"What a town we lived in. There couldn't have been a thousand people there. There was one bar, the Melody Manor, and there was the Lansing Sportsmen's Club across Route 40, a home away from home for a lot of the miners. I'd listen to ball games at Cocky Pyle's Texaco station, where they had a potbellied stove. There was one movie theater, and I'd go every night. To my mind, John Wayne never made a bad movie. I was such a fan that Mel Nowell at Ohio State started calling me Hondo, and it stuck. Of course, he also did that because he couldn't pronounce Havlicek. Phil and I used to play bottle-cap baseball, using a fence railing as a bat, outside Cocky Pyle's. Joe was about five years younger, so he was just a tagalong then, but Phil and I have been friends for more than 40 years, and how many people can say that?
"At our house we had a hand pump in the kitchen and an outhouse in the back. We'd take sponge baths every night and then a real bath on Saturday. On Sundays we'd visit both grandmothers, and usually have a flat tire both ways. We'd swim in the strip pits and do a lot of hunting and fishing. It wasn't very sophisticated, but I sometimes think the simpler things are better appreciated.
"It's funny, my wife, Beth, is only two years younger than I am, but it's like she came from a totally different generation. She's from Painesville, Ohio, just outside Cleveland, and her family had all the conveniences we didn't have. My kids can't even believe that I was born in this century. They love it when I tell stories about growing up in the Valley. 'Dad,' they'll say, 'you really are from a different world.' I guess maybe they're right."
To Bill Mazeroski, little towns like Martins Ferry, Bridgeport and Lansing were metropolises. Maz lived in the hills away from the towns, in a place called Witch Hazel. The family home, he says, was a shack without electricity or plumbing. "It was more like a chicken coop," says his old friend and business partner, Bill Del Vecchio. Maz's father lost part of a foot in a mine accident, turned to drink and was gone much of the time. When the young Bill fished the Ohio River, it was not so much for amusement as to put food on the table for his mother, his sister and himself. He went down the hill to the high school in Tiltonsville, just four miles north of Martins Ferry. He was shy and felt embarrassed by his clothes and mannerisms. "The hill people," he says, "had to prove themselves to the town people. You knew you weren't their equal."
Mazeroski proved himself through sports. There, he was a prodigy. "Of all of the great athletes from here," says Van Horne, who has seen most of them, "the only one I'd have said from the start would be a star was Maz. There was just something about him."
"You knew from the time he was 12 he'd be exceptional," says Del Vecchio. "He had that God-given hand-eye coordination, and there wasn't anything he couldn't do. Why, one of the first times I saw him, he was sitting in a chair in his yard shooting bees with a .22 pistol." He was an all-state basketball player who averaged 28 points a game at Tiltonsville High and an all-state pitcher and shortstop. The Pittsburgh Pirates signed him fresh out of high school in 1954, and in his first spring training the next year he caught the eye of legendary general manager Branch Rickey. "Leave that man at second base, no matter what you do," the GM advised manager Fred Haney.
Mazeroski stayed at second for 17 years with the Pirates, setting major league records for double plays by a second baseman for a season (161) and for a career (1,706). He also holds the major league record for seasons leading the league in double plays (8) and assists (9). He won eight Gold Gloves, and in the eyes of many veteran baseball observers, he was the best fielding second baseman who ever played the game. But for all that, he's probably best known for hitting that dramatic home run in the ninth inning of the seventh game to beat the Yankees in the 1960 World Series, the only Series ever ended by a home run.
At 51 he's still a shy man, but there is an undercurrent of humor in his manner and maybe just a little sadness. He lives with his wife, Milene, in Greensburg, Pa., about 30 miles from Pittsburgh and 70 or so from Tiltonsville. He has two sons. He owns a golf course in Rayland, near his old home, and is co-owner of a restaurant-bar called Bill's, in Yorkville, just outside Martins Ferry.
"I never knew any of the other guys when I was growing up, although I played against Phil in high school," says Maz. "In fact, I think I hit the first home run anybody'd hit off him, and I was the only pitcher to beat him in 1954, when he was pitching for Bridgeport. He threw that knuckleball even then. But really, I didn't know a soul outside of Tiltonsville. We didn't have a car and there was no way of getting around. All I wanted to do was fish and play ball. And, of course, you had to prove your manhood by swimming the Ohio River. I used to get my basketballs out of that river, too. They were really just bladders that had washed up after a flood subsided. But after I'd carried the coal in, I'd shoot baskets with them till dark. Our baseballs were mostly just tape, too. And I'd bounce rubber balls by the hour off any wall I could find.
"But when I was 13 or 14 years old, the high school coach at Tiltonsville, Al Burazio, took me aside and told me he was going to make a big leaguer out of me. He did, too. I think I learned more from him than I ever did from any minor league instructor. He gave me the fundamentals that got me off to a good start in pro ball. He died a couple years ago, but I'll never forget him.