Baseball and Memory: A Holiday Sidebar

MLB network broadcast  the historic 7th game of the 1960 World Series last night, with Bob Costas hosting and a bunch of veteran Pittsburgh players and fans on hand (including Michael Keaton–who knew) at a theater in Pittsburgh. This game, the deciding game of the NY Yankees against the Pittsburgh Pirates series, had not been seen in its entirety as they say, since then, and was presumed lost. A Kinescope copy was found in the archives of Bing Crosby, who was not only a Pittsburgh fan, but also a part owner of the team.

     The game was considered one of the greats. Pittsburgh went out to a 4-0 lead, but the sides finally battled to an improbable 9-9 tie until the bottom of the ninth, when Bill Mazeroski hit a home run and won the game and the series for Pittsburgh, 10-9.

     I can now finally understand my wife’s sometime-assessment that I’ve never gotten much past 15 years old. I was yelling and wishing that the Yankees would do something to change the inevitable outcome. In real life, I was 10 years old, listening on the radio in the basement at home in Bergenfield, New Jersey — I think I wasn’t allowed to watch television daytime during the week when I was a kid. When Mazeroski hit his 9th inning home run, I punched a hole in the unfinished sheet-rock my dad had put up to build a wall, which all the subsequent years was never finished. I could go down to that basement until I sold the house in 2006 to look at the hole, still recalling why it was there.

      The pleasures: Watching Mantle and Maris and Roberto Clemente, and seeing everybody try to cover for Yogi Berra in left field.If I’m not mistaken, Roberto Clemente was the only African-American and the only Latino on the field. Elston Howard would have been there, but he had fractured a finger on his throwing hand the day before, and couldn’t play. Johnny Blanchard was the catcher.

    The lack of diversity was one noticeable factor in comparing the game to the modern era. Others: the players were tall, thin, wiry, and some were Yogi Berra-like (rotund), not to mention Smoky Burgess, who looked like Wallace Beery on a bad day. One pitcher,  Bobby “Little Bobby” Shantz, for the Yankees, was about 5 foot 6, and  weighed 139, at risk in a calm wind. The players had more variable physiques than they do now. Little evidence of weight-lifting. Even Mickey Mantle, the most famous player on the field at the time, was solid, but didn’t seem muscle-bound under his flannels compared to a latter-day Reggie or Barry, or Alex, or certainly not McGwire.

     The game moved along quickly, little theatrics between pitches: stand there and hit, no batting gloves, no helmets. Short wind-up for the pitcher and go.

     The most singular old, very old myth to be knocked down was the role of the old “perfessor,” Casey Stengel. Mazeroski’s home run signaled Casey’s last game as the Yankee manager, with good reason. Managers, as they say, can’t win games, but they can help lose–and Casey helped. First of all,, Bob Turley was the starting pitcher in this final game, and to emphasize his concern about the outcome, Casey had relief pitchers warming up at the very start of the game. As announcer Bob Prince said during the broadcast: “Turley is well aware of the pitchers warming up in the bullpen.”

    Why would Turley be pitching? Where was the ace, one Edward “Whitey” Ford.
 
    Those days, in the World Series it was customary as now that the team’s best pitcher would pitch in the first game. But then, the first game pitcher was expected to pitch the fourth game and the seventh (deciding) game.  Inexplicably, Casey chose Art Ditmar as the game one starter; he was shelled in the first inning and lost, lost again in game four and didn’t play again. The Yankee ace, Whitey Ford, played game three and game six, winning both games easily. He wasn’t available for game seven. Pittsburgh went with Vernon Law, their best pitcher, who won the first game, won the fourth game and held on in the seventh, but didn’t hit the finish line.

    One of the Yankee veterans watching the game with Costas was Bobby Richardson, who said he still doesn’t understand why Casey held back Whitey Ford. “We were trying to figure out what was going on.”
    
      When Casey was fired, probably as a result of that decision, things somehow worked out well.  He ransomed his reputation, if nothing else with the perfect explanation. He said he had been fired for turning 70, and  would “never make that mistake again.” Casey went to manage the Mets and lost many more games before he was finished.

    Anyway, baseball is baseball, and manages to thrill and restore memory. I could remember not only the name and uniform number of every Yankee on the field– including Frank, the Old Crow Crosetti, number 2, whose fame as number two will be usurped by Mr. Jeter for all time–but also the way they stood and ran and took their warm-up swings. As a lefty, I imitated the way that Mickey Mantle batted from that side, throwing my left shoulder toward the plate before the pitcher fired, just as Mantle did.

     One participant had no number–Melvin Allen Israel, of Birmingham, Alabama, better known as Mel Allen, the Yankee broadcaster. Mel did the play-by-play for the final half of the seventh game. I was trying to listen for what they told me afterward — Mel always had moved so well into his Ballantines by the sixth inning that his drawl lengthened equally as the game marched on. I didn’t hear it, but then learned that Forbes Field didn’t sell beer at the time. He would have had to smuggle in liquor to stay lubricated.

     Back then, I didn’t know about such things.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Baseball and Memory: A Holiday Sidebar

  1. Mike Antonucci

    I was 8. Crouched at the top of the stairs to my bedroom, looking at the TV downstairs through the fingers of my hands that were over my face. The fear of seeing my invincible Mantle-led Yankees lose, almost too much for me.

    MLB is going to release this on DVD immediately, I pray. Oh, well, I suppose that would be too logical and wonderful.

  2. petereisner

    This additional info from my cousin Ron:

    More exciting than Mazeroski’s home run, certainly for us Yankee fans, was how the Yankees tied the score in the top of the 9th. Richardson on third; Mantle on first and Berra at bat. Berra hit a hot one hopper right to Rocky Nelson who had just replaced Dick Stewart at first. Nelson was holding Mantle on otherwise it would have been a double down the line. Nelson caught it and should have had an easy game ending double play but as he stepped on first and cocked his arm to throw to second, Mantle (no longer forced) dove back into first and Richardson scored.

    Ditmar actually had a better year than Ford (16-9, 12-9 respectively) but what was unforgivingly stupid on Stengel’s part was that Ford pitched a complete game the day before when the Yankees won 12-0 and had a huge early lead. If Stengel didn’t sleep through the game he would have taken Ford out after 5 innings so he could have been in the bullpen the next day.

    But who wants to live in the past?

  3. Julius

    Ah, the joys of going to Yeshiva as a kid. Game 7 of the World Series. All of my buddies are in school because back then the World Series was played — can you believe it, in the sunshine! But us Yeshiva kids, we had religion and God smiled on us that day by scheduling Game 7 on Shemini Atzeret — a Jewish holiday that we got to stay home on. And so after synagogue services in the morning, it was a race home to camp out in front of my TV set and watch in the same black/white that MLB showed it, the GAME. Broke my heart, but it was the GAME.

  4. petereisner

    Amazing to see so many of my friends picked up on the game as being as important as it was, as young as we were.

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