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World Series: Why 1960 Fall Classic Is the Greatest of All-Time

Robert WoodCorrespondent IOctober 24, 2012

World Series: Why 1960 Fall Classic Is the Greatest of All-Time

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    The 2012 World Series begins Wednesday night in San Francisco, pitting the NL Champion Giants against the AL Champion Detroit Tigers.  Baseball fans everywhere will be hoping for a classic, as we do every year.  

    Every once in a while, our wish is granted.  Just last year, the St. Louis Cardinals used a dramatic victory in Game 6 to win their 11th title in franchise history by defeating the Texas Rangers in seven games. And the Cardinals’ victory came less than a decade after the Anaheim Angels used their own dramatic Game 6 victory to beat the San Francisco Giants in another seven-game classic in 2002

    But despite periodic additions to the list of possible greatest World Series of all-time, one entry remains at the top: the 1960 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

    Reverence for this legendary World Series has been passed down from generation to generation among baseball's devoted followers.  In my own family, my father, late grandfather and great uncle have all instilled in me a deep sense of admiration for this classic contest. 

    So as an homage to these three men and all baseball fans of an older generation, I give you 14 reasons why the 1960 World Series is the greatest of all-time. 

14. Forbes Field

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    Forbes Field was the site of four games during the 1960 World Series, including the conclusive seventh game.  Now on the grounds of the University of Pittsburgh, Forbes was 41 years old in 1960 and would only stand for another 10 years before being torn down in the middle of the 1970 season, when the Pirates moved to Three Rivers Stadium.

    The magic of that series, that game and that stadium have been well-preserved after all these years.  Visitors to Pitt can still see a portion of the outfield wall (pictured) as well as the site where Mazeroski’s home run ball landed. 

    Even the stadium's home plate has been saved despite a campus building now resting on a portion of the stadium site.  Thankfully, home plate was moved 10 feet to avoid being placed in a janitor’s closet.  

13. David vs. Goliath

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    The New York Yankees will always be the be the big bully on baseball’s block, and 1960 was no different.  That year was the 11th of 14 years in which they appeared in the World Series.  They won nine of those previous 10 appearances, and the only series loss came in seven games in another classic series in 1955

    The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the other hand, entered the 1960 World Series as the wimpy kid the bully always picked on.  The Bucs' appearance in the Fall Classic signaled the end of some very lean years, as 1960 was their first World Series since 1927, when they lost to the mighty Yankees of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Murderer's Row

    Furthermore, during that same 14-year stretch ending with 1960 in which the Yankees appeared in 11 of 14 World Series, the Pirates had only four winning seasons.

12. Damn Yankees

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    When the Yankees appear in the World Series, it's good for baseball.  They play in the largest media market in the United States and have legions of fans seemingly in every corner of the nation.  Plus, other baseball fans hate the Yankees, and will watch the World Series in the off chance that they witness the Yankees lose. 

    Playing the Yanks in the Fall Classic is something special as well.  Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies touched on this when talking to The Huffington Post during the 2009 season after an interleague series between the two regional rivals who seemed destined to meet in October: 

    "How great would that be?  A World Series here, us against the Yankees?  We've proved we can put on a pretty good show." 

    Five months in advance, Rollins knew the fans would put their fannies in the seats to see the Yankees play in the World Series.  They always do. 

11. Hall of Famers

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    Six total members of the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees would eventually be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. 

    The Yankees had four future Hall of Famers: Yogi Berra (pictured), Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle to go along with manager Casey Stengel. 

    The Pirates had two: Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski. 

    There was even a Hall of Fame umpire, as Nestor Chylak of the American League was inducted in 1999. 

10. Ex-Cubs Factor

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    Among baseball junkies, there is an obscure and unofficial stat known as the Ex-Cubs Factor.  This theory is based upon The Curse of the Billy Goat that was spawned during the 1945 World Series, the last time the Cubs appeared in the Fall Classic. 

    This corollary to the original curse states that any team participating in the World Series that has three or more ex-Cubs on the roster is doomed to lose. 

    Ron Berler created the corollary in 1981 and calculated the theory retroactively to 1946.  From that season up until 2001, there has been only one team to nullify the strength of the ex-Cubs factor and win the World Series despite having at least three former Northsiders on its roster. 

    That team was the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates, who boasted former Cubbies Smoky Burgess (pictured), Don Hoak and Gene Baker

9. 'The Old Perfesser' Becomes the Student

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    Casey Stengel (pictured, right) was a very good manager.  In 3,766 games over 25 seasons beginning in 1934, Stengel was 1,905-1,842 for a .508 winning percentage.  

    But "The Old Perfesser" excelled in the postseason.  He won the World Series in each of his first five seasons as skipper of the New York Yankees from 1949-1953.  Stengel won the World Series seven times in his 12 seasons with the Bronx Bombers and made 10 appearances in the Fall Classic in that time. 

