Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Heroby David Maraniss
On New Year’s Eve 1972, beloved Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente died a hero’s death, killed in a plane crash while attempting to deliver food and medical
Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss’s brilliant rendering of the life of one of baseball’s most iconic figures captures both myth and man in daunting sweep and meticulous detail.
On New Year’s Eve 1972, beloved Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente died a hero’s death, killed in a plane crash while attempting to deliver food and medical supplies to Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake. His career ended with four batting titles, two World Series championships, and three thousand hits; he and the immortal Lou Gehrig are the only players in history to have the five-year waiting period waived so they could be enshrined in the Hall of Fame immediately after their deaths.
But Clemente was also that rare athlete who rose above sports to become a symbol of larger themes. Born at a time when there were no players of color in American baseball, Clemente went on to become the greatest Latino player in the major leagues. With determination, grace, and dignity, he paved the way and set the highest standard for his peers both on and off the field: his famous motto was “If you have a chance to help others and fail to do so, you are wasting your time on this earth.” The end of the book reveals the corruption and negligence that led Clemente toward his untimely death as an uninspected, overloaded plane plunged into the sea.
The New York Times
"The year's best bio." Sports Illustrated
"Clemente stands apart. His story, like the game he played, is a deep breath of fresh spring air." David Hinckley, Daily News (New York)
"Maraniss brings imagination, energy, and even poetry to his superb biography of one of the greatest ballplayers ever to delight a stadium full of fans." Bill Littlefield, The Boston Globe
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Read an Excerpt
The familiar sounds of modern baseball, pings of aluminum bats punctuating the steady drone of a crowd, can be heard from the street a half-block away. It is late on a Sunday afternoon in February, overcast and drizzly in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Inside the stadium, there is a game going on, the Escuela de Deportiva against Bayamón. Nothing special, just teenage boys playing ball, the way they do every afternoon, and then the right fielder from Deportiva scoops up a base hit and fires to second, his throw a bullet low, hard, right on the bag. Groups of men huddle in the stands, talking, laughing, playing cards, barely paying attention, or so it seems until the throw. It elicits a murmur of recognition, and suddenly they come alive, stirred by communal memory. All fires are one fire, the novelist Julio Cortázar once wrote. And all arms are one arm. The throw from right field reminds them of the original, the unsurpassable arm of the man for whom the stadium is named, Roberto Clemente.
Beyond the stadium, closer to the street, stands a cenotaph thirty feet long and seven and a half feet high. It is the nearest thing to a headstone for Carolina's favorite son. On its three panels the sculptor José Buscaglia has etched the stations of the cross of Roberto Clemente's thirty-eight years on this earth. In the far left panel, Roberto is a babe, held in the arms of his mother in the barrio of San Antón, and his father is seen working in the nearby cane fields. In the far right panel, Clemente passes from greatness into legend; first he is being honored for his three-thousandth hit, then his spirit is received by a figure of death in the Atlantic's watery grave, and finally his widow holds the plaque for his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But the center panel is the most telling. There, between scenes of Clemente batting, running, fielding, throwing, visiting hospitals, and consoling the sick and the poor, he is depicted standing regal and alone, holding a lamb.
Memory and myth are entwined in the Clemente story. He has been dead for more than three decades, yet he remains vivid in the sporting consciousness while other athletes come and go, and this despite the fact that he played his entire career in relative obscurity, away from the mythmakers of New York and Los Angeles. Forty public schools, two hospitals, and more than two hundred parks and ballfields bear his name, from Carolina, Puerto Rico, where he was born, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he played, to far-off Mannheim, Germany. In the world of memorabilia, the demand for anything Clemente is second only to Mickey Mantle, and far greater than Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Juan Marichal, or any other black or Latin players. Extraordinary as he was, Clemente was not the greatest who ever played the game, yet there was something about him that elevated him into his own realm. Much of it had to do with the way he died. He was young. He went down in a plane crash. His body was lost to the sea, never found. He was on a mission of mercy, leaving his family on New Year's Eve to come to the aid of strangers. In Spanish, Clemente means merciful. Some of it had to do with the way he looked and played on the ball field, No. 21, perfectly cut in his Pirates uniform, a portrait of solemn beauty, with his defiant jaw and soulful eyes. And much of it had to do with the way he lived. In sainthood, his people put a lamb in his arms, but he was no saint, and certainly not docile. He was agitated, beautiful, sentimental, unsettled, sweet, serious, selfless, haunted, sensitive, contradictory, and intensely proud of everything about his native land, including himself. To borrow the words of the Puerto Rican poet Enrique Zorrilla, what burned in the cheeks of Roberto Clemente was "the fire of dignity."
Copyright © 2006 by David Maraniss
Alone at the Miracle
The last time the Pirates played in a World Series, in 1927, the opponents were the same New York Yankees. Then the American League champions terrorized opposing pitchers with a lineup of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri, now it was Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, Yogi Berra and Moose Skowron. Murderers' Row old and new, one baseball legend long established, another in the making. The formula was identical in either case: audacious power, solid pitching, pinstripes, intimidation, all rendered glorious by the self-centered hyperbole of New York and its sporting press.
Part of the lore of the 1927 Yankees was a boast that the Pirates, after watching the famed sluggers take batting practice before the series opener, felt so overmatched they folded and lost four straight. Harold (Pie) Traynor, Pittsburgh's Hall of Fame third baseman, had bristled at that story for decades, insisting that it was apocryphal. By Traynor's account, the Pirates were in the clubhouse poring over a scouting report when the Yankees took their pregame cuts. Whatever prodigious shots Ruth and Gehrig stroked during batting practice, the Pirates saw none of them. But the debunking of this myth did not sit well with baseball's commissioner, Ford Frick, for the particular reason that it was Frick himself, as a young sportswriter for the New York Journal, who had spread the story in the first place.
The 1960 Pirates were rated 13-10 underdogs by the bookies, but seemed even less likely than their predecessors to be awed by New York, even though these Yankees had won their last fifteen games of the season heading into the World Series. "We'll fight 'em until our teeth fall out and then we'll grab 'em with our gums," snarled Don Hoak, sounding like the former boxer and inveterate scrapper that he was. It was the nature of this team, Hoak said, that they would always rise to the challenge of the better opponents. Virgil Trucks, the batting practice pitcher, told anyone who approached him in the days before the series opener that Pittsburgh was the most relaxed team he had ever seen. Relaxed and gabby. When it came to quotable quotes, Pittsburgh was a gold mine for visiting sportswriters. Hoak, shortstop Groat (recovered from his wrist injury and ready to play), outfielder Gino Cimoli, trainer Danny Whelan, ace Deacon Law, pudgy old Smoky Burgess (who talked so much behind the plate Richie Ashburn once beseeched the ump to shut him up before Ashburn bopped him over the head with his bat), Vinegar Bend Mizell, the big galoots at first, Dick Stuart and Rocky Nelson, and the story-spinning dark Irishman, manager Danny Murtaugh (prone to blabbing about anything but the game itself) they all were go-to guys on deadline. The Post-Gazette, further short-cutting the process, enlisted Hoak, Groat, and Law to write stories during the series, or at least columns published under their by-lines.
Everyone was in on the action, it seemed, except the Pirate in the middle of the lineup who roamed right field. Roberto Clemente was indisputably an important member of the team, yet also in many ways alone. At the end of his sixth and finest season, he was still separated by culture, race, language, and group dynamics. He was the lone black player in the starting lineup and a Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican, while none of the sportswriters for the major dailies in New York or Pittsburgh were black or spoke Spanish. Life is defined by images, especially public life, and the Pirates image was that of a band of scrappy, happy-go-lucky, fearless, gin-playing, hard-drinking, crew-cut, tobacco-chewing white guys. Where was the place in that picture for the proud, regal, seemingly diffident Roberto Clemente? He had led the team in runs batted in and total bases, finished second in batting average, hits, game-winning hits, runs scored, home runs, and triples, had the best arm on the team, played with style and every bit as much grit as Hoak or Groat, yet now was the invisible man. In the run-up to the World Series, the writers of Pittsburgh and New York, for all their overwrought coverage of the spectacle, gave Clemente barely a passing glance.
A notable exception, as usual, was the Pittsburgh Courier, the black weekly that had been paying close attention to Clemente all season. On the weekend before the series opener, sports editor Bill Nunn Jr. saw Clemente on the street in Schenley Heights, the middle-class black neighborhood where they both lived, and asked him how he felt about facing the mighty Yankees. The Pirates would win, Clemente assured him, his words echoing Hoak and Trucks. Although the Yankees had more power, he believed Pittsburgh was the better team, stocked with hard-nosed players who could not be intimidated. "We've been a relaxed team all season and I expect us to be the same in the Series," he said. "Pressure didn't get us down during the National League race. We fought off Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Los Angeles without cracking. Now that we've come this far, we aren't going to look back now." In Clemente's estimation, the Braves, not the Yankees, were the second-best team in baseball. "If the Braves had won the pennant, they would have been good enough to beat the Yankees, too." As for playing in Yankee Stadium, Clemente said he would not be haunted by the outfield ghosts of Ruth and DiMaggio, but he was concerned about the late-afternoon shadows. He had played there in the second 1960 All-Star game and found the ball hard to follow.
