'60 World Series Was Wacky, Wild

Friday, October 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Forbes Field, its ivy-covered walls then as much a tradition as those at Wrigley, was rocking and rolling and shaking to its foundation, exhaling a burst of joyful sound that — and many talked about it the next day — could easily be heard several miles away in downtown Pittsburgh.

Fans danced in the aisles and atop the dugouts. They hugged and they screamed, as much in disbelief as in celebration. It wasn't just that the Pirates were about to win the wildest, wackiest, most improbable and unpredictable World Series of all time, it was that the Yankees — the dreaded Yankees — had lost it.

``Forbes Field is like an outdoor insane asylum!'' NBC Radio's Chuck Thompson yelled in his best eyewitness-to-history voice, a description no announcer would dare use in these more politically correct times 40 years later.

``We have just seen and shared in one of baseball's great moments,'' Thompson continued, breathlessly, his voice barely audible over the din created by one of the greatest late-inning World Series comebacks ever.

It's remarkable what one swing of the bat by Bill Mazeroski created, isn't it?

Only Thompson wasn't describing Mazeroski's homer, which, to many fans today, is the only remembered image of the 1960 World Series. But, suitably enough for a World Series that remains as unfathomable today as it did on that brilliantly sunny October afternoon, an even better finish had yet to be written.

The three-run homer that caused all the ruckus was struck by Pirates catcher Hal W. Smith — one of two catchers named Hal Smith then playing in the majors — off reliever Jim Coates and capped a five-run rally that put the Pirates ahead 9-7. It was one of the most dramatic homers in Series history, or so everyone thought.

``I thought I had won it,'' Smith said. ``I thought I had hit the home run to win the World Series. I thought I had done what every kid who had ever played baseball wanted to do.''

Fittingly in a World Series predictable only for its unpredictability, he hadn't. The Yankees tied it at 9 in the ninth off the Pirates' No. 2 starter, Bob Friend, after Mickey Mantle kept the inning going by dodging a tag and scrambling back to first base on an apparent game-ending grounder.

``In a few minutes, Hal Smith went from hitting one of the greatest home runs ever to hitting the greatest homer that is forgotten,'' Pirates teammate Dick Groat said.

Not that this game lacked in proper dramatics or a suitably spectacular finish. In the bottom of the ninth, Mazeroski — who, like Smith, hit only 11 homers during the season — struck the only home run ever to end a World Series Game 7 and the Pirates won 10-9. And everybody knows the rest of the story.

Or do they?

The 1960 World Series was more, much more, than Mazeroski's memorable home run or the Pirates' monumental upset — this wasn't the '69 Mets, but it was close.

It also was the inconceivable story of a Pirates team that, only two years before, had ended a string of nine consecutive losing seasons, three of them of 100-plus losses. Of a manager, Casey Stengel, so certain of victory that he unconscionably held back his best pitcher just so he could pitch at home. Of the greatest offensive performance by a team in World Series history, yet that team didn't win.

How implausible was the Pirates' comeback — not just in Game 7, but from losses of 16-3 in Game 2 and 10-0 in Game 3? After the Yankees won those games by a combined score of 26-3, most bookmakers quit posting odds, figuring the Pirates had no chance.

It also became known as the last pure World Series, the last year both leagues had eight teams apiece. Soon, expansion and Astroturf, domed and multipurpose stadiums, free agency and arbitration combined to form an unstoppable whirlwind of change that turned baseball from sport to business forever. Still, if this was the last World Series of baseball's age of innocence, at least it left behind memories that will never be erased in the minds of those who played in it and the millions who watched it, even if not a single minute of NBC-TV's seven telecasts was preserved on tape or kinescope.

There were so many plot twists, so many subplots, so many stars whose performances were largely forgotten in the wake of Mazeroski's moment that it almost seems impossible they could be played out in 10 days. Yet they were.

``I still don't believe we lost that World Series,'' Mantle said years later. ``I cried my eyes out. There's no way we should have ever lost to that team. That was the worst I ever felt after a game in my life.''

Understandably so, too. The Yankees put on an offensive show worthy of the nickname Bronx Bombers, a preview of the year to follow when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's home run record and Mantle challenged it.

They outhomered the Pirates 10-4, outscored them 46-17 in the first six games, yet still had to win Game 6 to force a seventh game. They added to their Series offensive records by scoring nine runs in Game 7, but didn't win because the Pirates scored more than one-third of their runs in the entire series in that single game.

``They broke all the records,'' Pirates outfielder Gino Cimoli said. ``But we won the game.''

The Pirates are remembered mostly for Maz's shot, yet won largely because of their pitching — remarkable as it might seem in a Series in which they were more than doubled in score — and their defense. They had one of the great defenses ever with Mazeroski at second, Roberto Clemente in right and Bill Virdon in center, and it played almost flawlessly. Virdon made two remarkable catches to save a pivotal 3-2 victory in Game 4 in Yankee Stadium as the Pirates won every close game: 6-4 in Game 1, 3-2 in Game 4, 5-2 in Game 5 and 10-9 in Game 7.

Vern Law, who won 20 games and the NL Cy Young Award, kept them close with two strong starts on an ankle badly twisted during the team's pennant-clinching party and with enough innings in Game 7 to get to the bullpen. He nearly ruined his arm by doing so, and wound up missing most of the next 1 1/2 seasons.

ElRoy Face saved three games despite never entering later than the eighth inning in his four appearances. Harvey Haddix, a year removed from pitching the greatest game ever, his 12 perfect innings in Milwaukee, won two games, including Game 7.

The Yankees managed to get over the loss; they won the AL again in 1961 as Maris (61) and Mantle (54) combined for 115 homers, then eliminated Cincinnati in a mercifully short five-game World Series.

But, reflecting Mantle's comments, many Yankees still can't understand how they lost. Stengel contributed with a huge blunder by saving Whitey Ford, only 12-9 that season but undeniably the staff ace, until Game 3 in Yankee Stadium.

Art Ditmar started Game 1 after winning a career-high 15 games, but the Yankees lost on a game-winning homer by ... yes, Mazeroski, by far the least-remembered of his two pivotal homers in that series. Ditmar lasted only 1 2-3 innings in his two starts and won only twice more in a career that ended in 1962.

Later, Stengel said he was only being cautious by holding back Ford, who had shoulder problems that season. But Ford said he had long since healed, and seemed to prove so by pitching shutouts in Games 3 and 6.

``It was the only time I was ever mad at Casey in my life,'' Ford said. ``I couldn't figure it out.''

But who has ever figured out a mysterious Series that has never been equaled for, alternately, its one-sidedness, incongruity or improbability.

``I've heard some of the Yankees say the better team didn't win, and it makes me mad,'' said Groat, the Pirates' shortstop and NL MVP in 1960. ``They laugh about all the runs they scored, but I've never forgotten what (former Pirates general manager) Branch Rickey said.

``He said any team can score a lot of runs, but it takes a quality team to win close games,'' added Groat. ``We won the close games, and that's what we did all year. The better team won that World Series.''