Mike Cline column: When Maz went deep, Yankee fans said, 'Damn Pirates!'
A modern retelling of the Faust legend during the 1950s was the Broadway musical, later a movie, titled “Damn Yankees!”
In this production, Joe Hardy, a player for the Washington Senators, made a pact with the Devil so his team, instead of the New York Yankees, could win the American League pennant.
The Yankees had represented the American League in baseball’s World Series in 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958. Non-NY fans were – Damn Yankees!- tired of it. So maybe Joe Hardy’s satanic deal had something to do with the Bronx Bombers not winning the AL pennant in 1959.
But the Yanks were back in 1960, winning 97 games and taking the pennant. Baltimore finished eight games back. Across the baseball aisle, the National League champs were the Pittsburgh Pirates, finishing seven games ahead of the Braves, then of Milwaukee.
So starting that Oct. 5, it was the mighty Yankees against the upstart Pirates in the best-of-seven World Series.
All of my buddies and I thought the Pirates were punks. The magnificent Yanks would completely dominate the boys from the Steel City. You see, we loved the New York Yankees. How could they lose with a roster which included Mantle, Maris, Bobby Richardson, “Moose” Skowron, Tony Kubek, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, Clete Boyer and Johnny Blanchard? Answer: They couldn’t.
But they did. Pittsburgh took the first game, 6-4. It was just a slow start for our guys, we told ourselves. Maybe replacement umps.
We strutted like peacocks the next day after NY demolished those upstarts 16-3. A split on the road, now back to Yankee Stadium for what we assumed would be a three-game sweep, winning the crown at home.
The sweep started well as New York crushed the punks 10-0. Hey, it was all over as far as we were concerned.
But somehow the Pirates squeaked out game four in a 3-2 final and squeaked by again, winning game five by the score of 5-2.
Our confidence was shaken – down 3 games to 2 and headed back to Pittsburgh. This couldn’t be happening. Who were those guys in the ugly uniforms? They must really believe they could win the World Series. We didn’t believe they could.
Game 6 came, and it was all New York, again smashing the NL champs by a whopping 12-0. The series was tied. The Pirates were done. The Yankees had outscored them 46-17. All three wins by the Bombers had been lopsided. And yet, these Pirates had slipped by in three close games. Too bad total runs scored didn’t determine the winner.
Game 7 – Oct. 13th (13th? Uh-oh!) Time to show these Pittsburgh punks that the lads from the big city were tired of messing with them.
My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Alexander, was a very nice man and even nicer on this day as he brought a small transistor radio into our class following lunch so we could listen to the game as we filled our brains with knowledge. Very quickly, Mr. Alexander realized that very little learning would occur, so he took all of us out to the playground and placed the radio on a table. I parked myself in a swing and listened as if Khrushchev was going to pound his shoe on his United Nations desk again as he had done the day before.
It was a game for the ages. The lead changed hands four times. There were 24 hits and 19 runs. The Pirates went with their ace Vern Law. The Yanks started Bob Turley (Whitey Ford had pitched game 6). Amazingly, there were NO strikeouts in the entire game, making this the only World Series game in history to make that claim.
Going into the top of the ninth inning, Pittsburgh led 9-7, only three outs away from taking the World Series, but our mighty Yankees scored two runs to tie it at 9. Our playground strategy was to get a 1-2-3 inning on those mangy Pirates (arg!) and bust it open in the 10th, grab the trophy and take it back to New York for the winter.
Leading off for Pittsburgh in the bottom of the ninth was second baseman Bill Mazeroski, who had batted .273 for the season. Yankee hurler Ralph Terry’s first pitch was a ball. The next pitch – CRACK! – the ball was headed for New Jersey.
“There’s a drive into deep left field, look out now … that ball is going, going, gone! And the World Series is over! Mazeroski hits it over the left field fence, and the Pirates win it 10-9 and win the 1960 World Series!”
When I saw the film highlights later on TV, I remember watching left fielder Yogi Berra frozen in time, watching the ball disappear from view. The number 8 on Berra’s back was visible but not his face. Forget “it ain’t over till it’s over,” IT WAS OVER.
Sportscaster Mel Allen’s words stayed with me for days. To this day, Mazeroski remains the only major league player to win Game 7 of the World Series with a walk-off home run. (arg!)
The day was a wash. Even my favorite television shows couldn’t console me that night of Oct. 13, 1960, as two guys named Nixon and Kennedy were having their final debate for the presidency that evening.
But like the old saying “time heals all wounds,” (although Groucho preferred “time wounds all heels”), the anguish went away.
Late one afternoon close to Thanksgiving, I found myself parked on the sofa in the office lobby of my family-owned motel reading the afternoon newspaper (probably checking out the movie ads for the weekend). A car pulled up out front. A man got out of his car and entered the lobby and went to the desk where my dad was working. I paid him no attention and went on with my reading until my dad said, “Son, put down your paper and shake hands with Smoky Burgess.”
“What?” I looked up with amazement. My dad repeated what he had said. I asked, “You mean Smoky Burgess, catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates!”
Mr. Burgess said, “Yes, son, that’s me.”
Following orders, I shook his hand but said, “Well, I don’t like you guys because you beat the Yankees.”
He took it well, saying “I’m sorry you were disappointed with the outcome of the Series this year, but we all kinda liked it.”
“Yeah, OK, nice to meet you, sir.”
I should have been very excited. After all, the opportunity to meet any big league baseball player was a thrill for any kid, especially when he stepped into my world.
But why did it have to be one who had just beaten the New York Yankees?
Mike Cline’s website, “Mike Cline’s Then Playing,” documents all the movies played in Rowan County theaters from 1920 through 1979.