It was a half-century ago but I still have vivid memories of 1960.
Television was still considered kosher and my favorite shows were mostly westerns. There were several at the time including my favorite, “Cheyenne,” starring Clint Walker. “Rawhide” featured the then unknown Clint Eastwood while “The Rifleman” starred former Dodgers and Cubs first baseman Chuck Connors.
I also tuned in to “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Maverick.” My mostly Yiddish-speaking grandparents preferred programs that bore the names of stars – Jack Benny, Perry Como, Ed Sullivan and Lawrence Welk.
Parents across the country were saddened by NBC’s decision to end “The Howdy Doody Show” after a 13-year run. (I visited Howdy last year; the puppet is on permanent display at the Detroit Institute of Arts.) Elvis Presley had several top tunes on the charts including “It’s Now or Never.” Chubby Checker introduced the Twist to America’s teens on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.”
Music lovers were saddened by the passing of Oscar Hammerstein II, the famous lyricist who wrote the words for so many classic musicals including “South Pacific,” “The Sound of Music” and “Oklahoma!”
On the political front, Vice President Richard Nixon was hoping to replace President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the upcoming election. Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kennedy, also eying the big prize, was drawing huge crowds at appearances. An outdoor September rally in Detroit drew an estimated 60,000 people to see the handsome, charismatic politician from Boston.
Speaking of Boston, Ted Williams ended his career on the last day of the season at Fenway Park by homering in his final major league at-bat. Despite missing almost five seasons to military service in World War II and the Korean War as a crack air force pilot, Williams compiled 521 home runs and a .344 career batting average.
The stars of the 1960 World Series, Bobby Richardson (left) and Bill Mazeroski,
pose for Irwin Cohen 25 years later, in 1985.
Despite Williams’s heroics through the season, Boston finished in seventh place, a staggering 32 games behind New York. The Yankees went to the World Series for the 10th time in 12 years under manager Casey Stengel.
The Pirates represented the National League. The Series opened at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, which had been built by the team’s Jewish owner Barney Dreyfuss in 1909. It was baseball’s first all steel and concrete ballpark and held only half of Yankee Stadium’s 65,000 capacity.
Over the first six games the Pirates were shut out twice by Whitey Ford and outscored 46 to 17, but managed to win three close ones.
The Pirates took a 4-0 lead after four innings in the seventh and deciding game, much to the delight of the noisy Forbes Field fans. But the Yankees posted a run in the fifth, four in the sixth and two more in the eighth to take a 7-3 lead.
The mood soon changed as the Pirates answered with five runs in their half of the 8th inning to take a 9-7 lead. The Yankees had no trouble coming up with the two runs needed to tie the score off of an ineffective Pirates pitching staff whose collective ERA ballooned to an all-time Series high of 7.11.
What followed was the most memorable ending in World Series history.
The youngest member of the Pirates lineup, 24-year-old Bill Mazeroski, led off the bottom of the ninth against Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry. Maz had a pretty good if not star-quality year with the bat (.273 and 11 home runs) and was valued for his superior defensive abilities.
Mazeroski smacked the second pitch he saw. Yankees left fielder Yogi Berra ran back to the wall as Maz raced to first base, slowing to a trot when the ball sailed over the vine-covered brick wall to end the World Series.
Fast-forward 50 years later. A 14-foot high bronze statue of Mazeroski was unveiled recently outside Pittsburgh’s beautiful PNC Park.
Mazeroski, now 74, played his entire 17-year career with the Pirates and compiled a .260 career average. His statue joins those of greater Pirates of the past, Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.
Wagner, Clemente and Stargell may have had more flashy careers, but Maz’s homer was the greatest moment in Pittsburgh – and certainly World Series – history. We’ll see if anything can top that this year.
The author of seven books, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years before embarking on a front office career earning a World Series ring. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit community’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at email@example.com. The Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month.