Saturday, May 21, 2011

A look back at the 1960 World Series

Here's a review that came from an idea by Canon Review reader Dickson S., and is a little different from normal Canon Review fare, as we take a look back at one of the wildest World Series of all time, the 1960 Fall Classic between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even though the Yankees outscored the Pirates by a score of 55-27 and hit .338 as a team, they still lost the World Series in seven games thanks to one of the most dramatic home runs in baseball history. Yes, my friends, it was quite a series.

At the time, the New York Yankees were in the midst of an incredible 16 year run (1949-1964) where they won fourteen pennants in those sixteen years. After failing to make the World Series in 1959, manager Casey Stengel and his team fought their way back to familiar territory, winning the pennant by eight games over the Baltimore Orioles with a 97-57 record.  Although the Yankees ended up running away with the pennant, it wasn't that simple, as they were tied with the Orioles on the date of September 14, and faced a four game series in New York against the Orioles. The Yankees swept the Orioles in that series, and proceeded to win every game from that point, finishing the 1960 season on a fifteen game winning streak. The Yankees that year led the AL in runs scored, home runs, and ERA. Offensively, they were led by the legendary CF Mickey Mantle (.275/.399/.588, a league leading 40 home runs and 119 runs scored, along with a 164 OPS+) and the 1960 A.L. MVP, RF Roger Maris (.283/.371/.581, 39 home runs, a league leading 112 RBI). Pitching wise, the Yanks were solid, but not spectacular. Pitching ace Whitey Ford (12-9 win loss record, 3.08 ERA) had missed some time due to a wrist injury, while starters Art Ditmar (15-9, 3.06 ERA), and Ralph Terry (10-8, 3.40) had done well in the regular season, but had never started a World Series game before. With Ford still struggling with his wrist injuries, Stengel made a controversial decision, and had Ditmar open up the Series for the Yanks.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates had not won a pennant in 33 years until the 1960 season. But that year, it all came together for Danny Murtaugh's Pirates, as they finished with a 95-59 record and won the pennant by seven games. Unlike the Yankees, the Pirates were firmly in control of the NL lead for most of the second half, never leading by less than three games over the season's final two months. Offensively, the Pirates were led by 1960 N.L. MVP SS Dick Groat (.325/.371/.394), 3B Don Hoak (.282/.366/.445, a team leading 97 runs and 74 walks) and future Hall of Fame RF Roberto Clemente (.314/.357/.458, team leading 94 RBIs). Interestingly enough, the Pirates nearly traded Groat to the Kansas City Athletics in the 1959 offseason, but Murtaugh cancelled the trade at the last minute. The player Groat was to be traded for? None other than the 1960 AL MVP Roger Maris, who instead was traded to the Yankees. Pitching-wise, the Pirates had a pair of aces in 1960 Cy Young winner Vern Law (20-9, 3.08 ERA, 271 2/3 innings pitched) and Bob Friend (18-12, 3.00 ERA, 275 2.3 IP), as well as perhaps the best reliever in the game in Roy Face (10-8, 2.90, 24 saves).

Coming into the Series, the Yankees were considered the slight favorites despite concerns over their pitching staff, mainly because they were the great New York Yankees. Also, they had a huge advantage in the power department and had postseason experience to spare, unlike the Pirates. Sports Illustrated, however, picked the Pirates to win in either five or six games. Comparing the teams side to side, the Yankees had the advantage in the outfield (Hector Lopez, Mantle, Maris compared to Bob Skinner, Bill Virdon, Clemente), but the Pirates had a better infield (Dick Stuart, Bill Mazeroski, Groat, Hoak compared to Bill Skoworn, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and Clete Boyer, although Skoworn was superior to Stuart). As far as catcher, both teams used a platoon, and while the Yankees duo of Elston Howard and Yogi Berra were more famous, the Pirates duo of Smoky Burgess and Hal Smith weren't too shabby. In fact, the Pirates' duo's numbers (.294, 18 HR, 84 RBI) weren't too far off the Yankees' duo (.261, 21, 101). Pitching wise, while the Yankees had Ford and a solid bullpen, they also had question marks up and down the rotation, while the Pirates foursome of Law, Friend, Vinegar Bend Mizell, and Harvey Haddix were a solid quartet.

