The World Series has magical moments. Whether it is a perfect game by Don Larsen or a gimpy Kirk Gibson belting a Rollie Fingers slider out of the park to win the first game of the 1988 World Series for the Dodgers, World Series memories are etched in our memory bank. We hope to pass these moments on to our children and grandchildren.
Baseball has changed. But, for every fan, the spring means one thing and that is baseball. The fall means something else and that is playoff time. But, before there were playoffs, there was only the World Series, which pitted the American League Champion against the National League Champion.
To represent the league, a team had to have the best won-lost record over a 154 game schedule. There were no conferences within the leagues. There were bitter, bitter rivalries. Pitchers went deep into games and most pitchers went the distance. There were no designated hitters. Pitchers actually hit for themselves in both leagues. In some cases, the pitcher was the best pinch hitter on the team.
Stealing a base was an art form. Bunting was a discipline that moved runners along. Rarely did teams play for big innings but they played to score one run at a time. Baseball strategy was much different than today. The measure of a great pitcher was a balance between how many wins the pitcher earned and how many games the pitcher completed.
The image of Gibson hobbling to the plate with two outs and the Dodgers trailing 4-3 and a runner on first seemed a desperate gamble by a desperate team. Gibson looked pained i8n fouling off two pitches before working the count to 3-2. Gibson’s lazy swings were hard to watch. He had led the Dodgers to the National League Championship but was a doubtful starter for the World Series.
The Athletics were favored in the game and the series. The best reliever in the game, Rollie Fingers, was on the mound when Gibson drove a fastball deep into the bleachers.
The site of Gibson painfully rounding the bases on gimpy knees with his fist clenched and his arm pumping will be forever etched into the memories of real baseball fans. In a town known for great images, Gibson’s heroics were a Hollywood finish impossible to duplicate. The Dodgers went on to win the series in five games.
Then, of course, there was Mr. October, Reggie Jackson who hit three homeruns in one game against the Dodgers. That was remarkable, but it was overkill.
However, in the long history of the game, there is only one homerun that decided the seventh game and was in fact the ultimate walk-off homerun. In the 1960 World Series, the Yankees and Pirates were tied with 3 wins each.
The Pirates jumped out to a 4-1 lead. The Yankees mounted a rally and took the lead 7-4. The Pirates answered with 5 runs to go ahead 9-7. In the top of the ninth, the Yankees squared the game with timely hitting that pushed two runs across.
As the home team, the Pirates would hit in the bottom of the inning and would be facing one of New York’s best relief pitchers, Art Ditmar. The Pirates, who had played catch-up the entire series had the bottom of the order due up. It seemed the game would go into extra innings.
Hitting eighth in the lineup was a brilliant Bill Mazeroski, an excellent second baseman who was known as a good but lightweight hitter. However, Mazeroski had slugged a two-run homer with Dick Groat at first base off talented NY hurler Jim Coates in the second game that proved to be the winning margin in the 6-4 Pirate win.
Ditmar’s first pitch was a ball. The Pittsburgh fans were feverish. Ditmar unleashed a nasty two-seam fastball that Mazeroski drove over the left field wall in Forbes Field and sent the Pirate faithful into delirium.
Yankee fans were stunned, This was their series to win. This is how legendary announcer Mel Allen called the shot heard around the world for NBC television.
“There’s a drive into deep left field, look out now… that ball is going, going gone! And the World Series is over! Mazeroski… hits it over the left field fence, and the Pirates win it 10-9 and win the World Series!”
In his 16-year Major League Baseball, career, Mazeroski only hit 138 homeruns. But, his bottom of the ninth shot in game seven of the 1960 World Series would immortalize him in the hearts and minds of all baseball fans. For anyone whoever dreamt of playing professional baseball, Mazeroski’s homerun is a beacon of hope.
Maz’s homerun represented a big upset. Despite the fact that this homerun was hit more than 50 years ago, it burns brigthly in the annals of New York and Pittsburgh and all who witnessed it in person or on television. Not only was Bill Mazeroski’s homerun heard round the world, but it is the timeless situation that everyone who has ever played the game thinks about from the time they pick up their first bat.