My love of the Pirates of that era can be traced to the many evenings I spent with my grandfather on the front porch of our house, in the dark, him in his wooden rocking chair, me on the wooden porch swing, listening to the Pirates games on his radio.
Even with the occasional clanging of steel or the clatter of train cars, the night was quieter than the day was. And then, from the radio would come Bob Prince's rich voice, flowing through the darkness. I can still hear him calling the games, "Full count on Groat," and when the game went well, you could feel the excitement in his catch phrases: "Kiss it goodbye!" "How sweet it is!" "We had 'em all the way!" During the 1960 season, Prince got to unleash those happy phrases more than ever before. That season ended with a game that will be seared into my mind, and my heart, forever.
In the '50s, the Pirates followed one losing season with another, until 1958, when the team went 84-70. And they managed to scrape together another winning season the following year, narrowly, going 78-76. Then came the glorious 1960 season.
The Pirates were different that year, they were winning. Longtime fans were thrilled to have a team they could be proud of. Finally. And non-fans became fans, caught up in the excitement. Pittsburghers love to root for a scrappy, hard-working underdog, especially when that underdog is winning. The cry of "Beat 'em Bucs!" seemed to be everywhere. The team ended the regular season with a 95-59 record, winning the National League pennant, seven games ahead of the second place Milwaukee Braves. Fans were ecstatic.
But the joy of winning the regular season was somewhat tempered by the knowledge that the Bucs would be playing the elite, mighty, heavily-favored Yankees in the World Series. The NY season record had even been better than the Pirates': 97-57. Winning the American League pennant was routine for the perennially talented Yankees. This was the Yankees team with a lineup that included legends Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra, plus two other MVPs: Elston Howard and Bobby Shantz. In comparison, the Pirates had season MVP shortstop Dick Groat, Cy Young award winner Vernon Law, and a young star-in-the-making, right fielder Roberto Clemente.
The Pirates didn't look great during the series. Although they won Game 1, 6-4, the next two games were Yankee blow-outs: Game 2: Yankees 16, Pirates 3; Game 3: Yankees 10, Pirates 0. In Game 4, the Pirates eked out a 3-2 win. Game 5 was better, with the Pirates winning 5-2. But then in Game 6, another Yankee rout: Yankees 12, Pirates 0.
And so, the Pirates reached game 7, out-pitched, out-batted, and outscored. But not out-supported by their fans.
The 7th game of the series was on October 13, a sunny, warm Thursday. I was in school when the game at Forbes Field started at 1 PM. I could barely sit still I was so excited. I drew pictures of pirate ships captioned "Make the Yanks walk the plank!" When school was finally over, and the school bus dropped me off, I rushed home to see if the game was still going on. And it was, barely. The game was already in the 9th inning. And the Pirates and Yankees were tied, 9-9.
My grandfather, along with my uncle, and my grandmother, who ordinarily didn't watch or listen to baseball games, were watching the game on TV. It had been a tense one, tension I could feel in my grandparents' living room. The Pirates had scored two runs in both the 1st and 2nd innings. The Yankees scored a single run in the 5th, but came alive in the 6th, adding 4 more. The Yankees scored 2 more runs in the 8th, but, wonder of wonders, the Pirates scored 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th! The Pirates were winning 9-7! But then, the Yankees dampened the Pirates fans' joy by scoring twice in the 9th.
I bet most Pirates fans were, like my grandfather, on the edge of their seat, leaning forward, tense, concentrating, willing the Pirates to win. I hadn't even bothered to sit down. I stood there, staring at the TV, not daring to move.
The first batter in the bottom of the 9th, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski, stepped up to the plate. Ball one. And then, the second pitch. Maz hit the ball, hard. It soared over the left field fence. Kiss it goodbye! The game was over! The series was over! The Pirates had won 10-9! They were World Champs! My Polish grandfather was overjoyed and so proud of Mazeroski. "The Pollock did it!"
Forbes Field went wild as Maz rounded the bases, waving his batting helmet over his head. As he headed towards home, he was greeted by his teammates and fans, some of whom had raced after him as he ran from third. Much rejoicing ensued throughout Pirates-land.
This is what greeted fans on the front page of The Beaver County Times, October 14, 1960:
|"THE BUCS GO ALL THE WAY", front page headline, Beaver County Times, October 14, 1960.|
|Front page photo, Beaver County Times, October 14, 1960, credit UPI Telephoto.|
The text under the photo says:
THE FUSE - Accompanied by bug-eyed fans, Bill Mazeroski dances toward home plate with the winning run of the 1960 World Series. Moments later, he was surrounded by the fans and teammates, and thousands more, forming the reception committee around the plate. This was the fuse that touched off the wildest sports celebration in the history of Pittsburgh.
No game will ever top that final game for me. On that beautiful, wonderful October day, it was--and it forever will be--the best baseball game ever played. And I'm not the only one who thinks so: "The greatest game ever played" by David Schoenfield.