Saturday, October 9, 2021

World Series Game 7: "The Greatest Game Ever Played" October 13, 1960

            "Just to hit the ball an' touch 'em all, a moment in the sun
                It's a-gone and you can tell that one goodbye." 

                                                                    -John Fogerty "Centerfield"

For those who experienced them, some events are indelibly etched into our memories: the Kennedy assassination, the September 11th terrorist attacks. We remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard they happened. For me, there's another event that's unforgettable, as it undoubtedly is to thousands of other Pittsburghers who witnessed it: Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

During the late 1950s, I followed in the footsteps of my grandfather, George W. Busch, one of the Pirates' biggest fans in their first half-century. As I described in Darkness Visible, as a teenager, he played Pittsburgh sandlot baseball--which is where he met Honus Wagner. Dad told me about the time when Wagner came to dinner at the house on 21st Avenue. It was one of Dad's unforgettable moments.

                                                                 Honus Wagner

 Grandpap became a master machinist in the USSteel Homestead Workers; Wagner became one of baseball's greatest players. Grandpap always kept connected to baseball through his organizing and support of mill teams. He went to every Pirate opener (save one). In his father's later years, Dad would drive him to Oakland, park over by Carnegie Tech, and they'd walk the mile or more over to Forbes Field, Grandpap matching strides with Dad. The remaining season's games he'd listen to sitting in his chair by the console radio. More than once, I remember him waking, startled, after he dropped off to sleep during a dull inning. "I was just resting my eyes," he'd say.

One day in the mid-1950s, Dad noticed retired Pirate Hall of Famer, Pie Traynor, across the street from the Katilius store on 8th Ave, Homestead, promoting car sales at Toohey Ford. He took me over to meet Traynor. I was surprised that Traynor recognized him and inquired about Grandpap. It was then I realized that Grandpap had a lot of history with Pittsburgh baseball.

Dad was not as thrilled with baseball as his father. A photo of the US Steel 1919 Mechanics baseball team (a photo circulated locally during the '90s), shows Grandpap at left center and grumpy Dad as bat boy. Dad told me that he was miserable being bat boy, and he resented being dragged to these adult games.

I was not such a big Pirates fan as my grandfather, but during the years running up to the '60 World Series, I became devoted to the team. On May 29, 1959, I stayed up past 11 on a school night to listen to the play-by-play of what many have called "the greatest game ever pitched." Pirate pitcher Harvey Haddix pitched 12 2/3 no-hit innings against the Milwaukee Braves when a teammate's error allowed the Braves to score. The loss was heartbreaking, and I was dragging the next day at school. But it was worth it to live through that cliffhanger of a game.

                                                 Harvey Haddix on the pitcher's mound.

My dad would sometimes take me and couple of friends to Forbes Field, where we bought 99-cent tickets to watch the game from the bleachers. I definitely watched more games from there than from anywhere else in the stands. The view of the field was pretty good, and you could watch the pitchers warm up right in front of the section.

                                Left field, Forbes Field, 1920s, bleachers visible at top center.

The 1960 season was a dramatic and uncanny one for the Pirates. As the season progressed, the Pirates wracked up a number of unbelievable come-from-behind wins, for example, the second game of an Easter double-header at Forbes Field with the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates were behind 5-0 in the bottom of the ninth. but rallied to win 6-5 with a pinch-hit three-run homer by Hal Smith and a two-run walk-off shot by Bob Skinner, who was down to his last strike.

 “We came from behind so many times that year that it was unbelievable,” backup catcher Bob Oldis said. “Somebody always got a big hit in the seventh or eighth inning, whether it was Groat, Skinner or (Roberto) Clemente. They knew what they had to do to win.” [as quoted in "Sixty Years Later" Trib Live, Oct. 10, 2020]

       I still have my program from the Series. A friend whose father had connections with the Pirates got me a ball signed by the 1960 team. Years later, my mother, not realizing its significance, threw it in the trash.

