Saturday, January 26, 2008

1960 and that magic moment

forbes field 2
Forbes Field from Ballparks

The weather outside is most assuredly January-ish. It's brrrrrrr with some snow rolling in late tonight, which I'm sure our splendid City road crews will salt and plow as soon as the first flake flutters *hysterical laughter*. But thanks to my sports nut son, I'm thinking warm thoughts. He asked me about the 1960 Bucs, the most unlikely collection of World Series champeens ever collected.

Just thinking of the player's names - Roberto (Arriba, The Great One) Clemente, Bob (The Dog) Skinner, (Shake Rattle and Roll) Smoky Burgess, Dick (Don't Boo Stu, He'll Come Thru) Stuart, Dick (Ducky) Schofield, Don (The Tiger) Hoak, Bill (Billy Maz) Mazeroski, Bill (The Quail) Virdon, Rocky (Don't Knock The Rock) Nelson and Dick Groat, who oddly enough was just known as Dick Groat, pitchers Wilmer (Vinegar Bend) Mizell, Harvey (The Kitten) Haddix, Vernon (The Deacon) Law, ElRoy (The Baron of the Bullpen) Face, a menagerie choreographed into a title team by manager Danny (The Smiling Irishman) Murtaugh, is enough to make me grin. All the nicknames, of course, came compliments of Bob (The Gunner) Prince, homer announcer extraordinaire and his partner Jim (The Possum) Woods. What moniker can you stick on one of today's ballplayers except for the Million Dollar Man - and they all answer to that.

The 1960 World Series was the strangest ever contested - the stumblebum Pirates win by a run and then lose by a dozen the next time around to the great Yankee team of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and company, back and forth through six games. But somehow the Bucs manage to stagger to a game seven at Forbes Field where a ground ball off the throat of Tony Kubek, a three run shot by Hal Smith, and Billy Maz lifting the ball over the scoreboard and Yogi Berra in the ninth inning leads to the most dramatic finish ever staged in a game seven. That's what baseball is about.

I listened to the game on my transistor radio on the way home from St. Wendelin's school, and floated on air to the crib just in time to see the live, black and white mob scene after the game on TV. My dad was on, helping hold the crowd back from the announcer, who was busily occupied interviewing ecstatic if somewhat incoherent Pirate fans. And no, he didn't have a ticket. If you gave a ticket to an Oakland guy, he'd scalp it and sneak in anyway. It was a matter of pride - and 1960 economics.

He gets home, the clan jumps in the old clunker, and we ride into Oakland. Paper is flying around like a ticker tape parade in Times Square. Everyone's happy - no gunshots, no couches on fire, no road rage in traffic that's gridlocked worse than the Parkway and Route 51 combined at rush hour. Just partying Buc fans in love with the world.

And Forbes Field, whatta ballyard. It wasn't heaven, as many old timers like to reminisce. There were steel beams everywhere that you couldn't see around. If you were stuck in the left field corner, the third base grandstand blotted out your view of the game. But it was a real baseball park, quirks, blemishes and all. Center field was so far away from home plate - 456', as I recall - that they parked the practice batting cage against it during the games. Some guys would sit in the plaza behind the ivy covered brick walls with their radios, waiting for a home run ball to fly over the wall. Yet right field was a mere 300'. Go figure. Pops woulda threatened Ruth's record if he played his entire career there.

Other fans would perch in the nearby tree limbs and catch the game. Or you could wait until the seventh inning, when the ushers left the bleacher gates open for all comers. They had a lady and her kids that sold hot dogs in left field, sizzling on a charcoal grill, before the FDA and Aramark ruled the ballpark junk food world. Heck, I remember after a game when a flock of us rugrats surrounded Clemente as he left the park. The Great One asked how we were doing in school and scolded us for not looking when we went across the street. Nothing fake about that guy. And if you walked through Oakland on a hot summer night when the Pirates played, everyone would be sitting on their stoops, listening to the Gunner on the radio, sipping an Iron City beer and talking to their neighbors. I guess more than baseball has changed over the years.

And people came to Forbes Field to watch the game - no racing pierogies, no blaring theme songs, no Bucco babes shooting tee shirts and hot dogs into the stands, no post game concerts, fireworks or bobbleheads. Sunday doubleheaders were the norm, and you got to see two games while shelling out for one ticket. Everything was just baseball. What a concept. (Well, except for Benny Benack and his jazz band..."The Bucs Are Going All the Way, All the Way, All the Way, the Bucs Are Going All the Way, All the Way this Year...")

My kids (one is two years out of college and the other a senior) most vivid Pirate playoff memory is Sid Bream trudging down the line like a beer league softball player and beating Barry Bond's soft, errant toss home, hook sliding past a diving Spanky LaValierre. But the dismal play of the past 15 years can't take the sheen off those 1960 guys. I've seen what baseball can do to a town. I hope my boys get to live long enough to experience it, too.

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