Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mazeroski + 50: The Consequences

"There is one thing my friends know must never be mentioned in my presence, and that is Bill Mazeroski's home run." -- Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), paleontologist, social scientist, author, Yankee Fan.

The Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55-27 in the 1960 World Series, but it's not who scores the most runs in 7 games, it's who scores the most runs in 4 out of 7 games.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1960_World_Series
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ix848GU0gNo&feature=related

Unlike Gould, and also Billy Crystal who still whines over it, I am not old enough to remember this home run. But mention the 1980 ALCS, the 1981 World Series, the 1985 AL East race, the 1994 strike, the 2001 and 2003 World Series and the 2004 ALCS to me at your own peril. The 1995 ALDS against Seattle? Beating them in 2 ALCS has removed that sting.

Still, like Red Sox fans, Cub fans, Phillies fans, Met fans, etc.; Yankee Fans have their moments that bother them even decades later. It's just that we win so much that we are generally considered to not be entitled to consider these moments as devastating as Bill Buckner, Steve Bartman, the '64 Phillie Phlop, the '69 September Swoon, the recent Met collapses, etc.

Why did the Yankees lose? Did Ralph Terry simply make a bad pitch? (Yes. But he redeemed himself with a shutout in Game 7 in 1962.) Was Mazeroski a power hitter? (Hardly: He hit 138 in his career, never reached 20, and his career OPS+ was a mere 84. Granted, he was perhaps the best-fielding second baseman ever, and we're not exactly talking about Bucky Dent -- career OPS+ of 74 -- but Maz was hardly the guy you would expect to get a big hit in that situation.)

Still, to score 55 runs against just 27 in 7 games, and lose? If this had been the recently departed Brooklyn Dodgers, or the about-to-arrive Mets, it would have been the subject of an ESPN Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... piece. But since it was the Yankees, and they won the next 4 American League Pennants and the next 2 World Series, rather than starting a downward spiral, it is thought of mainly as a Pirate win rather than a Yankee loss.

I wish ESPN had continued that series. But they didn't, so I will:

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame the New York Yankees for Losing the 1960 World Series

5. Upsets Happen. The 1906 Chicago White Sox over the Chicago Cubs. The 1914 Boston Braves over the Philadelphia Athletics. The 1924 Washington Senators over the New York Giants. The 1931 St. Louis Cardinals over the A's. The 1934 Cardinals over the Detroit Tigers. The 1940 Cincinnati Reds over the Tigers. The 1954 Giants over the Cleveland Indians. The 1966 Baltimore Orioles over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 1968 Tigers over the Cardinals. The 1969 Mets over the Orioles. The 1971 and 1979 Pirates over the Orioles. The 1972 Oakland Athletics over the Reds. The 1980 Philadelphia Phillies over the Kansas City Royals. The 1982 Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers. The 1985 Royals over the Cardinals. The 1987 Minnesota Twins over the Cardinals. The 1988 Dodgers over the A's. The 1990 Reds over the A's. The 1997 Florida Marlins over the Indians. The 2002 Anaheim Angels over the San Francisco Giants. The 2005 Chicago White Sox over the Houston Astros. The 2006 Cardinals over the Giants.

Upsets happen to the Yankees, too: The 1926, 1942 and 1964 Cardinals, the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, the 1963 and 1981 Dodgers, the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, the 2003 Marlins. The Yankees have even been the upset-minded team, in 1996 over the Atlanta Braves. And remember how, the last few years, the Phillies have been calling themselves "the team to beat"? Maybe the Phils weren't big favorites over the Yanks in 2009, but they were the defending champions.

4. 22-4. The Yankees got on a serious hot streak at the end of the season, winning 22 of their last 26, including 15 in a row, allowing them to hold off the Orioles, who were 2 games ahead of the Yankees on September 4, and tied as late as September 14 before finishing 6 1/2 games back. The Yankees could rest their starters. Complacency could set in. It did.

It had happened before in baseball, and it has happened since: Most recently, witness the 2007 Colorado Rockies, who won 13 of their last 14 games to force a tie for the NL Wild Card, then beat the San Diego Padres for it, then swept the Phillies in the NLDS and the Diamondbacks in the NLCS to make it 21 out of 22. Then they got swept themselves in the World Series, but the... Let's move on, before I have to use the word "steroids" again.

3. Injuries. A catching platoon of Yogi Berra and Elston Howard. A left-field platoon of those 2 and Hector Lopez. Clete Boyer was unable to yet settle in at third base. Granted, the Pirates had similar issues, but the Yankees weren't as fresh as they could have been.

2. Forbes Field's Infield. It was in bad shape, leading to 2 major factors. First, it made Casey Stengel decide not to start ground-ball-out man Whitey Ford until Game 3 of the Series at Yankee Stadium. Well, Casey blew it: A, He was Whitey Ford, the best pitcher Casey would ever manage, and I'm including Warren Spahn with the 1942 Boston Braves, a man who did not blossom as a big-league pitcher until he came back from World War II; and B, Whitey would still have to start Game 6 at Forbes Field. So he might as well have started Whitey in Games 1 (Forbes), 4 (Yankee Stadium) and 7 (Forbes).

