greatest satisfaction despite a 7-1 American League loss.

“We only had five hits and I had two of them, stole a base and drove in our only run,” says Otis, whose second inning single following a double by Reggie Jackson gave the AL a brief 1-0 lead.

“It was my only two times at bat because (manager) Dick Williams took me out because he wanted to keep Reggie in the game. John Mayberry also had one of the five hits. He got to start because Dick Allen was injured.

“It was the first and only time I was picked as a starter. I was third in the voting behind Reggie and Bobby Murcer. Bobby was also a center-fielder but he told me ‘This is your home town, you play center and I’ll play left.’ That was very nice of him. He didn’t have to do that. He was a heckuva player.”

The NL took a 2-1 lead in the third and got a two-run homer in the fifth from Bobby Bonds, the game’s MVP.

But the biggest blow came in the fourth, a 480-foot solo shot over the concourse in left-field by future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench off Bill Singer, a blast that still stands as the longest home run in stadium history.

Not all of Otis’ thrills came during the game.

“I got to talk to my idol, Hank Aaron, for about 45 minutes,” says Otis, who, like Aaron, grew up in Mobile, Ala., about a half-mile from where Aaron was raised. “I met him when I was a kid. I was about 10 years old when Aaron and the Braves won the World Series in 1957.”

Ironically, Aaron was on hand for Otis’ first major league hit. “It was in Atlanta and I was 0 for 13 before I got my first hit against knuckleballer Phil Niekro. I was three for four that night. I got the baseball from the first hit and still have it along with my first home run and 2,000th hit.”

The 1973 game was an All-Star Game in every sense. A total of 18 players selected for the game are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame and seven members of the first All-Star Game in 1933 were also in attendance – Carl Hubbell, Bill Hallahan, Lefty Gomez, Dick Bartel, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Dykes and Charlie Gehringer.

Only one of the active selectees, Carl Yastrrzemski, did not play because of an injury. The game would be the final All-Star appearance by Willie Mays, who was joined on the NL team by Joe Morgan, Ron Santo, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell, Don Sutton, Billy Williams, Aaron and Bench.

In addition to Jackson, the AL Hall of Famers included Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Catfish Hunter, Brooks Robinson and Nolan Ryan.

For Otis, each of his All-Star years was memorable. Here’s a look back:

1970 – “Nobody knew who I was until I made that great throw in the bottom of the 10th inning in Cincinnati,” says Otis. “That’s the play that Pete Rose ran into Ray Fosse at the plate in a violent collision. It took a toll on Fosse, he was never the same after that. A very good ball player, it was unfortunate it happened.” Otis entered the game in about the seventh inning and was hit-less in his only time at bat. “That was the game the kissing Morganna jumped on the field. I think she was going after Brooks (Robinson) but they stopped her.”

1971 – “It was the game in Detroit when the big boys went deep. Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Roberto Clemente and Johnny Bench hit home runs and Reggie Jackson hit one that almost went out of the ballpark. It hit the transformer on top of old Tiger Stadium. It was very impressive. I had to keep running back to the right center-field wall chasing those home runs,” noted Otis, who was hit-less in two times to the plate.

1972 – “I was picked as an All-Star for the game in Atlanta but the Sunday afternoon before the game I crashed into the center-field wall, in old Municipal Stadium and ended up in the hospital with a couple of stitches in my eyebrow, a hole in the back of my tongue when I bit it and a very deep bruise to my shoulder. And I missed catch the ball.”

1976 –  “President (Gerald) Ford came in before the game in Philadelphia and shook everyone’s hand,” says Otis, who also has met Presidents Nixon and Clinton. “The only other things I remember is that during batting practice, Greg Luzinski was hitting balls in the third deck and I struck out to end the game.”
PHOTO: The first Royal to play in and start an All-Star Game, Amos Otis will be joined by Royals Hall of Famers Frank White, Hal McRae, John Mayberry, Fred Patek and Willie Wilson in an autograph session prior to the T-Bones game with Sioux City Friday night. (Photo by Alan Hoskins)