As the muscular young second baseman stepped into the batter’s box, people already were calling this the Weird Series. The Yankees won games by the daunting scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0 and scored nine runs on this cool afternoon at Pittsburgh’s old Forbes Field. But now it was the bottom of the ninth inning and Game 7 was tied.
By all rights, this matchup shouldn’t have been nearly as close as the one between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon for the presidency. The lordly Yankees captured eight of 10 pennants and six World Series in the 1950s. The Pirates hadn’t won a Series since 1925 or even been in one since ‘27, and their terrible teams in the early ‘50s teams like 42-112 in ‘52 were an embarrassment to every self-respecting steel worker.
Yet the Pirates were in a position to win as Bill Mazeroski, a 24-year-old strong clutch hitter with occasional power, prepared to face the Yankees’ Ralph Terry. The date was Oct. 13, 1960, the time 3:35 p.m., and Mazeroski was mentally exhausted.
The Pirates held a 4-1 lead only to see the Yankees go ahead with four runs in the sixth inning. Trailing 7-4, the Bucs had staged a five-run rally in the eighth with the help of a bad-hop grounder that struck New York shortstop Tony Kubek in the larynx and led to a three-run homer by catcher Hal Smith. But just as Pittsburgh fans were ordering new rounds of Iron City or Dukes by way of celebration, the Yankees tied the game with two runs in the top of the ninth.
As Mazeroski faced Terry, he could have been excused for thinking, “What do we have to do to beat them?” New York pitchers had been feeding him mostly curves throughout the Series, and he was expecting another. But Terry’s first pitch was a fastball high and inside, and catcher Johnny Blanchard hollered toward the mound, “Get it down this guy’s a high fastball hitter.”
Unintentionally perhaps, Terry wound up and threw a similar pitch. Mazeroski belted it deep toward left field, where Yogi Berra ran toward the wall, then turned his back to the plate hoping for a carom that never came. The ball cleared the brick wall, grazing the tops of trees beyond the left field wall as it left the park. And just like that the Pirates were champions of all they surveyed.
As Mazeroski rounded the bases cap in hand, jubilant fans ran alongside and thumped his back. When he jumped onto home plate and into the arms of teammates, pandemonium erupted. Not since Bobby Thomson’s three-run homer that won the 1951 National League playoff for the New York Giants had baseball known such a riveting moment. Not for three decades, until Toronto’s Joe Carter connected off Philadelphia’s Mitch Williams in Game 6 of 1993, would another Series end on a home run.
“From the time I hit second base, I don’t think I touched ground the rest of the way home,” Mazeroski recalled in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated.
In the Yankees’ locker room, strong men like Blanchard, Mickey Mantle and Bill Skowron wept. In those days, athletes took such defeats more to heart than some do now, and the Yankees weren’t used to losing. Especially this Series.
So unnerving was the scene that Baltimore broadcaster Chuck Thompson, doing the game for NBC radio, made two uncharacteristic mistakes. First he had Art Ditmar instead of Terry throwing the fatal pitch to Mazeroski. Then he said the final score was 10-0, rather than 10-9. When it came time to release a commemorative tape of the denouement, Thompson was offered the chance to correct the errors. With typical honesty, he refused.
As Pittsburgh and environs erupted, more than a World Series was ending that memorable afternoon. Major league baseball as most fans had known it for half a century also was coming to a close.
True, there had been five franchise shifts in the ‘50s Braves from Boston to Milwaukee, Browns from St. Louis to Baltimore, Athletics from Philadelphia to Kansas City, Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Giants from New York to San Francisco and players no longer left their gloves on the field at the end of each half-inning. But these changes would be dwarfed by those to come.
As the ‘60 season dwindled down, Calvin Griffith gained approval from the American League to move the Washington Senators to Minneapolis-St. Paul. In return, the nation’s capital was granted one of baseball’s first two expansion franchises, the other going to Los Angeles. The following season, with 10 teams in the AL, the schedule was increased from 154 to 162 games. One year after that, the National League added the Houston Colt 45s and New York Mets and also went to 162 games.
After that, waves of changes washed over baseball until the long-familiar product was almost unrecognizable to older fans. Domed stadiums and artificial turf. Double-knit uniforms that clung like Marilyn Monroe’s dresses. Two and then three divisions in each league, along with expanded playoffs and wild cards. Designated hitters. Ballgames that limped along for three to four hours. Labor discord and strikes. Free agency that produced players being paid more in one month than Bill Mazeroski made in his career.
And, of course, $4 hot dogs, $5 beers, $3 soft drinks and $25 tickets at the ballpark.
The ball that Mazeroski hit was only one thing that disappeared that afternoon at Forbes Field. Among the others was Casey Stengel, the gibberish-spouting Yankees manager who had been around professional baseball since 1910. Many observers had criticized old Case for starting Ditmar instead of ace Whitey Ford in Game 1, thus making Ford unavailable for Game 7. Several days after the Series, owners Del Webb and Dan Topping showed their appreciation for Stengel directing the Yankees to 10 pennants in 12 seasons by firing him; they cited his age.
Said Casey apologetically: “I’ll never make the mistake of turning 70 again.”
The question also arose whether Stengel had quit or been fired.
“Make it fired,” he said, “because there was no question that I had to leave.”
No wonder most fans outside of New York hated the Yankees in those years. Two years later, Stengel emerged hair dyed black as manager of the 40-120 Mets, and pretty soon the lousy new club was outdrawing the pennant-winning Yankees.
Forty years after Mazeroski swung his bat, the Weird Series of 1960 exists mostly in the mists of memory and on grainy black-and-white film as a tribute to baseball when it really was a game.