The opening line on the 1960 World Series has established the Yankees as 5 to 7 favorites, a set of figures which could spread destitution among the nation's bookmakers long before the second week in October has passed. There is nothing particularly complicated about the reasoning behind this formula for bankruptcy. The habits of childhood are strong and all bookies remember at least fragments of an old rule which says Never Bet Against Joe Louis, Notre Dame or the Yankees.
While admitting that Joe Louis and Notre Dame seem to be in a slump, the odds-makers simply figure that 1) the Yankees are still the Yankees, and you do not bet against them in a World Series, and 2) who are the Pittsburgh Pirates, anyhow?
There are only a couple of miscalculations here. First, the Yankees are not still the Yankees, at least not the Yankees of old, and they haven't been for some time. Betting against them in the last four Series in which they took part would not have cost you a cent; the best the Yankees could do was split, and with the odds you would have made money. Today their pitching is shaky and their hitting erratic; only superior power and a weak league, which the Yankees were a long way from dominating, enabled them to sneak through.
The way they have finished has been very impressive, of course, beginning with the four-game sweep over Baltimore and continuing through the series last week with Washington and the Red Sox. While all eyes were on the Yankees, however, hardly anyone noticed that the Pirates were just as hot, as long as they had to be. In five days they swept three double-headers, mathematically eliminating Milwaukee from the pennant race and making a little silly the Braves' brave talk about what would happen when they finally caught the Pirates for six big games in the last 10 days.
Under no compulsion to keep driving, the Pirates then eased up against Milwaukee, a team they had defeated 11 times in 16 previous games, and lost three straight to the Braves last weekend. On Friday they pitched George Witt, who had been in only nine other games all year. On Saturday they lost to Lou Burdette for the first time, and on Sunday Eddie Mathews beat them with a home run. But the Cardinals were losing, too, and on Sunday night the Pirates had their first pennant in 33 years.
It was not the way the Pirates wanted to win, but it was foolish to say that they had backed in. They had coasted in, quietly, while everyone was watching the Yankees. The Pirates opened a case of champagne they had been carrying around for days and drank it thankfully. It was a strange way for a National League pennant race to end, no fireworks, no excitement. Perhaps for too long it had been a foregone conclusion that the Pirates were going to win.
What others in the National League realized some time ago—that the Pirates were a fine baseball team that was not going to fold—the rest of the country has been strangely reluctant to accept. The Pirates are batting almost 10 points higher than any team in baseball, almost 20 points higher than the Yankees. They have no weaknesses, except perhaps a preference for singles over home runs, and they possess incredible quantities of determination and spirit and poise. They have become the sentimental favorites of a baseball-loving nation; on the streets and store fronts and automobile bumpers of Pittsburgh, signs of "Beat 'em, Bucs" in the black and gold Pirate colors have been urging the team on to victory. Yet outside of Pittsburgh and the other National League cities in which they play, hardly anyone is convinced even now that the Pirates are for real.
Most of this attitude stems from what happened in 1959, when they disappointed so many people. In 1958 the Pirates finished second, passing the weary Giants in the last two months of the season and chasing Milwaukee to a pennant. It was apparent then that Pittsburgh had a sound ball club, built with such care by Branch Rickey and Joe Brown, molded through succeeding stages of development by four managers, each contributing something to the process: Billy Meyer, Fred Haney, Bobby Bragan and Danny Murtaugh. With the breaks, they might have won in '59; instead the breaks all went the other way and they finished fourth. Bob Skinner was hurt; Roberto Clemente was out almost half the season with an injured arm; Bob Friend and Bill Mazeroski were overweight in the spring and had miserable seasons; Dick Groat had one of those off years. A glimpse of the quality that was there, however, came in August when the Pirates moved up to within three games of the league lead. A tip-off of what to expect in 1960 was Pittsburgh's record in the close ones: 19 extra-inning wins against two losses, 36 victories in 55 one-run games.
This year everything broke just right. The Pirates, individually, profited from their mistakes of 1959 and, until Groat was hurt with the pennant virtually assured, even injuries stayed away. And the Pirates never failed to take advantage of this blessing by fate. Day after day they won ball games with tight pitching and clutch hitting, winning them in the late innings, winning them in extra innings, never quitting, beating the good pitchers and the good teams.
The Pirates have two superb starting pitchers in Vernon Law and Bob Friend, two others who have done well in Wilmer Mizell and Harvey Haddix, and perhaps the best relief man in all baseball, Elroy Face, who is backed up by Clem Labine and Fred Green. Mizell, Haddix and Green throw left, Law, Friend, Face and Labine throw right. There are outstanding players at third base ( Don Hoak), shortstop (Groat), left and right field (Skinner and Clemente). At second Bill Mazeroski is a genius at the double play. And by regularly platooning left-and right-hand hitters at catcher (Smokey Burgess and Hal Smith), first base ( Rocky Nelson and Dick Stuart) and center field ( Bill Virdon and Gino Cimoli), Murtaugh has employed his rather thin bench in a much more efficient way than managers who consider it only an idling place for pinch hitters.