1960 World Series

A World Series of runaway wins and punishing losses; Yet it all came down to a Bill Mazeroski crusher!

 

WANT TO ENLIVEN BASEBALL? HEED THE 1960 WORLD SERIES

PART FOUR: A HOME RUN AND ITS WAKE

By CURT SMITH

Criticized by some for seeming anachronistic, major league baseball adopted several changes this year to enliven its entertainment and rate of play. Today concludes a four-part retrospective of an event that thrived at both: the 1960 World Series, particularly Game Seven, a pyrotechnic classic taking barely two and a half-hours. (Smith, left)

Let’s set the scene 

October 13, 1960. Leading off the Pirates’ last half of the ninth inning, Bill Mazeroski had earlier bunted safely, popped to shortstop, and hit into a double play in the seventh game of the World Series. “Sudden death now,” NBC Television and Yankees Voice Mel Allen said presently of the nine-all score at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field.

New York reliever Ralph Terry threw ball one. The left-center-field Timex clock read 3:36 P.M. Terry then unfurled Mazeroski’s favorite pitch, a high fast ball. “There’s a drive deep into left field!” Allen cried, Yogi Berra retreating to the 406-foot sign. “Look out now! That ball is going . . . going, gone! And the World Series is over!” No. 9  took off his cap, carried it around third base, was mobbed at the plate, and disappeared from view. “Mazeroski hits it over the left-field fence for a home run! And the Pirates win it, 10 to 9, and win the World Series!”—the first time that a major league baseball season had ended in a walk-off home run.

On NBC Radio, Chuck Thompson ordained, “Well, a little while ago when we mentioned that this one, in typical fashion, was going right to the wire, little did we know. Art Ditmar [sic, Terry] throws … There’s a swing and a high fly ball going deep to left! This may do it! Back to the wall goes Berra! It is … over the fence, home run, the Pirates win! Ladies and gentlemen, Mazeroski has hit a one-nothing pitch over the left-field fence at Forbes Field to win the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates, 10 to 0 [sic, 10 to 9]!” Next spring the Bucs asked if he wanted to tape a voice-over for their souvenir long-playing record. Thompson, an honorable man, declined.

How lifelong connections to baseball began

In an age where the Series was network TV’s highest-rated event, Maz’s leviathan unleashed immediate response. At a Cub Scout meeting, this nine-year-old began to cry. Mickey Mantle cried in his clubhouse for the only time, “feeling,” future broadcaster Bob Costas said later, “with no disrespect intended, that the Yankees were the better team and he just couldn’t believe that they had lost.” At the time, the blast sent Costas, eight, to his bedroom in Los Angeles: “I’m sitting there, eyes welling with tears as I take a vow of silence. My plan was not to speak until opening day of the ’61 season” before reality intervened. David Eisenhower was on a “Nixon For President” bus near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania dangling between the then-vice president and John F. Kennedy in the 1960 Presidential campaign. “It was like the universe had ended,” said Richard Nixon’s future son-in-law.

Other reaction varied in allegiance, not intensity. At Forbes, 36,683 squeezed into the park “turned it into a bedlam,” read the Pittsburgh Press. Not far away Larry Lucchino, 15, was racing home from school with his radio. “When Maz  homered,” he said, “I threw it toward the sky.” The future president of the Orioles, Red Sox, and Padres reached his house “walking on air.” In places like Erie, Wheeling, and Youngstown, euphoria filled restaurants, stores, and bars. In Pittsburgh, bartenders ran out of glasses by midnight. Church bells rang. Air raid sirens screeched. Hundreds of thousands of outlanders swamped downtown: “people who honked car horns, beat on the tops of garbage cans, and threw baskets full of paper,” wrote Bruce Markusen of a throng so large that all tunnels and bridges into Pittsburgh were closed. Read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “The bedlam—and there is no other way to describe the scene downtown after the game—continued on and on into the night.” Added Life: “Pittsburgh seethed in celebration.”

The out of towners 

In Brooklyn, then-Yankees fan and future Voice Charley Steiner, 11, bet a friend $1 on Game Seven but couldn’t watch, a strict piano teacher making him take his after-school lesson. Fuming, he was playing “On Top of Old Smokey” when the door bell rang. “The Pirates won the Series! You owe me a dollar!” the friend chafed. Charley never played piano again. Growing up, future Mets Voice Howie Rose was raised like Steiner on Mickey Mantle’s No. 7 and catcher Yogi Berra’s 8. In the final, Yogi was playing left field, John Blanchard catching, Rose so accustomed to Berra with his catching mask, chest protector, and shin guards that seeing No. 8 near the wall “discombobulated my feeble six-year-old brain.” All winter, Howie asked, “How did Berra get from behind home plate to left field so fast?”