Aside from Nunn's interview, the other notice Clemente received before the series was negative. Someone had leaked a scouting report from the Yankees suggesting that the most effective way to pitch him was inside. "Knock him down the first time up and forget him," was the dismissive summary. Clemente laughed when asked about it, but the report bothered him. Like many black stars of that era, in a tradition that went back to Jackie Robinson, he got brushed back nearly every series, and he suspected that opposing pitchers chose him for retaliation in part because of the color of his skin. They'd been knocking him down all season in the National League, Clemente observed, and he'd still gotten his share of base hits. During one sequence that season, so memorable that pitcher Bob Friend could recall it forty-five years later, Clemente was hit in the stomach by Dodgers fireballer Don Drysdale but came back the next at-bat and cracked a home run over the right-field fence.
Another scouting report got in more digs. It was by Jim Brosnan, a pitcher who had gained renown for The Long Season, a pathbreaking journal-style sports book that provided a revealing glimpse inside his 1959 season with St. Louis and Cincinnati. In the wake of that successful book, Brosnan had been commissioned by Life magazine to analyze the series lineup of the Pirates, a team he had faced many times. (Ted Williams, just retired from the Red Sox, wrote Life's scouting report on the Yankees.) After stating that Clemente "dislikes knockdown by close pitch" and that the best way to pitch him is to "jam him good," Brosnan added a caustic and contradictory conclusion. "Clemente features a Latin-American variety of showboating: 'Look at número uno,' he seems to be saying...He once ran right over his manager, who was coaching third base, to complete an inside-the-park grand-slam home run, hit off my best hanging slider. It excited fans, startled the manager, shocked me, and disgusted the club." Here was precisely the sort of characterization Clemente had battled since he arrived at Fort Myers for his 1955 rookie season. Then the phrase that bothered him was "Puerto Rican hot dog." Now came Brosnan, a respected opponent, far from a redneck, blithely referring to his Latin-American variety of showboating. Clemente's mad dash around the bases, the anecdote Brosnan employed to make his point, might have inspired a different interpretation had it been Don Hoak or Dick Groat or years later Pete Rose. Rather than the showboating of a flashy Latin, it would have been viewed as the indomitable spirit of a tough competitor.
This was nothing new for Clemente. It angered him but did not distract him. He still had the Pittsburgh fans on his side they had voted him their favorite Pirate and friends were coming from Puerto Rico to see the World Series. Among those making the trip was his mother, Doña Luisa, who had never flown before. She was weakened from the flu, but came anyway, willing herself to be healthy enough to watch Momen play. Don Melchor was equally proud of his son but deathly afraid to fly, so he would not budge from the house in Carolina. He could follow the series from there; all the games were to be broadcast in San Juan on radio and television with Spanish-language announcers. Accompanying Doña Luisa to Pittsburgh was Momen's older brother, Matino, a former ballplayer who had followed the rise of the Pirates on the radio all summer, keeping mental notes on Roberto's play and writing or calling him several times with batting tips. When Matino arrived in Schenley Heights, Clemente gave him some tips of his own on which streets and bars in Pittsburgh were friendly and which ones to avoid.
A fellow named Ralph Belcore was the first out-of-towner to make it to Pittsburgh for the World Series. He came by bus from Chicago toting a stool and a bag of sandwiches and camped outside Forbes Field five full days before standing-room-only tickets went on sale. Belcore was the definition of a baseball fanatic, but in Pittsburgh that week he was just one in the crowd. The city had lost itself with these Pirates. Bands of businessmen crowded the congested streets of the Golden Triangle wearing gold-banded black derbies, walking past block after block of gold-and-black-draped stores with BEAT' EM, BUCS! signs in the windows. City Hall printed thousands of placards with the familiar slogan translated into seven languages. Carnegie Library came up with its own variation BEAT' EM, BOOKS! At the Central Blood Bank of Pittsburgh the sign read BLEED' EM, BUCS!
Local radio stations incessantly blared out Benny Benack and the Iron City Six's throbbing theme song. The Bucs were going all the way, over and over again. A correspondent for the New York Times, filing the first dispatch from alien territory, haughtily described a "carnival atmosphere...that one would never experience in sophisticated New York." The Pittsburgh newspapers were all Pirates all the time, from the front page to editorials to society to sports, inspiring Red Smith of the New York Herald Tribune to praise the city for focusing on what truly mattered during a week when presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon were debating on television and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was visiting the United Nations. "In New York," Smith wrote, "the cops picked up a diplomat wallowing hip-deep in smuggled heroin. At the United Nations, Nikita hollered at Dag and Hammarskjöld yelled back and Nehru had a thing or so to say about the future of civilization. Rockets whirled through space, snooping into affairs on the moon, Lyndon [Johnson] called Nixon a fool and Nixon said Kennedy was another. Only in Pittsburgh, it seemed, did they preserve a sense of proportion. Announced the eight-column banner on page one: YANKS, BUCS IN LAST WORKOUT. It was comforting to find a town that puts first things first."
So, first things first. The final workout before the opener was held on a bright October afternoon. Sunlight glanced off the bright white flannels of the Pirates as they took fielding practice. Danny Murtaugh, surrounded by a posse of national sportswriters, entertained them with stories about his Irish family. "When the kid brother gets a job, the brother-in-law quits his. That's the way it is in my family," Murtaugh said as a way of answering a question about how many ticket requests he was getting from relatives. Asked if he had any surprises planned for New York, he said, "Just to win." Soon the Yankees emerged in their gray flannels and Roger Maris muscled into the batting cage, shirtsleeves rolled up over bulging biceps, and began bombing one pitch after another into the right-field stands. The Pirates were in the clubhouse by then, just like their forebears thirty-three years earlier, going over a scouting report prepared by Howie Haak. The Yanks effin' feasted on high ball pitches, Haak said, so keep the damn ball low and outside. A telegram had been taped to the clubhouse wall from the old man, Branch Rickey, gone from the Pirates but still their godfather. It read simply:
I WOULD RATHER HAVE YOU
BEAT THE YANKEES THAN
ANY OTHER TEAM IN THE WORLD.
AND YOU CAN. AND YOU WILL.
The Pirates would need a healthy Vernon Law if they were to have any chance of that; accordingly much of the focus was on the Deacon's right ankle. He had pulled a tendon in a moment of joy, slipping on a wet dressing room floor as he celebrated with his teammates in Milwaukee after they had clinched the National League pennant. The club tried to hide the injury, but it became obvious a week later when the Braves came to Pittsburgh to finish the season and bombed Law for eight runs and ten hits before he could escape the third inning. There was a day or two when the Pirates were uncertain whether their twenty-game winner could start the series opener, but Law insisted that he was ready, and trainer Whelan said the ankle had not swelled and was bothersome only when twisted a certain way. It did not hinder Law's normal delivery.
Law had the stuff to baffle the Yankees, a sinking fastball and curves of various speeds, all delivered with pinpoint control. Early in his career, he had impressed old Branch Rickey with the "change of pace on his fastball with a wiggle-waggle, half fadeaway rotation." Law had walked only forty-one men in 272 innings all year. He also had the tenacity, despite his reputation as a clean-living elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who did not drink, smoke, or curse (once, at his most vituperative, he shouted "Judas Priest!" at an ump and almost got tossed). Nor did he throw at batters' heads, or so it was said. At a Bucs Fan Club luncheon before the series, Murtaugh jokingly dismissed that last claim. "So I'm talking to one of my pitchers and I says, 'Look, when the other pitcher comes up there I want you to knock him down.' And my pitcher [Law] was one of those fellows who is well versed in the Bible and he tells me, 'Skip, turn the other cheek.' So I looked at him and said, 'All right with me. I'll turn the other cheek. But if this guy don't go down it's gonna cost you a hundred bucks.' So he looked at me and said, 'They that live by the sword die by the sword.'" Even if that was no more than Murtaugh blarney, it captured Law's spirit; he was fire and brimstone on the mound and a fierce competitor. New York had a pitcher of equal big-game stature, Whitey Ford, but the Yankees manager, Casey Stengel, for reasons known only to him and those who could translate Stengelese, chose instead to go with right-hander Art Ditmar, who in fact had won more games that season but was not in Ford's class.
Another perfect autumn day washed over Forbes Field for the opener. The upper deck was dressed in red, white, and blue bunting. In the box seats behind third, Joe Cronin, the American League president, pointed to a screen across the diamond behind first and said he was responsible for it; they installed it after he had made one too many wild heaves into the stands as a rookie shortstop for the Pirates in 1926. A communal gasp sounded from the capacity crowd as a parachutist soared down from the blue sky above, but Jack Heatherington of McKeesport, who had made the sky-jump after losing a bet that the Pirates would not win the pennant, was off-mark again, landing not on the field but on a nearby roof. This was no year to underestimate anything in Pittsburgh.
In the Pirates' dressing room before the game, Murtaugh adhered to his regular season routine, pulling out a scorecard and going over the Yankee lineup hitter by hitter. "Any questions?" he asked when he was done. His team had none. Then "go get 'em," he said. No need for a pep talk, Captain Dick Groat thought. Everyone understood what this series meant. Writing a column for the Post-Gazette under the impressive byline...
