Locked in the jaws of an endless winter, a cold grey February weekend. It was time for the big game.
We made a big bowl of popcorn, poured some Cokes, and sat down in front of the 26 inch screen as the game began. The 1960 World Series. The Yankees vs. the Pirates. Game Seven. “There’s no tomorrow,” the announcer said repeatedly. This one was for all the marbles.
I’d stumbled upon the DVD in the library, a pleasant surprise, as I’d noticed it available on Amazon and had been thinking about buying. The 1960 World Series is one of the classics of baseball history. The Yankees won 15 straight games at season’s end, roaring into the Series with a full head of steam. Mickey Mantle. Whitey Ford. Yogi Berra. Roger Maris. Tony Kubek. Bill Skowron. The Pirates finished 7 games ahead of the Milwaukee Braves. Roberto Clemente. Bill Mazeroski. Bob Friend. Dick Groat. Deacon Law. Smokey Burgess. Elroy Face.
This, of course, was the olden days. No endless divisional playoffs featuring the champions of the Wild Card divisions going head to head. This is back in the day. You played your whole season to determine who was the champion of your league, and then your champion faced off against their champion, with no messing about.
Millions of dollars of playoff revenue was lost in those days. Perhaps there’s a sabermatrician that has done a study. The Pirates clinched the Pennant on September 25th in Milwaukee. The Yankees also clinched on September 25th, in Boston. the World Series began on October 5th. So there were about nine days to set the stage. For all the marbles.
The Pirates won the first game, in Pittsburgh, a close game, 6-4, ending the Yankees winning streak. The Yankees were perhaps upset about that; they destroyed the Pirates in the second game, 16-3, and then, in New York, they pummeled them in the third game, 10-0. It must have seemed like the Series was perhaps as good as over.
But no. The Pirates win a squeaker in game 4, 3-2, and then also take game 5, 5-2, and suddenly the series comes back to Pittsburgh with the Pirates poised for the title.
But no. Again, the Yankees erupt, and bury the Pirates in game 6, 12-0.
And so, here we are, popcorn ready, Cokes on ice. Yankees. Pirates. Game 7. Thursday, October 16, 1960. One o’clock in the afternoon at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Batter up. There’s no tomorrow.
According to Amazon, no Official Major League Baseball copy of the televised game remains… which seems to imply that perhaps there may be an unofficial copy of the televised game out there somewhere? In any case, what we have here is a grainy black and white kinescope (a film made by filming the picture from a video monitor) that was “recently discovered in the late actor Bing Crosby’s wine cellar.” Apparently Crosby was part owner of the Pirates, but was too nervous to watch the game. He and his wife went to Paris, but Crosby hired a company to film the game so that he could watch it later. Seriously. In any case, the picture is grainy, black and white and mostly shades of grey, distinctly low definition television. And I love it. It’s perfect. Player’s names appear on the screen in big ghostly block letters. There’s a dearth of statistics. Does the announcer ever give anyone’s batting average, ERA, or OBPS? No. He does not. And again, it’s perfect.
Another thing that’s perfect: there’s no music. Whenever there’s a lull in the action, between batters, during mound conferences; no music. The only time there’s music is the national anthem in the beginning and during the seventh inning stretch, when something, either an organ or a piano, plays take me out to the ball game. Other than that, it’s just baseball, crowd noise, an occasional plane flying over or announcement over the PA. As It Should Be.
Another thing that’s perfect: Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field (1909-1970), a lovely old ballpark that would be nice to have around. While it seems like there would be a few of those bad seats, obstructed, blocked by pillars, but I still love the look of this old place, and mourn its loss.
The game begins. The DVD gives us the option of the TV audio or the radio audio, and we opt for the TV, which matches the pictures better and has better ballpark ambient sound. The radio track sounds like something I listened to through my pillow on my little AM transistor radio when I was a kid, late at night, pulling in the Chicago Cubs broadcasts, brought to me by Heileman’s Old Style, (dum da da dum daaaaaa,) the only beer that was krausened, the Old Style way.
Back to the game. Mantle is a looming presence on the field, and the Yankees are the eternal Yankees. Professional. Confident. Inexorable. Triumphant. Well, maybe not. In the first inning, before the first pitch is thrown, Casey Stengel has two pitchers in the bullpen, warming up. That does not seem to be a show of confidence in the starter, Bob Turley, and, sure enough, the Pirates score early, two in the first on a home run by first baseman Rocky Nelson, and two in the second on a two-out single by Bill Virdon. It’s 4-0 Pirates, and there’s no tomorrow. But these are the Yankees.
Skowron homers in the 5th to make it 4-1, and then in the 6th Mantle singles in a run, and Berra launches a three run home run into the right field stands. 5-4, Yankees.
Little Bobby Shantz is in pitching for the Yankees now, and he is doing well.He puts them away 1-2-3 in the bottom of the sixth, gives up a single in the seventh to Smokey Burgess, and they pinch run for Burgess, but it goes for naught, as Shantz gets out of the inning with a double-play ball to Kubek. In the top of the 8th, though, Pirate pitcher Roy Face is getting tired. He gets the first two outs, then gives up a walk, a pair of singles, and double down the left field line by Clete Boyer. Two more runs for the Yankees. It’s 7-4 now, and there’s no tomorrow, and precious little left of today for the Pirates.
