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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Pittsburgh Pirates
Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Pittsburgh Pirates History
By John McCollister
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2008 John McCollister
All rights reserved.
Throughout the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a legion of magical moments and legendary players has emerged not only to make headlines, but also to bestow upon their fans certain unforgettable memories.
We shall forever cherish these treasures that include the most dramatic World Series in the history of baseball and a flashy right fielder who set the standard for excellence.
While we could fill an entire volume with just the "good" shown by the Buccos, here are a few instances that will hopefully bring back a pleasant memory or two.
THE 1960 PIRATES: THE SEASON, THE GAME, THE HIT
The year 1960 marked the beginning of remarkable changes in American history. A young Roman Catholic senator named John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected president of the United States, and the so-called establishment suddenly realized that the torch of leadership had passed to a new generation. It was the start of the "Age of Aquarius" that challenged heretofore accepted norms about the family, for blind obedience to the letter of the law, even for faithfulness to the religion in which a person was raised.
Prior to 1960, Major League Baseball also embraced its own set of traditional standards. The reserve clause bound players inextricably to their teams unless they were traded or released. Players signed autographs whenever possible — without charging. When a manager gave an order, he was obeyed without question. And, of course, the New York Yankees were expected to win the World Series.
Pirates fans recall with fond remembrance how their beloved Bucs shattered that last prediction.
From the minute the Pittsburgh ballclub set foot on the diamond on April 12 in Milwaukee, an aura of hope engulfed its players, manager, coaches, and fans. The Pirates lost the season opener, but just five days later, during an Easter Sunday doubleheader, they transformed dreams into genuine expectations. Pitcher Bob Friend blanked the Cincinnati Reds on a masterfully pitched game in the first contest. Game 2 offered a preview of coming attractions when Pittsburgh, down 5–0 going into the ninth inning, "rose from the dead." Hal Smith's three-run homer and Bob Skinner's game-winning shot into the right-field stands produced a come-from-behind 6–5 victory.
What made the Bucs a miracle team that year? Part of the reason was the solid core of players that filled its roster. Along with Skinner and backup catcher Smith, general manager Joe L. Brown molded a team with a formidable lineup that included catcher Forrest "Smoky" Burgess, hard-hitting first baseman Dick Stuart, center fielder Bill Virdon, third baseman Don Hoak, shortstop Dick Groat (that year's National League batting champion and winner of the Baseball Writers Association of America's Most Valuable Player Award), second sacker Bill Mazeroski, and an exciting right fielder with a heap of promise named Roberto Clemente.
Complementing these everyday players was a mound staff of aces that included 20-game-winner Vernon Law, Bob Friend (UPI's Comeback Player of the Year), Harvey Haddix, and relief specialist ElRoy Face. General Manager Brown initiated a favorable midsea-son trade by swapping the talented infield prospect Julian Javier to the Cardinals for veteran southpaw Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell.
Another important part of the picture of success was a tobacco-chewing, cigar-smoking craggy Irishman who wore No. 40 and sat in the far corner of the dugout. Manager Danny Murtaugh, now in his fourth year as Pirates skipper, employed not only a keen sense of baseball awareness and pragmatic leadership, but also a delicious sense of humor that went a long way to ease tensions normally associated with running a big-league team. This product of Chester, Pennsylvania, responded to one caustic critic, "I'd like to have that fellow who hits a home run every time, who strikes out every batter when he's pitching, and who never makes a mistake on the field. The only trouble is getting him to put down his beer and come down out of the stands."
Finally the 1960 Pirates were blessed with two intangibles. The first was a simple but catchy slogan: "Beat 'em Bucs." It appeared on bumper stickers of family cars and on windows of offices at Westinghouse. It was pasted on school notebooks of teenagers who proudly displayed the black and gold catchphrase praising their hometown heroes.
The other rallying cry for the team was a pep song sung to the tune of "Camptown Races," with an equally simplistic treatment as the slogan. It had a chorus: "The Bucs are going all the way ... all the way this year."