PIRATE SHORTSTOP AND NL BATTING CHAMPION
...Groat confessed that while he tried to tell himself it was just another game and that there was no reason to be nervous, he had "a peculiar feeling" in the pit of his stomach in his first at-bat and his nerves would not settle for the first few innings.
Law and the Pirates had reason to be anxious in the top of the first when Maris, acting as though it were still batting practice, deposited a home run over the right-field fence, but they got out of the inning with no more damage and swiftly went at Ditmar. Bill Virdon singled and stole second. Groat, nerves and all, doubled him home. Bob Skinner singled in Groat and also stole second. Dick Stuart was retired for the first out, then up came Clemente, batting fifth instead of his usual third, because Murtaugh thought he might have trouble with the six-foot-two 195-pound right-hander. Here was Clemente's first appearance on the World Series stage, the first by a Puerto Rican hitter since Luis Olmo played left field for the Dodgers in 1949 against the Yankees. Doña Luisa and brother Matino were watching from seats behind the screen. The old man was listening on the radio back in Carolina. With the count at two balls, two strikes, Ditmar came inside with a fastball and Clemente stroked it over second for a single, driving in Skinner with the third run. Ditmar was done for the day, yanked by Stengel after throwing only eighteen pitches and getting a lone out.
The first-inning rally showed the Pirates would not be intimidated. It was Stengel who looked anxious, with his quick hook. This was not what most experts expected. Shirley Povich, the venerable sportswriter for the Washington Post, thought it was "like the patient examining the doctor for symptoms." By the top of the second, with New York still trailing 3-1 and third baseman Clete Boyer coming to the plate with runners at first and second, the impatience bordered on panic. Boyer was called back to the dugout, and at first he assumed that Stengel had a tip for him on how to bat against Law, but the manager's only instruction was for Clete to find a seat on the bench. Dale Long was sent up to pinch-hit. First game, second inning, Boyer pulled for a pinch hitter on his first at-bat an uncommon baseball humiliation. Clemente, in right field, knew the feeling; long ago, he had been taken out for a pinch hitter in the first inning with the bases loaded, but that was during his first year in pro ball with the Montreal Royals, when the Dodgers were trying to hide him. As it turned out, Long hit a long fly to Clemente in right, who gathered it in and unloosed a bullet throw to second, nearly doubling Berra.
Stengel's desperation was for nothing. The game essentially was over after a brilliant defensive play by Virdon in the fourth inning. Law was struggling as he worked his way through the new Murderer's Row. Maris walked, Mantle singled, and Yogi Berra, playing in his record eleventh World Series and still feared by the Pirates as the Yankees' toughest clutch hitter, cracked a drive to the deepest expanse of right center. Clemente, racing over from right, and Virdon, at full sprint from center, simultaneously reached the spot where the drive was headed. Clemente, called for it, certain that he could make the catch, and so did Virdon, who "had a beam" on it all along. There was such a roar in the stadium that neither could hear. They brushed against each other, Virdon's spikes cutting the back of Clemente's right shoe, and just as Clemente pulled up, the No. 21 on his back facing the infield, Virdon leaped and snared the ball with his outstretched glove as he neared the light green wall. Writers who had not seen Virdon field were stunned. Murtaugh in the dugout, Law on the mound, and regular observers of the Pirates were elated but not the least surprised. They considered Virdon the nearest thing to Willie Mays in center, perhaps even his equal, and with Clemente patrolling beside him any ball hit to center or right might be caught if it stayed in the park. The Yankees were deflated, and even when Moose Skowron singled to drive in Maris, Murtaugh did not consider taking out Law, who got out of the inning maintaining the lead, which was soon extended in the bottom half when Bill Mazeroski hit a two-run homer for the Pirates.
During the early innings, Elroy Face and his teammates in the Pirates relief corps, unable to get a clear view of home from the bullpen, had raced into the clubhouse when the Yankees were up so they could scout the hitters on television. Everything about the five-foot-eight, 155-pound Face was compact and efficient, including his preparations. He needed only three to four throws to get loose, and rarely bothered to warm up until he saw his manager ambling toward the mound in a late inning. In the eighth, with Law holding a 6-2 lead but looking tired and feeling soreness in his right ankle, Murtaugh made his move. Two gestures signified that he wanted Face. One was simply to hold his hand up to his face; the other was to stick out his right hand, palm down, waist high. Face had a rubber arm and could relieve for two and occasionally three innings, day after day, relying on his specialty pitch, a forkball. Thrown with two fingers spread like fork prongs wide apart over the top of the ball, the forkball was an early variation of the split-fingered fastball that became popular four decades later. (When Steve Blass, a latter-day Pirate pitcher and announcer, asked him to describe the difference between the two pitches, Face replied, "Oh, about four million dollars.") When Face came in, it was a done deal. No trouble in the eighth. In the ninth, he gave up a two-run homer to Elston Howard, but got left-fielder Hector Lopez to ground into a game-ending double-play, Maz to Groat to Stuart, and the Pirates, 6-4 winners, hollered and whooped as they bounded up the underground ramp to their dusty old dressing room.
The Yankees were grouches after the game. They had banged out thirteen hits, more than they had in any game during their season-ending fifteen-game winning streak, yet lost. How could this happen? Boyer made no effort to hide his rage over being yanked before his first chance to bat. Ditmar was despairing over not finishing the first. Mantle, called out on strikes twice, thought one of them was a bad call. Second baseman Bobby Richardson criticized the Pirates infield, notorious for its concrete-like hardness. And Stengel, in his inimitable way, lodged the same complaint. "If they want to I guess they could have the groundskeeper plow it up pretty good because he could get a plow here where they have all the steel to make one but they don't want it," he said. Stengel also took a shot at Clemente, who had grounded into a fielder's choice in the fifth but stayed on first while second baseman Bobby Richardson chased after Skinner on a rundown between second and third. Was this the lack of adventure that Branch Rickey had mentioned during his first scouting report on Clemente in San Juan in January 1955? "Where was the man who hit the ball?" Stengel asked. "He's the fastest man, ain't he? Now if that play had decided the game, they'd all be asking why he didn't go to second. And if I was the manager I wouldn't have an answer." No one asked Clemente about it. In the locker room, he sat alone while the writers gathered around Virdon, Maz, Law, Face, and Bob Friend, who would be starting the next day.
It rained all that night in Pittsburgh and into the next day. By 12:26 P.M., only thirty-four minutes before Game 2 was to begin, the skies were dark, a tarp covered the infield, the players were lounging and playing quick rounds of gin in the clubhouse, and fans were taking shelter under the overhang. But Commissioner Frick, protected by raincoat and hat and working a walkie-talkie with his staff, said the weathermen promised him that sunshine was coming, and within twenty minutes his confidence was rewarded. Stengel presented a starting lineup with veteran catcher Berra playing left field for the first time in his World Series career. His pal Joe Garagiola, who grew up with Berra in St. Louis and had dinner with him in Pittsburgh the night before, thought the talkative Yogi, so accustomed to conducting a running commentary with the home plate umpire and opposing batters, would be "lonely out there with no one to talk to."
Bob Friend, the eighteen-game winner, who threw what was known as a heavy ball, with a fastball reaching ninety-two miles an hour, took the mound for the Pirates, and the home crowd settled in feeling optimistic. Warming up, Friend realized that he had "tremendous stuff," and he felt powerful and in the groove through the opening innings. "The ball was moving all over the place." He had six strikeouts in four innings and it seemed only accidental that he was trailing 3-0. One Yankee run was unearned and another came on a bounding double by Gil McDougald that third baseman Hoak insisted was foul. Fans and writers second-guessed Murtaugh after he removed Friend in the bottom of the fourth for pinch hitter Gene Baker, who rapped into a sharp double play, and at the time Friend himself was distraught. The Yankees weren't really hitting anything, he thought, and he was just getting warmed up. But decades later, the event distanced by time, Friend gave his manager a reprieve. "I don't blame Danny for taking me out," he said. "Danny did the right thing."
There could be no right thing for the Pirates in this game. The Yankees went on a tear after that, pounding out nineteen hits, one short of the World Series record of twenty by the 1921 Yankees and 1946 Cardinals; and sixteen runs, only two less than the record set by the Yankees against the Giants in 1936. They turned the game into a romp in the sixth, sending twelve batters to the plate and scoring seven runs on the way to a 16-3 victory.
In the mess of this slaughter, one sportswriter shouted from the press box, "Bring in Yellowhorse!" a lament so evocative that several colleagues stole the quote and attributed it to an anonymous fan. Mose J. Yellowhorse, a full-blooded American Indian from Pawnee, Oklahoma, known affectionately as Chief, possessed the most felicitous name in Pittsburgh Pirate history, if not the best record. He pitched two seasons, 1921 and 1922, and won a total of eight games. Perhaps his best move in the majors, according to baseball historian Ralph Berger, came when he and shortstop Rabbit Maranville made some barehanded grabs of pigeons fluttering outside the sixteenth-story window of their road-trip hotel. Bring in Yellowhorse! The Chief was sixty-two years old in 1960 and fishing in retirement back in Pawnee, but certainly could have fared no worse that day than the relief quintet of Green, Labine, Witt, Gibbon, and Cheney. Once his sluggers gave him an edge, Stengel became a relentless bench jockey from the shadows of the visitors' dugout, directing a nasal torrent of sarcastic jibes at Smoky Burgess and the procession of hapless Pittsburgh firemen. When Hoak, from his position at third, would shoot a stern look at him, Stengel would "just look at me," Hoak recalled, "throw his hands in the air, and shrug, as if to say, 'What's going on? Why the dirty look, Hoak?'"