    Stengel's managerial opponent in the 1960 World Series was a greenhorn by comparison.  Danny Murtaugh (pictured, left) had begun managing only three years prior to the 1960 World Series, which marked his first trip to the postseason.  The 42-year-old Murtaugh was 27 years younger than Stengel in 1960, but he bested the old man in seven games.  That would be the last of Stengel's 10 trips to the World Series, and he retired five years later. 

    Murtaugh would go on to manage 11 more MLB seasons and would win the World Series in his only other appearance, again with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971 against the Baltimore Orioles.  In 15 total seasons, Murtaugh managed 2,068 games and compiled a .540 winning percentage, superior to that of "The Old Perfesser. 

    In the 1960 World Series, there were many managerial decisions to second guess, but none received more scrutiny than how the two managers lined up their pitchers in the starting rotation.  Danny Murtaugh chose to pitch reigning Cy Young winner Vern Law in Games 1, 4 and 7, and he came up aces.  

    But Casey Stengel chose not to do the same with his own ace, Whitey Ford, instead pitching him in Games 3 and 6.  As David Schoenfield of ESPN explained, the New York faithful never let Casey Stengel live that down: 

    ...and the big question their fans were asking was: Why hadn't Ford been lined up to start three times like Law? It would end up as the big controversy of the 1960 World Series, a primary factor that led to Stengel being dismissed as manager after 12 seasons and 10 pennants.

8. Run Differential

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates won the 1960 World Series despite being outscored by an astounding 55-27 margin. 

    The New York Yankees slaughtered the Bucs in their three victories:

    Game 2: New York 16 - 3 Pittsburgh (H)

    Game 3: New York (H) 10 - 0 Pittsburgh

    Game 6: New York 12 - 0 Pittsburgh (H)

    The Pirates, on the other hand, won their first three games in low-scoring affairs:

    Game 1: Pittsburgh (H) 6 - 4 New York

    Game 4: Pittsburgh 3 - 2 New York (H)

    Game 5: Pittsburgh 5 - 2 New York (H)

    The only game that broke from this pattern was the one that mattered most:

    Game 7: Pittsburgh (H) 10 - 9 New York

7. Pitching Performances

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    If you look beyond the run differential of this World Series and take a look at the actual box scores, you'll find some amazing pitching performances. 

    To shut down the potent Yankees offense in their Game 1 and Game 4 wins, the Pirates needed outstanding pitching from reigning NL Cy Young winner Vern Law (pictured, right).  Law was 2-0 in three starts in the Series, finishing with a 3.44 ERA in 18.1 innings pitched. Adding to his legend was the fact that Law was pitching on an injured ankle, a decision that forever altered his career.  

    Vern Law got some help from his friends.  Reliever Roy Face saved both of Law's wins along with the Game 5 victory and had a 5.23 ERA in 10.1 innings pitched.  And veteran Harvey Haddix went 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 7.1 innings pitched over two appearances, with one start. 

    But somehow lost in all this was another brilliant performance from the pitching savant of the World Series, Whitey Ford (pictured, left).  Among World Series career pitching records, Ford ranks first in games started, innings pitched, strikeouts and wins. 

    The 1960 World Series was one of the best performances in his storied Fall Classic career.  Despite receiving little attention for his exploits, he was the best pitcher to take the mound from either team.  In fact, he was arguably the best player from either team in the entire Series. 

    Whitey Ford won both of his starts in the 1960 World Series to finish with a 2-0 record.  In these two starts, Ford allowed only 11 hits and two walks while compiling a 0.00 ERA in 18.0 innings pitched  That's right: Whitey Ford threw back-to-back complete game shutouts in the World Series.  This is why Yankees fans were so upset that Stengel did not give him a third start.  

6. Bobby Richardson

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    Bobby Richardson played second base for the New York Yankees, and he was one of the offensive standouts of the 1960 World Series. 

    Richardson had 11 hits in the series in 30 total at-bats, good for a .367 batting average.  He hit two doubles, two triples and a home run and led all players with 12 RBI. 

    Richardson’s exploits earned him the World Series MVP

    Adding to the mystique of this Series, Richardson is still the only player from the losing team to win the award since its inception in 1955. 

5. The Mick

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    Mickey Mantle has his name all over the World Series career hitting records, ranking first in extra base hits, home runs, RBI, runs scored and total bases, among others.  And in 1960, Mantle was true to his World Series form. 

    In 25 at-bats for the New York Yankees, Mantle hit .400 with three home runs and 11 RBI.  Both his batting average and home run total were better than eventual MVP Bobby Richardson. 

    However, Mantle did not hit a home run after Game 3, during which time the Yankees went 1-3 and lost all three of those games by a combined five runs and Games 4 and 7 by a single run each. But his skillful base running in Game 7 set up the dramatic finish to the game and the series. 

