1960 World Series

Fighting for the ’60 World Series title in Game#7, Bill Mazeroski’s 9th inning, stunning HR was gripping!

CURT SMITH’S FOUR PART SERIES ON THE GRIPPING 1960 FALL CLASSIC: THIS IS PART TWO OF FOUR. PART #3 IS THURSDAY AND CONCLUDES ON FRIDAY WITH PART #4.

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, part two of a four-part retrospective about an event that thrived at both: the 1960 World Series, particularly Game Seven, a pyrotechnic classic taking barely two and a half-hours. 

Pertinent facts

Through six games of the 1960 World Series, Pittsburgh and New York were tied at three. In their victories, the Pirates had cumulatively won, 14-8. In theirs, the Yankees carpet-bombed the National League titlist, 38-3, yet couldn’t deck the Buccos. Game Seven became a textbook of baseball wonder, squeezing 19 runs, 24 hits, seven pitching changes, and five home runs into two hours and 36 minutes—to millions, the greatest-ever big-league game.

“To this day,” says New York Mets radio Voice Howie Rose, “Americans now alive remember [Bill] Mazeroski’s blast,” his seventh game, ninth-inning, Rock of Ages homer ousting the Bronx Bombers, 10-9. Born in western Pennsylvania, actor Michael Keaton told The Daily Beast’s Allen Barra that, referencing the Pirates second baseman’s uniform number, “When they bury me, I’ll be wearing number nine.”

History of finding the recording of Maz’ blast in game #7

For nearly half-a-century, no video broadcast of Game Seven was thought to survive until a kinescope of NBC’s 1960 telecast—“an early relative of the DVR,” wrote The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir—was found. Created by filming the actual picture off a television monitor, the final game’s kinescope owes its existence to a beloved American institution: singer, movie, radio/TV star, and part-Pirates owner Bing Crosby. Superstitious, he was reluctant to attend October 13’s seventh game itself or even listen to it in America on radio.

According to Sandomir, Bing’s widow, Kathryn Crosby, recalled him saying, “‘I can’t stay in the country. I’ll jinx everybody.’” At one end, Bing couldn’t completely cork his curiosity, the Crosbys hearing the final by shortwave radio across the pond in Paris with friends Charles and Nonie de Limur. At the other, Crosby grasped that he would surely want to watch Game Seven if the Pirates won—arranging for NBC’s color telecast to be filmed in black and white. His decision to tape the game off the TV broadcast unearthed an El Dorado of baseball gold.

Bing Crosby Enterprises

Back home in Hillsborough, California, Crosby watched the Bucs’ 10-9 Ferris wheel of a triumph before putting the kinescope in storage in a wine cellar-turned-vault. Few even knew of it, laying untouched past the icon’s 1977 death. Then, in 2009 Robert Bader, vice-president for marketing and production for Bing Crosby Enterprises, went looking through the cellar for videotape of Bing’s TV specials for a DVD release. By chance he spotted canisters labeled “1960 World Series” among Der Bingle’s books, tapes, and movies. Inside them, wrote Sandomir, Bader discovered NBC’s entire 16-millimeter film broadcast of the storybook game.

Bader called baseball officials, starting a process whereby MLB Network agreed to televise Game Seven, enhanced by interviews and other programming. Its allure stemmed from “the 1950s and early 1960s [being] the real golden age of baseball,” said host Bob Costas; the kinescope preserved “in almost pristine condition,” the network’s senior coordinating producer Bruce Cornblatt noted; and sheer novelty, most pre-’70s TV baseball discarded or erased. “For decades,” baseball’s vice president of global media programming and licensing Nick Trotta told Barra, “it was the home park’s [costly] obligation to record a game.” Not enough obliged.

MLB Network

On November 13, 2010, MLB Network showed the kinescope to a full house at Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater, then telecast the entire game nationally December 15 for the first time since 1960: both sponsored by Chevrolet. Every third inning MLB left play-by-play to let Costas talk with players or others on stage and in the audience.

Bill Mazeroski, ill with kidney stones, missed the showing. Handclapping greeted eight 1960 Pirates: shortstop Dick Groat, outfielders Joe Christopher and Bill Virdon; catchers Bob Oldis and Hal Smith; and pitchers ElRoy Face, Bob Friend, and Vern Law. Michael Keaton, Bing Crosby’s son Nathaniel, football’s Franco Harris, and Bobby Richardson, the only ex-Yankee present, were also greeted warmly. Groat has since passed, on April 27th, age 92. (Mazeroski in 2010, fingers intertwined, hair a thick white and a flushed complexion and no glasses.)

All Voices of the English broadcasts covering the 1960 World Series are all gone; NBC TV: Mel Allen (1913-96) and Bob Prince (1916-85). On NBC Radio: Chuck Thompson (1921-2005) and (Jack Quinlan (1927-65).

Vera Clemente, widow of the Bucs legend who died December 31, 1972, on a humanitarian mission to help victims of a Nicaraguan earthquake, was welcomed like family; her late husband Roberto cheered whenever he was mentioned or appeared on screen. Cornblatt, having worked with Costas for more than 35 years, was “singularly struck by the reverence the crowd had every time Clemente was shown.” Hosting the Byham event, Costas was impressed by how “now we can watch forever what the game was like fifty years ago. This game shows us how it was [and should be] played.”

Then vs. Today

Striking was that even sans the pitch clock mandated this year, 1960 hurlers worked rapidly. Most hitters swung earlier in the count. Many stood further from the plate, using a larger bat than today. Starting hurlers warmed up near the dugout, not in a bullpen. At Forbes Field, the pens lay down the lines. Far fewer graphics filled the screen. In 1960, NBC used five Series cameras v. SONY’s 40 in the 2022 Classic: two behind the plate, one on each line and a spectacular low Forbes Field shot from center field showing a sea of short sleeve white shirts.

Missing: Instant replay, isolated cameras, dugout reporters, slow-motion, and color men. Present: The Pirates’ Bob Prince, voicing the game’s first half, and Yankees’ Mel Allen, the second, talking not to each other—but us, with a talent for making baseball too compelling to resist. Both would have dismissed Game Seven’s script as absurd, even fantastical. Yet each turn and twist really happened, their goings-on beloved for being quixotic, even magical, even now.

Thursday: Part Three. The Wonder of Game Seven on Friday

 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.” He also wrote the most speeches of anyone for President George H. W. Bush. Since 1998, Smith 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
1 year ago

I wish I could have been there when they showed it! I have heard the tape of Bing announcing for the Pirates on Opening Day 1948 and Rosey Rowswell grabbing the mike from him when Ralph Kiner homered.