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Baseball’s Greatest Games: 1960 World Series Game 7 (DVD Review)

3 Jan, 2011 By: Mike Clark

$29.95 two-DVD set
Not rated.

Yogi Berra always says it isn’t over ’til its over, but guess what? This time it was over as he prepared to field Pirate second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s 7th-game blast off Forbes Fields’ left field wall when Maz (a nickname that always stuck) led off the bottom of the ninth inning. At this point, Berra saw the ball sail out of the stadium, bringing to an instant end one of the more improbable World Series in baseball history.

To quote Wikipedia: the Yankees “outscored the Pirates 55–27 … out-hit them 91–60, out-batted them .338 to .256, hit 10 home runs to Pittsburgh's four (three of the latter's coming in Game 7), got two complete game shutouts from Whitey Ford — and lost.” The Yankees’ three wins came by scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0, but they couldn’t close the deal — which is why the final back-and-forth 10-9 contest is usually rated as the greatest seventh game ever, in a class with game 6 of the Reds-Red Sox matchup in 1975. And nearly 50 years after the fact, all but unimaginably, the Bing Crosby family’s archivist found a kinescope of it in the singer’s wine cellar. It was tucked away on shelves along with 16mm prints from Bing’s rich Paramount filmography and, presumably, even some wine.

Speaking as one who sleeps on pinstriped sheets, this Series finale tied with the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis breakup in 1956 as the worst moment of my childhood or adolescence (assuming you leave unobtainable girls out of the equation). And speaking of middle-school despair, this is the way it went on that game 7 day: Thursday afternoon, Oct. 13. After the Yankees were down 2-0 (almost immediately) and 4-0 (shortly thereafter), they staged a major rally shortly after my 8th-grade section filed into music class — where our jock-ish teacher (another Yankees fan) had hooked up the network radio broadcast to a pair of large speakers so that we could all (take that, Bach) spend the entire period listening to the game. It was at this point when Berra hit a 3-run home run that came so close to going foul that TV announcer Mel Allen initially made a wrong call (as you can hear on this DVD of Bing’s treasure).

This put the Yankees up 5-4, and they added two more runs before the bell rang sending us to algebra class — where the only one allowed to hear the game was a math whiz who was given permission by the teacher (another baseball fan) to listen to it on a transistor radio through an earplug. What my classmate could hear but we couldn’t was one Yankee infield debacle leading to another — starting with a famous double play ball that wasn’t and then the failure by Yankees relief pitcher Jim Coates (never a favorite of mine in the first place) to cover first base on another “out” opportunity. It then got even more complicated, which is why this game is such a classic, leading to Mazeroski’s walk-off blast on the second pitch he saw in the bottom of the ninth. Whereupon, the kid with the radio — a nice guy who later pulled off the singularly dazzling combo of becoming both a minister and a mime — announced what had happened, and I shot out of my chair and shouted, “You LIAR!!!” (Class really tells, doesn’t it?)

As with the DVD of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series that MLB/A&E released in a 2009 Yankees box set, watching this is game is almost a supernatural experience. I’ve probably read at least 30 books that deal with it on some level but certainly never thought I’d get a chance to see it, given how few games exist on tape (or the earlier and more primitive kinescope) from before the early 1970s. When the MLB Network aired this game last month, host Bob Costas explained what happened. Crosby was part owner of the Pirates and was so afraid his presence would jinx the team that he left the country with wife Kathryn. But Crosby was also technically savvy (as if he weren’t already rich enough, he had the added good fortune to become an early investor in videotape) and hired someone to kinescope a personal copy that he later watched and then filed with the Merlot.

The most striking visual of the DVD is Pittsburgh’s infamously crummy grounds-keeping work on its infield — which became the game-turning factor when that surefire eighth-inning double play ball hit a pebble and then bounced up so sharply to hit Yankees’ shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat that he had to leave the game. There’s quite a difference between two outs and nobody on and two on and nobody out — and Pirate catcher Hal Smith eventually responded with a 3-run homer that has never quite gotten its due. Earlier on the DVD, we see a grounder hit to Pirates third baseman Don Hoak take its own crazy trajectory after hitting something (shell casings? body parts?) before Hoak makes the play. These basepath craters — in the DVD extras, Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson speaks of their notoriety — recall the scenes in 1953’s Invaders from Mars where half the cast walks into the backyard of ‘50s suburbia and gets sucked into the earth amid some really creepy musical scoring.

On the other hand, 70-year-old Yankees manager Casey Stengel (fired almost immediately after the loss by the famed Dickensian villains who owned the team) didn’t help himself by severely mangling his chores. Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford alludes to Stengel’s No. 1 mess-up in the DVD extras, and the late catcher Johnny Blanchard begins to do the same before turning diplomatic. Stengel started Ford in games 3 and 6 when this team ace should have started game 1 (thereby giving him three starts in a 7-game series). As a result, Ford wasted his two shutouts on games in which the Yankees scored a combined 22 runs. The four Pirates wins were either close or fairly close, aided to no small extent by the Olympian catches by centerfielder Bill Virdon in games 1 and 4 to kill what looked like major Yankee scoring opportunities. When the Pirates had to have it, they did.

You can see these catches on the official 1960 World Series film (with the familiar faded color) that’s included as an extra on this two-DVD set along with theatrical newsreels that chronicled the Series. Interviewees include Mazeroski, Smith and Vernon Law (who pitched brilliantly) for the Pirates, and Berra, Blanchard, Ford, Richardson and Ralph Terry (who gave up the game-ending blast). There are two broadcast tracks, starting with the Pirates’ Bob Prince with Mel Allen off NBC-TV. The second half of a radio-broadcast alternative features Chuck Thompson, whose climactic call famously (in the excitement of the moment) credited Art Ditmar with the errant pitch instead of Terry — causing Ditmar to sue unsuccessfully when a smidgen of it got used in a nationally aired TV commercial decades later. Poor Art but also poor Chuck: Thompson’s announcing is otherwise outstanding and really captures the hothouse atmosphere.

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