But it didn't end there: That very infield that Casey was worried about with Whitey had a pebble at the shortstop position, and Bill Virdon (who would go on to manage both of these teams) hit a grounder that hit a pebble, jumped up, and smacked Tony Kubek in the throat. A sure double play to preserve a 6-4 Yankee lead with 3 outs to go led to Hal Smith's home run to make it a 5-run rally and 9-7 Pirate lead. The Yanks scored 2 in the top of the 9th to tie it before Mazeroski's capper, but if that Virdon ground hits any other spot, Mazeroski never comes up, unless the Pirates put together a 5-run rally in the 9th instead.

1. The Pirates Were Good. In discussions of why you can't blame a team or a player for losing a big game or series, the tendency is to say, "The team that won was better." No, the Pirates weren't better than the Yankees in 1960. But they were worthy champions. The Yankees won 97 games that season; the Pirates won 95. The Yankees finished 6 1/2 games ahead of the Orioles; the Pirates finished 7 games ahead of the Braves.

They had 4 players who hit at least 15 homers and 5 with at least 20 doubles, despite playing their games in Forbes Field, whose dimensions were practically identical to those of the pre-renovation Yankee Stadium, with a short right field but very distant everywhere else, including a 457-foot marker in center field. Of their 8 regulars, 6 had an OPS+ of at least 109. Dick Groat was the NL Most Valuable Player, batting .325, and Roberto Clemente was beginning to put up the kind of stats that would send him to the Hall of Fame, batting .314 with 16 homers and a team-leading 94 RBIs.

Their defense was excellent: Mazeroski, as I said, is in the Hall of Fame for being one of the best defensive infielders ever. With Groat, an excellent all-around athlete who had played basketball at Duke (this was well before the Mike Krzyzewski era but they were a strong team in the Fifties and Sixties, too), he formed a superb double-play combination. Clemente was a sensation in right field, already known for having the best outfield arm in the game. Virdon was a good center fielder. Granted, their first baseman was Dick Stuart, known as Stonefingers (and, later, after a certain movie came out, Doctor Strangeglove) for being awful at the position, but his hitting and the fielding of the others more than made up for that.

The Pirates had good pitching, too. Vernon Law went 20-9 and won the Cy Young Award -- from its establishment in 1956 until 1966, it was for the most valuable pitcher in both leagues. Bob Friend went 18-12. Wilmer Mizell -- nickname "Vinegar Bend" after his North Carolina hometown -- went 13-5. And the Pirates had the best relief pitcher in the NL, Elroy Face, the first pitcher known to have mastered the forkball, a forerunner of the split-fingered fastball.

And let's not forget, the Pirates rebounded from losing games 16-3, 12-0 and 10-0 in that Series, and rebounded from blowing a 4-0 lead in Game 7, and even recovered from the shock of being 9-7 up, 2 runs up with 3 outs to go, and won the Series. That's remarkable resilience.

Mickey Mantle would later say that he cried all the way home on the plane, and that, in the 12 World Series he played in (7 wins), 1960 was the only one in which the better team didn't win. But there was no shame in losing the 1960 World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Maybe in losing the Series at all, but not to that specific team.

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So why did the Pirates only win that one Series? Indeed, that one Pennant? By the time they reached the postseason again, in 1970, they had just moved out of Forbes Field, into Three Rivers Stadium, and the only 2 players left from their 1960 win were the 2 future Hall-of-Famers, Clemente and Mazeroski.

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame the Pittsburgh Pirates For Not Building a Dynasty with the 1960 World Series

5. Dynasties Are Hard. Even the best teams don't do it that often. The Dodgers won 10 Pennants in 20 seasons from 1947 to 1966, a remarkable record -- but just missed 4 others, and never won 3 in a row. The Giants won in 1951 and '54, but didn't come close before that since '37 and after it until '62. Then, in San Francisco, they won in '62, but fell a little short in '64 and just missed in '65 and '66, despite 5 Hall-of-Famers (Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal and Perry). The Cardinals won 3 Pennants in the Sixties, '64, '67 and '68, but didn't come close before that since '49 and not after it until '73. The Braves just missed in '56, won in '57 and '58, lost a Playoff in '59, finished 2nd in '60 and '61 and came close in '64. And that's just in the NL. How many AL teams came close to the Yankees multiple times?

Before '60, the Pirates' last Pennant was in '27 and their last close call in '38; after '60, they didn't come close again until winning the NL East in '70. It's hard, and in those days, no Divisional play or Wild Card. If you won 95 or even 100 games, but another team won more, you were on the outside looking in.

4. The Dick Stuart Trade. After the 1962 season, the Pirates got tired of Stuart's awful fielding and his striking out at a rate that made Mickey Mantle look like Joe Sewell, and traded him to the Boston Red Sox for Jim Pagliaroni (who's most remembered for being the on-deck batter when Ted Williams hit his last home run and for his appearances in Jim Bouton's Ball Four) and Don Schwall (who isn't even remembered for anything that significant). Stuart briefly thrived with Fenway Park's Green Monster, and the Pirates could have used his bat the next couple of years.