Neither of these gems would go down in the history of poetic immortality, yet they were enough to spark the enthusiasm of players and fans alike as the Pirates seesawed in and out of first place until July 27. On that day, they "came of age" and settled into the league lead to stay.
Pirates fans responded with unbridled enthusiasm, marching through turnstiles as never before. On September 12, the club set a new single-season attendance record by passing the old mark of 1,517,021 set back in 1948. Champagne corks popped 13 days later when Chicago mathematically eliminated the second-place St. Louis Cardinals from the pennant race and, for the first time in 33 years, the Pirates were kings of the National League.
By season's end, grabbing headlines for the pennant-winning Bucs were pitchers Law (20–9), Friend (18–12), Mizell (13–5), Haddix (11–10), and Face (10–8). Swinging the big clubs were Groat (.325, two home runs), Clemente (.314, 16 home runs), Smith (.295, 11 home runs), Burgess (.294, seven home runs), Hoak (.282, 16 home runs), Skinner (.273, 15 home runs), Mazeroski (.273, 11 home runs), and Stuart (.260, 23 home runs).
Seeing the "National League Champions" flag fly over Forbes Field was one big thrill. Raising one that announced Pittsburgh as the winner of the World Series would be even greater.
Only one thing stood in the way: the mighty New York Yankees.
The last time the Pirates had appeared in a World Series was in 1927, when they faced the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the "Murderers' Row" Yankees. This year seemed to be no different. The new Yankees flexed another set of muscles known as Mickey Mantle (40 HR), American League MVP Roger Maris (39 HR and a league-leading 112 RBIs), Yogi Berra, William "Moose" Skowron, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and Elston Howard, along with pitchers Edward "Whitey" Ford, Art Ditmar, and "Bullet" Bob Turley.
Guiding the 1960 edition of the Yankees (deemed by some experts as the second-best assembly of Bronx Bombers ever) was the crafty Charles Dillon "Casey" Stengel, now in his 10 World Series with the Yankees, who had led his team to seven world championships.
The "unbeatable" Yankees were odds-on favorites to take the Series in four or, at most, five games. Some local bookies in New York refused to take any bets, because so few customers would risk money on the Pirates.
Pittsburgh fans would not lose enthusiasm for their team simply because of predictions by some shady gamblers. Even the Federal Court downtown took a semiholiday when a judge announced court would be in session from 9:30 AM until 11:30 AM on game days.
The heads of baseball gurus shook in amazement when Pittsburgh squeaked out a 6–4 victory in Game 1 at Forbes Field. Law's admirable pitching and Mazeroski's home run overcame clouts out of the park by Maris and Howard.
As if to say, "Enough is enough," the Yankees rolled up their sleeves and pummeled the Pirates in Games 2 and 3 by scores of 16–3 and 10–0.
Law and Face limited the Yankees bats to eight hits in a 3–2 victory in Game 4 that was highlighted by a game-saving, leaping catch by Virdon in center field that robbed slugger Bob Cerv of a sure double.
Roger Maris clubbed a home run in Game 5, but that didn't offset timely doubles by Burgess, Groat, Mazeroski, and Virdon, as Haddix and Face allowed only five hits in a 5–2 win.
Back in Pittsburgh for Game 6, even the most pessimistic fan joined in the chorus of the theme song, "The Bucs Are Going All the Way." Whitey Ford muzzled the singing when he whitewashed the Pirates for the second time in the Series, 12–0. Pittsburgh bats were tame, with only seven singles all afternoon.
All of this was but an overture to the game and the hit — both of which faithful Pirates fans continue to speak of with awe and reverence.
The early-morning sun peeking over the horizon on October 13, 1960, brought out a colorful fall kaleidoscope of scarlet, lemon, and gold leaves still clinging to the trees in Schenley Park, just beyond the outfield walls of Forbes Field. It seemed as though some of nature's finery wanted to linger just to witness what was about to happen.
