All-Star memories: Jeff Montgomery

Royals Hall of Fame closer Jeff Montgomery had his shoe company to thank for not being nervous about his first All-Star Game appearance in 1992.

Prior to the game in San Diego, Reebok asked Montgomery and another Reebok representative, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Tom Pagnozzi, if they would take part in a publicity stunt.

Reebok had just introduced its “Pump” shoe to the market. The plan was that if Montgomery would happen to get into the game and face Pagnozzi that Montgomery would casually step off the mound and “pump up” his shoes.

Pagnozzi would, in turn, add to the drama by stepping out of the batter’s box to do the same.

Capturing such a showdown scene on video during an actual All-Star Game would have been marketing gold for Reebok.

Sure enough, Montgomery got into the game and wound up facing Pagnozzi.

Montgomery entered the game in the bottom of the eighth with the American League up comfortably, 13-1. He got his first hitter out, Tony Fernandez, but then gave up singles to John Kruk and Bip Roperts.

That brought up Pagnozzi, just the scenario that the Reebok marketers had dreamed of.

“I was trying to think of a subtle way to do it,” Montgomery said. “I was going to back off the mound, kneel down and start pumping up the cleats. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed too obvious. Then you’d have Pagnozzi doing the same thing….it just didn’t seem right.

“And even though we were way up in the game, it didn’t seem right, no matter how innocent it would have been. So I wound up not doing it.

“But thinking about that the whole time sure took away any anxiety I had about pitching in my first All-Star Game.”

Montgomery eventually got Pagnozzi out and then left the game for Rick Aguilera, who promptly gave up a three-run homer to Will Clark, plating both of Montgomery’s runners.

Those earned runs didn’t dampen the experience for Montgomery, though.

“It was such a thrill to be picked,” he said. “It was such a defining moment for me. I was a guy who maybe didn’t have the most talent in the world but I was determined to make it in the big leagues and then I was determined to get established in the big leagues.

“I think being picked for the All-Star Game validated everything for me. Just to be picked and be in the same clubhouse with guys like Kirby Puckett and Wade Boggs and Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley and all of those stars, it was incredible.”

Though the All-Star Game back then wasn’t the spectacle it is now, it was still hectic in Montgomery’s mind.

“There was so much media,” Montgomery said. “Because it was my first time, I responded to every request for three days. I was mentally wore out after those three days.”

Montgomery, now an analyst with FOX Sports Kansas City, made the All-Star team again in 1993, and that time backed off on some of the media requests.

“That was my favorite All-Star Game for sure,” he said. “It was in Baltimore, just the second year of Camden Yards. A lot of my family was able to drive over from Ohio and I got to spend more time with them. It was more enjoyable for me.”

Montgomery again got in the game, this time with the AL All-Stars down 8-3 in the seventh. He did his job, getting a 1-2-3 inning.

The highlight, he said, was striking out Darren Daulton on four pitches.

“I was able to use all of my pitches against him,” Montgomery said. “I went fastball, curve, slider, change-up. That was who I was as a pitcher, using all my pitches. That was fun.”

Montgomery, the Royals’ all-time saves leader with 304, made the team again for the final time in 1996 in Philadelphia, though he didn’t get in that game.

“As a player, it is a special deal to make the team,” he said. “I don’t know what it’s like in other sports but it’s not only important to make the All-Star team but it’s important to do well in the game. It means something to us.

“Now they’re playing for home-field advantage for your league but even back then there was a lot of pride involved. You didn’t want to mess up or look bad on national TV and in front of your peers.”