Sweet 60: The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates
For those who have known me for longer than fifteen minutes, learn that I am a ‘Die hard’ Pittsburgh Pirates fan. The 1971 team is my favorite Pirates’ team of all-time. But I have a strange relationship with the 1960 version. One might describe it as destiny, like the Pirates beating the New York Yankees that year.
While only three years old, I know where I was when Maz hit his dramatic homerun in 1960. And no, I was not at Forbes Field, or even in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At 3:36 pm on October 13, 1960, I was walking with my mother as she pushed my brother Ken in a baby stroller. We were on Main Street in Somerville, New Jersey. As the story goes, we passed some construction workers who were on scaffolding just as Maz hit the homer. The workers shouted their disbelief. When mom asked them what happen, they told her that the Pirates just won the World Series! Bill Mazeroski is why I wanted to play baseball. Then looking at me she saw big smile. From that moment, I became a Pirates fan, and that my dad was born and raised in Pittsburgh and was a huge fan.
My heroes growing up were Maz, Roberto, Sangy and Blass. One of my favorite moments in sports was seeing Jackie Hernandez ranging behind second to throw out Merv Rettenmund for the final out of the 1971 series.
Twenty-five years later, after playing Little League, Babe Ruth, and High School baseball, I joined the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR). Which is the same organization responsible for this book. I began to write bios on former players. I became extremely proficient at conducting interviews with former players and ended up being good friends with many of them.
This is the second book of its kind that I have read. The other one Drama and Pride in the Gateway City. Each book tells the story of a team’s magical season. Their pages are filled with detailed descriptions of the season and the preceding World Series. They are filled with short biographies for each person who played, announced or coached their team. SABR members have crafted the bios, each demonstrating with the highest level of professionalism, with love and care for the game.
I might be a tad prejudiced when I say how much I enjoyed this book. I wrote the bios for Bill Mazeroski and Fred Green. It was a thrill to be able to interview Maz. He is as humble man I had hoped he would be.
While is geared towards the serious baseball fan, it will also appeal to the casual baseball fan, especially the bios about those who are not ‘big’ names. Unlike the New York Yankees that had baseball icons such as Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford. The Pirates were filled with many players such as that. Although the Pirates had Clemente, Groat, Law, and Maz, the stories of Vinegar Bend Mizell, Forrest Smokey Burgess, Diomedes Olivo, and Hal Smith. When I began writing for SABR,Jan Finkel, the head editor for the Bio Project recommended that I write in a way that people would want to read it.
I am sure that the seasoned fan or historian will know that Vernon Law was the NL’s Cy Young Award winner in 1960, and that he pitched with a bad ankle and still won two games during the series. Or Dick Groat led the league in hitting and became the NL’s MVP. But how many will know that Groat’s basketball uniform number was the first retired by Duke University. Or that Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell got his nickname from a small community in Alabama. Vinegar Bend was a town of fewer than 200 people and got its name when a passing train tipped over and spilled its load of vinegar.
Most Pirates fans know about the bad hop that hit Tony Kubek in the throat keeping a Pirates rally alive, and of course everyone in town knows that Bill Mazersoski hit the only ‘walk off homer to win the seventh game of a World Series. But how many fans knew that a young Maz earned the money to buy his first baseball glove by digging a hole for an uncle’s outhouse?
The Pittsburgh Pirates of 1960 was very special, this book details why.