Pirates-Yankees 1960 Tonight, Thanks to Bing Crosby


Bing Crosby didn’t know it, but when he took off for Paris on October 12, 1960, he left us all with a wonderful Christmas present. Bing was part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and fearful that his National League champions were no match for the Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris-Whitey Ford Yankees. So he left the country before the seventh game of the World Series, but not without arranging to have the game kinescoped from the television broadcast.

Nearly 50 years later, the film was discovered in Crosby’s wine cellar, alongside copies of his movies and TV specials. Tonight you can step back in time as the MLB Network broadcasts the game at 8:00 pm ET. Bob Costas hosts the program, recorded on November 13 at the historic Byham Theater in Pittsburgh, with a panel that includes former Pirate Dick Groat and Yankee Bobby Richardson.

Bill Mazeroski, who hit what many, including myself, consider the greatest home run in baseball history – yes, surpassing even Bobby Thomson’s in the 1951 playoffs (Maz’s, after all, was the first home run ever to end a World Series) – was ill and unable to attend the program but was interviewed a few weeks later.

The broadcast is not to be missed, a treasure for baseball fans everywhere who have heard about this game but never had a chance to see it in its entirety. Some of the revelations from a viewing include:

Jim Coates is finally off the hook for this famous alleged failure to cover first base on Roberto Clemente’s infield chopper in the 8th inning. In fact, the ball was hit between the mound and first baseman Bill Skowron. Coates leapt for the ball, but it was over this head; he then ran over to first as quickly as he could, but Clemente had already beaten out a single.

You can see the weird direction of the bad hop ball that struck Tony Kubek in the throat. Whether it hit a pebble or, as Kubek told me in a 2007 interview, “a clot of dirt that had been dislodged by a base runner.” Whatever, the ball shot right up over his glove, hit him smack in the Adam’s apple, and laid him out on the ground. He left the game, and the Pirates went on to take the lead.

On one piece of history I fault Costas and the panel. Once again, the old argument is revived that Casey Stengel lost the Series for the Yankees by not starting Whitey Ford instead of Art Ditmar. Ford was just 12-9 that season to Ditmar’s 15-9, and their ERAs were almost identical. In retrospect, everyone thought of Whitey as the Yankees’ ace, but in fact Whitey’s true reputation as a great World Series pitcher began in 1960; for the 1960 and 1961 Series he pitched 33 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, shattering Babe Ruth’s record of 29 2/3. Prior to 1960, Whitey was 5-4 in the Series, though with an excellent 2.81 ERA, but had not won a World Series game in more than three years. Stengel was guilty of many lapses of judgment in the series, particularly in game seven, but no one could have really known before the Series that Ditmar wasn’t the better choice.

Another myth that should be dispelled is that the Yankees, though they were the betting and popular favorite, were a far superior team. They were 97-57 that season, but that was only two games better than the Pirates. The Yanks lead the majors in home runs with 193, 70 more than the Pirates, but Pittsburgh had lead the National League in RBIs with 679, just ten fewer than the Yankees. It’s true that in the Series New York outhit Pittsburgh by a whopping 82 points and outscored them 55-27; they won games two, three and six by a total of 38 runs, and, overall, had 10 home runs to the Pirates’ four.

But they should have known from past experience that this was not enough to guarantee World Series supervisory. In fact, all the games that the Yankees won by a rout really indicated that Pittsburgh had a severe weakness in left-handed pitching, and in the three Yankee blowouts Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh decided to concede the games and not waste his best pitchers. Inotherwords, in baseball, it doesn’t matter how much you win by, and the Pirates had pitching when they needed it.

Moreover, the Yankees committed eight errors to the Pirates’ four. The play which really decided the Series, the would-have-been double play to Kubek, was simply dumb luck – and we all know what Branch Rickey said about luck being the residue of design.

Anyway, tune in for yourself tonight and decide.