1960 World Series

In 1960, the Bucs’ Bill Mazeroski won the World Series with a 9th inning crusher in Game #7!

WANT TO ENLIVEN BASEBALL? HEED THE 1960 WORLD SERIES.

Criticized by some for seeming old-timey, baseball adopted several changes this year to enliven entertainment and rate of play. Today we begin 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.

Bobby Thomson’s October 3, 1951, home run to beat the Dodgers and give his Giants the National League pennant is generally deemed the Greatest Generation’s baseball pinnacle, as journalist Tom Brokaw dubbed those who ousted Depression and won World War II.

What, though, of Baby Boomers, born in 1946-64? Some name as their big-league apex the 1969 Miracle Mets, Carlton Fisk’s 1975 World Series blast, or 1988’s Kirk Gibson’s Fall Classic haymaker.

My pick is the 1960 Pirates-Yankees World Series, notably surrealistic Game Seven at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh: arguably, the greatest baseball game ever played.

Won, 10-9, on the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski’s ninth-inning homer, the seventh game became a generation’s touchstone, capping the most theatric Classic since the event’s 1903 birth. It may also be the most relevant—since even though baseball vowed in 2015 to shorten the length of an average game, last year’s norm was a toxic three hours and six minutes, more glacial than at the “speedup’s” start.

Curt Smith

Finally roused to act, last year baseball announced three 2023 rule changes. Two aimed to buoy offense: making the bases bigger and ending the destructive infield “shift.” The third and most overdue mandated a 30-second timer between batters and making hurlers pitch every 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base. With this season almost one-half gone, what are the returns? Below, statistics through June 2023, per team each game.

STATISTICS IN 2023

This year’s average nine-inning game has lasted two hours and 40 minutes, 26 minutes fewer than 2022. Other changes are less pronounced. Balls in play are down from 24.41 to 24.31; batting average, up from .243 to .248. Hits have risen from 8.16 to 8.39; stolen bases, 0.51 to 0.72;  singles, doubles, triples, and homers by 0.05, 0.08, 0.01, and 0.09, respectively—and strikeouts, 8.40 to 8.59. On one hand, the average club has scored 4.58 runs a game v. 2022’s 4.28. On the other, last year’s norm was the lowest  since 2015. Overall, offense is better, if not the millennium in the morn.

Despite the new rules, a typical game is slower than the long-time post-World War II average two to two and a half-hours: e.g.: 1949, 2:19; 1956-58, 2:28; 1963, 2:30; 1972, 2:27; 1974-76, 2:29. (More ads matter less than dawdling speed of play.) The disparity helps explain why fewer Americans now view baseball as what writer Robert Creamer once called “a constant theater of delight”—for instance, the 1960 Yankees-Pirates’ final game’s 19 runs on 24 hits, including five home runs, in only two hours and 36 minutes.

Baseball spread everywhere on TV

In 1960, baseball was almost everywhere, the World Series crowning each big-league year. Later, TV’s Brooklyn Bridge creator Gary David Goldberg mused, “Our national life used to practically stop. The whole country came together—people on farms, factory workers, kids in school—everyone following the . . . game.” Many cherish how before 1971 the Classic was played entirely in the afternoon, amid autumn’s sunlit innings and splashing hues.

Each weekday, children feigned illness to watch from home—or schemed at school to fool the teacher. By 1960, radios smuggled into class helped pass play-by-play updates by note or whisper from one student to another. “It used to be,” The Wall Street Journal notes, “that schoolchildren would [later] race home . . . to listen to and, in later years, to watch”—nowhere more than in a Series redolent of Miss Marple via Stephen King.

Baseball’s mystique then sprung, in George Will’s phrase, from being “perfectly congruent with an era.” In 1960, the sport brandished action and brevity, not one at the other’s expense. Only one Series game took more than two hours and 41 minutes. The Yankees crushed Pittsburgh, 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0. The Buccaneers won 6-4, 3-2, then 5-2. Favored, 13 to 10 by oddsmakers, New York led in average (.338-.256), homers (10-4), and runs (55-27), but somehow couldn’t seal the deal.

