Friday, July 02, 2010

The photo on the book's cover (also the top of these two, although a slightly different--maybe earlier shot) captures the Moment--Bill Mazeroski's homer in the bottom of the 9th--at Forbes Field in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. The photo was taken from high atop the Cathedral of Learning, the University of Pittsburgh, which was across Forbes Avenue from the ball park. Forbes Field was torn down, and the Pirates went with the Steelers to the North Side, to Three Rivers Stadium. Though that stadium is also gone now, the new football stadium and the new baseball park--one of the most beautiful in the country, meant to suggest the feeling of Forbes Field--are near where it once stood, on the North Side, just across the Allegheny River from downtown.

Where Forbes Field used to be, there is now a parking lot and a little park, and the Pitt Library. Home plate is still there, with a memorial to Maz, and part of the left field wall is also preserved, where Maz's homer went. There are some who say that leaving Oakland contributed to the falling Pirates fortunes. They were first and foremost an Oakland institution. But that's another factor in the decline of baseball: teams left their city neighborhoods as people moved to the suburbs, and baseball became a bigger business--with much bigger payrolls--even as it slipped down from the #1 sport, to #2 and now #3 in places that have an NBA basketball team or NHL hockey club.

About that 1960 Series: Shapiro tells it mostly from the Yankees point of view, focusing on Casey Stengel. So that added new stuff to what I knew. And I really valued the description of the seventh game. When the Pirates won the National League pennant in 1960, so many western Pennsylvania fans wanted to see the Series that the team held a kind of lottery for most of the tickets. Like everyone else, I sent in the money for two tickets. The Pirates randomly selected from those envelopes, and you either got two tickets to a game of their choice, or you got your money back. I was lucky, sort of. I got tickets, but to the sixth game.

For awhile it looked like there might not be a sixth game, but then the Pirates were actually ahead 3 games to 2 when they returned to Pittsburgh. For the first five games, the Pirates won low-scoring games by a run or two. The Yankees won high scoring games in which they scored a lot of runs. Unfortunately for me, the sixth game fell into the Yankee victory pattern. It was a miserable 10-0. I did get to see all those amazing players, though, from out in the left field bleachers: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris and the other fabled Yankees as well as the Pirates I'd of course seen before.

The Series was played during the day then, and so for the seventh game I was back in school. It was a torturous afternoon, because some of our teachers (all nuns) allowed us to listen to the game on radio, but most did not. I vividly recall getting highlights whispered to me, courtesy of students sitting next to the open windows, listening to Bob Prince and Jim Woods doing play by play on KDKA radio, drifting down from a classroom above. It was an incredibly dramatic back and forth game, that I never saw.

The school day ended with the score tied after eight innings. Most of the other students got on buses to go home. I lived close enough to walk, but instead I hurried up to the big classroom on the third floor, where I heard the football team was watching the game on television. I'd barely got into a seat when Mazeroski hit his home run. The room erupted. I heard later about the pandemonium on the buses as the play-by-play came over transistor radios. And Pittsburgh went nuts. In my first conversation with playwright August Wilson, he told me what it was like in the Hill District and in Oakland. Shapiro's account doesn't come close to capturing the joy as well as the frenzy. I also remember stories about commuters driving home, listening on the radio. There are a few long tunnels on the parkway, but once you drove in, radio reception was blocked. Afraid to risk it, cars pulled off to the side when the ninth inning started. They were rewarded. Horns resounding in the Squirrel Hill tunnel. It makes me smile just imagining it. How sweet it is! We had 'em all the way!

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