Were any fiction writer to have submitted to a publisher the script for the 1960 World Series, especially for Game 7, it probably would have been rejected as being "unrealistic." But that's just one of the rewards of baseball; the predictable is not an ironclad guarantee.
Manager Murtaugh, in a gutsy move, benched his leading home-run hitter, first baseman Stuart, in favor of the better fielding Rocky Nelson. Law started on the mound for Pittsburgh, while Turley was the choice of Yankees manager Stengel.
Law set the Yankees down in order in the first. With two outs, Skinner walked in the Pirates' half of the inning. Nelson then made Murtaugh look like a genius when he parked a 2–1 pitch into the right-field stands for a home run, giving the Bucs a 2–0 lead.
The packed house of 36,683 continued to cheer in the second inning as Stengel removed starting pitcher Turley in favor of rookie Bill Stafford following a single by Smoky Burgess. A walk, a bunt single, and a single by Virdon doubled Pittsburgh's total to a more comfortable 4–0 lead.
Moose Skowron's homer in the fifth gave the Yankees their first tally. Following a single and a walk in the Yankees' half of the sixth, Murtaugh replaced Law with forkball specialist ElRoy Face. A single by Mantle made the score 4–2, and a long home run by Yogi Berra gave New York a 5–4 lead.
A curtain of gloom fell on the partisan crowd.
The once beautiful skies seemed to grow darker as the Yankees increased their lead by scoring two more runs in the eighth.
Behind 7–4, the Pirates could have shrugged their shoulders and accepted the fact that they did their best against incredible odds. But that was not the character of a team that had rallied to win 28 games that season when they trailed after the sixth inning. Pinch-hitter Gino Cimoli smacked a single. That seemed to be a wasted hit when Virdon hit a sure double-play grounder to short. The ball hit a pebble on the surface of the infield (which Manager Stengel later described as a "cabbage patch"), took a wicked hop, and caught shortstop Tony Kubek in the Adam's apple. Kubek lay prostrate on the ground, and both runners were ruled safe.
The blow sent a groggy Kubek to the hospital and proved to be a turning point. Groat's single made the game 7–5. Skinner's sacrifice bunt moved the tying run into scoring position. Two batters later, Roberto Clemente beat out a high chopper for an infield hit, and Virdon scored to bring the Pirates within one run.
Hal Smith, a reserve catcher who hit 11 home runs all year, stepped to the plate and, with one swing, etched his name into Pirates immortality. He sent a 1–2 pitch over the left-center-field wall for a home run, giving the Pirates a 9–7 lead.
The roar of the crowd may have registered a 7 on the Richter scale as radio broadcaster Chuck Thompson exclaimed, "Pittsburgh has just become an outdoor insane asylum. We have seen and shared in one of baseball's great moments."
Screaming fans and an announcer's hyperbole aside, the Yankees refused to surrender. Old reliable Bob Friend, in a rare relief appearance, yielded singles to Bobby Richardson and pinch-hitter Dale Long. After one out, Mantle singled off reliever Harvey Haddix, driving in a run. Berra then hit what appeared to be a double-play ball to Nelson at first base, but instead of throwing to second, Nelson chose to step on first, thus eliminating a force-out. Mantle dove back to first base, avoiding a tag as the tying run crossed the plate.
The stage was now set for the most dramatic ending in World Series history.
Leading off in the bottom of the ninth, with the score knotted at 9, Mazeroski faced new Yankees hurler Ralph Terry. The giant Longines clock high atop the scoreboard in left field showed the time as 3:36.
On a 1–0 count, Maz swung at a high fastball and sent it high and deep toward left field. Berra, playing left field, ran toward the wall and stopped. With his back facing the infield, the future Hall of Famer stood helplessly as he watched the 400-foot blast disappear into those outstretched limbs of trees in Schenley Park. Berra then fell to his knees, realizing that the ball and the World Series were out of his reach.
