December 15, 2010

The 1960 Series was one of the biggest upsets, and most exciting finishes in MLB history.  It was the first Series to end with a walk-off home run. The lead in Game 7 changed four times after the 7th inning.

Bill Mazeroski's Game 7 Home Run, 1960

Nobody thought the young upstarts on the Pirates would win more than a game or two in their first World Series against the Yankee dynasty that played in every Series in the 1950′s except ’54 and ’59.  It changed the lives of every member of that Pirate team.

Many in Pittsburgh have said that series was instrumental in helping the city overcome its inferiority complex, and its Balkanized division into separate ethnic enclaves.  In that sense, the 1960 World Series helped begin the city’s revival by getting Burghers to think of themselves as a city, not adjacent ethnic neighborhoods.

Yet, all Ken Burns said about this Series, in his landmark 18-hour documentary Baseball, was that the Yankees lost.  It’s not that he didn’t have time.  He spent several minutes showing reactions to the loss, but no reactions to the win.  It was the most glaring flaw in the entire 18 hours.

Those 1960 Yankees had Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, , manager Casey Stengel, and several other excellent players who did not  make it to the Hall of Fame.  Stengel got the blame for the loss, and was forced to retire.  He had Whitey Ford, one of the best big-game pitchers of all time, start the second game. If he had started the first, he would have been available for Game 7.

Young Roberto Clemente had a great year for the Pirates, but he was still an unknown, especially to fans in American League cities like me. I followed Clemente’s batting statistics every week in the Sunday paper, but I never had a chance to see him field or throw out base runners from right field

He was not the only reason the Pirates were my favorite National League team.  A relief pitcher name Elroy Face, a little guy like me, compiled a record of 19-0 in 1959, before he lost a game.

Shortstop and captain Dick Groat was an established star, but he could not hit home runs like Ernie Banks.  Their starting pitchers had great names, Vernon Law and Bob Friend. The Pirates appeared on my radar screen in 1959, their first good season in more than 20 years.

But there was no way they could beat those Yankees. Pretty much everybody was sure of that. Maybe they’d win one or two games. Before Game 7, the Yankees won three games by a total margin of 40-some runs.  The Pirates won three low-scoring squeakers by a combined margin of about 5 runs.

Most baseball fans know the winning home run came off the bat of weak-hitting 2nd baseman Bill Mazeroski. Largely forgotten is the home run hit by an even weaker hitter, back-up catcher Hal Smith, to tie the game.

The only known film of the entire game was discovered just recently in the archives of crooner Bing Crosby, part-owner of the team.  The Major League Baseball cable TV network showed the film in December, 2010.

One-sided scoring margins in the first six games did not matter.  Before Game 7, the only score that mattered was 3 wins for the Yankees and three for the Pirates.  Yogi Berra put the Yankees ahead with a home run; Hal Smith tied it with a home run; Bill Mazeroski won it with a lead-off home run in the bottom of the 9th.

Most people remember Mazeroski touching home, surrounded by rejoicing teammates.  My final memory has always been Yogi Berra in left field, with the bit Number 8 on his back, watching the ball fly over the fence, then turning immediately and running for the clubhouse before the mob swarmed the field.

Like all American League fans who did not live in New York, I hated the Yankees — except Yogi. How he looked, played, talked, and how he was were irresistible.  I wanted the Pirates to win and the Yankees to lose, but the sight of disappointed Yogi, with the familiar double toilet seat on his back, stays with me to this day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *