Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reliving the 1960 World Series

Every October 13th, a celebration takes place at what remains of the Forbes Field outfield wall to commemorate arguably the most significant home run ever in baseball’s long and storied history. Bobby Thomson’s 1951 Shot Heard 'Round the World is perhaps better known and was equally dramatic but it only got the Giants to the World Series (which they lost).

On Thursday afternoon October 13, 1960, Bill Mazeroski hit a dramatic home run in the bottom of the 9th inning of
World Series Game 7 to send the home fans of Pittsburgh into total ecstasy and completing an improbable upset of the New York Yankees who had at that time, one of the greatest teams in history.

Roy Terrell, in his October 24, 1960 Sports Illustrated article,
It Went All The Way! had this to say about Game 7:
It was not a great game, in the sense that a no-hitter or a 2-1 victory in 11 innings is. In some ways it was not even a good game. There was only one error, which did not affect the outcome, but there were several bad plays by both infields, and the pitchers on both sides made far too many mistakes. Yet it was one of the memorable games of World Series history. The Pirates won 10-9, and no one who was there will ever forget it. For dramatic impact, for climax piled upon climax with never an anticlimactic moment, it was unique. There are many who say it was the most exciting baseball game ever played. Some say it was the most exciting game that ever will be played.
Even in the city with the losing team that year, The New York Times just a few months ago published
In 1960, a Series to Remember (or Forget).

I had just turned 7 years old at the time and my memories of that game are not all that clear. But I can clearly remember that my father was home to watch this game on our little black-and-white TV. (Back then to see the World Series on color TV, you had to go to a bar to watch it.) What was strange about this was that my dad must have taken off work which to this day is hard to imagine. But until 1971, every World Series game was played during the day. You would think that they would have at least scheduled Games 6 and 7 to fall on the weekend, but the Fall Classic was so important to baseball fans that people gladly arranged their schedules around watching the Series. Some people as in
this classic sports photo took off work to watch the games from more unconventional vantage points.

I was a little too young to actually sit still and watch the game. It wouldn’t be until the following year that my dad took me to Forbes Field to see my first baseball game that led to my falling in love with the game as a youngster. I just remember my dad jumping up and down and yelling at the TV quite often that day. And the nature of that game that had endless exciting twists and turns certainly justified his excitement although I couldn’t appreciate it at the time. Finally, he let out his biggest yell, and when I came in the room, I saw fans jumping out on to the field in waves. “They’re not allowed to do that. Are they?” I asked.

Since I was a little too young to appreciate that moment, I have tried to immerse myself in the reenactments of the home run and the game itself to try and make up for missing it when it happened. But to my knowledge, there is no TV replay of the game that has survived since it was likely recorded as a
kinescope which was a fragile form of recording that pre-dated video tape. So although there are newsreel videos like this showing the legendary home run, the only permanent record of the entire game remains the NBC Radio broadcast which includes the memorable call of Mazeroski’s home run by Chuck Thompson.

So the focal point of the annual Forbes Field celebration is a giant boom box that replays the entire NBC Radio broadcast (including commercials for the brand new 1961 model automobiles). Some people bring memorabilia from the game like tickets or scorecards. Some just sit on the grass in front of the outfield wall and take in the atmosphere. Still others are the honored guests — some of the Pirates who played in that game (although the publicity-shy Mazeroski seldom makes an appearance).

Each hit by the Pirates or out by the Yankees described in the play-by-play tape of the broadcast was greeted by cheering of the crowd just as if they were at the game. What was especially neat was seeing the ex-ballplayers’ faces as their names were being mentioned as part of the play-by-play of the game. During an especially intense at-bat by Dick Groat, you could see people gathering around him to see his expression as he listened and it seemed like his mind was actually flashing back to that moment. And then Groat gets a hit and the admiring crowd around him breaks out into a raucous cheer for him. And although he doesn’t directly say it, we know it makes him feel good — and why not?

And then the afternoon reaches its climax when the crowd saves its biggest cheer for Mazeroski's home run to end it all. The fans then shake hands and say goodbye and agree to meet next year to do it all over again.

I first went to this annual celebration a couple of years ago and returned this year for the second time. Both times, I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and the camaraderie of the other fans. So what’s this all about?

Some would say that we should all get a life instead of reliving an event over and over from many years ago. Maybe they are right, but on the other hand, we celebrate other things on an annual basis whether it is a birthday, an anniversary, or one of the many holidays.

For many, it harkens back to when baseball was played more for the love of the sport than just the money. Back then, before free-agency the ballplayer had to accept whatever salary the owner offered if he wanted to play. Many players had to take off-season jobs to help pay the bills. With free-agency, the players now have the mobility to play for whichever team offers the most money. That’s good for the player but it often means that players for the local team whom we have gotten to know and love will often leave for another team that is willing and able to pay more. Fans of small market teams like the Pirates feel that their team is little more than part of a farm system for the big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. Sixteen years in a row of losing baseball in Pittsburgh makes one especially yearn for those World Series days.

But more than anything else, it is about a story from long ago when we were all younger. It was an exciting story. Especially when listening to the radio broadcast again, we remember full well that the outcome was really in doubt — but it had a happy ending (for Pirate fans) that we can return to for comfort again and again. As children, we took comfort in stories with happy endings. With all of the troubles of the world surrounding us today like the economy, terrorism and the like, we adults also need to make that occasional comforting escape from reality to help us keep our sanity. I’m already looking forward to next year’s celebration!

Post Script - October 14, 2010

How a near pristine black-and-white reel of the entire television broadcast of the deciding game of the 1960 World Series — long believed to be lost forever — came to rest in the dry and cool wine cellar of Bing Crosby’s home near San Francisco is not a mystery to those who knew him.
1960 Series 'feels like yesterday'
At least 1,000 gathered in Oakland to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mazeroski's series-winning homer

1 comment:

triv said...

I got to see Game 7 of the 1960 World Series on DVD thanks to Bing Crosby's kinescope. I'm hoping that somebody will have that Master videotape of showing that game in live color.