Bucs honor Maz on anniversary of blast

Bucs honor Maz on anniversary of blast

While the Pittsburgh Pirates rebuild with young talent, baseball fans in the Steel City wait for a future that they hope holds more franchise glory.

On Wednesday, they looked once again to their magnificent past.

Fifty years earlier, on Oct. 13, the blue-collar town that bleeds black and gold witnessed one of the most unforgettable moments in the history of the Grand Old Game, a home run for the ages that kids in schoolyards have been emulating ever since.

At 3:36 p.m. on Oct. 13, 1960, at old Forbes Field, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski swung his bat and connected with legend.

It was the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the World Series, the score was tied, 9-9, and Mazeroski hit a 1-0 slider off Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry that carried over the 406-feet sign on the ivy-covered brick wall in left-center field.

It was -- and still is -- the only Game 7 Series-ending homer. It also was the ultimate moment for anyone who plays or dreams about playing big league baseball, not just the slick-fielding Mazeroski, known more as a great infielder.

As the man they call "Maz" rounded second base, seemingly floating above the dirt with both arms outstretched, he took off his batting helmet and waved it in the air in wonderment. By the time he touched home plate, the party had already begun and the annals of the game had been forever altered, as had the fabric of the city of Pittsburgh.

On Wednesday, Mazeroski was honored when the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, in partnership with Pirates Charities, unveiled a sidewalk plaque honoring Mazeroski's homer in a ceremony near the old Forbes Field wall at the intersection of Schenley and Roberto Clemente Drives in the Oakland neighborhood.

Along with several thousand Pirates' fans, Mazeroski and other members of the 1960 squad gathered at the spot on Wednesday. Joining the celebration were Pirates' alumni Vern Law, Bob Friend, Bill Virdon, Dick Groat, Hal Smith, Joe Gibbon, George Witt, Bob Oldis and Joe Christopher, the Associated Press reported. Also in attendance was Vera Clemente, wife of the late Roberto Clemente and son Luis.

"This is just unbelievable, unbelievable," Smith told the AP on Wednesday. "We never dreamed of anything like this back then."

The festivities included a tradition more than 15-years old, the playing of the original radio broadcast by the old Forbes wall.

Meanwhile, Mazeroski's home-run trot has been immortalized, too.

On Sept. 5, Mazeroski's 74th birthday, the Pirates held a special ceremony to permanently honor Mazeroski, who entered the Hall of Fame in 2001. With the 50th anniversary of his homer on the horizon, the club unveiled a 14-foot, 2,000-pound bronze statue of the coal miner's son from Little Rush Run, Ohio, frozen in time at the age of 24 as he rounded second base.

The statue, created by artist Susan Wagner, fittingly sits on Mazeroski Way by the sparkling ballpark overlooking the Allegheny River. It joins works that were commissioned to pay tribute to three other all-time Pirates greats: Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Honus Wagner. The sculptures are placed around the PNC grounds, and Mazeroski's was fashioned from the now-iconic photograph of Mazeroski's run around the bases taken by former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shooter James Klingensmith.

In the Sept. 5 ceremony, Klingensmith, now 99, was in attendance along with a dozen of Mazeroski's teammates from the 1960 World Series team, including Elroy Face, Bob Friend, Dick Groat and Bill Virdon.

Mazeroski sat next to his wife of 52 years, Milene, and in front of his sons, Darren and David, and grandson, Billy, watching as the statue was unveiled.

"Geez, how could anyone ever dream of something like this?" Mazeroski said, in the deferential fashion that has defined him for the last half-century. "All I dreamed of was being a Major League player. I didn't need all of this."

He's getting it, though. The Pirates made sure of that on Sept. 5 and made sure of it again on Wednesday and in the years to come.

"As I drive by this and as this [front-office] group drives by this, we'll have a chance to look and be inspired again and reminded of what our responsibility to this franchise is," Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said to Mazeroski at the statue unveiling.

"Thank you for inspiring us to move this franchise forward and to remind us what it can mean to this city."

Wednesday's ceremony brought a vivid reminder for Pirates fans, a chance to relive a magical moment that transcended not only Pittsburgh history but sports history.

The 1960 Yankees, who featured Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, Tony Kubek and Bobby Richardson, entered Game 7 having thoroughly dismantled the Pirates in their three Series victories, taking Game 2 by a score of 16-3, winning by a 10-0 score in Game 3 and routing Pittsburgh, 12-0, at Forbes Field in Game 6.

But the scrappy Bucs had won Games 1, 4 and 5, all by margins of three or fewer runs, and were ready for the rubber game.

Pittsburgh jumped ahead, 4-1, that day, but the Yankees scored four times in the top of the sixth inning to take a 5-4 lead. They increased the advantage to 7-4 in the eighth, but the Pirates came alive again in the bottom of that inning.

That's when Pittsburgh got singles from Gino Cimoli, Virdon, Groat and Clemente to score twice and cut the lead to 7-6, and Hal Smith's two-out, three-run home run gave them a 9-7 lead to send the crowd into an early frenzy.

New York fought right back, however, scoring twice in the ninth and setting up Mazeroski for his unexpected and unbelievable histrionics. Pittsburghers of all ages know it well. Mazeroski pulls the bat back and delivers a short, compact swing. The ball rockets skyward. The trees of Schenley Park beyond the wall come into clear view. Berra, playing left field on that team after all those championship seasons behind the plate, chases to no avail. Bedlam ensues.

The home run was so stunning that broadcaster Chuck Thompson's famous radio call names the wrong pitcher -- mentioning Art Ditmar instead of Terry -- and, upon first reference, the wrong final score.

"Well, a little while ago, when we said that this one, uh, in typical fashion, was going right down to the wire, little did we know!" Thompson says. "Art Ditmar throws. There's a swing and a high fly ball going deep to left, this may do it! Back to the wall goes Berra, it is ... over the fence, home run, the Pirates win!

"Ladies and gentleman, Bill Mazeroski has just hit a 1-0 pitch over the left-field wall to win the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates by a score of 10 to nothing! ... Once again, that final score, the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates 10, and the New York Yankees 9!"

"It's hard to believe it hadn't been done before," Mazeroski told writer Harvey Frommer years later. "Every day of my life I think of that home run. Wouldn't you if you had hit it? People always are reminding me of it. I suppose it must be the most important thing I've ever done."

The legacy of Mazeroski's homer continues to live on.

Just last month, the New York Times reported that a full copy of NBC's television broadcast of Maz's Game 7 was found on pristine film reels in the wine cellar of the Northern California former home of famed crooner Bing Crosby.

Crosby, a part-owner of the Pirates, had a company record the game in black-and-white by kinescope. As the Times described, Crosby was superstitious and didn't want to watch the game or even be in the same country. He opted to fly to Paris with his wife, Kathryn, and listen on the radio.

"We were in this beautiful apartment, listening on shortwave, and when it got close, Bing opened a bottle of Scotch and was tapping it against the mantel," Kathryn Crosby told the Times. "When Mazeroski hit the home run, he tapped it hard; the Scotch flew into the fireplace and started a conflagration."

The fireworks will go off again in December, when MLB Network will air the game, which has already been transferred from Crosby's reels.

And the fireworks went off again on Wednesday by the old Forbes wall, when the radio broadcast started, as the game did 50 years earlier, at 1 p.m., and end at 3:36 with a bolt of lightning off the bat of the humble, genuine and now eternally celebrated Bill Mazeroski.

"I was just a small part of that 1960 team," Mazeroski said last month. "I probably get too much credit for us winning. We would have won that game whether I hit that home run or not."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Bailey Stephens contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.