The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Maz and the Battlin' Bucs

In honor of the Yankees' long-awaited return to the site of their momentous 1960 World Series defeat at the hands of the underdog Pirates, I'm going to post something I wrote almost 8 years ago. I've always meant to turn it into a bit more, but for now, here it is:

October 13, 1960, Bill Mazeroski hit the most famous World Series homerun ever, beating the Yankees at Forbes Field in the bottom of the 9th, Game 7. Pittsburgh celebrated as it never has, before or since: people spilled into the streets, honking horns, embracing strangers, etc. The players themselves joined the throngs in the streets, wandering up the road to Schenley Park.

Every year since 1985, a loyal few fans have gathered on October 13 at the remnants of the Forbes Field outfield wall to listen to a recording of the radio broadcast. At 3:36, a cheer goes up. This past October was the 40th anniversary, and there was no way I was going to miss it; my boss at the time, at a job I'd only just started, looked a little incredulous when I announced at 1 that I was leaving, but it was an incredibly beautiful day that I wouldn't miss for the world.

I made my way through Oakland to the site, and came upon an enormous crowd: hundreds of fans had gathered, in a carnival atmosphere. One entrepreneur had a plexiglas-encased model of Forbes Field on a table, surrounded by T-shirts, while the faithful had set up lawn chairs surrounding the pathetic old boombox. I wheedled my way in close, where it was still the 5th inning. Several old Pirates were there, trading recollections; fans called to them like old friends. As the time drew near, the crowd kept growing, with film crews and the Pirates Parrot making the scene. In an striking reversal of an old Forbes Field tradition, a photographer climbed a spindly tree to get a shot of fans listening to the game. About the 7th inning, a limo pulled up, and a buzz rose in the crowd; could it be?

Of course it was: Maz showed up, for the first time. After a lengthy ovation, and chants of "Hall of Fame, Hall of Fame" (he would finally make it a few years later, and his prepared speech at the ceremony was replaced by an eloquent silence; he was too tearful to say more than a couple words), a path was cleared, and Maz sat between the two founders of the tradition. For 2 innings, he signed countless mementoes - game tickets, newspapers, as well as random Pirates ephemera. At the start of the 9th inning his hand started to give out, and he took a rest. The game see-sawed back and forth, and an 8th inning Pirate homer seemed to seal the deal, but the Yanks roared back in the 9th, taking a 2 run lead. Those of us in the front rows (did I mention I was within 5 feet of Maz?) leaned in to follow the action, as the old-timers called out the batters as they came up - the fans knew who would do what.

Finally the moment came, preceded by hushes through the crowd. At the crack of the bat, the fans rose in a shout, clapping and cheering and hooting & hollering. Maz stood with old teammate Nellie Briles, who raised Maz' arm in triumph. We shouted til we were hoarse, calling out "thanks Maz." It was an amazing window to a baseball-crazed town of 40 years before.