By the time the World Series started on October 5th, Pittsburghers, always passionate sports fans, were psyched up. Game One, Forbes Field: Pirates 6, Yankees 4. But the next day at Forbes Field, the Yankees totally creamed the Pirates,16-3. 

At Yankee Stadium on the 8th, the Yankees once again humiliated the Pirates, 10-0 , although the next day the Pirates came back with a 3-2 squeaker. In Game Five in Yankee Stadium, with Harvey Haddix on the mound, the Pirates beat the Yankees 10-5. Back in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the Yankees once again shut out the Pirates, 12-0.

So by Game Seven, on Thursday, the 13th, Pirates fans were in a frenzy. It was do-or-die day. At Munhall High School, students, staff, and faculty were restlessly waiting for the game to start at 1 p.m. The high school principal, Homer Beggs (good baseball first name), realizing that little work would be done that afternoon, let out school after lunch. 

       Pittsburgh native shortstop Dick Groat, whose sister Elsie taught in the Munhall schools 

Some people listened to the game on radios; some started walking home. Someone got hold of a console TV and set it up on the stage in the school auditorium. It was ridiculous--this little screen in an auditorium designed for plays and choir concerts. But about fifty or so people crowded in the front center section to watch the game unfold.  Because my dad was a teacher who had to stick around until the official end of school, my friends Joyce, Barbara, and I, who rode home with him, joined the group at the back of the section.

     Meeting in Munhall High School Auditorium, 1950s--Photo courtesy Borough of Munhall 

The game was already underway by the time we started to watch. I really can't remember many of the specifics of those last innings. (Read a full account of the game here: The Greatest Game Ever Played.) What I do remember is losing hope when the damn Yankees in the top of the 8th inning scored two runs, pulling ahead by three, with only 6 outs to navigate. The Pirates, however, in true comeback form, managed to score five runs in the bottom of the 8th, moving ahead 9-7. The Yankees were not going to take that lying down. In the top of the 9th, they scored another two runs, tying the score.

The auditorium--and Forbes Field--was filled with electric anticipation when, in the bottom of the 9th, Pirates' second baseman Bill Mazeroski stepped up to the plate. One ball. No strikes. At 3:37 p.m. Mazeroski swung hard, and crack! the ball sailed out in a long, beautiful arc over the left field wall. As David Schoenfield comments, "It was a massive blast. Forbes Field was massive to left field -- 365 feet down the line and 435 feet to the flagpole in deep left-center field. As Berra turns around to chase the ball, you can see it fly over the 406 marker carved out in the ivy. Considering the 18-foot wall it flew over, Mazeroski's home run must have traveled 430 feet or so."[ESPN, Oct.10, 2010]

As leftfielder Yogi Berra and the other Yankees watched the ball go over the wall in stunned disbelief, Mazeroski ran the bases, crossing home plate. The Pirates had won 10-9.

On the field, the Pirates went crazy. In the stands, people cheered and danced with joy. In the Munhall auditorium, we stood up, jumped around, cheered, and hollered. We came outside into the sunshine of that beautiful October day and saw the kids in the school buses leaning out the windows, shouting and cheering, as they pulled away. 

People got into cars and drove into the city to celebrate. Others rode buses and streetcars. The party went on a long, long time. But although the celebration was large and boisterous, it never degenerated into the free-for-all destructive sprees that have marred more recent sports celebrations. 

Blue-collar Pittsburgh had beaten the haughty New York Yankees.

Forbes Field is gone; Munhall High School is gone. Many of the players who played that October afternoon are gone. But the game will be remembered as long as baseball is played.

                                                 Celebrating in downtown Pittsburgh

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball." - French-American Historian, Jacques Barzun

Video: Game Seven Highlights                                  

John Fogerty "Centerfield": A wonderful compilation of black-and-white footage of baseball in the years up to the 1970s, including a clip of Mazeroski, #9, sending the ball over the left field wall, and the fans and players going crazy after.

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