Clemente, batting third for the Pirates, had two hits, as did each of the next four men in the lineup (Nelson, Cimoli, Burgess, and Hoak), but Bob Turley, the Yankees starter, was able to scatter thirteen hits and allow only three runs from the losing side. The batting star of the game was Mickey Mantle, who drove in five and clouted two homers, including a tape-measure blast that he hit right-handed. The ball landed in an area over the right-center field vines that had been reached only by lefty sluggers Stan Musial, Duke Snider, and Dale Long. A city policeman who happened to be standing near where the ball came down helped estimate its distance at 478 feet. Handsome Mick was an irresistible story line in the press box. Stengel talked about how he played on one leg and about how he laboriously taped his aching legs for an hour before each game. "He'll always be a hero in our book," wrote David Condon of the Chicago Tribune. "He had human faults, but he has super human courage."
Mantle also had more baseball common sense than most sportswriters. Arthur Daley of the Times, in prose only slightly more dismissive than his peers, wrote that "the Pirates may never recover from the humiliation of their horrendous rout. It was one that didn't just jar them to their shoe tops. It had to penetrate deeper, all the way to the subconscious, and create a fear complex that could destroy morale." The Mick would have none of that. He understood the rhythms of the game, and the dangers of depleting energy in a one-sided contest. To Mantle, the home runs were a waste, since they came in a blowout. "I wish I could have saved them for a time when they meant something," he said.
With the series now moving to New York, the Pirates left Pittsburgh at six o'clock that night, flying the same United Airlines charter they had used all season. The pilot, Captain Joe Magnano, was from Long Island and had grown up a Yankees fan, but came to identify with the Pirates. Law, Burgess, and Cimoli were interested in flying and were always hanging around the cockpit. Clemente was among those who hated to fly and tried, usually in vain, to sleep on the plane so he wouldn't have to brood about every thump or bump. The Yankees, at Stengel's insistence (he wanted to "ride herd" on them, it was said), traveled by train, reserving five Pullman cars in the Pennsylvania Railroad's Pittsburgher express. The sportswriting tribe tagged along, as did a few hundred boisterous Pirates fans, who upon arrival in New York found themselves virtually alone in the belief that the series would last enough games for a return to Forbes Field. Al Abrams, the Post-Gazette sports editor, strolled into the lobby of the Commodore Hotel to see a tabloid headline about Game 2 MURDER IN PITTSBURGH. "Every time I go outside the hotel," he noted, "I hear dire consequences for the Pirates." When the teams worked out at Yankee Stadium on Friday, the off-day, there was no front-page headline, though Red Smith might have appreciated this priority: Khrushchev moved out of the Waldorf-Astoria, making room for the World Series headquarters. There was no citywide delirium like in Pittsburgh; a World Series was considered an annual event in New York, but still by eight on the morning of game day there were three thousand people waiting in line for bleacher seats, and five hours later the stadium was filling with seventy thousand fans.
With Clemente on the Pirates and countryman Luis (Tite) Arroyo pitching in relief for the Yankees, the series was drawing great interest in Puerto Rico and all of the Caribbean. The North American press tended to treat the Latin contingent as fodder for lighthearted comedy. There was nothing malevolent about this, but it reflected the attitudes of the time and the fact that Spanish-speaking players and their culture were still regarded as oddities. Clemente was quoted in the locker room before the third game telling his teammates how thrilled he was that his family and friends in Puerto Rico could see him play on television for the first time. "I shave, put on cologne and powder so I smell good for television," he reportedly said. As the game was getting under way, with Vinegar Bend Mizell starting for the Pirates, there was guffawing in the press box about what Al Abrams called a "crisis" faced by Latin American journalists, who struggled with the pronunciation of Mizell's colorful appellation. Vinegar Bend was the name of the hamlet where he grew up in rural Alabama. "So they just called him Wilmer," Abrams reported.
The pronunciation problem was resolved soon enough in any case, since Mizell lasted only a third of an inning. He gave up four runs on three hits before Murtaugh replaced him with Clem Labine, who proved no more effective than he had been in Game 2. It was 6-0 at the end of one, and 10-0 by the end of four. Pirates pitchers consistently fell behind in the count and ended up grooving fastballs for the Yankees to feast on. Gino Cimoli, playing left, tried Ring Lardner's favorite Alibi Ike complaint, that the sun was in his eyes, but teammate Rocky Nelson shut him up by noting that Cimoli had no excuses since he was usually turned away from the sun looking at balls soar over his head. By the middle innings, binoculars turned from the field to the stands for celebrity spotting. Herbert Hoover, the former President, showed up in the fourth wearing a gray fedora, taking his seat in time for another Mantle home run. He was barely noticed, which someone noted was an improvement on his World Series appearance at Philadelphia's Shibe Park during the depths of the Depression in 1931, when he was roundly booed. Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India, appeared in the sixth. It was appropriate, Red Smith observed, that a "man of peace" would not arrive until the "carnage was over." One fan supposedly mistook Nehru for a hot dog vendor in his white cap. Mildred McGuire, a fan from Wayne, New Jersey, seated nearby, reported that he spoke perfect English. Though Mantle had four hits including the home run, the stars for the Yankees this time were Whitey Ford, who tossed a complete game shutout, and second baseman Bobby Richardson, who drove in six runs, four of them on a fly ball that reached the close, cozy corner of the left-field stands for a grand slam.
Clemente kept his hitting streak alive by singling with two out in the ninth, and flashed his fielding brilliance a few times with rocket throws from right and a difficult catch of a Maris line shot to right center. All piddling and forgettable when your team gets drubbed 10 to zip. "That game didn't make me feel any younger," said Danny Murtaugh, who had turned forty-three that day. In the press box, there was a rush to bury the Pirates. The lone writer who thought Pittsburgh still had a chance was Don Hoak, who in his column after the game declared: "If you quit on the Pirates now there's a very good chance you'll have to eat your words in a few days."
For the critical fourth game on Sunday, October 9, the Pirates were able to turn again to Vernon Law. The Deacon and Mrs. Law had been unable to attend church that morning, much to his dismay, but they prayed in their hotel room at the Commodore. For all of his devotion, Law was not the proselytizing sort, never bugged his teammates to stop doing this or that, and never tried to pretend the Lord was on his side, or taking any side at all in a sporting event. "We prayed that no one on either side would get hurt and that everyone would do as well as they possibly could," he reported. "We did not pray for victory because that would be a selfish prayer."
The way the first inning started, it looked as though Law could have tried some selfish prayer. Bob Cerv cracked an inside pitch to left for a single and Tony Kubek followed by doubling a low, outside pitch to left, the forty-ninth and fiftieth Yankee hits of the series. Hoak approached the mound from third and said, "Deacon, we've been pitching that Kubek wrong. The reports on him are wrong. Let's pitch him up and in instead of down and away." Law was so accustomed to Hoak's yammering that he paid little attention. But he nodded and registered the suggestion, which was what he was thinking anyway. And he "wasn't too worried," he reported later, about having runners on second and third, because he knew that if he got Maris out he could walk Mantle and try for a double play. That was precisely what happened, with Berra grounding to Hoak for an around-the-horn twin-killing that ended the inning. Law coasted until the fourth, when Moose Skowron homered to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
At the same hour, the Steelers of the National Football League were hosting the New York Giants in Pittsburgh. In the second quarter, as the Giants were driving, quarterback George Shaw approached the line of scrimmage to take the snap and was startled by a thunderous roar echoing through the stands of Pitt Stadium. Over thousands of transistor radios, NBC announcers Chuck Thompson and Jack Quinland had just reported that Vern Law had doubled in the tying run at Yankee Stadium in the middle of a three-run rally for the Pirates. As two more runs scored, the roar at Pitt Stadium grew louder, confusing Shaw so much that a referee eventually had to call time. Pennsylvania Governor David Lawrence, the former Pittsburgh mayor who also scribbled a column for the Post-Gazette that week, was in the Pitt Stadium crowd, listening on his own portable radio, and chronicled the eeriness of hearing a hometown throng "cheer at the same time the Giants were moving against our Steelers."
