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The Ultimate Seventh Game

Whitey Ford
Exhibit card of Whitey Ford by Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago (US Public Domain)

Sixty years ago this month, the 1960 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates was an exciting, controversial affair before the seventh game had even been played.

Right off, Yankees skipper Casey Stengel caused a buzz by starting sinkerball pitcher Art Ditmar in the first game and not his ace, Whitey Ford, who was subsequently held until the third game at Yankee Stadium.  The Yankee players wanted to kill Stengel. In his book, The Mick, Mickey Mantle said, “I have always said this and I never second-guessed Casey in my life, but I believe the whole Series revolved around that decision.” Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh, however, had started his own ace, Vernon Law, in the first, fourth, and the seventh game. 

The Pirates were low-ball hitters, familiar with low strikes in their league. Ditmar got rocked in the first game and was pulled in the first inning, as the Pirates eventually won 6-4. After that, the Yankees went on to win their three games by lopsided scores of 10-0, 12-0, and 16-3, with Ford getting both shutouts, including his Game Six 12-0 masterpiece at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. In addition to the first game, the Pirates also won 3-2 and 5-2, setting the stage for Game Seven in Pittsburgh on a warm Thursday October 13 afternoon in front of 36,000 fans.

The day before, Stengel informed rookie Bill Stafford, a 21-year-old hard-throwing control pitcher who oozed with confidence, that he’d he starting. Then, at the park, Stengel changed his mind and turned to veteran Bob Turley, two years past his 1958 Cy Young Award year, but still effective. “Bullet Bob” didn’t have it that day, giving up a two-run homer in the first inning to Pirates first baseman Rocky Nelson, then was taken out in the second inning and replaced with Stafford, who was replaced by little Bobby Shantz to start the bottom of the third. 

With New York down 4-0, Shantz went to work pitching five innings of brilliant middle relief to allow his team to catch up. Law was dominating the Bronx Bombers until first baseman Moose Skowron hit a solo blast in the fifth inning. In the sixth, second baseman Bobby Richardson singled, shortstop Tony Kubek walked, and Murtaugh brought Roy Face out of the bullpen. The Yankees responded with Mantle hitting a single, then left fielder Yogi Berra crushing a three-run homer to put the Yankees in the lead 5-4.  The Yankees added to their lead in the eighth inning when catcher John Blanchard singled in a run, and third baseman Clete Boyer doubled in another. With six outs to go, the Yankees were up 7-4. 

In the eighth, with Shantz still on the mound, Gino Cimoli pinch hit for Face. He singled. Center fielder Bill Virdon came up and hit a sharp grounder, the type of grounder that shortstop Tony Kubek normally handled with ease and would turn into a double play. Except this was the notorious Forbes Field infield, the hardest and worst-kept infield in the majors where freak bounces were common. The ball took a bad hop in front of Kubek and shot upwards, nailing the shortstop directly in the throat.  Virdon raced for the safety of first base, while Kubek lay on the ground coughing, spitting up blood, trying to catch his breath. Replaced with Joe DeMaestri, Kubek was removed from the game and taken to a Pittsburgh hospital. 

Instead of two out and no one on, the Pirates now had none out and runners on first and second. Two successive singles by shortstop Dick Groat and right fielder Roberto Clemente made the score 7-6. Then Pirate catcher Hal Smith smashed a two-out, three-run homer off new hurler Jim Coates--who had replaced Shantz after the Groat single--to put the Pirates back in the lead at 9-7. One pitch before, Smith had gone around on a possible third strike that could have been called. On film, his bat was clearly facing third base. No call. Following the homer, Stengel motioned for right hander Ralph Terry who ended the inning by getting Don Hoak to fly out. 

Off new Pirates pitcher Bob Friend, Bobby Richardson and Dale Long, pinch hitting for DeMaestri, hit successive singles in the top of the ninth. Danny Murtaugh quickly went to the mound and called upon little southpaw Harvey Haddix. The next batter, lefty Roger Maris fouled out, bringing up switch-hitting Mickey Mantle from the right side of the plate, who lashed a single over second, scoring Richardson and sending Long to third. Stengel called time and replaced Long with pinch runner Gil McDougald. 