The series opened in Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, with Law going for the Pirates against Ditmar. Roger Maris got the scoring going early with a first inning solo shot, but the Pirates answered back. After Bill Virdon drew a leadoff walk, he attempted to steal second, which took the Yankees by surprise and Berra's throw ended up in center field, while Virdon took third. Groat followed up with a double, and then Bob Skinner drove him in with a single. After an out, Clemente came up and drove Skinner home from second with a single, making it 3-1. Stengel had seen enough, and pulled his ace Ditmar after only five batters. The Pirates would add three more runs, two of which came off a Bill Mazeroski homer in the fifth, and Law and Roy Face held off the Yankees as the Pirates took the first game six to four. Game 2 featured a battle of the Bobs, as the Pirates' Friend went up against the Yankees' Turley. The Yankees started the scoring in the third after an RBI single from Tony Kubek drove in Bobby Richardson, and Gil McDougald followed with a double. After another run in the fourth, the Pirates came back in the bottom half, as Gino Camoli and Smoky Burgess started the inning with singles. Don Hoak followed with a double that drove in Camoli and sent Burgess to third. After a lineout by Mazeroski, Murtaugh took out his top pitcher Friend for a pinch hitter in Gene Baker. The gambit didn't pay off, as Baker popped up, then Virdon grounded out harmlessly to end the fourth. The Pirates turned to Freddie Green in the fifth, and he, or any other reliever the Pirates put out there, couldn't contain the powerful Yankees offense. From the fifth on, the Yankees scored 13 runs, and Mickey Mantle hit two towering home runs for five RBIs. The Yankees ended up winning 16-3 and the Series was even heading to Yankee Stadium.

Game 3 of the Series belonged to second baseman Bobby Richardson. Richardson, not known for his hitting ability (as his .252/.303/.298 line in 1960 would attest to), surprised many when, in the first inning with the bases loaded and the Yanks up 2-0, he launched a ball off of Pirates reliever Clem Labine over the left field fence for a grand slam, giving the Yanks a 6-0 lead. After a Mantle home run made it 8-0, Richardson came up again with the bases loaded in the fourth, and this time drilled a two-run single off of Fred Green to make it 10-0. On the mound, Whitey Ford dazzled for the Yankees, pitching a four-hit shutout and giving the Yanks' a 2-1 edge. In game 4, the Pirates turned to the Law, Vern Law that is, and not only did he allow only 2 runs in 6 1/3 innings, he also drove in the Pirates first run with a double, and scored the eventual game winning run off of a Virdon single. Law got himself into a few jams, but found a way out of them thanks to some stellar defense. After Richardson drove in Skoworn in the seventh, Murtaugh went to Roy Face, and Bob Cerv greeted Face with a long fly ball to center field. But Bill Virdon made a great leaping catch to protect the lead, and the ace reliever set down the next seven batters, giving the Pirates a 3-2 victory. Game 5 saw Ditmar go once again for the Yankees, this time against Harvey Haddix. The good news is that this time, Ditmar escaped the first innings. The bad news is that Ditmar didn't get past inning number two. After allowing a single and a double, Hoak grounded to short and scored the first run. To make matters worse, third baseman Gil McDougald dropped the ball and Smoky Burgess wound up safe at third, giving the Pirates runners at the corners. Mazeroski took advantage by doubling into left to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead and chase Ditmar out. The Pirates added another run in the fourth, while Haddix was quite successful, giving up two runs over 6 and 1/3 innings before giving way to Roy Face with two men on and one out in the seventh. Face got the next two batters, McDougald and Maris, and finished the game out for Pittsburgh, collected his third save of the series and giving the Pirates a 3-2 lead heading back into Pittsburgh.

With the Yankees' backs against the wall, Stengel gave the ball to Whitey Ford, while the Pirates hoped that Friend would come back from a so-so start in game 2. Well, Friend couldn't make it out of third inning. With the score 1-0 in favor of the Yankees, Friend hit Kubek, then allowed a Maris double and a Mantle single to make the score 3-0. Then Yogi Berra singled, and Friend was replaced by Tom Chaney, who allowed a sacrifice fly to Skoworn and a two run triple to Richardson that gave the Yankees a 6-0 advantage after three. Meanwhile, Ford dominated once again, and the Yankees cruised to a 12-0 victory to set up game 7. The Pirates once again turned to their ace, Law, while the Yankees countered with game 2 winner Bob Turley. The Pirates started the festivities early, as first baseman Rocky Nelson hit a two run shot in the first inning. After Burgess led off the second with a single, Stengel pulled Turley for the rookie, Bill Stafford. After loading the bases, Stafford coaxed Law into hitting a double play, but Virdon followed up with a two run single to give the Pirates a 4-0 lead with their ace pitcher on the mound. In the fifth, Bill Skoworn broke through with a solo shot, and after Law allowed a single to Richardson and a walk to Kubek in the sixth, Danny Murtaugh took no chances and put his ace reliever Face in. However, Face was tired, as he had pitched three long outings in a week and had very little left. After a Mantle single cut the lead to 4-2, Yogi Berra came up with another big hit in his legendary career, slamming the ball over the fence and giving the Yankees a five to four lead. Face stayed in until the eighth, where he allowed two more runs to pass and gave the Yankees a 7-4 lead with two innings to go.

