A sports moment for the ages, a botched radio call, a live broadcast believed lost forever… then miraculously rediscovered. What a story!
By Mark Wainwright
The History Channel calls it “The Most Dramatic Home Run in World Series History.” ESPN has often described it as the greatest home run of all time. To this day, it is the only World Series Game 7 walk-off home run.
Long-time baseball fans know the basic facts: On October 13, 1960, Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates hit a line drive over the left field wall at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field to win the World Series for the Pirates.
This was an iconic moment in baseball history, and an iconic moment in baseball broadcasting history, as well … although the Hall of Fame broadcaster who described the moment for the national radio audience probably wished he could have done a second take!
Above: Bill Mazeroski crosses the plate for the Game 7 victory! (photo courtesy YouTube)
It was a dramatic finish to an astonishing World Series, but as often happens, the backstory of that moment and how it was broadcast– and everything that led up to it – has been largely forgotten. As we follow this year’s MLB playoffs (while taking note of the anniversary), it’s worthwhile to look back at an earlier, very different era of post-season baseball…
The 1960 World Series opponents could hardly have been more different. The New York Yankees of that era were a machine, and the 1960 team easily dominated the American League on their way to the pennant. In contrast, the Pittsburgh Pirates were a surprise. The Pirates had not been to the Series since 1927, they were coming off a mediocre 1959 season, and expectations were low… but they got off to a good start and managed to keep it going. With timely pitching, clutch hitting, lucky breaks, and a never-say-die attitude (21 of their 95 wins came in their final at-bat), the Pirates claimed the National League pennant. The Yankees were studs, while the Pirates were scrappers, and the first six games of the Series reflected the character and personality of the respective teams.
In their three wins, the Yankee sluggers clobbered Pittsburgh pitchers for 38 runs. Yet, the Pirates managed to hang on, squeezing out three close victories in response. It all came down to Game 7 at Forbes Field on the afternoon of Thursday, October 13. Not only were there multiple Hall-of-Famers on the field and in the dugouts, there were Hall-of-Famers in both the TV and radio broadcast booths:
NBC’s national TV broadcast (in “Living Color!”) was handled by Yankees announcer Mel Allen and the Pirates’ Bob Prince, while NBC’s national radio broadcast was called by the Chicago Cubs’ Jack Quinlan, and Chuck Thompson, the play-by-play voice of the Washington Senators… wait, what? The Washington Senators? Wasn’t Chuck Thompson the voice of the Baltimore Orioles forever? For most of his career, yes… but Thompson was caught in a business dispute between the Baltimore brewery that owned the Orioles and the Baltimore brewery that owned his broadcasting contract, so Chuck wound up in Washington for a while (alas, as so often happens in life, it was a battle between money and beer, and money won out).
Game 7 combined and concentrated all the craziness of the previous six. Both pitching staffs were tired, and the hitters took advantage; it is the only game in World Series history where no pitcher from either team recorded even a single strikeout. The Pirates jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but the New York offense awakened and the Yankees took a 7-4 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. That’s when things really started to get strange…
In the Pittsburgh half of the 8th, it appeared a routine ground ball would start a double-play and stall a potential Pittsburgh rally… but the ball took a bad hop and hit Yankee shortstop (and later, Hall of Fame broadcaster) Tony Kubek in the throat. He got up bleeding and gasping for air, and was taken to the hospital with bruised vocal cords and a swollen trachea.The injury didn’t damage Kubek’s future career, but it kept the Pirates alive, and they followed with five runs to take a 9-7 lead into the 9th inning. Just three outs away, and yet…
The Yankees scored two runs to tie it at 9-9. The tying run was another odd play; a hard shot toward first base looked like a game-ending (and Series-ending) double play, but Pittsburgh first baseman Rocky Nelson took the easy out at first… which turned the play into a fielders’ choice. Mickey Mantle (the runner already on first) dove back to base and avoided the tag, which gave the Yankee runner on third the opportunity to tie it up. The Yankee inning ended with a routine ground out, so it all came down to the bottom of the 9th.
New York manager Casey Stengel left Ralph Terry in to pitch the 9th, with 15-game-winner Art Ditmar warming in the bullpen, if needed. Second baseman Bill Mazeroski would lead off the inning for the Pirates. Mazeroski was much better known for his outstanding glove work than his hitting, but he had one of the Pirates’ hottest bats late in the season, and it paid off.
