Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dick Stuart was already in the on-deck circle, ready to bat for Harvey Haddix. If the score remained 9-9, Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell presumably would pitch the tenth inning.
Mazeroski has aptly been described as the perfect hero for Pittsburgh. He had grown up in nearby Wheeling, West Virginia, the son of a coal miner. He was quiet and unassuming. And he was of Polish origin.
Yet, Mazeroski was something of the forgotten man in the Pirates line-up. His infield mates Dick Groat and Don Hoak had finished first and and second in the MVP balloting, while Mazeroski received no votes. But, all things considered, Maz probably played just about as well as they did in 1960, and just about as well as Roberto Clemente.
Mazeroski hadn’t gotten the ball out of the infield against Ralph Terry in Game 4, but Terry was laboring under several disadvantages this time out. For one thing, he reportedly had warmed up five different times in the bullpen. For another, according to some accounts, the practice mound in the pen was severely elevated and bore little resemblance to the actual Forbes Field mound (this hadn’t bothered Bobby Shantz, though). According to other accounts, and not inconsistent with the elevated mound theory, Terry had experienced problems with his slider – his best pitch – when throwing in the bullpen. Eddie Lopat, the pitching coach, advised him not to throw it in the game.
Terry’s first pitch was high. Catcher Johnny Blanchard took a few steps towards the mound and signaled that Terry should get the ball down. His next pitch was fat. Mazeroski launched it to deep left field. Yogi Berra turned looked up and then began jogging towards the dug-out. Baseball’s most dramatic game had come to a stunning conclusion.
The Yankees walked directly to the locker room. In those days, the losing players did not sit morosely in the dug-out staring blankly at the field. In any case, that wasn’t the Yankee way.
Ralph Terry entered Casey Stengel’s office to apologize. Stengel told him not to forget about it and come back strong next year. Terry would, but Stengel wouldn’t reap the benefits. Within a week, the Yankees fired him.
Blanchard would claim that Mazeroski’s homer came off of a Terry slider, the pitch Lopat had warned him not to throw. Terry would never say what pitch he threw. His stock answer to the question has always been, “the wrong pitch.”
Mickey Mantle had batted .400 for the Series with 3 home runs and 11 RBI. He had also contributed a base-running play for the ages. Now, he was disconsolate and ungracious, claiming that this was the first time the Yankees had lost a World Series to an inferior team. The Pirates were probably every bit as good as the Yankees, and had demonstrated it over the course of the full season. But given the run count for the Series – New York 55, Pittsburgh 27 – one could certainly understand Mantle’s point.
Even so, it was well known that the Yankees had never accepted that the Milwaukee Braves team that defeated them in the 1957 Series was their equal. This unyielding pride was also the Yankee way; in fact, it was one of the key things that made them the Yankees.
On the Pirates’ side, pandemonium reigned, of course. The team owner needed an eight-man police wedge just to reach the locker room. Inside, the Bucs were celebrating with even more intensity than when they won the pennant and injured Vernon Law’s ankle during the festivities.
Bobby Richardson was voted the Series MVP, becoming the first player on a losing team to be so recognized. This reflected not just the Yankees’ domination of the Series, but also the ongoing difficulty of identifying the most valuable Pirate. For my money, in the World Series the Pittsburgh MVP was either Mazeroski (.320, 2 home runs, 5 RBIs) or, more likely, Law with his two wins and courageous Game 7 outing.
The proud Yankees would bounce back with a vengeance in 1961, winning 109 regular season games and defeating Cincinnati 4 games to 1 in the World Series. The upstart Pirates would not return to the Series until 1971, when they won another seven game thriller. The only remaining Pirates from the 1960 club were Clemente, Mazeroski, and Murtaugh, in his third of four stints as Pittsburgh manager.
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