Sunday, January 26, 2003

October, 1960


i believe my first memory of a public occurrence, that is non-personal, non-familial, was the 1960 world series. i say, "i believe" bcause i can't be certain. memory of an event when one was so young is unreliable and some occurrences attain such centrality and are retold so frequently, that they become a part of virtual, if not actual, experience.

in any event, the 1960 world series was between the pittsburgh pirates and the new york yankees and in western pennsylvania in 1960, for the entire century actually up until 1972, the pirates were the region's secular religion.

the football steelers, or "stillers" as we pronounced them, wre almost a circus sideshow by comparison, a chronically inept band of jokers with their own freak, big daddy lipscomb. if anything, the steelers were only the regions second most prominent FOOTBALL team behind that of the university of pittsburgh. pittsburgh has never had an nba team and the farcicaly named penguins of the national hockey league were, in 1960, still 7 years from being born, or hatched. the pirates were the unquestioned kings.

this was before the advent of cable and so one's viewing options were limited to three stations which in that mountainous region was often reduced to two or even one station by land mass interference, planes overhead and the quirks of rabbit-ear alignment. there were only two radio stations of consequence, wjac in johnstown, and the behemoth, kdka in pittsburgh, both of which carried pirate games.

it is so commonplace an image of small-town america in the 1950's as to be almost a parody that summer afternoons and evenings were spent to the dulcimer call of the baseball game but that's truly how it was. people would string their big, boxy radios out onto the porch or into the backyard and listen to to the game while napping, playing, chatting, mowing the lawn or, as in my hometown, just sitting there waiting for something to happen. my dad always napped to the sound of the pirates games but then, dad also napped at the live games themselves when we made our summer pilgrammages from our mother-of-all-backwaters to the shrine of forbes field.

1960 was really part of the '50's as an era, which is why that term was used above. conceptually, the 1950's was the era of the traditional family structure, peace and prosperity, the baby boom, innocent, unsophisticated, unmodern tranquility. it's beginning can plausibly put at the end of world war ii in 1945, or in 1948 with the election of harry truman and the formal end of the roosevelt era, or in 1952 with dwight eisenhower's election. the era lasted until 1963 and the assasination of president kennedy. cer which usherered in the age of violence, protest and unrest that we associate with the era of the 1960's. certainly for me, non-black, non-ethnic, non-female, non-poor, these truly were "the good old days,an idyllic time and elmwood, pennsylvania was a glorious place to be as a five year old in 1960.

pittsburgh is and was then less a city than a quilt of small towns patched together by the steel industry. pittsburgh has always been lumped in as part of "the east" but is really more a mid-western city culturally. pittsburgh is closer to cleveland than to, rightly, despised philadelphia, which is in every sense more a part of new jersey, to which, in the opinion of all other pennsylvanians, it should be attached after being surgically removed, as a hideous, superfluous digit, from the commonwealth.

the pirates came out of the blue in 1960. then, as now, a small-market franchise, they could not hope to, and did not, compete on a consistent basis with the big market teams, epitomized, then as now, by the yankees. too, in 1960, the bucs were a part of their own 1950's, which in their case was in no sense a golden age, but an ice age of 100-loss seasons and talent-challenged players like dick stuart, a heavyweight slugger relegated, because of his "hands of stone" fielding "ability", to first base, to which every potential put-out ending in "3" on the scorecard was as likely to be preceeded by an "e" as a "1", "4," "5", or "6".

the 1950's pirates are famous for two things, one outfielder dale long's eight consecutive game homerun hitting streak, and pitcher harvey haddix' incomparable 12-inning no-hitter.

long's accomplishment is the definition of "freak "occurrence," the equivalent of those pop music one-hit wonder bands, baseball's version of "looking glass," "katrina and the waves," et al.

haddix' feat is one of the wonders of baseball lore but perfectly typifies the 1950's pirates. despite 12 no-hit innings, haddix and pirates LOST the game on an error and a hit in the 13th.

this then was the recent history of the team that represented the national league in the 1960 world series. their stars were a mormon preacher named vernon law, a diminutive relief pitcher named elroy face, a catcher named "smokey,", gumby-limbed donn clendenon at first base, the dynamic double-play duo of gene alley and bill mazeroski, and in right field, the soon-to-be-, and at that time almost, -legendary roberto clemente, known perversely and comically in those americanized times as "bobby" clemente.

opposing these pirates of perchance were the yankees, for whom the term "vaunted" was invented. whitey ford, mickey mantle, yogi berra, and a seeming cast of thousands of future hall-of-famers made up the team that had won more world series in the previous decade than pittsburgh had won in the entire century.