Ball one, high. Catcher Johnny Blanchard went to the mound to briefly confer with Terry. Up in the radio booth, Chuck Thompson was obviously caught up in the excitement of the moment and everything leading up to it:
“Well, a little while ago, when we mentioned that this one, in typical fashion, was going right to the wire, little did we know…”
Then, at 3:36 pm, the 1-0 pitch, and…
“Art Ditmar throws…”
(Chuck, no! Ditmar’s still in the bullpen! Terry’s pitching!)
Thompson called the following moments superbly when Mazeroski connected and the ball sailed over the wall at the 406’ mark. Pandemonium ensued as Mazeroski quickly rounded the bases. Fans poured onto the field; it looked like half of Pittsburgh was poised to welcome him at home plate.
Unfortunately, Thompson committed another gaffe in the midst of the uproar:
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mazeroski has hit a one-nothing pitch over the left field fence at Forbes Field to win the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates by a score of ten to nothing!”
(Chuck, no! Look at the scoreboard! Look at your scorecard!)
…to his credit, he corrected himself moments later.
As both a long-time broadcaster and a Baltimore native – someone who heard Chuck Thompson broadcast countless games for the Baltimore Orioles and the Baltimore Colts of the NFL – it’s bizarre to hear Thompson commit these gaffes. Chuck Thompson did NOT make mistakes like this; he just didn’t. In his 1996 autobiography, he called it “easily the most embarrassing moment of my career behind the microphone.” His flawed moment did not derail a stellar career. In 1993, he received the Ford C. Frick broadcasting award from the Baseball Hall of Fame, and his name is honored in Cooperstown alongside the greats of the sport.
There’s a YouTube link, of course. Whoever produced it did a nice job of capturing this iconic event in sports history. You’ll hear Chuck Thompson’s “flawed but endearing” (as Wikipedia describes it) radio call of the homer, combined with the actual broadcast video. Although the audio portion switches over to Mel Allen’s TV call toward the conclusion, this minor deviation from the archived radio recording does nothing to spoil the drama and excitement. And by the way… the story behind how and why the Game 7 telecast was preserved is amazing enough on its own. So stay tuned for our post-game wrap-up!
The Greatest Home Run!
Although NBC videotaped all seven games (in “Living Color!”), those recordings soon disappeared. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, videotape was very expensive back then, the reels were cumbersome, and storage was an issue. Thus, networks often re-used the tapes for various purposes, wiping everything that was recorded previously. Countless hours of television history have been lost due to this practice. So why did the entire TV broadcast of Game 7 survive intact (at least in black-and-white)?
You can thank Hollywood singing star Bing Crosby. Bing held an ownership interest in the Pirates then and was a huge fan, but he was oddly superstitious about things. He believed that watching the game on television would jinx the team, and showing up at Forbes Field would have been even worse. So he and his wife took off for a brief vacation in France, where he listened to the broadcast on shortwave radio. However…
Crosby had a close relationship with Ampex (including a financial interest), and he asked the folks at Ampex to record the game so he could watch it upon his return (but only if the Pirates won!). It’s not clear whether they taped it and transferred it to kinescope film or if they filmed a kinescope directly from the live broadcast. In any event, a black-and-white kinescope was saved and presented to Crosby. Presumably, Bing enjoyed viewing it and subsequently stashed it in his basement – where it remained untouched for forty-nine years!
In 2009, long after Crosby’s death, Robert Bader – an executive from Bing Crosby Enterprises – was going through materials at Crosby’s former home in Hillsborough, California. He was looking for any useful recorded video that could be transferred to DVD and marketed, and he stumbled onto the five-reel set in Bing’s wine cellar! It is the only known copy of the historic game. The reels were preserved and digitized, and later broadcast as part of several retrospectives covering the 1960 World Series and Game 7 specifically.
So… what’s mellowing in your wine cellar?
Mark Wainwright is a veteran radio performer and voiceover artist who has spent decades working as a disc jockey, talk show host, and morning personality at well-known radio stations throughout the United States. He was most recently the morning host at WSYR in Syracuse, New York. Mark can be reached through his LinkedIn page or at: firstname.lastname@example.org