Jul 9, 2016

Cal Ripken Jr. Saw More Stars Than The Rest Of Us

1996 MLB All-Star Game Ticket Display
Primestar Satellite TV (1996)
The Phillies hosted the 1996 All-Star Game at Veterans Stadium 20 years ago today.  It was a fun night that is best remembered as the last All-Star Game appearance of Hall Of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, but the Wizard Of Oz was not the only highlight of this strange evening of baseball.

1996 National League All-Star Team.
This was the last time that the All-Star Game was played in Philadelphia.  Sadly, it wasn't one of our best seasons, so we only had one representative on the team: closer Ricky Bottalico.  NL manager Bobby Cox brought Bottalico in to pitch the 5th inning.  He retired two future Hall Of Famers back to back by striking out Ivan Rodriguez and getting Cal Ripken Jr. to fly out to left field.  Ripken's teammate Brady Anderson reached first base on a Ken Caminiti error, but Jay Buhner to line out to center to give the Phillies closer a clean inning with no hits or runs.  The National League went on to win 6-0.

Chubby Checker danced with the Phanatic (Getty Images) and Kelsey Grammer sang the Anthem (Associated Press)
There were lots of festivities that night, including Frasier star Kelsey Grammer singing the American National Anthem and one of my teen crushes, Sarah McLachlan, singing the Canadian National Anthem.  Chubby Checker made an appearance and danced The Twist with the Phillie Phanatic.  Local hero Mike Piazza doubled and hit a home run to win MVP honors, and Joe Carter took his booing from the Philadelphia fans with the good nature and respect with which it was delivered.  This was less than three years after he broke our hearts with the walk-off home run in the '93 World Series.  However, few things that took place during the game could compare with the drama that unfolded during the pre-game team photos.

Joe Carter, Roberto Hernandez and Cal Ripken after the 1996 American League All-Star Team photo was taken.
It's not often that a team photo could make the entire baseball universe hold its collective breath, but that's exactly what the 1996 American League All-Star team photo managed to do prior to the game.  After the photo was taken, White Sox reliever Roberto Hernandez tripped as he was walking off of the riser that the players in the back row were standing on.  He attempted to steady himself by grabbing onto Joe Carter's shoulder with his right hand, but his left arm flailed out and clocked Cal Ripken Jr. in the face, breaking his nose.

At this point in his career, Cal Ripken had already surpassed Lou Gehrig's record for the most consecutive games played, but he was still in the midst of his streak of playing in every game, dating back to May 30th, 1982.  The Iron Man was at 2,239 consecutive games at the 1996 All-Star Break.  Thankfully, the broken nose didn't put a stop to the streak.  In fact, he didn't even miss the All-Star Game.  He just popped his nose back into place and went on with his business.  The dude was truly hardcore.

I would imagine there was no one more relieved by Ripken's quick recovery than Roberto Hernandez.  The reliever, who would go on to play for the Phillies in 2004, came within an eyelash of being forever known as the man who tripped and fell and took The Streak with him.

I wasn't in Philadelphia for the 1996 All-Star Game.  I watched it on television from my grandparents house in West Hazleton.  However, I found the commemorative ticket in a thick plastic Primestar Satellite TV stand-up display case on sale at the Hometown Farmer's Market for ten bucks.  The case also had this ticket stub from the Pinnacle All-Stat Fanfest hiding behind the game ticket.  I don't generally collect ticket stubs for games that I haven't been to, but this one is the exception to the rule.  Maybe I'll ask Ricky-Bo to sign it for me if he's ever doing an autograph session in the area.