Because of his zeal, Brown took some ribbing from his colleagues. Before the 1958 draft he asked one of his scouts to name the best lefthanded hitter available. " Rocky Nelson," said the scout, referring to a first baseman with Triple A Toronto, but he warned that Nelson had been up and down and never stuck in the majors.
At the draft Brown was sitting in front of his longtime friend Chub Feeney, G.M. of the San Francisco Giants, and when it was Pittsburgh's turn to pick, Brown said, "The Pirates draft Rocky Nelson from Toronto."
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, the TV show starring the Nelsons and their sons, David and Ricky, was all the buzz in those days, and in a loud voice—to much alpha-male laughter—Feeney intoned, "Don't you mean Ricky Nelson?" Brown tells that story in a flat, humorless voice, as though the remark still bites him. "A lot of people thought Rocky was a joke, but he was not," says Brown. "He served us admirably." Indeed, in the most crucial game of 1960, Brown was the man still laughing.
No one knows why such things occur, whether it's the alignment of the planets or the karma of the clubhouse, but every now and then a team begins to play as though it has been touched by magic. Unexpectedly, the 1960 Pirates started to win, and before long they believed they would win every time they played. The city folk started believing the same thing, and they came to games flashing their BEAT 'EM, BUCS signs. All the while the team's tobacco-chawing manager, beagle-faced Danny Murtaugh, thought the world was his spittoon, and he sat there spitting on everybody's shoes. "I started chewin' so I could spit back on his," says Mazeroski.
Before you could say Pie Traynor, the Pirates had won 95 games and the pennant, losing only 59. Groat hit .325 to win the National League batting title. Nelson hit .300 in 200 at bats. Law won 20 games and Friend, 18, while Face forkballed his way to 24 saves. Mazeroski led major league second basemen in putouts (413), assists (449), double plays (127) and fielding average (.989).
By that year, his fourth full season in the major leagues, Mazeroski had asserted himself as the finest second baseman in the game, a nonpareil turner of the double play and a student of the position who had brought his own aesthetic to playing defense. "Nobody ever played second base like he did," says Virdon, "and I've been in it for 50 years. One thing I know for sure: Many second basemen could make the double play if they got good throws. Maz did not have to have a good throw to complete the DP. He worked on it constantly, every day."
Groat would play seven years at short with Maz at second base, and together they would turn hundreds of double plays. Groat came to view his teammate as an artist. "Mazeroski's release on the double play was phenomenal," he says. "Bill made himself a great defensive second baseman. And let me tell you something: You and me, we couldn't catch a ball with the glove he used, it was so small. But he had the most marvelous hands in the world."
In fact, says Brown, Mazeroski's hands were so fluid and smooth that no one talked much about his quick, nimble feet, perhaps the most important element of his genius as a fielder. " Danny Murtaugh always said that no one mentioned what great feet Mazeroski had," recalls Brown. "He had that blocky build, but he was so graceful. He made everything he did look easy. So quick with his feet, his body was always standing and facing the right place to make the catch and the throw. Guys would slide into him, into those powerful legs, and they'd just stop and drip off him."
Talented as they were, however, the Pirates would be hard-pressed to beat the Yankees, and they nearly squandered what chances they had in the World Series on Sept. 25, the day they clinched the pennant despite losing to the Braves in Milwaukee. On the Pittsburgh team bus a rowdy gang of players, tearing off one another's shirts, grabbed Law—a nondrinking deacon in the Mormon church—and wrestled him down. At the bottom of the pile, someone grabbed and twisted Law's right foot, trying to pull off his shoe, and sprained it. That was the pitcher's push-off foot, the one that helped generate his power, but he insisted on playing through the Series.
The bookmakers made the Pirates underdogs against New York, but these Yanks were not Ruppert's Rifles, the Ruthled team of in the '20s, nor the Bombers of Gehrig and DiMaggio and King Kong Keller in the late '30s and '40s, nor even the Yankees of the '50s, with Hank Bauer and the young Berra and Mantle and all that pitching. In a paragraph almost eerie in its foresight, New York Herald-Tribune columnist Red Smith wrote before the first game of the '60 Series, "Chances are the importance of the manager's role is exaggerated oftener than it is underestimated, but in a series of seven games or fewer it can be the deciding factor. There may not be time to repair the damage caused by a single error in judgment."