The Bobby Richardson Days and the Yanks’ big name players of the 1960s

Even from today’s distance, incongruity wows. The Bronx Bombers’ fine-fielding, light-hitting second baseman Bobby Richardson set a Series mark for most runs batted in for a game (six) and Series (12), batting .367. In Game Three in the Bronx, he tried to bunt, failed twice, then got the hit sign. Richardson “got a high pitch,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.com’s Bob Hoover, and “maybe it [a grand-slam homer] reached the second row of the stands.” When Bobby returned to the bench, skipper Casey Stengel muttered, “Good bunt.”

Richardson is still the only losing team member voted Series Most Valuable Player. Mate Mickey Mantle became the sole right-handed batter to clear Forbes’ 436-foot right-center-field wall. Winning twice, pitcher Whitey Ford began a streak of scoreless innings that later broke the Series record. Equalizers were diving stops by Pirates infielders Mazeroski and Don Hoak, outfielder Bill Virdon’s leaping catch off Yogi Berra to preserve one game, Vern Law winning two, and reliever ELRoy Face saving three. True to their moniker, the Bucs repeatedly came off the deck.

The Yankees boasted more big-name players, reflecting The Apple’s marque and each club’s history. New York’s 1960 American League pennant marked the franchise’s 25th—eight with center fielder Mantle, sport’s primo celebrity. No player of his era could hit farther, run faster, or was hurt more often. When crooner Teresa Brewer sang, “We Love Mickey,” she spoke for Boomers everywhere, including future network TV broadcaster Bob Costas, for years carrying a 1958 dog-eared Mantle card in his wallet because “you should carry a religious artifact with you at all times.”

The Pirates

By contrast, the Buccaneers had last won an N.L. pennant in 1927. In 1960, “Beat ’em, Bucs!” and “The Bucs are going all the way!” welded Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, and West Virginia. Pirates announcer Bob Prince called right fielder Roberto Clemente Arriba, Spanish for “rise up” or “arise.” The sleek Puerto Rican flung arrows from the right-field corner, made catches in a more sublime  than showboat way, “and treat[ed] baseball,” Roger Angell wrote, “like a form of punishment on the field.” In 1960, the burly Mantle was the cynosure of most eyes. The Series opened millions to Clemente, in time venerated by the public.

Before the opener, Costas, eight, told Dad he would watch each pitch on TV: “You can send me to school, but you’ll never see me again because I’ll run away.” At six, actor Ron Howard joined the cast of CBS TV’s The Andy Griffith Show. Filming began at 6 a.m. Pacific Time in Hollywood. Each Classic set began four hours later, radios dotting the set. At break the cast played ball. “I’d catch,” said Howard, “Andy would pitch, and Don Knotts hit. That’s how [irresistible] the Series was. Even Barney Fife,” Knotts’ Emmy Award-winning role as a hapless deputy, “played Mantle.”

Hugely popular, The Griffith Show typified the Classic’s sway: Nearly two in every three Americans watched the World Series on NBC Television, where another contrast thrived. Before 1976, each team’s principal Voice shared Classic TV play-by-play. Since the Yanks made each Series but three from 1947-63, their broadcaster, Mel Allen, aired a career 20: also, a record 24 All-Star Games, 14 Rose Bowls, 12 Army-Navy Games, and nearly 3,000 short subjects on Movietone Newsreels—a household name across the land.

Mel Allen

Allen’s voice was Southern, resonant, and indefatigable: to Variety, among the world’s 25 “most recognizable,” joining Dwight Eisenhower’s and Winston Churchill’s. He coined “Going, going, gone!,” made “How About That!” a national idiom, and became, said Sports Illustrated, “the most successful, best-known, highest-paid, most voluble figure in sportscasting, and one of the biggest names in broadcasting.” Wrote The Los Angeles Times’ Bud Furillo, “If Mel sold fish, he could make it sound as if Puccini wrote the score.”

Unlike Allen, Bob Prince’s dominance was regional, not national, from 1948-75 perfectly fitting in the Tri-State’s psychic luggage. During a game, you could walk down almost any small-town street and hear the Pirates Voice on Pittsburgh’s KDKA Radio through a window or from a porch. “In franchise history,” said the team’s ex-pitcher and announcer Steve Blass, “Bob had more effect on this area than any Pirate—even Clemente.” Sports Illustrated wrote: “Once … you heard him, you’d swear the man who invented the microphone had him in mind.”

