August 13, 1972: Expos win nightcap after Great Wallenda walks across Veterans Stadium

This article was written by Gary Sarnoff

Karl WallendaDuring the hot afternoon of August 13, 1972, a nervous crowd of 30,207 at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium sat quietly and open-mouthed while looking skyward at a spectacle that had never been witnessed at a baseball game. “I was really scared,” admitted Philadelphia Phillies promotions director Bill Giles, who had come up with the idea of the unusual promotion.1 Hired by the Phillies in 1969, Giles had been instructed to take the franchise into a new era at a new ballpark. “I asked the Phillies what they normally did on Opening Day,” Giles said. “They said, ‘We get the Salvation Army band and have some local politician throw out the first ball.’”2

“Well guys, that’s not too exciting,” Giles told them.3

Giles visualized the greatest promotions imaginable. Learning that Karl Wallenda had walked across Busch Stadium in St. Louis on a high wire during a circus there in 1971, he sought to hire the high-wire daredevil to perform between games of a doubleheader at Veterans Stadium.

Following Steve Carlton’s three-hit, eight-strikeout performance for his 14th consecutive win in a Phillies 3-2 victory in the first game of the twin bill, Karl Wallenda took center stage.

Born in 1905, Wallenda had been holding hands with death for 52 of his 67 years. He was the founder and leader of the Flying Wallendas, a circus act of high-wire performers who usually worked without a safety net. But Wallenda would be working solo on this day at two-year-old Veterans Stadium.

A three-eighths-inch, 640-foot-long steel cable ran from the roof in the right field to the roof in left field, 140 feet above the ground. The stunt required 40 Phillies employees to hold the cable at both ends to maintain proper tension. “Forty men,” Wallenda said the day before his act. “It takes only one to make a mistake. If one of those men don’t like me, I’m gone.”4

The stadium chatter quickly subsided when Wallenda took his first step onto the high wire. He was well dressed for the occasion, wearing dark dress slacks, a clean white shirt with a tie, and a Phillies cap. He wore ballet slippers for traction and held a long pole, horizontally, for balance.

During the first half of his 640-foot stroll, Wallenda realized that the cable was not taut enough. The scene became more nerve-wracking when the circus performer sat down on cable and beckoned to the people in the seats directly below to move out of the way. “I had a bad feeling right then,” he told journalists after his stunt. “I thought I might have to give up but then I knew I wasn’t going to.”5 He then stood up and continued his performance. When he reached the area over second base, “The Great Wallenda incredibly stopped halfway on his walk above the field to stand on his head,” the Montreal Gazette reported.6

After doing the seemingly impossible, a headstand while on the high wire, Wallenda continued his stroll. As he inched his way toward the left-field roof, his daughter, Carla Guzman, still mourning the loss of her husband who less than two weeks before had plunged 50 feet to his death during a Flying Wallendas high-wire stunt, shouted her support: “Come on, Dad! Come on, Dad!” she yelled as tears streaked down her cheeks.7When Wallenda finally made it to safety, the crowd let out a loud cheer. The Great Wallenda was victorious, once again, in a death-defying stunt.

When order was restored, the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos got ready to do battle in the day’s second contest. In the nightcap, the Expos would have 21-year-old left-hander Balor Moore on the mound with a record of 3-5 so far this season. Pitching for the Phillies would be Billy Champion, considered a disappointment in 1972. With a season mark of 4-12, Champion was riding a nine-game losing-streak and was about to be removed from the Phillies starting rotation. “I intended to do it before (Barry) Lersch got sick,” said Phillies manager Paul Owens.8

Champion began by getting out of a jam without allowing a run in the first inning, and retired the Expos in order in the top of the second. He was gifted with a lead in the bottom of the second when Phillies right fielder Roger Freed tagged a Moore pitch for a two-run homer.

By this time the Great Karl Wallenda had cooled off and was about to face the media in the stadium’s pressroom. His first statement was a request for a martini. “A big one, please,” he said as he wiped perspiration from his brow. “Get me a scotch and soda,” said Carla Guzman, “Easy on the soda.”9

“I was really scared — twice,” said Giles, who looked as if he could use a drink as much as anybody. “When he sat down and when he did a handstand.” Said Wallenda, who earned a paycheck of $3,000 from the Phillies for his 17-minute stroll: “That was the toughest walk I ever made. It was the loosest rope I ever walked on.”10

Champion retired the Expos in the top of the third, but then got into hot water in the next inning, which began with a single by Ron Fairly and a walk to Tim McCarver. Champion looked as though he might escape the jam when he got two outs. Then Expos shortstop Tim Foli singled to center to score Fairly, and pitcher Balor Moore, a .106 lifetime hitter, followed with an RBI single to right field. Roger Freed misplayed the ball and Foli scored the third Expos run of the inning while the Montreal hurler kept running until he reached third base. “Balor’s hit won it,” Expos manager Gene Mauch said. “All those two-out hits were wonderful but that was the key.”11

Ron Hunt singled to score Moore and end Billy Champion’s day. “I’m taking him out of the rotation,” Paul Owens said of Champion after the game. “(Darrell) Brandon will move into the rotation. I think Champion’s had a fair chance to do something, and he just hasn’t done it. He’s got to pitch better than he did in that one inning to pitch for me.”

“Well, I’m not doing the job,” admitted Champion when he heard the news. “Let’s face that. But I haven’t given up. I’m not going to give up.”12

Wilson kept the Expos off the scoreboard, but the Phillies were having little luck against Moore, who settled down after the second inning. After Moore retired the first batter in the bottom of the seventh, Deron Johnson tagged one for a home run to cut the Expos lead to 4-3. “Johnson hit a good pitch,” insisted Expos catcher Tim McCarver.13The Expos did get one back in the top of the eighth, engineered by a walk and back-to-back singles by Bob Bailey and Foli.

Tommy Hutton started the Phillies’ eighth with a single, and that was all for Moore. Manager Mauch called on his ace reliever, Mike Marshall.14

“Balor was tired after seven innings,” said Mauch. “I knew it wasn’t the real Moore when that fellow (Tommy Hutton, who entered the game in the top of the inning) came off the bench and singled in the eighth. Moore should have gotten that man.”15

“I have to admit that I was getting tired,” Moore admitted. “Maybe I was, though, because the pitches were getting a little high in the last inning.”16

“I didn’t really think he was tired,” said McCarver. “Both home runs were off fastballs.”17

Mike Marshall, who had figured in 23 of the Expos’ 48 wins at this point in the season, retired the next three batters to end the inning. In the top of the ninth the Expos scored three runs to take an 8-3 lead, the big blow Mike Jorgensen’s RBI triple. In the bottom of the ninth, Marshall retired the Phillies to close out the game for his 13th save and the Expos’ eighth win in 10 games over the Phillies in 1972.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PHI/PHI197208132.shtml

http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1972/B08132PHI1972.htm

 

Notes

1 Philadelphia Inquirer, August 14, 1972.

2 Frank Fitzpatrick, “Remembering Karl Wallenda’sTightropeWalk Across Veterans Stadium 40 Years Later,” philly.com/philly/sports/phillies.com, August 28, 2012.

3 Ibid.

4 Philadelphia Inquirer, August 13, 1972.

5 Philadelphia Inquirer, August 14, 1972.

6 Montreal Gazette, August 14, 1972.

7 Philadelphia Inquirer, August 14, 1972.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Montreal Gazette, August 14, 1972.

12 Philadelphia Inquirer, August 14, 1972.

13 Montreal Gazette, August 14, 1972.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.