The seventh game of the 1960 World Series was a wild and dramatic game that was going to be remembered for all time no matter what the outcome was. As it turned out, it featured one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history. Bill Mazeroski’s blast became the first ever World Series ending homer.
If a few tiny details had changed, the game would have been forever remembered as “The Hal Smith Game.”
In 1960, the Yankees returned to the World Series after a one year absence and looked to capture the title with pure power. They slugged their way to 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0 victories over the Pirates, who won their first pennant since 1927, a year they were swept by the Babe Ruth led Yankees.
However, while the Yankees won the blow outs, the Pirates took the close games, sneaking off 6-4, 3-2 and 5-2 victories. In virtually every statistical category, the series was lopsided in the Yankees favor, but it still went to a deciding Game 7.
The Pirates used a platoon of catchers in 1960. Smoky Burgess caught games against right handed starters. Journeyman catcher Smith did so against left handers. Lefty Whitey Ford was not available for the finale as he won Game 6 for the Yankees. Bob Turley was the Yankees starter meaning Burgess got the call to catch for the Pirates and Smith rode the bench.
From the beginning, it was clear this was not going to be a pitchers duel. Pirates first baseman Rocky Nelson homered in the first and when Burgess singled in the second, Bob Turley was lifted after only retiring three batters. Pittsburgh built a 4-0 lead.
The Yankees came storming back with homers by Moose Skowron and a three run homer by Yogi Berra, playing left field that day, and took a 5-4 lead in the sixth.
Burgess singled in the seventh and was the tying run with nobody on. He was lifted for pinch runner Joe Christopher but the Pirates could not drive him in.
In the 8th, Smith filled in as catcher. The 29 year old reserve was not even the most famous active catcher named Hal Smith. The Cardinals had an All Star by the same name which this author thought was the same person before doing the research for this post.
Calling pitches for reliever Roy Face, Smith saw the Yankees pad their lead. Johnny Blanchard and Clete Boyer each smacked RBI hits and New York led 7-4 and seemed to be pulling away.
In the bottom of the 8th, Gino Cimoli singled and Bill Virdon smacked a grounder that hit Tony Kubek in the neck. After a delay, Kubek was replaced by Joe DeMaestri.
Dick Groat singled, cutting the Yankee lead to 7-5. Then with two outs, Roberto Clemente beat out a grounder that made it a one run game.
Up stepped Hal Smith against reliever Jim Coates. With 2 outs, the count 2 and 2 and Casey Stengel’s Yankees 4 outs away from taking yet another title, Smith smashed a deep home run over Yogi Berra’s head in left field.
Suddenly the Pirates had a 9-7 lead. Forbes Field went insane as the reserve catcher had struck the blow that looked to slay the Yankees once and for all. The Pirates had not won a World Series since Pie Traynor and company stunned Walter Johnson the Washington Senators in 1925. Now, 35 years later, they were on the verge of another stunning game 7 victory and Hal Smith would be the man to lead the way.
Bob Friend came in to close out the World Series, but allowed a pair of singles without retiring a batter. Harvey Haddix, who famously threw 12 perfect innings in a 1959 game before losing in the 13th, relieved Friend. He coaxed a foul pop up to Smith. In a strange play with one out, Yogi Berra grounded out to first and Mickey Mantle appeared to be caught in a potential World Series ending rundown. But he dove back to first in time and Gil McDougald scored to tie the game. The lead that Hal Smith gave the Pirates was no more because of Mantle’s dive back to first. Haddix retired Skowron but now the game was knotted at 9.
Bill Mazeroski faced Ralph Terry to lead off the bottom of the 9th and hit a 1-0 pitch over the left field fence to end the World Series. Forever the game was known for Mazeroski’s homer. Any montage of great World Series moments includes Mazeroski’s homer. The fame of that moment probably was the event that clinched his Hall of Fame bid.
But think of how close it was to being Hal Smith’s moment in the sun. He would have been the great hero on the cover of magazines and whose blast would be remembered for all time. Devoted Pirate fans love and applaud Hal Smith’s heroism. However his deeds were so close to being immortal.
For that reason he is the Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero for October 13.