The 24-year-old Maz ran, skipped, and hopped around the bases, waving his hat over his head, his other arm windmilling in celebration. Some fans ran onto the field and followed him. The rest of Forbes Field erupted like a Bessemer converter at U.S. Steel.
If it is true that baseball is life with the volume turned up, then Pittsburgh was living life to its fullest. For the next hour, according to Sports Illustrated, Forbes Field was awash in noise.
For the first time in 35 years, the Pirates were champions of the world and gave their fans a moment they would remember for the rest of their lives.
CLEMENTE: A TOUCH OF ROYALTY
Had ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov elected to become a professional baseball player, he would have played right field like Roberto Clemente. Those fans fortunate enough to have seen Clemente during his 18-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates saw artistry in motion whenever the flashy Puerto Rican outran a long fly ball or rifled a throw back to the infield.
During his rookie season in 1955, Clemente caught the attention of local fans not because of his overwhelming batting average (.255), but because of his unique way of playing the game. He shagged fly balls, for example, using a "basket catch," as did Willie Mays. When he tossed the ball back to the infield, he did so with a relaxed, underhanded motion that gave a disarming appearance of nonchalance. That abruptly changed during the game if an opposing base runner dared to challenge him to advancing from first to third on a hit to right field. Clemente's arm then became a howitzer, and the hapless runner slid into nothing but a ball awaiting him in the glove of a beaming third baseman.
Clemente took an unorthodox approach to hitting as well. When he stepped to the plate, he moved his shoulders around in tiny circles and twisted his body as would a person who had spent the entire night on a bad mattress. Constantly moving while in the batter's box, he often swung at pitches 10 inches outside the strike zone and laced them to right field for hits.
Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince became one of the media personalities who saw what most others missed — the raw material for a brilliant career. Prince, in fact, was chiefly responsible for creating a special rallying cry for Clemente. Over the air he encouraged Pirates fans to holler "Arriba! Arriba!" — a cheer akin to the Spanish for Rise up! — whenever Clemente came to bat or performed one of his spectacular catches in right field.
Unfortunately, Prince and a few of the local sportswriters formed a small cheering section for the player who would later be identified as the Great One. Most experts today agree that had Clemente played in a major market and received the media attention that accompanies such venues, he would have earned many more national headlines.
During the 1960 season (the year the Bucs defeated the highly favored New York Yankees in the World Series), Clemente received due recognition from some of the national press. Some sportswriters went so far as to label Clemente as the most exciting player in baseball that year, as he hit a sizzling .314, with 16 home runs and a club-leading 94 RBIs.
Respected baseball insiders, such as writer Joe Falls of the Detroit Free Press, believed that Clemente wrote the book on how to play right field. Not only was he gifted with sure hands and gazelle-like quickness that reduced obvious extra-base hits to outs, but he also possessed a powerful throwing arm that gunned down many runners. "Clemente could field a ball in New York and throw a guy out in Pennsylvania," claimed veteran Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully.
More than one visiting reporter sitting in the press box at Three Rivers Stadium confessed: "I would actually pay for a ticket just to see Roberto Clemente play right field."
That said, Clemente was still not given the accolades due to someone of his stature. Pittsburghers, of course, knew of his prowess. They appreciated the fact that Clemente played right field without a net, often forsaking potential harm to himself when he dove at low line drives or ran into a wall when chasing a fly ball.
As a demonstration of their love and admiration for him, on July 25, 1970, Pirates fans honored baseball's first Latin American superstar in a special ceremony before a home game. The famed right fielder returned their love and showed them how much he treasured the support of loyal fans: "I was born twice," he told the crowd. "I was born in 1934 and again in 1955 when I came to Pittsburgh. I am thankful I can say I had two lives."
Excerpted from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Pittsburgh Pirates by John McCollister. Copyright © 2008 John McCollister. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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