In the bottom of the eighth, Bobby Shantz began his fifth inning of relief by allowing a single to Gino Camoli. The next batter, Virdon, hit what appeared to be the perfect double-play groundball. However, the ball hit a pebble on the rough infield surface of Forbes Field, causing the ball to bounce right into Tony Kubek's throat. Both runners were safe and Kubek had to leave the game because of his injuries. By this point, Shantz was gassed, as he hadn't had an outing longer than four innings during the regular season. Groat would chase Shantz after a single cut the lead to 7-5, and Stengel went with Jim Coates, a starter during the regular season, to lock the game down. After a sacrifice bunt and a flyout, Roberto Clemente came through with a single to make it a one run game, then Hal Smith had perhaps the biggest hit of his career, delivering a three-run blast to give the Pirates a 9-7 lead. Ralph Terry came in to get the last out in the eighth. With three outs to go, Murtaugh made a curious choice and turned to Friend, who had started just the day before. The move didn't work, as Richardson and Dale Long hit two quick singles off of Friend, and Murtaugh turned to Haddix with the heart of the Yankees' order coming up. After retiring Maris, Mantle hit a single to drive in Richardson, and Berra drove in the tying run with a groundout. Haddix then got Skoworn to ground out, and the game entered the bottom of the ninth tied at nine. Bill Mazeroski led off, and on a 1-0 pitch, the Pirates' second sacker hit the biggest home run in Pirates history, blasting the ball over the left field fence and clinching the World Series for the Pirates. Despite the Pirates' victory, the World Series MVP was awarded to the Yankees' Bobby Richardson, who hit .367 and set a World Series record with 12 RBIs in one series.

Over the years, this World Series has gained a reputation as being one of the biggest upsets in baseball history, partly due to the Yankee mystique and partly due to the lopsided total score. However, I don't know if it's as big an upset as it looks at first glance. Yes, the Yankees blew out the Pirates in three games, but the Pirates also won two games in New York, and judging by their regular season numbers, the two teams seemed quite even. I'm willing to venture that if the series was played ten times, the Pirates would win at least five of them, depending on where Whitey Ford pitched in these theoretical series. Which brings me to my next point. Stengel took a lot of heat for holding back Ford until game three of the series, instead of starting Ford in Game 1 and maybe giving him a chance to start three games. It's a curious move to say the least. According to what I've read about it over the years, Stengel believed that Ford was not up to the task of pitching three games in a series, and that he wanted to save Ford for the home opener because he believed Whitey was a better pitcher at Yankee Stadium. While the first point is up for debate (although Ford seemed just fine the next year working primarily on three days rest, going 25-4), the second point makes no sense at all. Even if you save Ford for game three, he still ended up pitching at Forbes Field for game 6, so what's the difference between that or starting him in game 1 and going back to him in game 4 or 5? Furthermore, it doesn't seem like Stengel had a lot of faith in Ditmar since he pulled him very early in both of his starts. Who's to say what would have happened if Stengel went with Ford instead of Ditmar, but you have to believe that the Yankees would have had a much better chance with Ford possibly starting three games instead of two. The decision, among other factors, led the Yankees' brass to fire Stengel following the World Series.

Well, thanks for reading this look back at one of the greatest World Series of all-time. Remember, if you have any thoughts about this post or ideas for future posts, than share those thoughts and ideas either by leaving a comment or by sending me an e-mail at

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for doing a blog on the 1960 World Series! I know it is not a review but I guess we can all say it was a great series. I know my father enjoyed telling me about how the series ended up. You gotta take your hats off to the Pirates that year.