Mel Allen and Bill Mazeroski

Three decades later Allen said, wryly, “Great baseball. I got excited. Chuck Thompson got excited. Yankees fans still get mad at me” for calling Maz’s belt. Their manager’s October 1960 surprise axing upset them more, Casey Stengel saying, “The main reason is that . . . as Mr. [owner Dan] Topping explained, there is a program going on with the Yankees, and it has an annuity program, and the annuity program means that after a certain length of time some people think that you should retire.” As usual, the Ol’ Perfessor had the last word: “I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again.”

Priceless drama, precious memories

Young or old, few forgot the Series’ denouement. At 2:50 p.m., a 10-year-old student had left Vincentia Institution in Albany, New York, his Yanks ahead, 7-4. Bill Glavin’s school bus stopped at a corner, a friend shouting through the window: “9-7, Pirates, in the eighth!” Arriving home,  a heartbroken Glavin watched Maz’s decider. “I don’t know a person,” he said years later, “who doesn’t know where they were when that ball left the park”—notably NBC and Pirates TV Voice Bob Prince going up and down in the ninth inning, like the game.

With Pittsburgh ahead, 9-7, an NBC aide in the TV booth had told Bob to “Go do the [post-game] clubhouse celebration.” Taking the elevator to the basement, Prince found the score tied. He then retook the elevator to the upstairs booth, opened it, and “heard crowd noise [from Maz’s homer] shake the yard.” At that moment another NBC official bayed, “Get back downstairs!” Unaware of much of the game’s late-inning ping-pong, Prince once more reached the Pirates clubhouse as reality hit: He had only the most basic idea of how Pittsburgh won.

Prince of a post-game program

Breathless, spurning neutrality even on network TV, Prince wore a florid sports coat wasted on those with a black and white television. National League president Warren Giles hailed Bob’s “pulling for ’em”—the Bucs. Hal Smith, his three-run eighth-inning homer crucial, said, “We came back like we always did all year.” Dick Groat expressed “the greatest feeling in the world.” Mazeroski was led to the NBC clubhouse mic, Prince saying of his homer, “You didn’t have to run very far, did you, boy?” G.M. Joe Brown toasted Maz and cast as “just sheer guts against power, and the guts came through.” Bill Virdon said, “That was the best, Bob. I don’t think there’s ever been a better one [Series].”

Bucs V.P. Tom Johnson mimed Prince’s calling card: “We had ’em all the way!” Smoky Burgess aped another: “How sweet it is!” ElRoy Face, Harvey Haddix, and Bob Skinner took a bow. Vern Law looked as serene as a cruise down the Allegheny. Gino Cimoli had the best sound bite: “They broke all the records, but we won the game.” Don Hoak said, “I’m awful proud to be part of it.” As we have seen, there rarely has been a baseball game like October 13, 1960’s at Forbes. Telecast then on NBC TV, its kinescope had been lost, improbably found, and shown again at Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater on November 13, 2010, and then MLB Network that December 15—Game Seven’s first airing in its entirety since the original. 

Bob Costas and Bruce Cornblatt: Architects of MLB Network’s show

In 2023, evoking his 2009- time with MLB and even longer stint with network host Costas, senior coordinating producer Bruce Cornblatt said he would “put that evening in Pittsburgh all those years ago as one of our top five things we’ve ever done. The place was electric from the moment we walked in, just a great and memorable night.” Throughout the three-hour program, former players and others expressed thoughts on Game Seven and why it lingers.

To Virdon, termed by shortstop-turned-announcer Tony Kubek “the early 1960s’ best defensive center fielder,” including Willie Mays, the seventh set flaunted the Bucs’ “never giving up,” winning 23 regular-season games in their last at-bat alone. Bobby Richardson, heroic in defeat, showed similar tenacity, saying that with the score 9-9, “My thoughts were, ‘Well, let’s hold ’em so we have a chance to score in the 10th.’” In 1960, he had 26 runs batted in during 150 regular-season games—and 12 in the World Series’ seven. In 1964, another Yanks’ seven-game Classic loss, Bobby set a record with 13 hits, batting .406 v. St. Louis. “October,” quipped Costas, “was good to you.”