    In the top of the ninth, the Yankees trailed 9-8 with Mantle on first and Gil McDougald on third with one out and Yogi Berra at the plate.  Berra hit a hard ground ball to Pirates first baseman Rocky Nelson for the second out. What ensued was a play that still confounded analysts and former players 50 years later

    After tagging first base, Nelson could have thrown to second base for the force out of Mantle to end the game.  Or he could have thrown home to catcher Hal Smith to tag McDougald for the final out.  But after starting towards second with the swing of the bat, Mantle knew the Pirates first baseman "had me dead either way, so I ducked down and went underneath as he tried to tag me." 

    McDougald scored, and the game was tied going in to the bottom of the ninth.  Mantle was the hero of the moment. 

    But neither the score nor Mantle's status as hero would last for very long. 

4. A Tiny Pebble

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    A tiny pebble in the infield at Forbes Field caused a ripple effect in Game 7, changing the course of baseball history. 

    After scoring two runs in the top of the eighth, the New York Yankees took the field in the bottom half of the inning with a 7-4 lead and looked to move three outs closer to yet another World Championship.  

    For the Pirates, pinch hitter Gino Cumoli led off with a single, bringing up Bill Virdon.  On the 0-1 pitch, the Pittsburgh centerfielder hit a routine ground ball to New York shortstop Tony Kubek.  

    But before Kubek could field the ball, it took a wicked hop and hit him hard in the throat. His throat swelled, his mouth filled with blood and he had trouble breathing.  Doctors nearly had to administer an emergency tracheotomy on the field (pictured).  

    Despite wanting to stay in the game, trainers had to cart Kubek off the field.  He described the infield conditions that caused this fateful turn of events to the New York Times in 1985 (via ESPN):

    "It was a terrible infield.  It was like the beach at Normandy, half sand, half pebbles, and they never dragged it."

    The ripples from this tiny pebble were felt immediately.  The Pirates went on to score five runs in the inning to take a 9-7 lead, their first since the end of the fifth inning.  But four of the five Pirate runs in the inning were scored with at least one out.  So, if Virdon's ground ball had never hit that pebble, Kubek would have easily fielded the grounder to start a double play, and all but one run of the rally would have been snuffed out, allowing the Yankees to escape the eighth with a 7-5 lead.  

    Mickey Mantle's ninth-inning base-running maneuver and the other timeless moments from that inning would never have been written into the annals of baseball history.  

3. Game 7...

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    Game 7 has almost become a prerequisite for a World Series to even be considered one of the greatest of all-time. 

    A look at a few possible winners of that argument helps illustrate this point:

    2001: Arizona Diamondbacks defeat New York Yankees. 

    1991: Minnesota Twins defeat Atlanta Braves. 

    1986: New York Mets defeat Boston Red Sox (pictured). 

    1979: Pittsburgh Pirates defeat Baltimore Orioles. 

    1968: Detroit Tigers defeat St. Louis Cardinals. 

    1955: Brooklyn Dodgers defeat New York Yankees. 

    All told, there have been 106 World Series played since 1904.  Only 36 have gone to a Game 7, or one out of every three.  Pretty exclusive company. 

2. ...Walk-Off...

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    If a seven-game series puts you in the discussion for greatest World Series of all-time, then a seventh game won by a walk-off hit sends you to the top of the list. 

    Only 11 of the World Series final outs recorded since 1904 have come via walk-off.  The most recent of these came in 2001, when the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the New York Yankees (pictured). 

    There have been just five World Series Game 7s decided by a walk-off hit.  This elite list is comprised of the subject of this slideshow, as well as the aforementioned 2001 World Series and the 1997, 1991 and 1924 World Series. 

    But there has been only one World Series Game 7 decided by a walk-off home run

1. ...Home Run

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    Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates hit the only Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history in 1960.

    Leading off the bottom of the ninth inning, Mazeroski was so stunned by the Yankees' rally in the top of the frame to tie the score at nine apiece that a teammate had to remind him he was up to bat.  The light-hitting second baseman promptly crushed the 1-0 pitch over the brick and ivy wall, sending the Forbes Field crowd into hysterics as left fielder Yogi Berra watched helplessly.  The ball traveled an estimated 430 feet.  

    After surrendering the historic homer, pitcher Ralph Terry of the New York Yankees simply dropped his glove on the mound and walked off the field in disgust.  Asked later about the play, Terry could only remember one detail of that painful day in Yankee lore: "I don't know what the pitch was. All I know is it was the wrong one."  

    The dramatic home run to decide a riveting Game 7 left quite an impression on the baseball world.  David Schoenfield of ESPN argued that Game 7 of the 1960 World Series was the greatest game ever played.  One baseball blogger even claimed that if not for this series-winning home run, Mazeroski would not be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  

    A humble man of few words, Maz is reluctant to accept the adoration he has received for his Yankee-killing clout.  During the 50th Anniversary celebration of this storied World Series, Mazeroski told ESPN.com's Jim Caple that it took more than just him to win the Series: 

    I was just a small part of that team; I was just one guy out of 25. I just happened to hit the home run. I probably get way too much credit for winning that World Series, when it took the whole team to do it.

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