Turn Back the Clock: Red Sox outslug Yankees in 1971 exhibition game in Tad Gormley Stadium
Long before the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox developed their heated rivalry in the late 1990s and early 2000s, New Orleans was the site of a high-scoring exhibition game on April 4, 1971, between the two teams.
The game was part of an spring exhibition series in the Crescent City in which the New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles faced off in two games. The city was no stranger to major-league teams popping in for one or two exhibition games on their way North from Florida to start the regular season. This had been a common occurrence since the 1940s.
The exhibition games in 1971 were of particular importance because the city had begun the project to build the Louisiana Superdome and set its sights on attracting an MLB team as a tenant of its future indoor stadium. The major-league contests were sponsored by the Louisiana Domed Stadium Baseball Committee to provide an opportunity to showcase the city as a “baseball town.”
New Orleans had been without a professional baseball team since 1959, when the minor-league New Orleans Pelicans last fielded a team. The old Pelican Stadium, located at Tulane and Carrolton Avenues, had been razed even before the hometown Pelicans discontinued its franchise.
Tad Gormley Stadium, better known for its high school football games and track and field meets, was pressed into service as the site of the three major-league exhibition games in 1971. To accommodate the games, the stadium’s managers revived an old configuration that had served the Pelicans during their last two seasons in 1958 and 1959.
The Yankees and Red Sox had been long-time adversaries in the American League, but their legendary head-to-head competitions for league pennants wouldn’t occur another three decades. Coming off the 1970 season, the Yankees and Red Sox finished second and third in their division, respectively, but well behind the World Series champion Baltimore Orioles.
The Yankees were managed by Ralph Houk, who had led the team to three pennants and two World Series rings in his first three years (1961-1963) at the helm. Twenty-three-year-old Thurman Munson had emerged as the Yankees new catcher the year before, when he captured AL Rookie of the Year honors. Roy White and Bobby Murcer were up-and-coming outfielders, while Mel Stottlemyre, the only holdover from the Yankees’ last World Series team in 1964, was their ace on the mound.
Eddie Kasko was starting his second season as the BoSox manager. The Red Sox finished first in home runs in the AL in 1970, led by perennial all-star Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro, who had recovered from a tragic beaning a couple of years earlier.
The Sunday afternoon contest attracted a nice crowd of 11,203 despite cold weather and the threat of rain. Stottlemyre and Red Sox veteran Gary Peters drew the starting assignments.
Both teams started off hot at the plate. The Yankees scored six runs in their first two innings, with Munson and Roy White providing home runs. The Red Sox scored four in the first two innings, with Yastrzemski and Luis Aparicio providing run-scoring singles.
Both teams added a run in the fourth inning, including White’s second homer of the day.
Boston tied the game in the fifth inning, 7-7, on solo home runs by shortstop Rico Petrocelli and newly acquired catcher Duane Stephenson.
Boston broke the game open with seven runs in the seventh inning, when they sent 10 players to the plate. Don Pavletich and Joe Lahoud each delivered two-run home runs, while Mike Griffin’s double and John Kennedy’s triple plated the other runs.
The Yankees could muster up only one more run in the eighth for a final score of 14-8.
It was a rough day for both pitching staffs. Each team recorded 16 hits. Stottlemyre gave up seven runs on 11 hits in six innings, while Peters yielded seven runs on 10 hits in five innings. Yankees right-hander Gary Waslewski, who gave up seven runs in two innings, was charged with the loss. Ken Brett turned in the only creditable performance of the day with two scoreless innings and got credit for the win.
The Mets and Orioles split their two-game series on Friday and Saturday, with the Orioles winning, 12-2 and the Mets getting revenge with 4-3 victory.
The attendance for the three days was 26,500. Tickets for the game were $2 for adults and $1 for children and students under age 16. Bill Connick, the boss of the Superdome’s baseball committee, was pleased with the weekend series. He told the States-Item, “We are nothing but thrilled. The future holds a lot for us as far as baseball is concerned.”
Yet despite concerted efforts by the city and Superdome officials over the next several years, they never realized their plan to bring a major-league baseball franchise to the city. The Yankees would return to New Orleans in 1980 through 1983 to play exhibition series in the Louisiana Superdome.
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New Orleans baseball historian
Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.