Rozner: The night Steve Stone was the star of stars
Steve Stone knew what he was doing to his arm in 1980.
En route to 25 victories in 37 starts, pitching 250 innings and winning a Cy Young Award for the Baltimore Orioles, at 32 years old and after numerous injuries he also knew time was dwindling.
"I threw 70 percent curveballs that season because I wanted to help the team," Stone said. "I knew what would happen to my elbow. The truth is there wasn't much left in my arm at that point anyway."
The change in philosophy led to a sparkling 12-3 record at the All-Star break, and Stone was named by Orioles manager Earl Weaver to start the Midsummer Classic ahead of Tommy John (12-3) and Jack Morris (11-6), 40 years ago this week.
"I had won like 10 in a row. Plus, it was my day to pitch," Stone said. "I was having the best year. It was no gift. But I didn't expect to start. It was my only All-Star Game and just to get on the team was a thrill."
At Dodger Stadium on July 8, 1980, with Keith Jackson, Don Drysdale, Howard Cosell and Al Michaels in the broadcast booth -- men with whom he would later broadcast -- Stone took on J.R. Richard and a ferocious National League lineup.
"Everywhere you look there's a future Hall of Famer and you're standing on the mound throwing to Carlton Fisk behind the plate. Truly surreal," Stone said. "You dream of that as a kid and there you are on the mound. It's an indescribable feeling. After I warmed up, I took a little time and just looked around.
"I mean, I have the ball, right?" Stone said laughing. "They can't do anything until I throw the baseball to home plate."
Davey Lopes led off for the National League in the bottom of the first and pulled a curveball down the line for what looked like a basehit, but third baseman Graig Nettles went to his left, made a great diving stop and threw out the speedy Lopes.
"Clearly, they knew what I was doing," Stone chuckled. "I decided to throw some fastballs."
Reggie Smith crushed one of those to deep center, where Fred Lynn caught it at the wall for the second out.
"Thought it was gone," Stone said. "That almost changed the story in a hurry."
A very scary Dave Parker on 3-2 looked for a curve and Stone got him with a high fastball for the final out of the first inning.
That was the good news. The bad news was in the top of the second, Stone had to bat with two on, two out and the fireballing Richard pitching into the shadows at home plate.
"He's throwing 100 mph and I'm having the best year of my life," Stone said. "I wanted nothing to do with this at-bat. I didn't need to get hit and break an arm or something.
"So Bucky Dent bats before me and Richard has given up like 3 hits in 125 innings to righties. I figure I won't have to bat against him. What does Bucky do? He reaches out and gets a tiny piece and drops it in for a hit. Great. Now I have to bat.
"I get to the plate and I tell (catcher) Johnny Bench, 'I can't hit and I'm scared to death. I will have one foot in the on-deck circle so tell him to just throw it down the middle.'
"When you haven't hit for a while, you forget what a real fastball looks like. Not my fastball. A real fastball. The first one exploded. Couldn't even see it. I've never experienced that before and I faced Nolan Ryan and Bob Gibson.
"I was so far away in the box that I might as well have been in the dugout. He struck me out on a 2-2 count and I was never so happy to strike out. I was just sorry it took 5 pitches."
Back on the mound, Stone got Steve Garvey to pop out, Bench on a grounder and struck out Dave Kingman to end the inning.
"When Bench came to bat, I walked in toward the plate and asked (umpire) John Kibler for a ball with bigger seams, and tossed him the old one," Stone chuckled. "I wanted Bench to think I needed big seams for a curveball. I threw him a fastball and he grounded out.
"As he ran by, he said, 'I knew you were throwing a fastball.' I said, 'Yeah, but you didn't hit it.' I was having a really good time out there."
Six up, six down.
Stone was beginning to think this could be a special night. Bob Welch replaced Richard and worked his way out of trouble in the top of the third, and Stone was back to the mound to try for 3 perfect innings.
Stone fooled Ken Reitz, who grounded to second. Bill Russell flied to left. And then he struck out Welch with a curve to complete his only All-Star appearance.
Nine up, nine down.
It was one of the greatest All-Star pitching performances in history from one of the most unlikely pitchers. A week shy of his 33rd birthday, during the greatest season of his baseball life, Steve Stone shined brighter than any of the 61 stars at Dodger Stadium.
"There was a camera shot of me slowly walking to the dugout, trying to find my parents in the stands, and I have this huge grin. There was relief knowing I didn't have to face those big bats anymore," Stone said. "Look, I was just hoping to get an opportunity to pitch. I had seen a lot of All-Star Games, but this was the only one I ever attended.
"I remember it all, from the time in the clubhouse with all those Hall of Famers, to the lineup announcements, to walking to the bullpen during pregame and waiting to hear my name as the All-Star starter in Dodger Stadium.
"There's so much I'll never forget."
In the 1934 All-Star Game, Carl Hubbell famously struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in order at the Polo Grounds.
In 1984, Fernando Valenzuela whiffed Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson and George Brett in order in the fourth, and 19-year-old Dwight Gooden fanned Lance Parrish, Chet Lemon and Alvin Davis in order in the fifth.
In 1999 at Fenway Park, Boston's Pedro Martinez struck out Barry Larkin, Larry Walker and Sammy Sosa to start the game, and in the second struck out Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell.
Steve Stone may not be remembered in baseball history with those men, but he did turn in one of the greatest performances ever in an All-Star Game.
"I don't think an A.L. pitcher has thrown three perfect innings since and it probably won't happen again because no manager wants his pitcher out there that long," Stone said. "That game was probably the biggest thrill of my baseball life."
Ken Griffey Sr. won the MVP with 2 two hits and a home run off John as the National League won 4-2, but with 16 future Hall of Famers in the game, the talk after the contest was all about the big curveball and the 5-foot-10 righty from Cleveland.
"So many memories over 13 years," Stone said. "Played with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry in San Francisco. Traded for Ron Santo. Part of a White Sox three-man rotation in 1973. The '77 South Side Hit Men. Pitched in the World Series.
"Got everything I could out of what I was given. Saw a lot in 13 years. Grateful for all of it, but nothing more than the 1980 All-Star Game."
Forty years have passed, but for Steve Stone the memories are crystal clear.