October 23, 2014

Retro Magic at Forbes Field

December 15, 2010 by · 6 Comments 

Arnold Hano’s marvelous 1955 book, A Day in the Bleachers, is an eyewitness account, told in minute descriptive detail, of Game 1 of the ’54 series between the Indians and Giants at the Polo Grounds.  You know, that one with the miraculous catch by a Giants’ center fielder?  It’s a reporting work of art that takes six full pages to describe Mays’ grab from the author’s perch in the left centerfield bleachers, and when you realize how many times you’ve seen the one ground-level clip of Willie racing to the wall, back turned to home to snag the dropping white orb, it is just stunning to experience the moment from a completely different angle.

Well, in the final minutes of the MLB Network’s phenomenal re-broadcast of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series between the Yankees and Pirates, I got the exact same chills.  Every shot we’ve seen of Bill Mazeroski’s bottom of the 9th Series-winning homer has been the same: over home plate, Maz gently swatting Ralph Terry’s second pitch on a disappearing arc to left, followed by Yogi Berra’s fruitless run to the wall where we sort of see it drop over.

Not any more.  The re-broadcast featured a surprising telephoto angle from center field, just like we have today, and while the camera wasn’t used that often, it managed to record Mazeroski’s blast in perfect clarity, the ball exploding off his bat in a perfect 45-degree laser into history.  In short, he crushed the living snot out of the thing.

The broadcast was screened in a full auditorium dotted with Pittsburgh legends, including Franco Harris, actor Michael Keaton and an onstage panel of Series participants: Bobby Richardson, Dick Groat and Maz himself.  Bob Costas hosted the proceedings with the dignity and humor we expect of him, but there were blessed few commercial interruptions or faux literary platitudes to junk up the evening.  Because the star of the show was Game Seven itself, or more specifically, a kinescope recording rescued from the bowels of ex-Pirate owner Bing Crosby’s home and lovingly polished up for the masses.  And what a game it was.

Most of us know the general details of that Series.  The Bucs won the close, low-scoring ones while the Yankees pounded the Pirates into coal ash in their three wins.  But while everyone’s aware of the Maz homer, it was a joy to follow the back-and-forth action and bizarre happenings that preceded it.  Casey Stengel pulling Bob Turley, then Bill Stafford early in the game, for instance, before finding a gem in Bobby Shantz to hold the Pirate lead at 4-0 until the Yanks could battle back and go ahead on a 3-run Berra smash in the 6th.  Then there was New York taking a soul-crushing 7-4 lead in the top of the 8th, only to have a ball bounce up off Tony Kubek’s adam’s apple (“It hit him in the head!” yelled Mel Allen on the broadcast.) and Hal Smith follow a Clemente infield hit with a sudden and very Carbo-esque three-run bomb over the Maz Wall, putting the Pirates on top 9-7.  Smith, by the way, a backup catcher with an .859 OPS that year, was in the front row of the audience to relish the screened moment.

Then there was the top of the 9th before the abrupt bottom, and the Yanks tying the game on a weird Mantle brain cramp on a sharp Berra grounder to first, where the Mick froze, then dove around Rocky Nelson to avoid the tag as Gil McDougald scampered home.  It was refreshing to just see an amazing play and remember it with our eyes, rather than have to see it again and again from six angles and three speeds and analyzed to death with analysis sponsored by Allstate Insurance.

Equally refreshing were the crusty, incisive voices of Mel Allen and Bob Prince, the 13-second average time between pitches, the 20-second home run trots (thanks, Wezen-Ball!), the absence of idiots waving while talking into their cell phones behind the backstop screen, the loud, warm ovation for the visiting Kubek after he left the game, and the sport jacket worn by Prince in the locker room celebration, a garment so hideous it seemed to be in color even though the broadcast was in black and white.  I didn’t even mind Roberto Clemente being called “Bob”, and even the Legend’s casual tosses in from right field snapped like dangerous buggywhips, mini-masterpieces of form and movement.

It was just a fabulous program, sports broadcasting at its finest, and if you missed it, pore through your MLB Network listings for repeats.  I had the added pleasure of watching while plugged into the Twitter universe, and got to post and read dozens of fabulous Tweets from Pirate bloggers and others.  Pat Lackey of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? and I shared many witticisms, and I could only imagine how much fun it must have been for a lifelong Pirate fan currently going through decades of doldrums.

