Baseball Hall of Fame

Wednesday, March 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Bill Mazeroski waited so long, he didn't quite know how to react.

Mostly, he smiled Tuesday after being elected to baseball's Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. And, of course, he answered questions about his homer that won the 1960 World Series.

``First thing my name is mentioned, it's 'You hit the home run against the Yankees,' not that you turned 1,700 double plays or you turned 161 in a season or you led the league in assists or putouts eight or 10 years in a row,'' Mazeroski said.

``Defense has always taken a back seat to offense. It's been like that throughout the years. It would be nice if this could change something.''

The former Pittsburgh Pirates star will join Baseball Writers' Association of America selections Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield in being inducted into Cooperstown on Aug. 5.

The Veterans Committee also picked Negro Leagues pitcher Hilton Smith, who died in 1983.

``You dream of a lot of things ... but you never dream of this,'' said Mazeroski, a seven-time All-Star who won eight Gold Gloves and played with two World Series champions in Pittsburgh.

``I'm as happy as I can be,'' said Joe Brown, a member of the veterans panel and a former Pirates general manager. ``He's so deserving. In my personal opinion, he should have been elected the first time he was eligible.''

But despite being considered by some as the finest fielder ever at his position, Mazeroski's .260 career batting average with 138 homers and 853 RBIs were not perceived by many as Hall of Fame caliber.

Brown said numbers didn't reflect the true contributions of Mazeroski, who retired in 1972 after 17 major league seasons.

``With the bat, he was underrated. He drove in a lot of big runs for our club. I don't think the quality of your performance is entirely based upon how much you hit, but when you hit. And Bill drove in a lot of big runs for us in late innings.

None of Mazeroski's hits were bigger than the ninth-inning homer at Forbes Field that won Game 7 of the 1960 World Series for the Pirates against the Yankees.

While it made him an instant hero in Pittsburgh, he said there is a whole generation of New Yorkers who will never forgive him.

``I really don't think of it unless somebody talks about it, and hardly a day goes by when somebody doesn't talk about it,'' Mazeroski said. ``The New York people are still mad at me ... There's a whole group of people who grew up going to the ballpark with their dads, and they haven't forgotten.''

The Veterans Committee were allowed to pick up to four new Hall of Famers, one from each of four categories: former major leaguers, Negro leaguers, 19th century players and personnel, plus a composite of managers, umpires, executives and Negro leaguers.

In 1992, Mazeroski's last year on the BBWAA ballot, he was listed on 182 of 430 ballots, 42.3 percent. A player needed 323 votes for election that year.

He came within one vote of being elected by the Veterans panel last year.

The results of Tuesday's balloting were not released. With the Vets down to 14 members because of Ted Williams' recent open-heart surgery, it took 11 votes _ 75 percent _ for election.

Smith, a teammate of Satchel Paige on the Kansas City Monarchs, was 72-32 in 146 Negro League games from 1937 to 1948. His best season was 1941, when he went 10-0, and he also finished his career with a 6-1 record in exhibition games against major league teams.