For Want Of a Nail

Ron KaplanContributor IOctober 14, 2010

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 28:  Shortstop Jack Wilson #2 of the Pittsburgh Pirates rounds the bases after hitting the winning home run against the Chicago Cubs in the seventh inning of a game on September 28, 2003 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.  The Pirates defeated the Cubs 3-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images


One of these days, some enterprising person is going to go back to all those historic baseball games and write about the secondary events that helped pave the way for a Kirk Gibson, a Joe Carter, or a Bill Mazeroski to become part of the lore of the national pastime.

But don’t forget the Hal Smiths.

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Mazeroski’s World Series seventh-game walk-off home run. What many people forget is that if it hadn’t been for Smith, Maz probably would have gotten his big chance at fame.

Smith, who split time behind the plate with Smokey Burgess in 1960, entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the eighth inning. He came to bat in bottom of the frame with two men on and Pittsburgh trailing the Yankees 7-4. Long story short: Boom goes the dynamite and the Pirates are ahead, 9-7.

What else that’s forgotten, then, is that Pittsburgh couldn’t hold on to the two-run lead, allowing New York to tie the game, 9-9. Up comes Mazeroski and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, to mangle some Shakespeare, for want of Hal Smith, the battle would have been lost.

(Of course, the game was merely tied going into the bottom of the ninth, so the Pirates still might have been able to pull out a win without all the fireworks.)

Murray Chass wrote about this situation on his website.

So you can take any of the following books that speak to baseball’s “greatest” moments, do a little digging, and see what led up to that iconic event.

By the way, there’s a lot of “what if” for things that didn’t happen. At least one book— Play It Again: Baseball Experts on What Might Have Been—speculates on what might have been.

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