Dick Groat on why the Pirates won

In 1960, shortstop Groat, a Western Pennsylvania native, hit .325, won the N.L. batting title, and was voted league MVP over, among others, the Pirates’ third baseman Hoak, pitcher Law, and outfielder Roberto Clemente. Noting that the Bucs had “won, won in the last inning, and beaten the Yankees,” Costas asked if that had taken them in status “to a different place?” Groat nodded. “There’s no question that the Yankees organization was the finest . . . in all baseball,” adding that it took a special club to beat them. “We were a team of destiny. Bonds . . . formed then still endure.”

Destiny can be nebulous. The Bucs reached theirs by laying one brick upon another. Absent at Game Seven’s reprise due to illness, Mazeroski said, “When I hit it, I didn’t know if it was going out [Forbes’ left-center being 406 feet from the. plate]. I had hit it good. I knew Yogi wasn’t going to catch it, but I didn’t know if it was going out.” Berra at first felt he could grab a carom off the wall. When Maz saw the umpire signal home run, “I don’t think I touched the ground the rest of the way home. I just floated home. All I could think about was, ‘We beat the Yankees! We beat the Yankees! We beat the great Yankees!’”

Pride, status, and remembrance

Actor Michael Keaton, agreeing, noted how the Byham event stirred “memories and observations”: invoking his first game at Forbes, at night: the smell of the ballpark, men with cigars and beer, and “how green the grass was—the experience unbelievably dramatic and fantastic.” He sat behind the beams—“We didn’t have much dough”—and “behind the great Roberto,” musing what it must be like to be a black or black Latin player—far fewer then than now, especially in blue-collar Pittsburgh.

Photographs, and memories. Costas: “Why didn’t Casey use Whitey [Ford to pitch even briefly] in Game Seven?” Richardson: “Good question.” Keaton noted how Clemente, proud of his Puerto Rican heritage, wanted to be called “Roberto,” not the Anglicized “Bob” or “Bobby.” Believe it or not: In an affair that had everything else, Game Seven lacked a single strikeout: Baseball, take note. “Before we leave the Byham Theater,” Costas said, “once more, all of you former Pirates, stand up. These are your world champion Pittsburgh Pirates of 1960.” They and the audience rose, many with tears in their eyes.

Since 1960, the Pirates have tried to top the topper. In 1970, they left grizzled Forbes Field. Next year fire struck the park, wreckers crumpling it. The old field’s home plate now lies in glass at the University of Pittsburgh. A nearby plaque notes where Maz’s poke left the park, a brick path traces the wall, and patches of the center field and right-center wall conjure an age when baseball was Our Game, Bub, and Don’t You Forget It. “Finding the Mazeroski game is a blessing,” said Bruce Cornblatt. “It’s a small window on an America of another time.”

Each October 13 people flock to Forbes’ remains, like the curious and devout to Lourdes. “We listen to the tape of the game,” Pirates ex-pitcher and Voice Steve Blass once said, “remember where we were, talk about why it meant so much.” Bob Prince died in 1985, having often returned to his and a generation’s sudden magic place. “I’d come by myself,” he said, “marveling at what we had, above all in ’60.” What they had was baseball at its best, leaving us alight with hope that it can be that way again.

CURT SMITH is the author of 18 books, including Voices of The Game, named by Esquire magazine among “The 100 Best Baseball Books Ever Written.” Smith also wrote the most speeches of anyone for President George H. W. Bush. Since 1998, he has been Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Rochester. curtsmith@netacc.net

 

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Curt Smith

CURT SMITH is the author of 18 books, including Voices of The Game, recently named by Esquire magazine among “the 100 Best Baseball Books Ever Written.” His latest is the official Hall of Fame book, Memories from the Microphone. USA Today calls Smith “the leading voice of authority on baseball broadcasting.” He wrote more speeches than anyone for President George H. W. Bush, The New York Times styling his work “the high point of Bush familial eloquence.” Since 1998, Smith has been Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Rochester, teaching Public Speaking and Presidential Rhetoric. curtsmith@netacc.net

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Michael Green
11 months ago

Bravo!

I’m also reminded that Bob Prince called Clemente Bobby, and that apparently was with Clemente’s permission–they were very close. It’s also funny to think of the players imitating Prince–there’s a clip of Bob Uecker imitating Harry Caray in the clubhouse when the Cardinals won the 1964 pennant. The announcers matter to everyone, including the players.