Fifty years ago this month, one of the most memorable World Series of all time produced a series of twists and turning points, a seminal moment and a phenomenal upset. Intriguing and unexpected theater resulted from the first two games of the 1960 World Series.
The consensus placed the New York Yankees as clear favorites in their upcoming Fall Classic matchup with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although sports bookmakers favored the Yankees at relatively modest odds of 7-to-5, the opinions of more learned baseball writers leaned more heavily in the direction of New York.
The Pirates had claimed the National League pennant in less overwhelming spirit than their American League counterparts. In mid-June, the Pirates started to give the first indications of their potential to win the NL flag. A three-game sweep of the Giants, followed by back-to-back wins over the Dodgers, put the Pirates in first place by four games. By the All-Star break, the Bucs had extended the lead to five games.
After the midsummer break, the Pirates lost seven of 11 games and momentarily lost their lead, before regaining it with a stretch of fine play. In late August, the Pirates dropped three straight to the Cardinals, allowing them to move within five and a half games of the first-place Bucs. The Pirates responded by winning 17 of their next 23 games, claiming several of the victories with what had become a season-long trademark: late-inning comebacks that often bordered on the miraculous.
In spite of their remarkable tendency to claim such victories from the seventh inning on, the Pirates struggled toward the close of the regular season. After sweeping three doubleheaders over the course of five days to officially eliminate the Milwaukee Braves from title contention and move the Cardinals within a few games of the same fate, the Pirates eased up on the pennant pedal. Playing a weekend set in Milwaukee Sept. 23-25, they lost three straight games to the Braves. The Pirates did manage to clinch the National League flag that weekend, in their 151st game (out of 155), but only because the Cardinals lost a Sunday afternoon game to the Cubs.
Although the Yankees had won only two more games than the Pirates—97 to 95 during the regular season—they had claimed their pennant with more verve and decisiveness than the Bucs. The Yankees had concluded the season by winning 19 of 21 games, including their last 15 in a row, creating a lasting impression of invincibility. The remarkable finish convinced most observers to ignore—or forget—Yankee mediocrity over the first two months of the season.
On June 4, New York’s record had stood at an uncharacteristic 20-20. From there, the Yankees won 23 of their next 28. The Yankees then battled the White Sox and Orioles in a tight-fisted three-way race throughout the rest of July and August, before pulling away with their fearsome kick of mid-September. That finishing flourish, along with their reputation from past Octobers, defined the Yankees as Goliaths, unlikely to be overcome by the challengers from the National League.
A study of the power potential of the two World Series combatants provided a distinct contrast. Rather than rely on larger-than-life sluggers who piled up huge home run totals, the Pirates depended on a series of singles and doubles hitters—and their ability to string together hits in sustaining long rallies. And while the Pirates did lead the National League in runs scored, some wondered how they could keep pace with the Yankees’ squadron of power hitters, who had set an American League record with 193 home runs.
While the Yankees had three players with at least 25-plus home runs, the Pirates featured none; first baseman Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart led the team with 23 home runs. As a team, the Pirates had slugged .407, considerably short of the Yankees’ mark of .426.
Based on power—and perhaps power alone—the Yankees appeared destined to conclude the Series in four or five games. For some reason, World Series prognosticators seemed to ignore the strengths of the pitching staffs. It was here that Pittsburgh, with the third best ERA (3.49) in the National League, held its own with the Yankees.
The Pirates featured the only 20-game winner on either staff in Vern Law, who posted a 3.08 ERA and had led all National League starters in complete games. Another right hander, Bob Friend, had won 18 games and posted 16 route-going efforts, to the tune of a 3.00 ERA. The Pirates also had two experienced left handers in Harvey Haddix and Vinegar Bend Mizell, whose exaggerated motion and knee-knocking slow curve figured to make him a natural for the games played at Yankee Stadium.
And then there was the bullpen, starring the diminutive but durable Roy Face. The owner of a phenomenal forkball that he could command to either dip in or away from hitters, the 5-foot-8 Face had saved 24 games in pitching a league-leading 68 times.
