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Bang for the Bucs
William Nack
October 23, 2000
Bill Mazeroski's epic home run 40 years ago capped the wackiest World Series of them all
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October 23, 2000

Bang For The Bucs

Bill Mazeroski's epic home run 40 years ago capped the wackiest World Series of them all

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Skinner's sacrifice bunt was fielded cleanly by Clete Boyer, but it moved Virdon to third, Groat to second. After Nelson flied out to Maris, with Virdon holding at third, Clemente came to bat with two outs. What happened next is now a part of 1960 World Series lore. Clemente hit a slow chopper toward first. Skowron backhanded it and looked to throw to Coates covering first, but Coates was not there. It is the Series moment that Richardson remembers best. "Routine play!" he says. "Any ball to the right side of the infield, the pitcher covers first."

The inning should have been over, the score still 7-5, Yankees. Instead, Virdon scored from third, making it 7-6. Groat was on third and Clemente on first as catcher Hal Smith walked to the plate. In the stands, Virdon's wife, Shirley, was sitting next to Smith's wife, also named Shirley, when Coates fired a fastball. Smith swung and missed. Coates threw a second heater to the same spot, and Smith launched it on a 420-foot flight over the leftfield wall. All of Forbes went up in a roar. Shirley Smith threw her camera high into the air, and Shirley Virdon reached out to catch it.

Smith was rounding second before it dawned on him what he had done. "I looked over, and people were dancing on the dugout," he recalls. "They were dancing in the stands and screaming and hugging and jumping up and down all over the ballpark. I remember thinking, Boy, this is something!"

Groat and Clemente met Smith at the plate, and both yelled to him above the din, "You won the game! You won the game!"

Pittsburgh's euphoria disappeared, of course, when New York roared back in the ninth to tie the score. As the Pirates sat in the dugout, waiting for Maz to hit, a saddened Smith said to Skinner, "Bob, I guess I wasn't destined to be a hero."

Forty years have come and gone since Mazeroski hit the Home Run, and it has remained a part of Pittsburgh's mythology, as big and vivid now as when it happened. Il left its imprint on many lives. Stengel did not survive it as Yankees skipper. Many sportswriters speculated during the Series that the 70-year-old Stengel would retire after the last game, but he wanted to stay after suffering the bitterest loss of his career. At his final press conference, five days later, he said, "They have paid me off in full and told me my services are not desired any longer by this club."

Ralph Houk took his place and led the Yankees to two world titles, in '61 and '62. Seeing Mazeroski years later, Houk kidded him, "If it weren't for you, I might not have got that job."

Some of Maz's former teammates think that, in a perverse way, the Home Run has prevented him from gaining induction into the Hall of Fame. "That's all people remember about him," says Groat.

There is considerably more to remember about Mazeroski as a player. Bill James, the guru of baseball statistics, has developed a numerical system for judging fielders, and his conclusion is unequivocal: "I have no doubt that Mazeroski is the premier defensive second baseman in the history of baseball, and I would list him among the five best defensive players of all time." James puts him in the company of Ozzie Smith, Honus Wagner and Johnny Bench. Mazeroski was a .260 lifetime hitter, but he had 2,016 hits over 17 seasons, and no doubt he prevented more runs with his glove than most major leaguers have scored. Like many of his teammates and many fans who saw him play, Mazeroski hopes the Veterans Committee will vote him into the Hall.

Mazeroski is sitting in the living room of his house in Panama City, Fla., which he shares with his wife, Milene, whom he met through Murtaugh and married in 1958. The old second baseman spends his days fishing for striped bass and playing golf. A shy, humble man, protective of his privacy, he is not one for indulging in nostalgia.

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