Law kept the Yankees off the board in the fifth and sixth, but by the seventh the pain in his ankle was so intense that he could barely land on it. Skowron, first up for New York, lined an opposite field double that bounced into the right-field stands, and McDougald slapped another single to right. Clemente scooped up the ball and fired a dead-true, no-bounce strike to the plate, a throw that Red Smith described as "low and baleful." The third-base coach, Frank Crosetti, keenly aware of Clemente's arm, had held Skowron at third or he would have been moose meat. Richardson then bounced a grounder to Maz, who stepped on second but had a slight hitch getting the ball out of his glove, allowing Richardson to beat the throw and barely avoid a double play. No-touch, they called Maz, for the way he could turn the double play seemingly without ever touching the ball, but in this case his touch was uncertain. Skowron came home, making the score 3-2. John Blanchard, another left-handed Yankee slugger, pinch hit for the pitcher and singled to right, sending Richardson to second. That was enough for Murtaugh, who walked slowly to the mound to get his ace. Before taking the ball, he placed his hand out, palm down, waist high, and in came Face. Photographers captured the transition, a classic tableau of baseball courage. In the background, the little reliever stood on the mound, rubbing the ball and talking to Smoky Burgess, as Law, his work done, his glove dangling from his pitching hand, limped slump-shouldered toward the dugout. His arm felt like he could go eighteen innings, Law recalled he had indeed pitched eighteen innings in a game several years earlier but "the leg was beginning to pain me something awful late in the game and I'm glad Face was ready to do the job."
One out, men on first and second, here came the forkball, and there it went, soaring off the bat of Bob Cerv, arcing toward the fence in deep right-center, a virtual duplicate of the ball Berra had struck in the opener. And here came Clemente again, racing from right, and Virdon flying in from center, and Virdon leaping and bringing the ball in with both hands, then falling against the wall at the 407 mark but holding on. Richardson tagged and went to third, but died there when Kubek bounced out. And that was the last threat against Face, who shut down the Yankees for two and two-thirds innings, the final out coming on a fly to Clemente in right. Series tied, two games apiece.
Bob Friend was ready for Game 5 on Monday, but Murtaugh decided to go with Harvey Haddix, his little lefthander, which caused some grumbling among the locals in the press box but not in the clubhouse. Why gamble with Friend rested? a writer deigned to ask. "What the god damn hell are you talking about?" responded Tiger Hoak, never at a loss for words, or expletives. "It's no god damn gamble. That god damn little shit has a heart as big as a god damn barrel!" It was a sun-splashed day, and the little guys made it look easy. Haddix and Face, again, combined on a five-hitter, striking out seven and never really seeming in danger. When Face was on the mound, the Crow, as Yankees third-base coach Crosetti was called, would usually study his finger work in the glove and yell out, "Here it comes!" when he could detect a forkball. Hoak, at third base, was on to this and came up with a foil, yelling, "Here it comes!" on every pitch. But in this fifth game Hoak could see that Face was unhittable, so he didn't even bother yelling. Another two-and-two-thirds, this time with no hits.
The Bucs had ten hits, including a key run-scoring single by Clemente off his countryman, Arroyo, who thought he had made the perfect pitch and threw up his arms in exasperation as the ball screamed toward the outfield grass. Clemente had now hit safely in all five games, and was starting to get a bit of recognition for his play. In the locker room after the game, which the Pirates won 5-2, Ted Meir of the Associated Press decided to step away from the crowd and write something about Roberto. "The unsung star of the World Series?" his report began. "That phrase could well apply to Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh right fielder with the rifle arm." Scores of reporters, Meir observed...
...surrounded pitchers Elroy Face and Harvey Haddix after Pittsburgh's 5-2 victory over New York Monday. Off to one side Clemente sat in front of his locker alone.
Yet here was the player whose bullet throwing arm had stopped the Yankees from taking an extra base on hits to his territory, a feat that contributed mightily to Pittsburgh's three victories.
He beamed as his throwing arm was compared to the famed one of Hazen (Kiki) Cuyler, who played the same right field for the Bucs in 1925 when they won the World Championship by beating Washington and Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson.
"Sure," Roberto grinned happily. "Nobody can run on me." Clemente put the fear into the Yankee base runners in the first game at Pittsburgh. In the second inning, after Yogi Berra and Bill Skowron had singled with none out, he gathered in pinch hitter Dale Long's fly and just missed doubling Berra at second with a rifle peg.
"We discovered then," Yankee manager Casey Stengel said later, "that they have a good right fielder."
Meir wrote that Clemente had made the last putout in the fifth game and had given the ball to the Pirates owner, John Galbreath. "My son's wife is expecting a baby any day in Columbus, Ohio," Galbreath said. "If it's a boy, that ball will be his first present." (The ball remained with the Galbreaths and forty-five years later Squire Galbreath, the grandson born just after the World Series, kept it in a display case at the family estate, Darby Dan, near Columbus, Ohio.)
The focus of the world seemed to shift back to Pittsburgh that night. The Yankees, Pirates, and John F. Kennedy all were coming to town. Kennedy arrived first for an appearance at Gateway Center, where thousands jostled for viewing position to see the Democratic presidential candidate, at one point bursting through the police lines. (Most of the Pirates were Republicans Bob Friend would later serve as a delegate for Kennedy's opponent, Nixon but Clemente was a staunch Kennedy man.) At the Penn-Sheraton Hotel downtown, Kennedy issued what was described as his strongest-ever speech in support of civil rights. Then came the Yankees, who drew only a sprinkling of autograph seekers at the airport. "I understand we made a lot of people happy here and they're glad to see us back," Casey Stengel said as he stepped from the plane. An hour later, when the Pirates charter eased toward the terminal, the players peered out portholes to a stunning sight more than ten thousand fans cheering behind the gate along a line that stretched ten deep for a quarter of a mile. Kennedy and Nixon held little interest for this crowd. MURTAUGH for president signs were more prominent. Such was the reception for a team that in the first five games of the World Series had been outscored 34-17, outhit 61-42, outhomered 8-1, trailed in total bases 95-59, and in team batting average .325 to .245. All true, and yet only one statistic mattered. The Pirates led the Yankees three games to two.
Stengel had a decision to make on whom to start in the sixth game, and explained his reasoning in a way only he could articulate. "I asked my players if they wanted Ford to start and they all did except six or eight; they was the other pitchers which wanted to start themselves." Whitey was tired, his fast ball had little zip and his curve wasn't breaking much, but most pitchers would give anything for his problems. With his day-old blond stubble and crafty determination, he tossed another complete game shutout, throwing only 114 pitches and inducing the Pirates to hit into seventeen ground outs and three double-play grounders. Clemente singled in his first at-bat to keep his string alive, but spent the rest of the game chasing down singles and doubles. "The fellow who did the most throwing than any other Pirate was Roberto Clemente," reported the game story in the Times. "So many hits whistled into his territory that he was forever firing the ball into the infield." It was another rout, with the Yankees banging out seventeen more hits and Bobby Richardson again stealing the show from the sluggers, driving in three more runs for a record total of twelve for the series. The final score was 12-0, yet somehow to the Pirates it seemed like no big deal. "All three of our defeats have been shellackings but that doesn't hurt our pride one bit," Hoak observed. "When you've had the tar kicked out of you, you don't lose sleep replaying the game."
They had lost three games by a composite score of 38-3, yet they had the Yankees right where they wanted them. Vern Law was ready for the seventh game, with Face backing him up, whereas Stengel had used up Ford and had no one comparable to Law available, facing a choice among Bob Turley, twenty-two-year-old rookie Bill Stafford, and little Bobby Shantz. "I've got to talk to Turley and see how he feels," Stengel said. "He did a lot of warming up in the bullpen [during game six] and I want to make sure he isn't too tired."
The thirteenth of October was another dreamy day in western Pennsylvania, with a summery haze and temperatures in the low seventies. It was a weekday in Pittsburgh, a Thursday, yet the city had the feel of an August vacation weekend. Thousands of children stayed home from school to watch the final game of the World Series on television. Hordes of businessmen and government workers also contrived excuses to play hooky. "Our other grandmother died," read a sign in the county clerk's office. "We've gone to bury her with the Yanks."
Most fans were not so confident about which team was to be buried. Of the three games the home crowds had witnessed at Forbes Field, the Yankees had won two, and by the monstrous scores of 16-3 and 12-0. During the sixth-game trouncing, demoralized Pittsburghers started streaming out of the stadium in the third inning and the stands were half-empty by the seventh. Those holding tickets for the decisive seventh game arrived in a subdued mood. Benny Benack and his Iron City Six set up outside the stadium at the corner of Boquet and Sennott and valiantly tried to energize the faithful, but people seemed reluctant even to shout "Beat 'em, Bucs!" There was a sense that the Bucs had gone a long, long way already, but maybe they would finish one game short of all the way. The Yankees certainly felt that way. Two of their stars, Mantle and Berra, were quoted in the Post-Gazette that morning saying that they had the far superior team, and would still have the better team even if by some fluke the Pirates happened to win. Their comments further stirred the Pirates. "We'd read the Post-Gazette...you bet we did," Don Hoak reported from the clubhouse.
Casey Stengel chose a symbolic way to inform Bob Turley that he was starting the seventh game. He never spoke directly to the pitcher, but after the team bus pulled up to Forbes Field from the downtown Hilton and Turley reached his locker, he found a baseball inside one of his spikes, placed there by third-base coach Crosetti. "It was a brand-new ball and that was the tip-off that I was to be the starter," Turley explained during batting practice. "Sure, I had an idea I would be it, but you never can tell with Casey." Perhaps Casey couldn't tell about himself, either. From Turley's first pitch, he had both Stafford and Shantz warming up in the bullpen. "It was something less than a rousing vote in Turley's skills," observed Shirley Povich of the Washington Post.