Meanwhile, the Yankees staff had tied for the American League lead in ERA (3.52), but had done so with a seemingly dangerous absence of power pitching. Limited to 192 innings, Whitey Ford had experienced a down year, in part because of an ailing shoulder. Ford had won only 12 games in spite of the support provided by the American League’s top lineup. Right-hander Art Ditmar had pitched well, winning 15 games with a staff-best ERA of 3.06, but had struck out only 65 batters in 200 innings, an uncommonly low ratio that showed his lack of intimidating stuff.
Two other starters, Bob Turley and Ralph Terry, had been effective, but like the rest of the starters, they lacked the strikeout pitch. None of the Yankee starters had reached the 100-strikeout mark during the season. And in the bullpen, left-handers Bobby Shantz and Luis Arroyo had pitched capably, but without the dominating flourish of Face, their Pittsburgh counterpart.
Games One and Two:
With a crowd of 36,676 fans piling into Forbes Field for Game One, the Pirates expected one of the most rousing pre-game ovations of the season. Instead, they were met with near silence. Some of the Pirates players didn’t know that most season ticket holders had been shut out of the World Series, in favor of celebrities and businessmen who lacked the typical enthusiasm of regular season gatherings.
The many writers who filled the press box may have lacked some enthusiasm, too, if only because they considered the playing of the World Series a formality; a Yankees rout of the Pirates seemed like a cruel inevitability.
The early developments of Game One seemed destined to fulfill the predictions of Yankee dominance. In the first inning, American League MVP Roger Maris came to bat against Pittsburgh ace Law. Maris had never before experienced postseason play, having played exclusively for the also-ran Indians and the perennially pathetic Kansas City A’s.
Ironically, the A’s had almost traded Maris to the Pirates after the 1959 season. The Pirates had initially offered shortstop Dick Groat, but Danny Murtaugh considered him a leader who was too critical to the fiber of the team. After the Pirates rescinded the offer of Groat—who would win the National League MVP Award in 1960—the A’s eventually traded Maris to the Yankees.
With two outs, no one on, and Law two strikes away from a scoreless inning, Maris made his first World Series at-bat a notable one. He blasted a misplaced slider into the highest deck in right field. The towering home run gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
The Pirates hoped to stage an immediate comeback in the bottom half of the first. Pittsburgh’s confidence may have been boosted by the curious pitching rotation chosen by the embattled Casey Stengel, who had been accused of nodding off during games and was now rumored to be in his final season as Yankee skipper. Rather than use Ford in the first game, thus preserving the possibility that he could pitch three times in the Series, Stengel selected Ditmar. Although Ditmar had outdone Ford during the regular season and had not allowed a run in nine and two-thirds innings of postseason pitching, his World Series resume was much thinner than that of Ford.
The Pirates took immediate advantage of Ditmar. Bill Virdon started the rally by drawing a leadoff walk, then made a delayed break for second on Ditmar’s first pitch to Groat. With Groat widely regarded as the finest executioner of the hit-and-run in the National League, Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson held his ground, protecting against Groat’s ability to hit to right field. As Virdon took off from first, Groat did not swing; as it turns out, Virdon had misread his coach’s sign, mistakenly thinking the hit-and-run was on.
Although shortstop Tony Kubek was supposed to cover second on any movement by the runner, Virdon’s delayed break left him paralyzed. Noticing that second base was completely unoccupied by a defender, catcher Yogi Berra held on to the ball at first, but then attempted a throw. With Kubek and Richardson looking at each other rather than running to cover the bag, the ball trickled into center field, allowing Virdon to move up to third.
Employing the opposite field stroke that had helped him claim the National League’s batting title, Groat followed with a run-scoring double into the right field corner. Bob Skinner, using his typically picture-perfect swing, rammed a single past the backhanded attempt of Richardson near second base, bringing Groat home with a second run. After Dick Stuart lined out, the deceptively speedy Skinner continued Pittsburgh’s aggressive game plan by stealing second base, with Berra’s throw arriving high and to the shortstop side of the bag. With two stolen bases in the first inning, the suddenly larcenous Pirates had matched their total of the previous 35 games.