Now the score stood at 9-8 Pittsburgh, one out. Hitting left-handed, Yogi Berra drilled a vicious one-hop liner down the first-base line which Rocky Nelson grabbed cleanly. He could have easily ended the game by throwing to second base to force Mantle out, then getting the ball back for the double play. Instead, he stepped on the bag, getting Berra out, which took the force off at second. Caught off-guard because everything happened so fast, Mantle recovered and scrambled  headfirst back to first, around and under Nelson’s tag attempt. Mantle later told teammates, “I just froze.” On the play, McDougald scored from third to tie the game.  Moose Skowron then bounced an inning-ending ground ball that forced Mantle out at second.

Prior to the ninth inning, Terry had been warming up a good half-dozen times since Bob Turley had run into trouble in the first inning. But Stengel kept bringing in other pitchers. Now he was counting on Terry to hold the fort and take the Yankees into the late innings so the bats could come alive. But in actual fact, there was no gas left in Ralph Terry’s tank. Stengel had worn him out.

Bill Mazeroski
Exhibit card of Bill Mazeroski by Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago (US Public Domain)

Eighth in the batting order, Bill Mazeroski was first up. A few minutes past 3:30 that afternoon, with the score locked 9-9, the first pitch from Terry to the right-handed hitting Mazeroski was a slider. A ball. Catcher John Blanchard went out to the mound to tell Terry to keep the ball low. The second pitch was a cut fastball. This one, Mazeroski whacked over the left-field wall for a homerun, for the first walk-off homer in a World Series seventh game. It was all over that quick. On one swing, the Pirates won the game 10-9 and the World Series for the first time in 35 years. Pittsburgh celebrated non-stop for days.

According to a 2010 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, fourteen-year-old Andy Jerpe walked over to Forbes Field from his home nearby that day to catch the game. When the Yankees tied it 9-9, Jerpe left the park, hoping to beat the rush out. Outside, a few feet beyond the left-field wall, he heard a crack of a ball meeting a bat, and saw a ball dropping out of the sky, landing in a cluster of cherry trees 15 feet away. Then he heard a deafening roar from the crowd. He strolled over and grabbed the ball, while the cheering grew louder and louder.

A policeman appeared suddenly and escorted Jerpe to the Pirate clubhouse. Inside, in the midst of all the celebrating, Jerpe asked Hal Smith and Mazeroski to sign the ball. Jerpe then offered it to Mazeroski. “You keep it. The memory is good enough for me,” Mazeroski said.

The 1960 World Series was a strange one. New York hit .338 as a team to Pittsburgh’s .256. The Yankees outscored the pirates 55-27, out-homered them 10-4, and outpitched them in ERA 3.54 to 7.11. But still, they lost. A total of 67 new World Series records were set and another 27 more were tied. The winning share for each Pirate player was $8,417 each. The Yankee players took home $5,214.

On the plane back to New York, Mickey Mantle couldn’t stop sobbing. To his dying day in 1995, he had always insisted that “the better team had lost.” Two days following the seventh game, the Yankees fired Stengel, replacing him on October 20 with coach Ralph Houk.

Bobby Richardson
Exhibit card of Bobby Richardson by Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago (US Public Domain)

A couple facts to dwell on…

First…Bobby Richardson was voted the 1960 World Series MVP. Besides his superb fielding, he hit .367, two doubles, two triples, a grand slam homer, and a record 12 RBIs. It was the first and last time that a player from the losing team took the MVP award. Second…the seventh game was the only time in a World Series game that no strikeouts were recorded. 

So, where’s the Mazeroski ball today? 

Andy Jerpe took the ball home and kept it in a glass case. The next spring, friends convinced him to take the ball outside. At a playground across the street, Jerpe hit flies to them. Then he shanked a foul into some waist-high weeds off to the right. The kids looked for the ball, but to no avail. Jerpe even went back the next day and looked. No sign of it anywhere.

What would it be worth today? A cool million?

Note: I wrote this same article on October 22, 2014 for The National Pastime Museum, whose library is now part of the digital collection at The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York. A special thanks to both organizations in allowing me to use the material.


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