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1960 All-Star memories evoke an era long gone

Clubhouse manager recalls an event filled with superstars and legends in the making.

Updated: 2012-05-23T22:12:25Z

By ERIC ADLER

The Kansas City Star

On a recent spring afternoon, John Schmiedeler, 82, sat down with his baseball-loving grandson, Matthew, to reveal to him a bit of family history about the All-Star Game.

At 10, Matthew Donnellan, a fourth-grader at Visitation School, loves his hometown Royals. Were it up to him, his favorite players would make the All-Star roster.

“Hosmer and Frenchie,” Matthew said of first baseman Eric Hosmer and right fielder Jeff Francoeur.

But when Schmiedeler speaks of the All-Star Game, it’s not about the one coming to Kauffman Stadium on July 10, or even the one played in 1973.

He’s at Kansas City’s old Municipal Stadium and it’s 1960, when he was a 31-year-old math teacher who was the manager of the opposing team’s clubhouse for the Kansas City A’s. He picked up towels and arranged bats and uniforms, and his wife and kids fixed sandwiches for the players.

“The greatest part-time job ever,” Schmiedeler said this week.

The 1960 game was played — how times have changed — at 2:30 on a sweltering Monday afternoon in July at the stadium, torn down long ago, at 22nd Street and Brooklyn Avenue.

Schmiedeler remembers whoever was tossing batting practice being so drenched in sweat that he didn’t even stay for the game.

“It was like 106 in the shade,” Schmiedeler said. “He asked me where the nearest bar was with a television. Television wasn’t that prevalent then as it is now. He showered and left.”

And it was a time when All-Stars were truly All-Stars.

Schmiedeler can still faintly see the players’ young faces in his mind’s eye — some already legends and others who were on their way:

The National League’s Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Stan Musial milled about his clubhouse. Across the field were the American League players he had already come to know — Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, Whitey Ford, Nellie Fox, Brooks Robinson.

Of the 59 players on the field that day, 16 — sixteen — would go on to be among the 297 in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“If I had half a brain, I would have said you don’t have to pay me a thing,” Schmiedeler joked this week. “Just sign a dozen balls. I would have put them in a cooler for 35 years.”

Actually, Schmiedeler never really collected much memorabilia from those days. He learned — warning to collectors — that players would sometimes ask clubhouse staff members to forge their signatures on balls for fans.

“Someone wanted like a dozen Yankee balls signed when they were in (Kansas City to play the A’s),” Schmiedeler remembered of one multi-ball forgery. “I just happened to pick one up and look at it. Mantle was spelled M-a-n-t-e-l. I thought, ‘Oh, I hope they get out of town before they take a look at them.’ ”

Frankly, after 52 years and having worked so many A’s games, Schmiedeler has only scant memories of the All-Star Game, one of two played in 1960. (The second was two days later at Yankee Stadium.)

Close to 31,000 fans filled Municipal. Banks hit a two-run homer in the first and the National League won 5-3. (The lone player representing the A’s, left-hander Bud Daley, pitched a scoreless ninth.)

Ironically, baseball wasn’t even of prime interest to Schmiedeler. He liked it. He played as a young athlete.

But other than teaching math, his life revolved around basketball.

A top athlete himself, 6 feet tall and lean, Schiemdeler was a standout player at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. His outside jump shot was memorable enough — he shot 50 percent from the field — that in October 2011 the college inducted him into its athletic hall of fame.

After college, Schmiedeler became a coach at the now-defunct Bishop Lillis High School in Kansas City, and then Bishop Miege High School before heading to Dodge City, Kan., in 1965 to coach at St. Mary of the Plains College. Over five seasons, his record was 75-38.

One of his players at both Lillis and St. Mary was Don Dee, who also worked with Schmiedeler as a helper at Municipal and attended the 1960 All-Star Game. Dee, who lives in North Kansas City, would go on to play for the U.S. basketball team at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and, afterward, for two years with the Indiana Pacers when the team was in the American Basketball Association.

“We met in my freshman year and we still talk at least once a month,” Dee, 68, said this week. “That’s a long time to know somebody and still talk to each other. He (Schmiedeler) is just a super, super good guy. He was my coach in high school. He was my coach in college. He’s just a straightforward, tell-it-as-it-is guy — one of the guys I respect as much as anyone in the world.”

Dee, who was 6-3 when he began high school and would grow to 6-8, recalled starting as a bat boy at Municipal, but later being sent to the clubhouse to help Schmiedeler after the powers-that-be judged him too tall to be around the players.

“They didn’t think it was right for the batboy to be bigger than the guys hitting the ball,” Dee said.

Unlike Schmiedeler, he remembers the 1960 All-Star Game vividly and can still recall the way Mays slid head-first into home plate.

“They were some great players,” Dee said. “They came to play the game. It wasn’t like the players today.”

More than the games, Schmiedeler remembers the job and how he got it after the former club manager went to college. A friend offered him the position, which he held from 1958 to 1965. As a teacher, he could use the extra money, especially in the summer.

He remembers the players.

• Mantle — He and Schmiedeler talked often. In high school in Shawnee, Schmiedeler was neighbors with a fellow who ended up teaching Mantle much about playing golf. “That put me in with Mickey,” Schmiedeler said.

• Maris — Schmiedeler and the rest of the world watched as Maris competed with Mantle in 1961, hitting 61 home runs and thus breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season record. Maris owned a home in Independence.

“Roger depended on me as a kind of courier,” Schmiedeler remembered. “I would take calls from his wife about where they were going to dinner and that kind of thing.”

• A’s outfielder Whitey Herzog — Paid relatively little, younger players often picked up second jobs in the winter. “I used to pay Whitey to referee games for me at Miege in the winter,” Schmiedeler said.

During doubleheaders there was this, a scene unthinkable today: Schmiedeler’s wife, Rosemary, and some of their seven daughters would spend the day preparing sandwiches and salads to feed the players in the 30 minutes or so they had to eat between games.

Today, Schmiedeler has 11 grandchildren and lives in Westwood. Fit and affable, he tried to sign on as a volunteer for the upcoming All-Star Game, but the ranks were already full and tickets to the game are scarce.

As for his lack of memorabilia, Scott Neal, the owner of the Baseball Card Store in Shawnee, said a ball signed by all of the 1960 All-Star players would be worth — perhaps against common perception — only $1,000 or a little more. Baseballs autographed by a single player can go for far more.

“A Ty Cobb single would be about $10,000. Jimmy Fox: $20,000. Put them together, the price goes down,” Neal said.

Such is the market and collectors’ tastes.

Which for Schmiedeler may suggest that the most valuable asset of all is the experiences he had and the memories of long-ago All-Stars he can share with a 10-year-old fan.

To reach Eric Adler, call 816-234-4431 or send email to eadler@kcstar.com.

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