With another runner now in scoring position, Roberto Clemente laced a high-hopping grounder past Ditmar, the ball picking up speed on the Forbes Field infield that was nicknamed the “Alabaster Plaster” for its unusual hardness. Clemente’s hit gave the Pirates a 3-1 advantage and ended Ditmar’s day. Stengel, never very patient with his pitchers and perhaps now regretting his choice of starters, sought Jim Coates from the bullpen. The right hander finally ended the outburst with two ground ball outs.
The Yankees tried to rally in the bottom of the second, putting their first two runners on base against Law, and prompting some more curious strategy by Stengel. As Clete Boyer strode toward home plate, Stengel whistled at him, signaling him to return to the dugout.
“When Casey called me back,” Boyer told The Sporting News, “I thought he was going to talk to me—maybe tell me how he wanted me to swing.” Stengel had a different message for Boyer, whom he had decided to remove for a pinch-hitter. In the second inning! “When he told me that Dale Long was going to hit for me,” Boyer remarked, “I was ready to crawl all the way home. I was never so shocked in my life.”
Stengel’s decision smacked of panic. Not only did it embarrass Boyer, but also it removed his finest defensive infielder from the game. The move also did nothing to help the Yankees’ offensive fortunes. Long flied out in his unexpected pinch-hitting appearance, with both runners holding. Richardson then lined to left field, where Skinner caught the ball on the fly and then fired to Bill Mazeroski, who tagged Berra as he belly-flopped into the base. The unusual double play quashed the Yankee threat.
Law continued to hold the Yankees scoreless the next inning before running into trouble in the fourth. Maris picked up his second straight hit by singling into right-center field, past the reach of the wide-ranging Mazeroski. Law then walked Mickey Mantle, putting runners on first and second. With no one out, Berra assaulted one of Law’s deliveries, sending it deep toward right field.
At first, the ball seemed to have home run distance. Virdon and Clemente ran toward right-center field, converging near the wall, nearly 420 feet from home plate. The two scraped each other, with Virdon stepping on the back of Clemente’s right shoe, but he snatched the ball before it landed and held on to it as he bumped his teammate, completing a remarkable catch. Although Maris tagged up and moved to third, Virdon’s unlikely snare had prevented more damage from occurring.
Maris did eventually come home on a single by Moose Skowron, but Law braced himself by retiring Gil McDougald on a foul out and Richardson on a fly-out to Virdon. The Yankees rally, which seemed sure to produce two or three runs, had been limited to only one.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Pirates lengthened their lead on the favored Bombers. After retiring Smoky Burgess to start the inning, Jim Coates issued a walk to Don Hoak. Coates jumped ahead of Bill Mazeroski 0-and-2, but left his next pitch at the letters and over the inside half of the plate. Though not known as a power hitter, Mazeroski cleared the Forbes Field scoreboard in left. The Pirates now led the Yankees by three runs.
In the sixth inning, Mazeroski scored again, this time surging home on a double by Virdon. The Pirate lead remained at 6-2 in the eighth inning when manager Danny Murtaugh decided to relieve Law, who had suffered a twisted ankle in September. Murtaugh replaced Law with Face, the National League’s most devastating reliever. Face struck out Mickey Mantle and Moose Skowron around a routine fly-out by Yogi Berra.
In the ninth, Face quickly allowed a leadoff single to Gil McDougald. After Mazeroski and Groat teamed up on a force-out at second base, Casey Stengel called upon his fourth pinch-hitter of the game. Having already burned left-handed pitch hitters Dale Long and Johnny Blanchard in the early innings, Stengel settled for Elston Howard as his ninth-inning substitute. The right-handed hitting reserve drove one of Face’s pitches into the lower deck in right field. Howard’s home run brought the Yankees within two runs.
With two strikes against him, Tony Kubek followed Howard’s drive with his third single of the afternoon—the Yankees’ 13th hit against Pirates pitching. Suddenly the Yankees brought the potential tying run to the plate in the form of journeyman Hector Lopez. The owner of nine regular season home runs, Lopez had just enough power to constitute a threat, but was unable to lift Face’s forkball in the air, instead hitting a stiff grounder to Mazeroski. He tossed to Groat, who touched the bag for the second out and then fired to Dick Stuart to end the Yankees’ last-gasp attempt. The double play sealed a surprising 6-4 win for the Bucs.
