COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – After 123 half-innings of the 1960 World Series, Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.
The game, the series – the year – was all tied up after the New York Yankees had knotted the game in the top of the inning, and now New York reliever Ralph Terry would try to get the game to extra innings.
In the first six games of the Series the Yankees had outscored the Pirates 46-17, out-hit them 78-29 and shut them out twice. But Mazeroski was now in position to win it for the Pirates.
In the most unlikely ending to a most unlikely story, Mazeroski did just that 50 years ago this week.
Mazeroski took Terry’s first pitch for a ball, then blasted the second pitch over the left-field wall – and drove Pittsburgh players and 36,683 fans wild. The light-hitting second baseman bounded around the bases and catapulted himself into the air above home plate. Umpire Bill Jackowski cleared an area for Mazeroski to land, and when he touched down set off a celebration that is still remembered 50 years later.
“I think it was one of the few times I showed emotion on the ballfield,” Mazeroski told the Miami Herald thirty years after the famous home run. “I started jumping up and down and all I could think was, ‘We beat the Yankees, we beat the Yankees.’”
Game 7 went back and forth throughout. Pittsburgh got off to a quick 4-0 lead, but New York got a solo home run from first baseman Bill Skowron in the fifth and four more runs – including a Yogi Berra three-run shot – in the sixth to take a 5-4 lead.
The Bronx Bombers extended it to 7-4 in the eighth on Johnny Blanchard’s single and a Clete Boyer double to put the Pirates on the brink of elimination.
But Pittsburgh fought back.
In the bottom of the eighth, Pirates pinch-hitter Gino Cimoli led off with a single before Bill Virdon hit a tailor-made double-play ball to shortstop. But Pittsburgh caught a break when the ball took a bad hop and hit New York shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat to put two on with nobody out. Pirates’ shortstop Dick Groat singled home a run to make it 7-5, but the Yankees recorded the next two outs.
Virdon scored from third when New York pitcher Jim Coates failed to cover first on a ground ball that gave the Pirates an extra out. The home team made it count, as catcher Hal Smith launched a three-run home run to left to make it 9-7 Pirates.
In the top of the ninth the Yankees came back, scoring two runs of their own on a Mickey Mantle RBI single and a groundout by Berra.
That set the stage for Mazeroski’s heroics. He became the first player to end a World Series with a home run and is still the only player to do so in the seventh game. Joe Carter, the only other player to end a World Series with a home run, hit his series-clinching homer in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series.
It was the Pirates' first World Series win since 1925 and thwarted Yankees’ manager Casey Stengel’s bid for an eighth world championship.
A seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove Award winner, Mazeroski led the National League second basemen in putouts five times, in assists nine times and in fielding percentage three times en route to election to the Hall of Fame in 2001.
He retired with a .260 batting average, 138 home runs and 853 runs batted in.
At the 2001 Induction Ceremony, Mazeroski delivered one of the most memorable induction speeches in history.
“I thought when the Pirates retired my number that that would be the greatest thing to ever happen to me,” Mazeroski said as he fought through tears. “It’s hard to top this.”
Chris Blake was the 2010 publications intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum