PITTSBURGH – There were fewer distractions back then. Big league baseball was a big deal.
As a devoted Yankees fan, the front page coverage was fine with me. So that no one would question my enthusiasm for the Bronx bombers, all they had to do was go to my bedroom. I found an ad in the back of Boy’s Life magazine selling sets of 5×7 black and white promotional photos of professional baseball teams for 35 cents.
I bought two sets and papered my bedroom with my beloved Yankees: Mantle, Maris, Berra, Howard, Kubeck, et al.
Like today’s Alabama soccer teams, the Yankees were easy to love. They were constant winners.
In 1960, when they competed against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series, like most of the sports world, I expected the Yankees to prevail easily.
The games won were blow-outs (16-3, 10-0, and 12-0), but somehow the Pirates fought for three victories. The championship would be decided in Game 7 in Pittsburgh on an October afternoon.
The lead cut back and forth, and when the pirates struck in the bottom of the ninth it was tied 9-9. Second baseman Bill Mazeroski was the first batter. “The Maz” or “The Glove” as he was called made the second pitch out of the park and won the game and series for the Pirates.
Like thousands of Yankees fans, I watched in disbelief.
From that day on, I hated Bill Mazeroski.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one taking it hard.
According to Wikipedia, in Ken Burns’ documentary on baseball, Mickey Mantle said that losing that game was the only loss, whether amateur or professional, he wept.
Jump 61 years ahead of last week looking for a boat launch in the shadow of PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Baseball fans flocked to the Roberto Clemente Bridge (one block from Andy Warhol Bridge and three blocks from Rachel Carson Bridge) on their way to a twilight game against Detroit.
Regardless of your political views, thoughts on masking, or the pandemic, a city is in harmony in its devotion to its sports teams. Judging by the variety of people who go to the stadium, Pittsburgh is no exception.
I was hoping to paddle through Pittsburgh’s waterfront that evening. Here the monongahela and the Allegheny Rivers converge to form the Ohio. It was here at this confluence that Meriwether Lewis set out in a custom built keelboat in August 1803 to meet with William Clark, with whom he would go on his three-year Corps of Discovery Expedition to explore the land that France had acquired Louisiana purchase of 1803.
A friend had told me about a boat dock just below the Roberto Clemente statue, which stands in the shadow of the stadium on the banks of the Allegheny.
As I made my way through the crowded streets around the stadium, I spotted the statue two blocks away on a cordoned off street.
I drove to the barricade, kayak on the roof, where I was greeted by a beefy and not-so-friendly security guard. I asked him if it was the statue of Roberto Clemente and if a boat was docked there.
“No,” he said, “this is Bill Mazeroski.”
I was the proverbial deer in the headlights. “He beat the Yankees in the 1960 World Series,” I blurted out.
“Yes, he was my neighbor for 15 years,” said the guard.
“Was he a good guy?” I asked. A silly question. Zeus was a good guy.
“Yeah, he moved to Florida.”
Panama City, it turns out.
According to an online bio, Mazeroski, the son of a miner of Polish descent, grew up in a one-bedroom home in Witch Hazel, Ohio, with no plumbing or electricity. He spent so much of his childhood fishing (to bring food to the table) that his friends called him “catfish”.
His father had been a promising baseball player until he injured his foot in a mining accident. Determined that his son would not end up in the coal mines, Louis Mazeroski tirelessly drilled his son, often bouncing a tennis ball off a brick wall so that he could set it up.
The son won eight Golden Glove Awards for his fieldwork and holds the all-time MLB record for doubles. In 2001 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Baseball.
After reading about “The Maz” how can you find anything other than admiration for this guy. It took six decades, but I’m over it.
Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former editor of The Dispatch.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past editor of The Dispatch.