An Extended Glimpse of Baseball’s Past, Now Available on DVD, By Chuck Strom

Team

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Pittsburgh Pirates

5

5

1

3

3

1

0

5

4

27

60

4

New York Yankees

7

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8

7

3

13

6

4

5

55

91

8

 

In October 1960 the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the New York Yankees four games to three in the World Series. A glance at the composite box score above shows beyond question that the Pirates’ victory was the greatest upset in baseball history. Over the course of seven games the Yankees scored twice as many runs as the Pirates and hit ten home runs to the Pirates’ four. Such lopsided scores normally prevent a Series from lasting more than four games, but the Pirates countered the Yankees’ three double-digit wins with narrower victories of their own.

Remnant_of_Outfield_Wall,_Forbes_Field[1]Game 7 at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh continued the back-and-forth drama of the preceding six games. The Pirates took a 4-0 lead after two innings, but the Yankees came back in the sixth when Yogi Berra hit a three-run homer down the foul line in right field. The Yankees scored two more runs in the eighth for a 7-4 lead, but just when they seemed to have another championship safely in hand, the Pirates scored five runs in their half of the inning in a bizarre sequence of events, including a ground ball to shortstop Tony Kubek that bounced up erratically and hit him in the throat, preventing an almost certain double play and forcing Kubek from the game. The Yankees tied the score in the top of the ninth, with the tying run scoring in another bizarre moment when Mickey Mantle avoided a Series-ending double play, freezing for an instant off first base on a ground ball from Berra, then diving back ahead of Rocky Nelson’s desperate tag to allow the run to score from third. The play so deflated the Pirates that second baseman Bill Mazeroski, leading off in the bottom half of the inning, had to be reminded to get his bat. Two pitches later he hit the home run that won the Series and sent the city of Pittsburgh into a celebration so riotous that three hundred thousand fans packed the downtown streets, forcing police to shut down incoming traffic. Half a century later, with both Forbes Field and its successor Three Rivers Stadium demolished, the game is still remembered by fans who gather every October 13 at the section of Forbes Field left standing on the University of Pittsburgh campus, marking the time—3:36 PM—when Mazeroski’s home run cleared the wall.

As was typical of the time, no one at NBC thought to preserve a recording of the television broadcast, and it would have been lost forever to posterity had Bing Crosby, a part owner of the Pirates in addition to his other occupations, not been too superstitious to attend the game. Hoping to avoid jinxing his beloved Pirates, Crosby flew to Paris to listen to the game on shortwave radio. Knowing that he would want to watch the game if the Pirates won, however, he arranged for the television broadcast to be recorded via kinescope, a precursor to today’s digital video recording that involved filming of a television monitor. After he watched the broadcast, the film reels remained in his wine cellar for 49 years until Robert Bader, vice-president for marketing of Bing Crosby Enterprises, discovered them during a search for recordings of Crosby’s old television specials for release on DVD. Recognizing the significance of his find, Bader contacted Major League Baseball to begin months of negotiations, the result of which was the release of the game on DVD with both the television and radio audio feeds, the original MLB 1960 World Series and Pittsburgh Pirate season highlight films, and a collection of interviews from the surviving players. The supplementary material is nice, but the television broadcast is the real treasure, and for $10.99 plus shipping on Amazon, or $7.50 without extra fees if you get lucky on E-bay, you can sit back in your easy chair and catch an extended glimpse of the world when America’s Greatest Generation was still young.

When you watch the game, you immediately notice the simplicity of the production. A baseball broadcast nowadays presents a cornucopia of computer-generated graphics on the screen that keeps you constantly informed of every significant detail, including score, inning, outs recorded, ball-and-strike count, pitch location and speed, and men on base. Moreover, there are always at least one or two color analysts along with the play-by-play announcer to break down the strategies behind every pitch and at-bat to the point where you might begin to consider yourself sufficiently informed to go down to the dugout and manage. In 1960, there was none of that. The only screen graphics were those that identified the players, and at the end of innings NBC did not flash the usual run, hits, and errors lines on the screen; it merely switched to a camera pointed at the hand-operated scoreboard behind center field. Nor were there any color analysts—only the regular play-by-play announcers from each team, Mel Allen for the Yankees and Bob Prince for the Pirates, who took their turns at the mike with little interaction. The camera work was also simple—far fewer isolated shots, and no instant replays. The sound, on the other hand, was surprisingly good, and occasionally on the DVD you can hear fans call out from the stands to the players by name.

Mel_Allen[1]There is something to be said for being allowed to watch a game with minimal distractions, but occasionally you miss the additional features of contemporary broadcasts. The Mantle play at first base, for example, cries out for isolated camera work and slow-motion replay, and if it were to happen in the present day we would be treated to detailed shots of Berra’s ball coming into first, the facial expressions of Mantle as he made his decision to dive back to the base, and then Nelson’s lunge and miss of the tag. Instead, we see the play from the vantage point of the press box, and it all happens in an instant. Without the replays, you can only marvel that the Series and the entire 1960 season had nearly ended in that moment and say, like Mel Allen in the announcer’s booth, “How about that!”