Murtaugh stocked his lineup with left-handed hitters, including Skinner, who had been out for most of the series with a sore thumb, and Rocky Nelson, who took over at first for Dick Stuart, slump-ridden with only three hits, all singles, in twenty at-bats. The move paid quick dividends in the first inning when Skinner walked with two outs and Nelson then homered to right to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead. Redemption of this sort had been a long time coming for Glenn Richard Nelson. Since making a major league roster in 1949, he had played for the Cardinals, Pirates, White Sox, Dodgers, Indians, Dodgers again, Cardinals again, and finally the Pirates a second time, with long spells in the minors all during that stretch. Rocky was a nomadic baseball lifer, so attached to the game that during one of his minor league stints he got married at home plate. Thirty-five and balding now, he was the oldest of the Pirates, called "Old Dad" by his teammates. Clemente had first played with him in 1954 on the International League's Montreal Royals, where Nelson was the reigning home-run champ and a fan favorite but annoyed manager Max Macon with his lackadaisical fielding. He had what was called minor league power and hit more round-trippers in one season at Montreal than in his full major league career. His trademark was his odd stance body turned, front foot facing the pitcher, bat held high, posture so formal and rigid that writers called it the John L. Sullivan stance, evoking the old boxer's pose. After years of frustration it served its purpose this one magical time, delivering a crucial early blow to the cocksure Yankees.
When Smoky Burgess led off the second with a shot into the right-field corner, his slowpoke gait and Maris's quick recovery holding him to a single, the edgy Stengel had seen enough. He ambled out to the mound, mumbled something to himself, and "out came Turley like a loose tooth," as Red Smith reported. In came the rookie Stafford, who walked Hoak on four pitches and gave up a bunt hit to Mazeroski to load the bases. Vern Law, unable to duplicate his hitting magic of Game 4, bounced into a double play, pitcher to home to first, but then leadoff man Virdon singled to right-center to make the score 4-0. The fan anxiety that had enveloped the stadium before the game suddenly lifted. Up four, the Deacon on the mound, it all looked good for Pittsburgh.
Through four innings, Law had allowed only one hit, a single by Hector Lopez, but it was obvious that he was in pain every time he put weight on his ankle. In the fifth, Moose Skowron led off with a home run that fell just inside the foul pole in the right-field stands. Law retired the next three batters with no trouble, but when he started the sixth by giving up a single to Richardson and walking Kubek, Murtaugh came to get him. "I knew his ankle was hurting him and he might have injured his pitching arm if he'd stayed in any longer," Murtaugh explained later. "Winning a World Series is important but not at the cost of ruining a pitcher like Vernon Law." In fact, Law would go on to pitch for another seven seasons in his fine career, but never again win twenty games or approach the level of dominance he reached in this series, when he battled the Yankees on one leg and left every game with his team in the lead.
There's no tomorrow is the old seventh-game cliché, and Murtaugh used it on his pitchers before the game, saying they should all be ready in the bullpen. Bob Friend, Harvey Haddix, and all the others were available, but when Law had to come out, even though it was just the sixth inning, Murtaugh had only one thought in mind. He brought in Face one last time. Perhaps it was once too many. Face had gone more than two innings in each of the previous two wins, and his arm was shot. He retired the first batter, Maris, on a foul out, but then Mantle bounded a single up the middle, scoring Richardson, and Berra crushed a three-run home run that landed barely fair in the upper deck in right. In an instant, the Pirates had lost the lead and the Yankees seemed transformed again into the murderous bunch of games two, three, and six.
Face got out of the inning after that and the next inning and a half were uneventful except for one move that seemed utterly insignificant at the time. Burgess singled in the Pirates half of the seventh and left the game for a pinch runner, who was stranded. When the Yankees came to bat in the eighth, Hal Smith replaced Burgess at catcher. Face, still plugging away with no strength or stuff, retired Maris and Mantle, then ran into trouble again. Singles by Skowron and Johnny Blanchard and a double by Cletus Boyer the same Boyer who had been humiliated by Stengel in the first game brought in two more runs, giving the Yankees a 7-4 lead going into the bottom of the eighth. All of this was mere prelude to the dramatic final act.
Since their early-inning explosion, the Pirates had been tamed by New York's own little giant, lefty Bobby Shantz, who had encountered fifteen batters and given up only one hit and a walk. Up first for the Pirates now was Gino Cimoli, pinch hitting for Face. As he described it later to the Post-Gazette's Myron Cope, Cimoli felt "slightly weak at the stomach" as he plucked his bat from the rack and walked to the plate. He worked the count to two and two, staying off Shantz's pitches that hit the low, outside corner of the strike zone, and then found one more to his liking and dropped a single into right field between Maris running in and Richardson hustling out. Next up was Virdon. On the second pitch, he cracked a two-hop grounder to shortstop Kubek. "Oh, heck, a double play," Virdon thought to himself as he ran to first. But on its last hop on the infield apron, the hard surface the Yankees had been complaining about all series long, the ball took a bad bounce, higher than Kubek expected, and struck him in the throat. In excruciating pain, he fell to the ground and the ball rolled free. Two on, no out instead of two out, bases empty. In the press box, the Post's Povich recalled the famous pebble play of the seventh game of the 1924 World Series when Earl McNeely of the Senators grounded to third but the ball struck an infield pebble and bounded over New York third baseman Freddie Lindstrom's head, allowing the winning run to score. The way the ball bounces: so that's what the cliché meant.
The game stopped and attention turned to the fallen Kubek. Stengel made the long walk from the dugout to check on his young shortstop, who had celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday earlier in the series. Kubek was spitting blood and couldn't really talk, but signaled to Stengel that he wanted to stay in the game. It was a gutsy request, but Stengel ignored him and took him out, and soon he was being transported to Pittsburgh's Eye and Ear Hospital, where Dr. H. K. Sherman determined that he had internal bleeding and a severely bruised vocal chord and needed to stay overnight for observation. Joe DeMaestri was sent in to play short. Now it was Shantz facing Dick Groat, who had struggled during the series with only five hits in twenty-seven at-bats. Shantz decided to pitch him inside, not wanting the skilled batsman to poke the ball to right. He came inside three straight times. By the third pitch, Groat had adjusted, and pulled the ball down the third-base line, past Boyer, for a run-scoring single. Stengel decided Shantz was through, and replaced him with Jim Coates. Everyone knew the next batter, Skinner, would bunt, and he did, dropping the ball down the third-base line, moving the runners up to second and third. Rocky Nelson had another chance at heroics, but failed to reach the right-field porch this time, instead lofting a routine fly ball to Maris.
Two out, men in scoring position, Roberto Clemente stepped to the plate. Coates decided to pitch him outside, hoping to get the free-swinger to lunge at a bad pitch. Clemente, in his eagerness, flailed at three straight outside pitches and fouled them off, breaking his bat in the process. He strolled back to the dugout for another Frenchy Uhalt model. In the radio booth, NBC's Chuck Thompson was calling the play-by-play. "In typical World Series fashion this one appears to be going right down to the wire," he said. "Now Blanchard pumpin' out the sign to Coates, who wigwags with that glove just a bit. He wants to see the sign again. Now Coates is into the move, the one-two to Clemente."
Thompson's voice quickened. "He swings...ground ball...slowly hit off the first base side. Charging is Skowron. He makes the pickup. There'll be no play and the run scores!" A thunderous roar filled Forbes Field, and Thompson waited for the decibels to lower slightly before continuing. "Clemente hit a slow roller down the first-base way, wide of the bag, about ten or twelve feet to the right, or to the second-base side. Skowron came charging in, made the pickup on the ball. Had no chance of a play at the plate because Virdon broke with the crack of the bat. And then realized that he couldn't get over there in time to get Clemente at first base. So the infield hit by Clemente has driven in the sixth Pirate run. Down to third base goes Groat. Two outs. It's the Yankees seven, the Pirates six. And the batter will be catcher Hal Smith."
The New York writers went into a tizzy over this play. Where was Coates? they wanted to know. He should have been at the bag to take Skowron's throw, complained Arthur Daley, but "was probably so busy trying to figure out what his share of the winners' purse would be that he forgot to cover the bag." Clemente, racing down the line, was certain that he would have beaten any throw to the bag, and many observers agreed. Coates did not delay leaving the mound, but had to circle around Skowron on his way to the bag. In any case, the Pirates were still alive, sending up Hal Smith, the backup catcher who had replaced Burgess in the seventh. "Smith steps in with two down, runners at first and third, and this ballpark is going crazy," Thompson reported. An electric current seemed to run through the stands of Forbes Field, every fan plugged in, wired, lit up, a sensation that only late-inning October baseball could create. In downtown Pittsburgh, crowds bubbled on the sidewalks outside department stores showing the game on televisions in their display windows. All work stopped. Thompson returned to the microphone...
"Coates into the set...he throws...takes a strike right down the pike. And Smitty was giving it a good look. One strike to the right-hand batting Hal Smith. Clemente hit a little dribbler off the first-base side, wide of the bag at first and legged it out for a base hit. And Virdon was able to score the sixth run. Now the one-strike pitch coming to Smith. It's high, a ball. One ball, one strike. Well, the Pirate opportunity in this inning came about on the bad-hop ball that hit Kubek in the throat and knocked him out of the ball game. Now the one-one pitch to Smith. There it is. Swing and a miss, strike two. He really pulled the trigger. One ball, two strikes to Hal Smith. He gave it the big ripple, the Sunday punch, and couldn't find it. The tying run is at third base in the person of Dick Groat. The go-ahead run is at first base in the person of Roberto Clemente. And now the set, the one-two pitch to Hal Smith."