Pittsburgh’s fielding had played a huge role in winning the first game. Realizing that his own team’s defense could use an upgrade, Stengel made two changes in his lineup for Game Two. With the Pirates having swiped two bases in the first inning of Game One, Stengel wanted to deter the Pirates from running. He removed Berra from behind the plate and replaced him with Howard, a better receiver with a stronger arm. Berra would remain in the lineup, but as a left fielder, marking the first time since 1949 that he would not catch a World Series game involving the Yankees.
Encouraged by the uplifting result of the first game, a crowd of 37,308 fans—an increase of 632 from Game One—crammed into Forbes Field for the Game Two match-up. Just when local fan expectations had begun to rise, little was going right for the Pirates. Skinner, who had achieved career highs in home runs and RBIs, reported to Forbes Field with an injured left hand, the result of sliding into third base during a rundown in the first game. With his hand swollen badly and his thumb painfully jammed, Skinner gave way to backup Gino Cimoli, a right-handed batter. The loss of Skinner, arguably the team’s best left-handed batsman, motivated Murtaugh to promote Rocky Nelson, another southpaw swinger, to the starting lineup. Murtaugh inserted Nelson at first base and benched his usual starter at that position, Stuart.
With their lineup weakened, the Pirates failed to score in their first three at-bats. Meanwhile, the Yankees scored two runs in the third on a tainted McDougald double, which the Pirates thought had gone foul. The Yanks tacked on another run in the fourth, when starting pitcher Turley smacking a hanging curve ball into left field. The RBI single scored Richardson to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
The Pirates finally scored a run in the bottom half of the fourth and placed runners on second and third with one out. Up came Mazeroski, who whistled a line drive toward the left side of the diamond. Maz’ pipeliner seemed like a game-tying base hit at first glance, but the ball landed securely in the glove of McDougald, who dropped to one knee as he made the catch. Instead of tying the game, the drive had resulted in nothing more than the second out.
Grasping for more runs, Murtaugh elected to pinch-hit for the light-hitting Friend. The move didn’t pay off. With Skinner unavailable, Murtaugh turned to reserve infielder Gene Baker, who popped out weakly to Richardson. Virdon then grounded out, ending the threat.
Much like Stengel’s removal of Boyer in Game One, Murtaugh’s decision to lift Friend puzzled some observers, who thought it early to pinch-hit for the pitcher. Although Friend had allowed three runs, he had also struck out six batters over the first four innings. “I had awfully good stuff,” the cigar-smoking right hander told The Sporting News later. “I was just warmed up when I had to leave. I felt real sharp.”
Friend’s immediate successor on the mound would prove to be anything but sharp. Murtaugh had decided to turn to left-hander Fred Green, thinking that the hardest thrower on his staff might benefit from the darkening Pittsburgh skies, which figured to impair the vision of the hitters. Green walked his first batter, McDougald, on four pitches. One out later, he ran the count to 2-and-2 before Mantle cannonballed a line drive into the right-center field seats. Mantle’s 400-foot launch officially signaled the start of a Yankee blowout.
With Pirates team president Branch Rickey watching glumly from the first row behind the Yankee dugout, the New Yorkers finished with 19 hits against Friend and five Pirates relievers. The offensive weaponry included another home run by Mantle, who tagged an opposite-field tape-measure blow that surpassed the 436-foot marker in right-center field. By the time the ball landed, it had traveled an estimated 478 feet.
Although the Pirates managed 13 hits against Turley and Bobby Shantz, they scored only three runs. In contrast, the Yankees took full advantage of their vast array of baserunners by scoring seven runs on a seven-hit outburst in the sixth inning and tacking on three additional scores in the seventh. Taking the game by the convincing count of 16-3, the Yankees handed the Pirates their worst loss of the season.
In the next installment, we’ll look at the third, fourth and fifth games of the Series.