“What sports team did you like as a kid?”
Johnstown, PA, where I was born, is about 70 miles from Pittsburgh — birthplace of pop-art culture-king Andy Warhol.
I don’t know if Warhol ever went to a Pittsburgh Pirates game, but I did. Two in fact: double-header with Cincinnati. The dreaded Reds won both games.
That visit to Pittsburgh, with my Uncle Johnny, was one of two I made to “Steel City,” which is in the southwest part of the state, where the Allegheny and Monongahela meet to form the Ohio River.
The other visit was to see "Seven Wonders of the World" on Cinerama, a mega-sized, widescreen process that used three synchronized 35mm projectors to splash huge images on a dramatically curved screen. Quite a multi-sensory experience for the mid-1950s.
But back to baseball ...
The Pirates, founded in 1881, are Pittsburgh's oldest pro sports franchise. According to WIKI, they won three National League titles from 1901 to 1903, played in the inaugural World Series (1903) and won their first World Series in 1909.
But it was in 1960, when the Buccos (as we called them) played the mighty New York Yankees, an American League power-house at the time, managed by the wise (and funny) Casey Stengel.
If you're a genuine baseball fan, you probably know something about the 1960 World Services. It was a classic, featuring legendary Yanks like Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, Mickey Mantle, and Roger Maris.
The Pirates had a great line-up, too. Remember it well: Don Hoak at third base; Dick Groat, shortstop; Bob Skinner, left field; Dick Stuart, first base; Roberto Clemente, right field; Smoky Burgess, catcher; Bill Virdon, centerfield; and Bill Mazeroski at second base — but more about him later.
The pitching staff included Bob Friend, Elroy Face, Harvey Haddix, and Vern Law.
Danny Murtaugh, a native of Chester, PA, who (in his third full season managing) guided the Bucs to winning the first of two World Series championships under his command.
Going into game seven of the 1960 Series, the big-time, high-powered, well-paid Yankees were tied three games to three with the nitty-gritty, blue-collar, Steel Town team.
The face-off took place at Forbes Field, the first all-steel and concrete ballpark in the nation, a sports castle long since crumbled, long since gone — except for one special part of the wall where history was made.
What happened there?
Let me set it up for you:
The final game of the Series took place Thursday, Oct. 13, 1960. It was like a heavy-weight fight. Both teams gave it their all. "Bam. Bam. Bam!" It was tied up 9-9 going into the bottom of the ninth when No. 9, second baseman Bill Mazeroski, stepped up to bat.
Even now, all these years later, I can feel the tension.
Here's how one of the announcers described the scene:
"Here’s a swing and a high fly ball going deep to left! This may do it! Back to the wall goes (Yogi) Berra ... It is over the fence — home run! The Pirates win! ... Ladies and gentlemen, Mazeroski has hit a one-nothing pitch over the left-field fence at Forbes Field to win the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates!"
In that spectacular moment, Mazeroski became the first player in baseball history to hit a game-ending home run in Game 7 to win a World Series.
"I thought it would go over (the wall). I was hoping it would," Mazeroski later told reporters. "But I was too happy to think. All year we’ve been a fighting, come-from-behind ballclub. We always felt we could pull it out even after the Yankees tied it in the ninth, but I didn’t think I’d be the guy to do it.”
What an ending!
For years, that was the highlight of my life—before I got married, had kids, grandkids, and great-grandchildren.
It's funny how sports adds a little somethin'-somethin' in your life. It's not cake. It's not icing. It's just a little sprinkle-sparkle here and there—sometimes when you need it most