Thursday, December 23, 2010

Game Seven of the 1960 World Series

The MLB Network showed game 7 of the 1960 World Series last week. Game 7 is the famous game in which Bill Mazeroski hit his famous bottom of the 9th walk off home run that gave Pittsburgh its first World Series victory since 1925. The game hadn’t been broadcast in its entirety since it was originally broadcast. The story about how the film of the game was discovered hidden among Bing Crosby’s possessions is worth reading. I’ve been dying to watch this since I first heard about the rediscovering of the film and I finally got to see it.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the complete lack of graphics other than the occasional name of the batter. No position, just name. Also, as Bob Costas pointed out before the game started, there are no instant replays. This fact created an interesting scapegoat who gets exonerated after viewing this game.

As with any baseball game from the 1950s and 1960s you will notice a considerable increase in the pace of the game play. The pitchers barely pause long enough to take signs between pitches and the batters do not step out of the batters box after every pitch. In fact, batters step out so infrequently that Mel Allen actually commented on one batter’s action when he stepped out of the box in order to slow down one Pittsburgh pitcher who was damn near throwing the ball back to the catcher as soon as he got it in his pitching hand. This was a 9 inning 10-9 game with seven total pitching changes and it only last 2 hours and 36 minutes. A similar Major League Baseball game 7 today would take four hours.

There was also very little of the attention getting antics you see from today’s athletes. No one was making the sign of the cross before each heroic at bat (although I swear I did see one player make a quick sign of the cross before an at bat but it was very subtle and definitely not done so the world could see he was a man of faith) and no one pointed to the sky when he got a hit. The players were very serious and businesslike. The only flash I saw out of any player was from Roberto Clemente. He had a very unique sidearm toss to the infield on routine fly balls and once when his catch ended an inning he flipped the ball to an umpire in a cool backhanded motion where the ball seemed to jump from his hip.

This was also an opportunity for me to watch for the first time a baseball game at the famous Forbes Field. It’s a classic old ballpark where the Pittsburgh Pirates player for a little over sixty years. What I like about old parks ike this is that they evolved and that is what made them all unique. I even got to see the legendary light tower shadow between first and second base. Each time a foul ball or a high fly ball was hit I got to see a bit more of the park. As the game went on I got better picture of it. I noticed how down the right field line the seats curled around into beyond right field into a traditional bleacher but down the left field the seating ended abruptly and all there was beyond left field was a brick wall covered in ivy with trees beyond. It provided a nice contrast.

I noticed a couple of trivial things about a couple of players that stood out to me. Yogi Berra, who I had forgotten batted left handed, took two bats with him to the batters box. He would take a few swings while the bat boy stood on the other side of home plate. Once he was ready to begin his at bat he would hand the bat off to the bat boy. I don’t recall seeing anyone else ever do that or get away with doing that. He also hit the shit out of a baseball when he hit his home run in the sixth inning. Lots of people can hit the ball hard bur his swing was vicious and that home run was a Kong shot.

It was odd to see someone with Yogi Berra’s body out there playing baseball. When you see Yogi on the screen there is no doubt as to who you are viewing. He looks like a Lego block but when you see him take a nasty cut at a pitch or watch him gracefully move under a fly ball you can tell he’s a talented athlete. He must have been all muscle.

Tony Kubek, the Yankees shortstop, batted with his baseball cap in his back pocket and when he got on base he would ditch his batting helmet and put his cap on. Mickey Mantle, on the other hand, wore his cap under his helmet. In case you are wondering, according to Wikipedia batting helmets weren’t mandatory until 1971*. I remember having to wear my cap under my batting helmet a couple of times during my sophomore year of high school because there was only one helmet that actually fit me, the rest were too big.

*Interesting tidbit about the batting helmet: “In 1952, the Pittsburgh Pirates became the first major league team to permanently adopt batting helmets. And Rickey was serious about it. The Pirates were ordered to wear the helmets both at bat and in the field, though thankfully that idea only lasted a couple of seasons before the fielders could leave them in the dugout.

At first, the Bucs weren't too crazy about them, and the fans got a hoot out of them too, bouncing marbles off the players' helmeted heads. But one play that year turned many players' attitudes around.

A helmeted Paul Pettit, pinch-running for the Pirates against the Cubs, was speeding toward second base to break up a DP when the shortstop's bullet relay hit him squarely in the head. "All it did was dent the helmet, and he stayed in the game," recalled Joe Garagiola, talking to SI. "Made believers out of everybody."

I was surprised by that the Pittsburg crowd booed Casey Stengel when he visited the mound to talk to his pitcher. How do you boo Stengel? He played 128 games for Pittsburgh in 1918-19. His numbers were OK, he had a pretty respectable on base percentage. Were they booing him just because he was the opposing manager? Was it because he said something to the press earlier in the series? It was game 7 of the World Series so it could have been for a lot of reasons. But, dang, boo Casey Stengel? What do you have to say for yourselves, Pitssburgh?