“Seven to four?  We’re so screwed,” he said after the top of the 8th.  “Kubek stands up and the Pirate fans … clap? No ‘Yankees suck’ chant? Weird.” came soon after, but he saved my favorite for the quick but incredible clubhouse scene.  Outside Forbes Field there may have been mayhem and ladies dancing unattended in the streets, but inside Prince was besieged by one Pirate hero after another, guys like Bob Skinner and Elroy Face and Gino Cimoli and Smokey Burgess and Harvey Haddix and Vern Law, players I’d never ever seen interviewed, all of them sloppy with sweat but not champagne, utterly glowing with shocked, championship joy.

“I feel like every post-game interview here is with George Bailey,” posted Lackey.

Amen to that.  And to all a good night.

Jeff Polman’s fictional replay blogs of the 1924 and 1977 seasons can be visited at http://1924andyouarethere.blogspot.com and http://funkyball.wordpress.com, respectively.

Comments

6 Responses to “Retro Magic at Forbes Field”
  1. joe r. says:

    Thanks for the interesting post.
    Unfortunately, I only was able to watch the first four innings, but I enjoyed it immensely. I agree the centerfield camera angle made a huge difference.
    A few things of the things I noted:
    – Turley had tremendous stuff. You could see why, when he had command, he was a dominant pitcher. Stengel yanked him quickly when it was clear he lacked it, and the Pirates just sat on the fastball.
    – The number of attempted bunts for hits was startling. I think nearly every Yankee attempted at least one. There was a mention of Law having a leg or foot injury; that must have played a role. The Pirates, though, attempted several, too. You don’t see that nowadays.
    – Yogi swung two bats right up into the batter’s box and then handed one to the batboy. The last player I remember doing that was Henry Aaron.
    – In bodytype, Smokey Burgess and Yogi could’ve been twins separated at birth.
    – Law had great movement on his pitches. Easy to see why he went 20-9 that year.
    – Clemente looked skinny compared to his later years. And he drastically stepped in the bucket on every pitch, even from Shantz. I don’t remember him doing that later, either.
    – Most of the bats looked so different than today; thick handles, many without knobs.

    I’ll certainly catch the whole game on a later rebroadcast.

  2. Paul D says:

    Terrific write-up Jeff. Really liked your observations, especially about Clemente’s casual throws back to the infield, Stengel’s quick hook with Turley and Stafford, the comment about Stengel finding a gem in Bobby Shantz, the “soul crushing” Yankee rally in the top of the 8th, etc.

    I really came away feeling Shantz deserved a better fate. You may recall he was allowed to hit for himself in the top of the 8th, with two out and runners on 2nd and 3rd, the Yankees having just jumped to a 7-4 lead. He barely missed hitting a double down the left field line on a ground ball chopped over Hoak’s head. The Yanks would have had a 9-4 lead. As it was, the ball was foul by a foot or less and Shantz flied out to right a pitch or two later.

    Then in the bottom of the 8th, his team leading 7-4, Shantz is still on the mound, now in his sixth inning of relief work. He gives up a lead off hit to Cimoli but then induces what appears to be a perfect double-play grounder. Had the ball not taken the bad hop and hit Kubek, Shantz and the Yanks would have had the Pirates down 7-4 with two out and nobody on in the bottom of the 8th. The Yanks probably would have gone on to win and Shantz hailed as the guy who saved the game and the series for the Yanks.

    Joe R I enjoyed your comments too. I also noticed how many batters tried to bunt to get on. Also I agree that Vern Law had very good stuff. Somehow in my mind I had pictured him as kind of a slow, not terribly athletic pitcher. But watching this game made me realize he was not only a very good pitcher but also a very good overall athlete.

  3. Cliff Blau says:

    I find the juxtaposition of these two comments amusing:
    “Equally refreshing were … the absence of idiots waving while talking into their cell phones behind the backstop screen.” And “I had the added pleasure of watching while plugged into the Twitter universe.”

  4. Jeff Polman says:

    Cliff: Good catch, though it isn’t the existence of new technology but the use of it that’s in question. If I were tweeting at a ball game I certainly wouldn’t be making a spectacle of myself for a TV camera.

  5. w.k. kortas says:

    Three things stuck out to me from the broadcast:

    1) Costas was, thankfully, surprisingly restrained. He was humorous in the right amount without being horribly schlocky.

    2) Michael Keaton knows his stuff; when he says about Clemente “What did hit, like, .351 in 1961?” the answer was, ummm, yes, exactly that?

    3) I had a chance to see a game at Forbes Field, and it was huge–as you probably know, they actually put the batting cage in dead center during games, because who the hell was gonna hit a ball out there? So what do you have in Game 7? Balls flying out of the place like it’s Coors Field!

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