Former Royal Mark Gubicza was picked for two All-Star Games. But it was the second one he’ll never forget.
It was the 1989 game in Anaheim, Calif., and it was when Bo Jackson’s celebrity really became legendary.
Bo, leading off for the American League team, blasted a Rick Reuschel fastball on a rope to the deepest part of the ballpark, straightaway center, for a breathtaking home run.
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The ball never seemed to get further than 10 feet off the ground and shot out of the stadium in a split second, leaving fans and players alike in complete awe. After the game, players from both sides said they couldn’t remember ever seeing a ball hit so hard.
“That really started the whole ‘Bo knows’ thing,” Gubicza recalled. “I remember we had a series in New York after that game and we were flying there and in mid-flight, the pilot came back to us to get Bo’s autograph.
“Now, I always hated flying. I remember asking the pilot ‘Hey, who’s flying the plane?’ And he said ‘Don’t worry. It’s on autopilot. I would love to get Bo’s autograph.’ And I said ‘Hell with that. Get back in the cockpit and fly this plane!’ “
The next thing Gubicza remembered was arriving in New York at LaGuardia, and as they got off the plane, Bo was mobbed by fans.
“Oh, my God,” Gubicza said. “It was like Mick Jagger was there. Girls were screaming. Guys were rushing to get his autograph. I felt like carrying his bags. No one cared who I was.”
Gubicza had reason , though, to feel good about himself, too, after the 1989 game. He pitched a 1-2-3 fourth inning in helping the American League to a 5-3 win.
Gubicza retired Howard Johnson, Pedro Guerrero and Ryne Sandberg, getting the latter on a strikeout.
“I was still relatively young,” Gubicza said, “and to get three quality hitters like that in a row, that was a big deal for me.
“I think I was just more relaxed that year than I was in ’88. The ’88 game was my first All-Star Game and I was kind of a wreck.”
The 1988 game was in Cincinnati and Gubicza had most of his family there from his hometown of Philadelphia.
“It was crazy,” he said. “I just remember standing out there with all the present All-Stars, and all of them were superstars, and I was wondering if I belonged. But it was really cool to see all the old All-Stars, too, who were there, like Lou Brock – guys I idolized growing up.
“It was a great experience. But I didn’t have any command on the mound. I think I threw my first pitch to the backstop I was so geared up.”
Gubicza gave up a run in a shaky fourth inning but returned for the fifth inning and got the National League 1-2-3, including a strikeout of Gary Carter.
“Years later I ran into Gary at a function,” Gubicza said. “He came up to me and introduced himself and I was just so thrilled that he knew who I was.
“And then he told me that I was like the only pitcher that had ever struck him out in 17 years of All-Star Games. That made me really proud.
“I was also proud that I got Ryne Sandberg to strike out both years I pitched. That was pretty cool.”
Nothing, though, topped the thrill of winning. The AL team won 2-1 in 1988 – a rarity. The National League had won 14 of the previous 16 All-Star Games.
“You couldn’t believe how bad we wanted to win that game,” Gubicza said. “We were high-fiving so hard it hurt my hand. It was a big deal to beat those guys because they had dominated us so much. There was a feeling that they were superior to us, so for us to beat them in ’88 was a great, great feeling. “And then we came back and beat them again the next year. That mattered a lot to us.”
It mattered because the All-Star Game continues to be more hard-fought than all-star games in other sports.
“I think it all starts with the pitchers,” Gubicza said. “No one wants to be the guy that gets hit hard or gives up the big hit. It’s on national TV and everyone remembers. Everyone remembers Bo’s homer and that it came off Reuschel and they remember Fred Lynn’s grand slam off Atlee Hammaker.
“You don’t want to be the guy that gives up those homers, so I think that’s what makes the game so competitive compared to other sports. There’s a lot of pride on the line.”