Sport as much as steel has cast the image of Pittsburgh to the world. Pittsburghers have used sport to tell a story about who they are both to themselves and to others. It's about tough, hard-working, gritty people who struggle and win and lose and win. The 1960 World Series was that story.
LECTURER IN SPORTS AND URBAN HISTORY, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH
Toward the end of that autumn afternoon at old Forbes Field, near the close of a record-breaking World Series that had already emerged as the weirdest, wildest, most improbable ever played, Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman William Stanley Mazeroski, the 24-year-old son of an Ohio coal miner, sensed that he had been through all this before, felt he'd already lived and seen it. Sensed it as he stepped off the field and inhaled the moment's bitter, ascending air of gloom. How did this happen? he thought. How is it they always come back?
It was 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 13, 1960, 40 years ago last week, and the last half of the ninth inning of the Series' seventh game was beginning. The Pirates and the New York Yankees were locked in a 9-9 tie. Less than 30 minutes earlier Pittsburgh had scored five runs in the eighth inning, coming from three runs down to take a 9-7 lead. All the Bucs had needed to win it all, to exorcise those roistering ghosts from the '27 World Series—when Ruth and Gehrig, Lazzeri and Combs had swept them in their last go at a world championship—was one more peaceful inning, three more painless outs. But, as Mazeroski knew, these were the 3M Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Moose Skowron, the Yankees who had won eight pennants and six of 10 World Series in the 1950s, who had won their last 15 regular-season games while running their home run total for the year to an American League record 193, three more than their old mark, set in '56. New York had won its three Series games against the Pirates by the scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0, setting a passel of club and individual World Series hitting records. Sure enough, in the ninth, just as Mazeroski had feared, the deathless Yankees had struck again.
After Mantle singled in a run, driving second baseman Bobby Richardson home as he raised his batting average in this Series to .400, he kept New York alive by pulling off the strangest act of baserunning in the Series. With one out and Mantle on first, and third baseman Gil McDougald representing the tying run on third, Yankees left-fielder Yogi Berra pulled a hard, one-hop smash down the line that Pittsburgh first baseman Rocky Nelson snatched deftly. After stepping on the bag to get Berra at first, Nelson moved toward second base to throw out Mantle. But Mantle, instead of racing for second, dove back toward first and crawled like a lizard to the bag, slipping under the surprised first baseman's reach as McDougald scored.
Many saw what Mantle did as dumb. All he had to do, to ensure that McDougald would score and tie the game, was dash for second and force a rundown. Had Nelson tagged out Mantle, the Pirates would have been world champions. So why did Mantle scramble back to first? Nelson says Mantle later told him that he thought Nelson had caught Berra's drive on the fly and that, since he had not tagged up, the only way to save himself and McDougald was to scramble safely back to first.
In any event, after Skowron, the Yankees first baseman, hit a grounder that forced Mantle at second to end the top half of the ninth, the game was tied 9-9. The Yankees had new life. Recalls Richardson, "We thought, Boy, we got 'em now.!"
Stunned by the turn of events, Mazeroski went down the stairs into the Pittsburgh dugout, sat on the bench and stared vacantly across the ancient playing field—toward the vines that climbed the outfield fence, past the silent thousands shifting uneasily in their seats, beyond all those damned Yankees grinning as they took the field and waited for pitcher Ralph Terry to finish warming up.
Mazeroski lapsed into a kind of trance, as though peering into his backwoods past, into the days when he was growing up in a little wooden house with no electricity or running water, on a glade known as Skunk Hollow, on the banks of the Ohio River near Rush Run. The sun lit his days, kerosene his nights, and on many summer afternoons he listened to his battery-operated radio tell stories of the distant suffering of his beloved Cleveland Indians. In the dugout, Mazeroski remembers, "all I could think of was how the Yankees used to beat up on Cleveland for years and years, and how the Yankees would come back and how, just now, they'd come back on us with all that hitting. I felt so bad; we all did. I was staring out of the dugout and thinking about this when...."
"Maz, you're up!" he heard a voice call out from down the pine.
So absorbed had he been in memory, Mazeroski hadn't realized he was leading off. He rose from the bench, picked up his helmet and bat and walked to the batter's box. For weeks preceding the Series, Yankees scouts had tracked the Pirates from city to city, and their report on Pittsburgh had been unambiguous: "They're high fastball hitters. Give them low, breaking stuff all the time."