obviously, a world series is a mega-event, no matter which cities are represented. for a "town" like pittsburgh however, it was so much more, it's hard to understand unless you lived there.

the pirates were near the top from the start of the season and, as their excellence continued through the summer, the whole region became galvanized. someone came up with a little ditty which got played on all the stations, all the time:

"the bucs are going all the way,
all the way, all the way,
the bucs are going all the way,
all the way this year."

the series was a grotesquerie, recalling the cartoons of bugs bunny versons the gargantuon, muscle-bound "terror." the yankees obliterated the pirates by scores of something like 16-3 and 9-1, total mismatches. the bucs won their games 3-2 and 2-1 with the help of screwy plays and bad hops, one of which famously hit an infield divot and bounced up to strike the adams apple of yankee shortstop tony kubek, whose resulting exaggerated "OHHH!" facial expression next came to ublic attention on the face of lee harvey oswald when he was shot by jack ruby.

after six games like this--12-1, 2-1, 16-3, 3-2, 9-0, 3-1--, the whole shootin' match came down to game 7 on an october afternoon at forbes field.

my father owned the local newspaper, the elmwood gazette. if "all thenews that's fit to print," is the slogan of the new york times, "ANY news that's fit to print," would have been the gazette's, where, truly, photograpphs of simple car accidents resulting in no injuries and little property damage were front-page material.

a newspaper owner is a newspaper owner is a newspaper owner however, whether his name is harris or hearst or sulzberger and as such dad got free tickets to all manner of events. it was through this journalistic patronage system that we attended pirates games.

what do i remember specifically of that summer. i remember a general rise in the background noise to my simple life, more, but not specific, baseball chatter; more excited, animated conversation. i think that's the way kids generally process things that do not directly effect them. they call tell anger obviously, but also more subtle emotions, like concern, from the tone of adults voices even if they don't understand content.

i remember "the bucs are going all the way..." i can still hear it on the radio, somewhat tinny, but very cheerful. i remember singing it myself.

when the pirates won the pennant, i remember my brother dan pleading with my dad to get tickets. dad couldn't, or said he couldn't. my guess is that he hadn't really tried. i could see dad not really wanting to make the effort, his life already filled with enough effort as purchase's william randloph hearst, as husband, as father to four boys and, pittsburgh being two hours away and with the ability, with proper rabbit-ear adjustment, to watch the games on tv.

maybe this is unfair. this was a world series after all and forbes field only held around 35,000 people. i do know that he realized the uniqueness of a world series game 7, and how much it would mean to dan, and he spent whatever time there was after game 6 calling in all favors to get two seats.

and as of about 8 am game day, he didn't have them and told dan so who went off to school head down and shoulders slumped.

it was really getting close to the 11th hour now. if, as i assume, the game started at 1 pm, they would have to leave absolutely no later than 11 am to get there on time.

at about 10:30, he got the tickets. where and how he got the tickets, i do not know andnever remember him saying. it would be interesting to do some historical research on that, to go back to the issues of the gazette in october and november of that year and see if there was any clue, perhaps a fawning front-page profile of someone nicknamed "bugsy," or to examine the paper's books to see if there was a suspicious increase in expenditures during that time.

however it was accomplished, he got the tickets and called the high school principal and said simply, "send danny harris home." if world history were written from the harris family point of view, "send danny harris home," would be grouped in significance with such as, "the eagle has landed," "tora! tora! tora!," and "watson, come in her, i want to see you." but imagine the effect of those words on the listener, dan. they convey nothing more than an urgency and his need at home. dan could thought that some tragedy ahd occurred, a terrible accident or sudden illness. he could have thought, from those words, that perhaps his beloved little brother benjamin had been hit by a car and run home crying.

he could have thought those things but he didn't. they meant only one thing to him, at 15: "dad got the tickets." he covered the 3 blocks distance between high school and home in about 3 strides, his shoes almost making contact with the pavement on one and, as i was saying about children being able to discern emotion from adults voices even when they don't understand content, i detected no hint of concern or worry in his shrieks and yells.

dan made it home before dad did. dan made it home before dad hung up the phone, probably.

i remember the excitement at home, mum frantically making sandwiches for them, telling danny to wear warm clothes. i remember dan's affect, the manic pacing and jumping bout, teh repeated questioning "what's taking dad so long"; i remember the groin-grabbing and constellation of other physical symptoms that signified that loss of bladder control could be imminent.