On the mound, Coates had decided to climb the ladder, hoping that Smith would swing at a high hard one. "Coates throws," announced Thompson. "He started to swing and held back. And took it high for a ball. A checked swing. Ball two. Two and two now. And for just a split-second every move in the Pirate dugout came to a stop on that call out there at the plate. It was a high pitch and Smith held back on the swing. So the count at two and two."
At the plate, Smith stood ready, whispering a quiet mantra to himself. Meet the ball. Meet the ball. "Coates into the stretch. He sets. And the two-two to Smith. He swings." Anyone listening on the radio could hear the sharp crack of the bat. "A long fly ball deep to left. I don't know, it might go out of here! It is going...going...gone! Forbes Field at this moment is an outdoor insane asylum! We have shared in one of baseball's great moments!"
Smith liked to golf low pitches and could tell by the "feel" that he had connected. Coates could tell, too, and threw his glove in the air in disgust. As Smith rounded first base and saw Berra and Mantle stop in their tracks and the ball soar over the 406 sign and far beyond into Schenley Park, he had to fight off the urge to turn a celebratory somersault. Stengel had crab-walked out of the dugout by then and was signaling in Ralph Terry from the bullpen. Coates departed, head down, and Stengel followed behind, his team now losing 9-7. Hoak flied to left, and the Yankees came in for their last at-bat.
Haddix and Friend had been warming up in the bullpen for the Pirates. "You're the one," Haddix said, and Friend hitched his pants and marched to the mound. He had been the loser in games two and six, but here was his chance to make amends. He had a rubber arm and wasn't feeling tired. You can rest all winter, Murtaugh had told him. It was all happening so fast now, and here he was, facing the top of the order. Four pitches later, there he went, heading toward the dugout, distraught, having given up singles to Richardson and pinch hitter Dale Long. Now Haddix was the one. Hoak looked over from third and thought Haddix looked "as cool as fish on ice." Lefty against lefty, he got Maris to pop up to the catcher. But Mantle, batting right-handed, smashed a line drive to right-center, sending Richardson home and Long to third. The stadium fell silent. Gil McDougald went in to run for Long, representing the tying run at third. Berra, the feared clutch hitter, slashed a sharp drive to the first-base side. Rocky Nelson, never known for his fielding, snared the ball on a short hop, saving a double, and made a split second decision. Should he throw to second to try for a first-short-first double play or step on the bag for a sure out and then throw to second to try to get Mantle on a tag play? Step on the bag, Nelson said to himself, and as he touched the bag and turned to make the play, where was Mantle? Not heading toward second but sliding back into first. Nelson was frozen in surprise. Mantle swerved to avoid the tag in a brilliant bit of base running. In retrospect, it was apparent that Nelson could have tagged Mantle first and then stepped on the bag for an easy, game-ending double play, but both players were reacting on instinct, and Mantle's instincts were superior. The tying run scored from third and the game was still on. The next batter, Skowron, hit into a force play at second, and the Pirates raced to their dugout. Nine-nine, bottom of the ninth.
Mazeroski was first up for Pittsburgh.
That was the brilliant last line of Red Smith's column the next day.
Maz was made for Pittsburgh. He grew up nearby, in Wheeling, West Virginia, and was tough, quiet, modest, ethnic, the son of a coal miner who had lost a foot in a mining accident and died young of lung cancer. For five seasons, since he came up at age nineteen, Maz had struggled to fulfill his potential as a boy wonder. He was up one year, down the next, but had rebounded from a dismal 1959 season to help lead the Pirates to the pennant this year, at age twenty-four, fielding brilliantly and hitting .273 with eleven home runs and sixty-four runs batted in. Like his counterpart on the Yankees, Bobby Richardson, he could seem lost in the lineup until a tense moment arose, and then his teammates were encouraged to see him walk to the plate.
Now here he stood, No. 9, waiting for Ralph Terry, his jaw working a wad of tobacco. Dick Stuart, the slumping but dangerous slugger, had lumbered out to the on-deck circle, ready to pinch-hit for the pitcher. Stuart was certain that he would hit a home run to win the game. In the dugout, Bob Friend stared down at his spikes, swearing at himself, brooding about his pitching and not getting the job done. Vern Law was hoping, even praying, that all would turn out right. Clemente sat nearby. He was scheduled to be the fifth batter that inning. He was preparing himself mentally for the possibility of coming to bat with two outs and two on. In the radio booth, Chuck Thompson had almost exhausted his superlatives with all the dramatic plays he had called in the last twenty minutes.
"The last half of the ninth inning," Thompson began prosaically. "Changes made by the Yankees: McDougald goes to third base. Cletus Boyer moves over to play shortstop. And Ralph Terry of course on the mound will be facing Mazeroski.... Here's a ball one, too high now to Mazeroski. The Yankees have tied the game in the top of the ninth inning. A little while ago, we mentioned that this one in typical fashion was going right down to the wire. Little did we know. Terry throws...here's a high fly ball going deep to left. This may do it. Back to the wall goes Berra..."
Third baseman McDougald is still looking toward home plate as the ball sails over his head. The third-base and left-field umpires, neatly aligned along the line, are also looking in. This clout does not have the towering parabola of Hal Smith's, but the ball keeps going. Murtaugh thinks it will be caught. So does Bob Friend. Mazeroski is not sure, barely looking, sprinting hard to first, no easy home-run trot. From the Pirates dugout, Ducky Schofield, the reserve infielder, watches Berra retreat to the wall and look up, ready to play the ball off the wall. Then Yogi turns and bends and slumps, his knees almost buckling. And it is over.
Behind the ivy wall, the square Longines clock reads 3:37 P.M. Murtaugh wants to kiss his wife. Unbelievable, thinks Friend. "It is...over the fence, home run, the Pirates win!" shouts Chuck Thompson. A staggering roar shakes the stands. "Ladies and gentlemen, Mazeroski has hit a one-nothing pitch over the left-field fence at Forbes Field to win the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates..." Ralph Terry throws his glove and stalks from the mound. He has no idea what kind of pitch it was, he will say later, only that it was the wrong one. Maz is dancing, leaping high, like he's riding an imaginary bronco, waving his helmet instead of a cowboy hat; now prancing around second and taking the joyous homeward turn at third. The diamond is madness, fans rushing forward, a raving, wild-eyed convoy, a boy reaches out, and then another, men in suits and shirtsleeves scramble into the action, city cops and state troopers with billy clubs race-waddle in from the left-field side, the Pirate dugout empties and forms a buzzing, delirious hive, bobbing behind the plate, waiting, fortunes changed in a second; and now the final steps, the crew-cut hero arriving with all of Pittsburgh in loving pursuit, and the ump clears the way, arms out, and Maz takes a final leap on the plate and disappears, everyone grabbing, pounding, like going fifteen rounds with Floyd Patterson, he thinks, but he's too happy to feel the pain, and Clemente and a few teammates try to protect him as they bounce back to the dugout and through the underground dimness to the dressing room.
The field is left to the fans, hundreds of them, running aimlessly, singing endless choruses of what Red Smith now calls "the tinny horror entitled 'The Bucs Are Going All the Way.'" A man in a brown suit brings out a spade and literally digs up home plate and walks away with it. Life is a series of sensations, and here is an unforgettable one for all Pirates fans. For the rest of the afternoon and late into the night, the streets belong to the people. Everything upside down, an act of rebellion at the dawn of the sixties, the establishment losing a first round.
Bob Prince, working the television broadcast with Mel Allen, missed calling Maz's home run. The Gunner had left the booth early to reach the dressing room in time for postgame interviews. There was a noisy, bustling traffic jam inside the clubhouse door, making it almost impossible to get through. John Galbreath and his son Danny needed an eight-man police wedge to join the celebration. Cimoli, Stuart, Hoak, Face, Mizell, all drenched in champagne, came rushing over to douse the owner. Prince groped around for interviews.
"Beat 'em, Bucs!" Cimoli shouted into the microphone. "Can't beat our Buccos, tell you that. Yes, sir, we got 'em, we got 'em. They broke all the records and we won the game."
"Here's the president of the ball club, Mr. John Galbreath," Prince said.
"I just want to ask you one question that you asked me," Galbreath said, his voice urgent and hoarse. "Have we paid our debt to this city, the people of Pittsburgh?"
"I think you have," Prince said. "And you've given your voice to it, too, haven't you?"
"I'll give it all I've got," Galbreath said.
"You wouldn't trade a Kentucky Derby for this, John," Prince added, referring to the owner's obsession with thoroughbred racing.
"You, you're trying to get me where I'm vulnerable," Galbreath responded.