Unpredictable Prince

In any half-inning Prince might segue from the stock market via local charity to big band music, summarizing at its end the hits, runs, and errors. To Bob, a home run met “You can kiss it good-bye!” A late-inning rally stirred, “We had ’em all the way!” A fine Pirates play or victory prompted his “How sweet it is!”—a phrase, take your pick, borrowed from or by comedian Jackie Gleason. Bucs partner Jim Woods named Prince the Gunner for making a crack to a woman in a bar only to have her husband pull a gun. Some thought Bob a maniac. Most felt him maniacally riveting.

Casey Stengel

Juxtaposition also described Classic managers. In 1949, Casey won the first of a record 10 pennants and seven World Series in 12 years, speaking Stengelese, a language he invented. The Ol’ Perfessor “didn’t obey periods at the end of sentences,” said Allen. “He just ran ’em together, like eras he’d known.” In 1958, then 68, Stengel testified before a U.S. Senate committee on baseball’s antitrust exemption, causing Capitol Hill heads to shake and mouths to gape: No one knew what he was talking about. The next witness hilariously abstained. “I don’t got much to say,” said Mantle: “My views are the same as Casey’s.”

Danny Murtaugh

Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh was less celebrated than Stengel despite winning two Series in four stints over 15 years from 1957-76 and fusing insight, gentle wit, and “the ability to give the media a good quote,” wrote Andy Sturgill. Kinder, gentler with players than Casey, arguably the most beloved-ever Pittsburgh skipper knew why he so often returned: “Managing a ballclub is like getting malaria,” Murtaugh said. “Once you’re bitten by the bug, it’s difficult to get it out of your bloodstream.”

The two ballparks by comparison

A final comparison involved the parks. At 35,000-seat Forbes Field, William Leggett wrote, “The loveliest setting of any major-league field” included nearby Schenley Park and the Cathedral of Learning. It tied an in-play outfield batting cage and light tower cages; right-field screen, two pavilion decks, and pole 300 feet from the plate; right-center, 375; deep right-center, 436; center, unmarked 442; deep left-center, 457; left-center, 406; and left-field pole, 365, with a 27-foot-high scoreboard and an ivied wall. “When you closed your eyes,” mused Blass, “you knew this was what baseball was supposed to be.”

Yankee Stadium meant legacy more than scenery. By 1960, 18 World Series flags draped the triple-tiered 67,000 capacity Big Ball Park in the Bronx. Post-war footage totaled 296 feet to the right-field pole; right field, 344; deep right-center, 407; center, 461; deep left-center a.k.a. Death Valley, 457; left-center, 402; and left-field pole, 301. A Roman façade crowned the highest deck. Creeping shadows denoted the Fall Classic on TV. To many, The Stadium was the most august arena since the Roman Coliseum, A’s pitcher Bill Fischer saying, “If you’ve never been to Yankee Stadium, you’ve never been in the big leagues.”

The 1960 best-of-seven series began October 5 in Pittsburgh. A week later, the Pirates had thrice won “close-run things,” as Wellington said of Waterloo. Elsewhere, the Yanks aped Murderers Row. Before October 13’s seventh game, Allen began, “We have been blessed again with summer weather,” off-air posing the question Woods often asked his partner, “Gunner, you want a drink?”

Prince declined, giving his usual riposte: “Don’t worry. I’m just as crazy sober.” As we will see, in 2010 MLB Network telecast Game Seven in its entirety for the first time since 1960. It showed why the original was so radiant, leaving America exhausted but exhilarated, like the morning after a night-before binge.

Tomorrow: Part Two. How Game Seven Was Rediscovered.

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
7 months ago

This is a fun read. A reminder of when baseball was everything … as it still is to some of us!

Barry Kipnis
7 months ago

After he retired Bobby Richardson coached baseball at the Univ of South Carolina. I think Murtaugh managed the games well, keeping fresh all of his better pitchers in the contested games the Bucs won and using over and over again the “ineffective” pitchers (Vinegar Bend Mizell, Fred Green etc.) who got clobbered in the routs by the Yankees. Clem Labine, a former Brooklyn Dodger, where he was one of their better starters, two years after appearing with the Pirates in this WS wound up an 1962 NY Met (for 3 games), Mizell too pitched on the ’62 Mets to no… Read more »