In the 8th inning Stengel made a strange decision. Late in the inning the Yankees have runners on second and third and they have just scored two runs to go up 7-4. A hit at this point in the game could really have sealed the victory for them. Stengel chooses to let his pitcher Bobby Shantz bat. Shantz ended with a career batting average of .195 and in 1960 he batted .100 Shantz flies out to end the inning and pitched to all of two batters in the Pittsburgh half of the 8th inning. I was sitting there and watching this and just really perplexed by what I was watching. Shantz had been pitching really well. He had lasted 5 innings already. Maybe Stengel had no confidence in who he had left in the bullpen but the bullpen was fresh except for Bob Stafford, the man he relieved. No one else other than Whitey Ford and game 7 starter, Bob Hurley, had pitched since game 5 which had taken place three days before. While going over this in my head I was grateful I didn’t have to listen to Joe Morgan or Tim McCarver tell me what a strange decision this was.

In the top of the 9th Mickey Mantle made one of the most athletic plays I have ever seen. He is on first base and Gil McDougald is on third and Yogi Berra is batting. The Yankees are down by one run. Yogi scorches a ground ball to the Pirates first baseman, Rocky Nelson. Nelson is right next to the bag so he steps on it forcing out Yogi Berra. Mickey Mantle is stuck about six feet off first base and there are now two outs. He faces Nelson and when Nelson makes a move toward mantle to tag him Mantle dives toward the home plate side of first base. As he dives he twists the bottom half of his body toward home plate. Nelson dives to where Mantle was a split second before and ends up tagging the infield dirt. While Mantle is floating six inches above the ground like Michael Vick diving in for a score against the Panthers, McDougald scores from third and the game is tied. Mantle, through athelticism and an unwillingness to lose has extended the Yankees’ season. Watching that you can see why, as David Halberstam put it, many athletes are heroes to their fans but Mickey Mantle was that rare athlete that was a hero to his teammates.

That Mantle play is one of three plays I watched over and over with my handy dandy DVR. The other two were the ball Tony Kubek took to the throat and the play that has caused Jim Coates to become a minor goat in Yankee lore. With two outs in the bottom of the 8th the Pirates have runners on second and third. They are down by two runs and Robert Clemente is at the plate. He hits dribbler down toward first base. The pitcher Coates appears to get to first base late and Clemente hustles down for an infield single. The next batter hits a three run homer and the Pirates go up 9-7 and Mantle has to play Superman a few minutes later to keep the Yankees in the game. I played this play back a few times in slow motion on the DVR and Coats did not neglect to cover first. He initially went for the ball and then went toward first base when he realized he couldn’t get to the ball. Even if he had gone straight to the bag Clemente still may have beaten any throw that could have been made. I had heard that it was a bonehead move. This wasn’t some spoiled pitcher forgetting to cover first. He was hustling the whole time. Maybe making a play for ball was not the best choice but this was hardly a bonehead play. The Yankee second baseman Bobby Ricardson who was at a special screening of this game in Pittsburgh said as much. Seeing what Coates did on this play was something Richardson was waiting to see and he exonerated Coates with his comments.

I was curious to observe the behavior of the Pittsburgh crowd during the game. One thing that I noticed right away was it was hard to gauge the feel of the crowd due to the lack of crowd shots. Not once during the game did the camera focus on a few individuals in the grandstands. That’s a standard shot for modern sports broadcasts. Now people dress up and carry signs in order to garner the attention of the television cameras. This crowd remained anonymous. One big difference I did notice was an overall subdued atmosphere. The crowd did go crazy when a big play occurred and the place exploded when Mazeroski hit his famous series-ending home run but during the lulls you didn’t get the sense of the forced and artificial constant enthusiasm that the professional sports leagues try to create today.

The post game interview with the victorious Pirates in their locker room was an unexpected joy. What you saw was a bunch of athletes so filled with joy that they can barely form sentences. It’s very revealing to see athletes this unguarded. It’s almost like watching an interview with a softball team that just won a local tournament they’ve been trying to win for twenty years. To see professional athletes speak before professional marketers and ego inflating agents moved into the game shows you what we are missing now. Pirates outfielder Gino Cimoli summed it up perfectly when he said, "They broke all the records but we won the game."

The MLB Network will probably show this game a few more times. You can visit their website to view the schedule. If you get a chance take a look at the game. It really is a good baseball game, not just a piece of history for the baseball nerds. The teams exchange the lead three times in the last two innings. It’s very exciting and you’ll forget you are watching a baseball game that is fifty years old and will find yourself just watching a great baseball game.

1 comment:

tom said...

That was a great write-up Ed. I thought I remembered batters swinging more than one bat in the on-deck circle all the time in the 70's. Maybe I'm wrong.