CHESAPEAKE, Va. – Gary Lavelle pitched 13 seasons in Major League Baseball (1974-1987). His 745 games rank 72nd all-time by a pitcher in MLB history.
However, when it comes to a certain game – the All-Star Game: Lavelle does not have multiple appearances. There’s just one. However, even if Lavelle had appeared in MLB’s Midsummer Classic on more than one occasion, it would be tough to top his lone All-Star outing.
“I remember it like it clearly, as if it happened yesterday,” Lavelle admitted in an interview with News 3. “I was glad it happened. It’s something you’ll always remember. I think it is my greatest baseball memory.”
In 1977, Lavelle, a lights-out reliever for the San Francisco Giants, tallied a career-high 118.1 innings pitched. He also notched more strikeouts that season (93) than any other campaign and also tied his career-best saves total (20).
For his early-season efforts, Lavelle was selected to the National League All-Star team and given the chance to represent his circuit in the Midsummer Classic to be played at Yankee Stadium – only 90 miles from his hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
“[Hall of Famer] Willie Mays was the National League captain, and he was my idol growing up,” Lavelle recalled about the ’77 All-Star Game. “Everything just came together, it seemed, at that point in time.”
Lavelle’s time to pitch came in the bottom of the fourth inning. He was the NL’s first relief pitcher following starter Don Sutton’s three-inning outing.
The first batter Lavelle faced? Future Hall of Famer and 13-time All-Star selection George Brett. Lavelle induced a fly-out to left field.
The next batter to dig-in against Lavelle? Future Hall of Famer and 18-time All-Star Carl Yastrzemski. Lavelle struck him out.
After surrendering a single to Chicago’s Richie Zisk, Lavelle faced his toughest test of the night. Next in the lineup was New York’s own Reggie Jackson, the 14-time All-Star and Future Hall of Famer playing in front of his home crowd on his home field.
Lavelle struck Jackson out, ending the inning and silencing the crowd in the Bronx.
“The adrenaline was flowing – I was throwing hard that night,” Lavelle explained about his All-Star appearance. “I got to 3-and-2 [against Jackson] and said went after him.”
Neither Brett, nor Yastrzemski nor Jackson, who would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993, were the lone Hall of Famers Lavelle would draw during his two innings at Yankee Stadium that warm July night.
Leading-off the fifth inning for the American League? 11-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk. But, like he did the three prior MLB legends, Lavelle also retired Fisk (via a pop-out to shortstop).
For the game, Lavelle’s line read like this: 2 innings pitched, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts. Among the seven batters faced by Lavelle, four would go on to earn election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Currently, only 226 former players are members of the Baseball Hall.
“I love facing left-hand hitters – that was my forte: to come in and get left-handers out,” Lavelle explained about facing Brett, Yastrzemski and Jackson – all lefties. “So there was no fear there. I knew what I had to do. Go out there and do it.”
During the 1977 All-Star Game, six future Hall of Famers had at bats for the American League. Gary Lavelle faced four of the six – and retired each of them.
“You admire their ability and hope that day you got them – rather than them getting you.”
Lavelle was also selected to the 1983 National League All-Star team, but he did not appear in the game.
“It didn’t bother me a whole lot,” Lavelle said of not pitching in the ’83 Midsummer Classic at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. “I mean, it would’ve been nice to get in – but I’d already been in one and I left with good memories.”
Lavelle, who won 12 state championships as head baseball coach at Chesapeake’s Greenbrier Christian Academy, is now the head coach at Bryant & Stratton College in Virginia Beach.