By the time Bill Nunn Jr. reached the dressing room, his friend Clemente was sitting alone in the corner, "happy but unconcerned with all the fanfare." He had been the only player to get a hit in all seven games. He had performed flawlessly in the field. His dribbling hit and dash to first base in the eighth inning had kept Pirate hopes alive. Now he said he planned to use his World Series money to buy a house for his mother in Carolina. "It's something I've always wanted to do for her after all she's done for me," he said. "I can't wait to see the joy on her face the first time she sees her new home." Nunn noticed that Clemente had showered and was packing his large duffel bag as champagne flew around him.
"What's the hurry?" the Courier editor asked.
Clemente was slipping a glove into the bag. "I catch plane at six o'clock for New York," he answered. "I stay there tonight and then I head for home."
"What about the victory party they're holding for the team? You certainly belong in that group," Nunn said.
"I don't like those kind of things," Clemente said. "There is not fun for me. Last one I went to all I did was stand in a corner."
A teammate handed Clemente a cup of champagne. He smiled and took a sip, then gestured to his friend Diomedes Antonio Olivo, the forty-one-year-old Latin pitcher, a legend in the Dominican Republic, who did not make the World Series roster but threw batting practice for the Pirates. Olivo, who spoke no English, would accompany Clemente to New York and back to the Caribbean. Nunn noticed that Clemente "paid special attention to a box he had next to him. In it was a trophy voted to him by Pirates fans as the most popular of all Pittsburgh players."
Olivo was ready to go. Clemente turned to Nunn and asked if he could give them a ride to the airport. On the way out, Clemente shook hands with Gene Baker, then slipped from the clubhouse and took a side exit, hoping to avoid the crowds. In an earlier conversation, he had told Nunn that he was worried the Pirates would not reward his excellent year with a sufficient raise. "It looks like everything is going to be all right next season," he said now. He had talked to Joe Brown the day before, and Brown had told him there would be no contract trouble. The general manager also asked him not to play winter ball when he got home to Puerto Rico.
As soon as they emerged from the stadium someone shouted, "There's Clemente!" and soon a crowd engulfed them. They walked a few yards, then were stopped again by another adoring throng, the jubilant scrum inching along toward Nunn's car. It took nearly an hour. By that time Clemente was radiating happiness. The fans of Pittsburgh, he said, made everything worthwhile. They were the reason he was glad the Pirates won the World Series. They were the best fans in the world.
Copyright © 2006 by David Maraniss
Meet the Author
Born in Detroit, David Maraniss is an associate editor at The Washington Post. Maraniss is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and bestselling author of Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story; First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton; Rome 1960: The Olympics that Stirred the World; Barack Obama: The Story; Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero; They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967; and When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, which was hailed by Sports Illustrated as “maybe the best sports biography ever published.” He lives in Washington, DC, and Madison, Wisconsin.
- Washington, D.C., and Madison, Wisconsin
- Date of Birth:
- August 6, 1949
- Place of Birth:
- Detroit, Michigan
- University of Wisconsin
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I grew up in NE. PA, listening to the Pirates on the KDKA and watching them on the occasional "Game of the Week" on Saturdays. I have always been a Clemente fan. Despite what the press of the time said and felt about him, I always felt that he was a class act and in a league of his own. The Maraniss book is probably the best I have read on Clemente, reminding me of what it was like to grow up in that moment in history. Clemente is one of the great "what if's" in baseball - it would have been interesting to see what other records he would have set in his remaining years in baseball; however, God needed him more........
The book Clemente is an outstanding biography about a legendary baseball player. This book does an excellent job of describing Clemente¿s entire life with and without baseball. Before Clemente knew he had a chance of playing professional baseball he was just a young and ambitious kid looking for a shot. Clemente loved the game more then anyone else and when ever he got an opportunity to play he was very thankful. Clemente, being the determined person he was fought through his rough childhood and moved on to bigger and better things. Roberto not only became one of the best right fielders of all time, winning countless gold gloves and other awards, but he was also known as a man who thought of others before himself which made him very special. Sadly, Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash while trying to help survivors of a terrible storm in Nicaragua which ended a fantastic career. This book really teaches a great lesson of if you desire something don¿t let anything hold you back. Clemente demonstrated this lesson more then anyone else which makes him a true hero and great role model for everyone.
One of the best bios writen. The pages of the book brought this man, this hero (Clemente) to life again. The essence foundin this book, defines what a hero is and ought to be
Well researched and well written. It captivated me and provided insight to the man as well as the baseball ground breaker and hero.
Maraniss takes a thorough, balanced, human approach to telling the great and sometimes troubling story of Roberto Clemente. Clemente is no doubt one of the true important historical figures in the game. This book goes inside, warts and all, to take a detailed look at the athletes' struggles, triumphs and devotion to his people. It is among both the best baseball stories and human stories of the 20th century.
i thought that the biography on Roberto Clemente was interesting and i liked the biography alot. I never knew before how badly different races were treated in baseball at this time period. i would recomend this biography to anyone who likes baseball and wants to learn about the life of the great Roberto Clemente. Roberto Clemente was one of the best baseball players of his time and he should of got alot more apreciation from the begining. When Roberto first started out he was the first and only black puerta rican in the whole league. The biography is good because it is interesting i learned alot of facts i never knew. Before i read este libro yo nunca knew much about Roberto, I just thought that he was an average player but after reading este libro i think that he is one of the best rightfielders in baseball history. i recomend este libro 100 percent. i would recomend it to the ages of 14 up because anyone younger wont get what the book is also about and wont be able to fully understand the importance of Roberto Clemente.
Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero is a great book about the life of my hero, Roberto Clemente. It tells of his life growing up in Carolina, Puerto Rico in a poor Latin home with many family members. It also tells of when the city got the news that their own Roberto was going to be one of the first Hispanic players in the Major Leagues. You can read about the American's reactions to the hard throwing outfielder and the struggles he had with segregation in the states. Clemente was a special man. He was so special that he has an award named after him. In this special book you can follow his whole life. You will be with him through the good times and through the bad. You can here some of the funny anecdotes that went with this serious, silent man, too. My least favorite part, but possibly the most important part of the book is when he dies. You will read of the countless searches for his body and what they think crashed the plane. You can even read the rare story of how his team mate Manny Sanguillen volunteered to search the shark infested waters for his body. As many of you know though, they never found his body. They only found a sock left. This an amazing book for all ages young and old. I would advise everyone in the world to read this book at least once. If this story doesn't touch and amaze you, there is something wrong. Go out and buy this wonderful book about Baseballs Last Great Hero.
The book Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero written by David Maraniss was a great book. I loved it i would recomend this to anybody not just sport or baseball fans. This book is all about the great baseball player Roberto Clemente from bith to death and tells an amazing story of one of the most caring and helpful people of all-time. This book was a great book that was all about the real person inside Clemente and about how he was passionate about the great game of baseball and about people from young to old and healthy to sick.
this book is so great it makes me cry
This was a good book that tells us everything about Roberto Clemente. It Shows us how caring he was and what a great ballplayer he was too. I did however find some parts of it to be a bit boring but all in all it was a pretty decent book.
I am not a sports fan so I don¿t follow any of the happenings in those fields. Therefore, I was not sure that I would enjoy CLEMENTE but listened to it anyway. What I am is a Curious Kitty meaning that I like to know about people and their lives. This book is that type of story. I learned that Clemente was in baseball when it wasn¿t popular to be Black let alone Puerto Rican. Clemente was both. I learned that he never forgot where he came from and was always willing to help others no matter the cost to himself. In the end, that cost was his own life. The author is the reader in this audio book and he does a good job. He has written a book that holds the interest of anyone who listens to it and explains the term so even those who don¿t know the game can follow the story. He tells about the side of a famous person that most of us never know about which included Clemente¿s struggle to make good, the friends he made along the way and his own personal life with his wife, Vera and their children. It tells of his family and siblings and how he helps the poor in his country. The final chapters give the details of the plane crash and why it happened and how it could have been prevented if only a few safety rules had been followed. Whether you are a baseball fan or not, this audio book will hold your attention and you may just learn something you didn¿t know about Clemente if you do follow the game.
As a kid growing up in 1970s Philadelphia, I eagerly looked forward to visits from our cross town rivals, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Make no mistake, I disliked the 'Bucs as much as any good Phillie fan would, however, I idolized their superstar outfielder, Roberto Clemente. Thanks to this tremendous biography, the player I idolized as a kid, is a man I can admire as an adult. David Maraniss has done an exlempary job recapturing an era in baseball's timeline when it reigned number one in the hearts and minds of sports fans accross the nation. He has also provided significant insights regarding the prejudices and road blocks Hispanic ballplayers - especially those with dark complexions - faced trying to enter the American game. While Roberto Clemente was not the first to cross this ethic line, he was certainly one of the first true bona fide superstars of Carribean descent. The Clemente that emerges from this fine work is a very complex man. Fiercly competive, tenacioulsy focused. honorable and compassionate, and deeply principled. I cried as a thirteen year old when hearing the news of Roberto Clemente's untimely - and as Maraniss's story point out, totally avoidable - death. As an adult, I alos shed a tear when finishing this book. Thank you David Maraniss for an insightful and moving foray into the life of a man whose Hall of Fame accomplishments on the diamond were overshadowed by his commendable endeavors off the field.
Baseball biography at its best, especially when so much attention is being given to the darker side of today's game, namely steroid use and absurd salaries! A refreshing, entertaining, and extremely informative history of better days!