i remembe my dad's car pulling up and dan bursting out the front door, and the look on my dad's face, the excitement and joy, for his son, not for himself. what a gift to be able to give a boy. the gift of a lifetime.

as every sports fan knows, game 7 of the 1960 world series is one of the most famous in baseball history. all thewackiness of the revious 6 games was distilled into that one. i'm making these scores up, but it went something like this. bucs lead 3-0; yanks score 5 in one inning and lead 5-3; bucs claw back and lead 7-5; yanks lead 9-7; bucs tie it at 9.

and there the game stood going into the bottom of the 9th inning, tied 9-9. the pirates had a number of good hitters on that team, real sluggers, including "bobby" clemente, but one of them was not bill mazeroski, the clean-fielding second baseman. even by the meager standards of those who play his position, "maz" was a weak hitter.

so with the game tied and the shadows lengethening on an october day in pittsburgh, bill mazeroski stepped to the plate. i believe he was the first batter that inning, but i may be wrong. the pitch was delivered and maz swung. you could tell it was a good swing right away, his body twisted sharply to the left and the end of the bat tipped near his right foot which the torque of the swing had twisted under left leg. good swing no doubt, but this was maz after all. roberto clemente nearly cork-screwed himself into the ground when he ahd a good swing. the bat speed of a great hitter like clemente or barry bonds is such that the bat becomes just a blur as it crosses home plate. there was no sign like that.

as the ball left the bat it was clear that maz had gotten solid contact too. he got under it well, it was going to be a fly. the ball lofted into lef-center field. incongruously, the yankee's catcher, yogi berra, was playing left field that inning. i don't know what player substitutions resulted in that bizarre shift but it was a wacky series and wacky game.

berra was playing medium-deep, as i recall, which would have been unusual in itself with bill mazeroski hitting, but the thinking probably was, in a slugfest like this, the outfielders were instructed to keep the ball in front of them so that a single didn't turn into a double or triple. too, yogi had catcher's speed, which is to say, noe and could not have been expected to cover the ground that a normal outfielder could.

good swing, good contact but the first indisputable sign for pirates fans was that even at that depth yogi berra was looking up and over his right shoulder as the ball carried. he only took a step back when he stopped and watched the ball sail over the fence.

at about the same time the yankee pitcher, i don't remember his name, quickly looked down at the dirt, put his hands on his hips and took a step off the pitcher's mound.

maz followed the flight of teh ball as he ran toward first base, he rounded first heading to second and about halfway there saw the ball go out of the park. he skipped and swung his left arm in the air, then his right.

he passed second base heading to third swinging his arms that way, a big smile across his face. by the time he rounded third, some fans had begun to come out of the stands. there's a famous photo of a smiling man in a white shirt and a hat i believe, running behind maz, and a policeman performing the duties of pittsburgh native not public service officer, smiling and reaching out to shake maz' hand, maz himself with a "whoop" expression on his face, his right hand in the air in mid-swing, his left at his side holding, i believe his hat.

his teammates were waiting for him at home plate and his small frame disappeared into their embraces as the yankee pitcher walked toward the dugout, head down with his teammates following after him. it is the only game in world series history to be decided by a home run in the bottom of the 9th inning.

forbes field has long since been torn down. in 1971 the pirates moved into their new home, three rivers stadium, which itself has been torn down. forbes field was razed to make room for the expansion of the university of pittsburgh campus. on the site now is the law school and the graduate school for public and international affairs. but home plate and the ivy-covered section of wall that bill mazeroski's ball cleared, has been preserved and stands there still and forever.


a couple of years ago dan, now living in north carolina, went to a shopping mall with his son. unbeknownst to him, a baseball card-signing show was taking place and bill mazeroski was signing memorabilia. dan waited in line and paid whatever fee there was. when it was his turn he told maz, now grandfatherly, his own story of that day, how dad had finally got the tickets, about "send danny harris home," about running home and never touching ground, about the two hour drive to pittsburgh, about seeing the pitch and seeing the swing and seeing the ball in the air and seeing yogi berra go back and stop and seeing the ball go over the fence and about it being a gift of a lifetime.

-benjamin harris

Monday, January 20, 2003

nelson goodman: god is the collective conscience of mankind.

john steinbeck, the grapes of wrath: reverend jim casey: "i figgered about the holy sperit and the jesus road. i figgered, 'why do we got to hang it on god or jesus? maybe,' i figgered, 'maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the holy sperit--the human sperit--the whole shebang. maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of.' "