3. Vernon Law's Injuries. Only once more would he win more than 12 games. Which became even bigger when you consider...

2. Other Teams' Pitching. The Dodgers had Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. The Giants had Juan Marichal, Jack Sanford and Gaylord Perry. The Braves, for a while, anyway, still had Warren Spahn and would develop Tony Cloninger and Phil Niekro. The Phillies had Jim Bunning and Chris Short. The Reds had Jim O'Toole, Joey Jay and Bob Purkey. The Pirates couldn't keep up in this "arms race."

1. Forbes Field. No, it wasn't in an increasingly bad neighborhood like the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field in New York, Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, Griffith Stadium in Washington, Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Tiger Stadium in Detroit and Comiskey Park in Chicago. (Even Chicago's Wrigleyville wasn't considered a good neighborhood back then.) But it seated only 35,000 people; its seats, aisles and concourses were too narrow; it was way under the requirements for concession stands and restrooms; and it had minimal parking. It was built in 1909: In the Presidency of William Howard Taft, hardly anybody HAD an automobile to go to a ballgame. As a result, this hurt attendance, and even when it had a big crowd, it couldn't be THAT big a crowd. This, plus the minimal parking and poor concessions, badly hurt revenue. The Pirates couldn't afford to pay high salaries.

Plus, even then, Pittsburgh was one of the smallest "markets" in the major leagues. They didn't exactly have a lot of suburbs at the time, and most of those were small towns in Western Pennsylvania and the (still) rather poor State of West Virginia. A lot of those people wouldn't have been able to drive in even if they could afford a car. It's different now, with the way baseball teams can make money: The merchandising, the TV contracts, everything. In the Sixties, in order to make a lot of money, a team had to win and draw fans. Today, the Pirates are losing not because the owners CAN'T spend money, but because they WON'T. And they use the "small market" as an excuse. That's bullshit: The Atlanta Braves became a team with a national following despite not being in a huge city because of Ted Turner's "superstation." The St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds provided the model for that with massive radio networks. The Boston Red Sox, to a lesser extent, did the same: Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy has been known to use the term "Radio Free Sox." Today, with the TV contracts and the Internet (not only to view games but to buy tickets for them), there's no such thing as a small market anymore. Only a small-minded ownership group.

But due to Forbes Field, a small ballpark tucked away in a neighborhood, without subway and freeway-exit access, the Pirates couldn't build the kind of teams that the Dodgers and Giants -- and later, with their downtown Busch Memorial Stadium, the Cardinals -- could build. And that's why the next Pirate team to win the World Series, in 1971, had a very different identity from the 1960 World Champions. Forbes was a terrific ballpark for its time, and Three Rivers Stadium wasn't terrible for baseball (I did manage to see a game there), but unless a way could have been found to expand it to 45-50,000 seats, and improve car access and parking, it would always remain inadequate to the modern baseball viewing experience.

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My favorite thing about Game 7 of the 1960 World Series is that the winning pitcher was Harvey Haddix, who, the year before, had pitched a perfect game for the Pirates against the Braves, for 12 innings -- and lost the game in the 13th. He got paid back big-time by the baseball gods. Sadly, Haddix died a few years ago.

Of the men who played in that game, 50 years ago today, the following are still alive:

Pirates: Second baseman Bill Mazeroski, shortstop Dick Groat, center fielder Bill Virdon, left fielder Bob Skinner, catcher Hal Smith, pinch hitter Gino Cimoli, pinch-runner Joe Christopher (lost in the 1962 expansion draft to the Mets), and pitchers Vernon Law, Bob Friend and Elroy Face. Not entering the game but on the roster and still alive: Shortstops Dick "Ducky" Schofield and Dick Barone, first baseman R.C. Stevens, outfielder Roman Mejias, catchers Bob Oldis and Danny Kravitz, and pitchers Joe Gibbon, Bennie Daniels, Red Witt and Don Gross. 10 who played, 20 overall.

Yankees: First baseman Bill "Moose" Skowron, second baseman Bobby Richardson, shortstop Tony Kubek, substitute shortstop Joe DeMaestri, substitute third baseman Gil McDougald, left fielder Yogi Berra, pinch-hitter Hector Lopez, and pitchers Bob Turley, Bobby Shantz, Jim Coates and Ralph Terry. Not entering the game but on the roster and still alive: Third baseman Andy Carey, outfielder Bob Cerv; and pitchers Whitey Ford, Ryne Duren, Art Ditmar, Luis Arroyo, Eli Grba, Bill Short, Fred Kipp, Johnny James and Hal Stowe. 11 who played, 22 overall.

On October 18, the 50th Anniversary of the other great consequence of the 1960 World Series, I'll discuss the Yankees' firing of Casey Stengel, and the other things the organization was doing at the time. The discussion may surprise you.

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