Friday, December 24, 2010

My Twice Broken Heart

I relived one of the most disappointing days of my childhood the other day.

October 13, 1960. Because it was a Jewish holiday (Shemini Atzeret), I was not in school. I was able to watch the live broadcast of the seventh game of the World Series between the NY Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, the game some have called the best ever played in the fall classic, the first final game ever won by a walk-off home run, the game the Yankees lost on Bll Mazeroski’s bottom of the ninth home run, the same Bill Mazeroski who hit the winning home run in the first game of the series.

For 50 years that game resided in memory banks and a few assorted clippings. But earlier this year a black and white kinescope of the color broadcast was discovered among the treasures of the late Bing Crosby, a minority owner of the Pirates whose superstitions wouldn’t let him view the game in person (he chose to go to Paris, instead). He asked an associate to film the game, which after he viewed it, was consigned to his proverbial closet until found several months ago. MLB Network aired the game earlier this month accompanied by comments from sportscaster Bob Costas and former players.

Aside from breaking my Yankee heart all over again, here are some observations a now 61-year-old baseball fan takes away from viewing the tape and comparing it to today’s ball games:

  • The afternoon game attracted men in suits and ties (many doffed their jackets in the warm sun). Most men didn’t wear hats. Women did.
  • No beer was sold inside Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. Fans brought their own into the park.
  • Among the starting 18 players, only one was a person of color, the Pirate’s Roberto Clemente of Puerto Rico. Elston Howard, the Yanks’ Afro-American catcher (Yogi Berra played left field), was injured and could not play.
  • No hitter wore batting gloves. They all used white bats, with no pine tar on the shafts.
  • Five home runs were hit. Not one player grandstanded at home plate admiring his shot.
  • The home plate umpire ruled supreme. Not once did he consult another ump to determine whether a batter checked his swing.
  • Players wore their pants to the mid-calf, unlike today’s athletes who either wear them down to their shoes or cinched up at the knees.
  • Lots of players tried to bunt, even power hitters such as Clemente, Roger Maris, Bill “Moose” Skowron, and Bob Skinner.
  • With a runner on first base, a wide camera angle from behind home plate was able to show the pitcher, batter and runner in a single frame so the viewer could see if a steal or hit and run was on.
  • The game had a rapid pace. Pitchers wasted little time between pitches. Hitters did not stray from the batter’s box after every pitch. No pitching coach made a trip to the mound, Only managers Casey Stengel for NY and Danny Murtaugh of Pittsburgh visited the pitchers. Relief pitchers walked to the mound.
  • There were few mound conferences between pitcher and catcher. But as with today’s game, invariably catastrophe struck after such a confab. Mazeroski’s game winning homer came on the first pitch after catcher John Blanchard conferred with pitcher Ralph Terry. NY's Tom Stafford gave up a two-out, two run single to Bill Virdon after a talk with Blanchard in the second inning; Clemente dribbled a run-scoring infield single in the eighth inning after Blanchard met with Jim Coates; and Hal Smith stroked a three-run homer that same inning after, you guessed it, Blanchard again met with Coates. (Terry, fyi, almost lost the 7th game of the 1962 series against the San Francisco Giants. Though he had held the Giants to just four hits while protecting a 1-0 lead, he faced Willie McCovey with two outs and runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth. McCovey ripped a line drive that would have scored both runners for the series win had the ball not gone directly into second baseman Bobby Richardson’s mitt for the final out. Richardson, by the way, was one of the former players at the airing of the Pirates-Yankees series clinching game. Richardson was MVP of the series against Pittsburgh. Terry was the MVP of the 1962 series.)

Mazeroski’s homer was not a cheap shot. It went more than 400 feet over the left field fence and broke the hearts of more than a few Yankee fans, young and now old.

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