It is a perfect October afternoon: high, blue sky, warm, but with a hint of chill to come. I’m 12 years old, unexpectedly sprung from Mrs. Swango’s sixth grade classroom and by unreasonable good fortune, I’m sitting in the front row, next to the first base dugout in Forbes Field, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s the seventh game of the 1960 World Series.
By any measure, the New York Yankees are the clear favorites to win it all. Despite losing the first game of fall classic 6-4, in six games, the Bronx Bombers have outscored the Bucs by an astoundingly wide margin: 46-17. But baseball is not stroke play; it’s match play and so on the afternoon of October 13, the Series stands tied at 3 games apiece. Whichever team wins today will be World Champions.
Momentum is sitting in the Yankee dugout. Game 6 had been a 12-0 shellacking suffered by the Pirates. Whitey Ford had pitched a superb shoutout and Bobby Richardson had banged out two triples to add to his already record-setting offensive performance. (Richardson would go on to win the Series’ Most Valuable Player award.) In all, the Yankees had 17 hits that day—Johnny Blanchard, Roger Maris, and Yogi Berra rang up three hits each.
But today is Game 7: it’s winner-take-all. To everyone’s surprise, the Pirates jump out to a 4-0 lead, but the Yankees, behind Bill “Moose” Skowron, Mickey Mantle, and Berra claw their way back to take a 5-4 lead going into the 8th. The Yanks score two more runs in the top of the inning so when the Bucs come up to bat in the bottom of the 8th, they are down 7-4.
Fate can be cruel and fate can be kind. Gino Cimoli leads off In the bottom of the 8th with a single. The next batter, Bill Virdon, hits a sharp grounder to short, a sure-fire double play ball. But the ball hits a tiny pebble in the infield and takes a bad hop, catching Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat. Kubek goes down and the Pirates suddenly have runners on first and second, nobody out. Pirate captain Dick Groat singles to score Cimoli and a young outfielder by the name of Roberto Clemente keeps the rally going with an infield singe that scores Virdon. Now the Bucs trail by a single run.
Hal Smith, the Pirates backup catcher, had entered the game in the top of the inning. With one swing of his bat, Smith shocks the world by blasting a home run over the left-center wall, scoring three more runs. The Pirates now lead 9-7.
In the top of the ninth, the Yankees scratch out two runs against pitchers Bob Friend and Harvey Haddix—both starters pressed into service as relievers—to tie the game. The tying run comes home when “The Mick” avoids Rocky Nelson’s tag at first base, allowing Gil McDougald, pinch-running for Dale Long, to score from third.
Ralph Terry had come on in relief in the bottom of the 8th and he was the Yankee pitcher who finally shut down the Pirate rally. The Bucs first batter is Bill Mazeroski, “Maz,” better known for his prowess at second base than for his pop at the plate. Terry’s first pitch sails high and wide: Ball One!
The Longines clock atop the left field scoreboard stands at 3:35 when Terry’s next pitch comes speeding in. Maz swings. There is a moment, no more than a second or two, when the ball is in flight and the world is holding its breath. Yogi Berra, oddly stationed in left field, turns and moves back toward the ivy-covered wall. He is the first one to know the incredible truth: Maz has homered in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series, and the Pirates are World Champions.
Yankee fans slump in stunned silence; Pirate fans explode in joyous disbelief. I am delirious; every dream I ever had has just come true.
In another three weeks, John F. Kennedy would become our 35th President. Just two years later, almost to the day, the world would stand on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. A little more than a year after that, we would hear gunshots in Dallas.
Like the trajectory of a launched baseball, the arc of history is exceeding fast.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown, MD. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com