Geno Cimoli comes in to pinch hit for Face, leading off the bottom of the 8th, and he smacks a line drive single to right center, and you wonder if the Pirates have anything left to give. Center fielder Bill Virdon comes up, the crowd is hopeful. Maybe, if we had two on and no out, maybe there might maybe be a chance?
Virdon, though, hits an easy bouncer to Kubek at short, anther sure double-play ball — until it takes a bad hop off the infield dirt and comes up short on Kubek, hitting him in the throat, knocking him down as the ball skitters a short distance away. Instead of nobody on and two out, it’s two on, nobody out. Kubek is taken out of the game. He wants to stay in, it’s game 7, Casey, but Casey takes him out, puts in DeMaestri at short and Dick Groat bounces a single into left to drive in Cimoli, and Stengel goes to the bullpen for Jim Coates to replace the redoubtable Shantz. 7-5. Two on and no outs and the crowd is going wild.
Skinner is up next for the Pirates, and, unbelievably, Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh has him bunt the runners over to second and third. Rocky Nelson is up then, he homered in the first, but this time it’s just a little fly ball to Maris in right, and Maris guns it home on the fly, a cannon for an arm, the runners have to hold, and it’s 7-5 with two outs and Roberto Clemente coming up.
“Bob” bounces a ball down towards first; it’s in an awkward spot, both the pitcher and Skowron going for it, and Skowron gets it, but no one’s covering first and so Clemente has a single, and Virdon scores, and Groat is on third, and now it’s 7-6, with two on, but two outs, and no tomorrow. And Hal Smith is up.
Hal Smith replaced Burgess behind the plate, when Burgess left for a pinch runner in the seventh. Hal Smith, the backup catcher, is coming to bat. I have never heard of Hal Smith before. But with a 2-2 count, back up catcher Hal Smith gets a hold of a low fastball and drives it over the ivy covered left field wall of Forbes Field. At first Yogi Berra, in left, thinks it’s going to bounce high off the wall, and so he back pedals a bit, to play the carom. Instead he sees the ball fly over the ivy. Hal Smith has homered, and the Pirates have a 9-7 lead in the bottom of the 8th of the seventh game of the World Series, and there is no tomorrow.
The camera follows Smith around the bases. Pure joy. The fans, well, what would you expect? They have come back to take the lead in the bottom of the 8th of the seventh game against the New York Yankees.The fans scream themselves hoarse. Smith is mobbed by his teammates. Hal Smith has done it. 9-7.
But but but but.
This is the New York Yankees.
Top of the ninth. Bobby Richardson is leading off. Crowd going nuts. Bob Friend in to pitch the last inning for the Pirates. Instantly gives up a single to Richardson, and then a single to Dale Long, moving Richardson to second. And the crowd is awfully quiet again, as Murtaugh goes out and pulls Friend, calls in Harvey Haddix from the pen, and Haddix makes the long slow walk in to the mound, all eyes on him. Roger Maris is up. Mickey Mantle is on deck. Yogi Berra is in the hole.
Haddix. Left-hander. In 1959 he took a perfect game into the 13th inning against the Braves, retiring 36 consecutive batters. These were the Braves that went to the World Series in ’57 and ’58. So Haddix can pitch a little. This year, though, he’s 11-10, with a 3.97 ERA. Haddix to face Maris, and Mantle, and Berra. He looks ready, like a gunfighter walking down a dusty main street. It’s high noon, and there’s no tomorrow. He throws a ball to Maris, and then on the second pitch Maris pops up, out, behind the plate to Smith. One down.
Mantle. He takes the first pitch for a ball. He looks confident too. Haddix makes his next pitch and Mantle drives it over the second baseman, to right center. Clemente bobbles the pickup a bit, Richardson scores, and Long goes to third. 9-8.
Now Berra. Perhaps the most dangerous Yankee. Haddix is being careful. Skowron is on deck. With a 2-0 count, Berra crushes a ball into the dirt down the first base line. It would be a triple for most players, a double for Berra, but no, Rocky Nelson is there, the first baseman has it in his glove, and step on the base and Berra is out and Mantle is caught about three feet off the base with nowhere to go.
Nelson sees that he can’t go back to first so he starts to set to throw the ball to second. And then Mantle dives back to first, on the home plate side, and Nelson can’t can’t can’t make his body do that, get over there, tag him. The umpire is right there as Mantle gets his hand on the base. Safe. And, in the meantime, Long has scored. 9-9. Mantle’s great instinctual play has perhaps saved the game for the Yankees.
Moose Skowron bounces into a force out at second, and we move to the bottom of the ninth, 9-9.
The crowd is quiet, perhaps exhausted. They had it won, and then the Yankees took it away. The Yankees. They escaped the ninth, but for how long? That was the feeling. For how long?
Bill Mazeroski leads off the bottom of the ninth, and Ralph Terry is on the mound for the Yankees. Mazeroski watches his first pitch go by, a ball. The crowd is quiet, distracted, still replaying that last inning, still trying to catch its breath, when Terry throws his second pitch, and Mazeroski swings.
And the rest you know.
But without Hal Smith, there’s no Bill Mazeroski.
It was an incredible afternoon of baseball, for a cold gray February.
And I’m going to buy this film after all.
It’s a perfect baseball antidote to the winter doldrums.