PITTSBURGH —In those days there were fewer diversions. Big league baseball was a big deal.
As a devoted Yankees’ fan, front page coverage was just fine with me. Lest anyone questioned my enthusiasm for the Bronx Bombers, all they had to do was walk into my bedroom. I’d found an ad in the back of Boy’s Life magazine offering sets of 5×7 black and white publicity photos of professional baseball teams for 35 cents.
I bought two sets and wallpapered my bedroom with my beloved Yankees: Mantle, Maris, Berra, Howard, Kubeck, et al.
Like the Alabama football teams of today, the Yankees were easy to love. They were consistent winners.
In 1960 when they faced the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series, I, as did most of the sporting world, expected the Yankees to easily prevail.
The games they won were blow-outs (16-3, 10-0 and 12-0), but somehow the Pirates eked out three victories. The championship would be decided in Game 7 in Pittsburgh on an October afternoon.
The lead sea-sawed back and forth and when the Pirates came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, the score was tied 9-9. Second baseman Bill Mazeroski was the first batter. “The Maz” or “The Glove,” as he was known, hit the second pitch out of the park, winning the game and the series for the Pirates.
Like thousands of Yankees’ fans, I watched in numb disbelief.
I hated Bill Mazeroski from that day on.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who took it hard.
According to Wikipedia, Mickey Mantle in Ken Burns’ documentary on baseball said losing that game was the only loss, amateur or professional, he cried over.
Jump ahead 61 years to last week when I was trying to find a boat launch in the shadow of PNC Park, the home stadium of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Baseball fans were streaming across the Roberto Clemente Bridge (a block away from the Andy Warhol Bridge and three blocks from the Rachel Carson Bridge), on their way to a twilight game against Detroit.
No matter your political views, your thoughts on masking or the pandemic, a city is in harmony in its devotion to its sports teams. Judging from the diversity of folks headed toward the stadium, Pittsburgh is no exception.
I was hoping that evening to paddle around Pittsburgh’s waterfront. Here the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers converge to form the Ohio. And, it was here at this confluence, Meriwether Lewis in August, 1803 set out in a custom-built keelboat to rendezvous with William Clark with whom he would make their three-year long “Corps of Discovery Expedition” exploring the land acquired from France with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.
A friend had told me about a boat landing just below the Roberto Clemente statue, which stands in the shadow of the stadium on the banks of the Allegheny.
As I picked my way through the crowded streets surrounding the stadium, I spied the statue two blocks away, down a blocked-off street.
I drove to the barricade, kayak on roof, where I was greeted by a beefy and not-so-friendly security guard. I asked him if that was the Roberto Clemente statue and if there was a boat landing there.
“No, he said, “that’s Bill Mazeroski.”
I was the proverbial deer in the headlights. “He beat the Yankees in the 1960 World Series,” I blurted.
“Yeah, he was my neighbor for 15 years,” the guard said.
“Was he a good guy?” I asked. A stupid question. Was Zeus a good guy.
“Yeah, he moved to Florida.”
Panama City, it turns out.
According to an online bio, Mazeroski, the son of a coal miner of Polish descent, grew up in a one-room house in Witch Hazel, Ohio, with no plumbing or electricity. He spent so much of his boyhood fishing (to put food on the table), his friends called him “Catfish.”
His father had been a promising baseball player until he injured his foot in a mining accident. Determined his son would not end up in the coal mines, Louis Mazeroski drilled his son tirelessly, often bouncing a tennis ball off a brick wall for him to field.
The son would go on to win eight Golden Glove awards for his fielding and holds the all-time MLB record for double plays. He was inducted into baseball’s hall of fame in 2001.
After reading about “The Maz,” how could you have anything but admiration for the guy. It’s taken six decades, but I’m over it.
Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former publisher of The Dispatch.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.