At one point, however, the broadcast gets a camera shot that is very informative in retrospect. In the bottom of the eighth inning with the Yankees leading 7-5, Yankee pitcher Jim Coates pitched to Roberto Clemente with runners on second and third and two out. Clemente hit a slow roller between first base and the pitcher’s mound. The first baseman, Bill Skowron, fielded the ball, but Coates failed to get to first in time to take the throw, allowing Clemente to be safe at first and a run to score from third. The next batter, Hal Smith, then hit a home run to center field to score three more runs for a 9-7 Pirate lead. For decades afterward sportswriters and teammates alike excoriated Coates for not hustling to cover first base, Mantle issuing his profane judgment in an interview with Jane Leavy in the 1980s. The broadcast, however, suggests a different story. Shown also from the press-box camera, the footage reveals that Coates sprinted from the mound as soon as the ball was hit but had to avoid Skowron, who fielded the ball directly between Coates and first. Even if Coates had been an instant faster off the mound, he would likely have run into Skowron and otherwise still wouldn’t have been close to making the play. As various writers have noted, Coates was a less than savory character when he played for the Yankees, so it is hard to feel much sympathy for him. Nevertheless, let the record show that in this case he was judged unjustly.

Fun as it is to watch the game, it is an equal pleasure to listen to two Hall-of-Fame announcers for extended periods rather than the usual brief audio snippets available on the Internet. Prince calls the first half of the game, with occasional assistance from Allen to identify new Yankee pitchers. Perhaps adjusting his commentary for a nationwide audience, Prince employs few of his signature phrases, such as calling for the Pirates to hit “a bloop and a blast,” but his exuberant cigarette-modulated delivery demonstrates the aptness of his nickname, “The Gunner,” and will be warmly enjoyable for Pirate fans. Allen takes over the mike in the bottom of the fifth inning, starting with his usual introduction, ”Hello there, everybody.” His gentle Southern cadence lends an immediate familiarity to the broadcast, which is to be expected considering that as the announcer for the Yankees he called virtually every World Series from the 1940s to 1963 and was one of the most recognizable voices in America during that period. Its omnipresence was such that novelist Richard Ford once observed that many of his friends unconsciously slipped into a Southern accent whenever they spoke about baseball, a situation that seems natural considering that most of them would have grown up listening to Allen. Hearing him now, his reassuring tone evokes the optimism of the time, when the possibilities of living in America seemed endless, and it is still a powerful tonic to raise your spirits whenever life gets you down.

Despite all of the scoring, the game only lasted two hours and thirty-six minutes—amazingly short by today’s standards—and it is over almost before you know it, though with the DVD you can extend the game a little by indulging in a few replays of Mazeroski’s home run. The broadcast includes a few postgame interviews conducted by Prince in a screamingly loud sport coat, with the locker-room champagne showers kept off camera. When those are done I would recommend watching the DVD’s other features, but if you live in Pittsburgh you might want to shut off the TV for a moment and open your window. If you listen carefully and have a little imagination to spare, you might hear the echoes of an entire city shouting for joy.

Chuck Strom

3 comments to An Extended Glimpse of Baseball’s Past, Now Available on DVD, By Chuck Strom

  • Tom Kipp

    Thank you again, Chuck, for bringing this remarkable time travel artifact to my attention! I watched with almost feverish intensity tonight, and was slightly relieved to know so many of the inning-by-inning outcomes in advance, so as to avoid shock and/or ulcer! LOL By the by, here are a few off the cuff observations, contrasting 1960 baseball wit' the 21st Century Schizoid Version we're stuck with: 1) No attempt is made to steal a base, or even to threaten, really. 2) No batting helmets! 3) The ol' uniforms may accentuate this some, but it appears that nearly every ballplayer of that receding epoch was sorta roly-poly by modern, ab-trainer-obsessive standards, Roberto Clemente & Mickey Mantle aside, which was quite refreshing. 4) I was a bit appalled that virtually EVERY Pirate player and executive EXCEPT Clemente appeared on-camera during the clubhouse celebration. Don't wish to presume the reason(s), but it does seem odd that the star of the team (and all-time greatest Pirate, along wit' Honus Wagner and Willie Stargell) is utterly invisible amidst the sea of white faces during the team's greatest moment of triumph. 5) As referenced early on by Bob Prince, the supreme awareness/wariness of The Cult of Stengel was intriguing, as though its eclipse was imminent, even if those Damned Yanks had pulled it out one more once! 6) I found the effortless variety of jaunty ways in which Clemente dispatched with foul balls, end of inning toss-ins, and so forth to be in STARK contrast with the general "by the bookness" of the rest of the proceedings, almost to a proto-Hip Hop level! Definitely seemed to throw down a gauntlet for "traditionalists", whether consciously or not. 7) I expected Forbes Field to seem impossibly VAST, given its legendarily generous outfield dimensions, but perhaps those were diminished by the particular camera placements. 8) It was fabulous to watch the parade of Yankee stars, whom I've read about constantly for the past 42 of my 50 years, without ever seeing them ACTUALLY PLAY until tonight! And to see all those underdog Buccos in action, at long last, as only Clemente was left by 1971-72, when I became a lifelong fan at age 8-9! Altogether, one of the greatest experiences I've ever had watching a sport being played on television!

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