Hal Smith: Bucs Bridesmaid, World Series Hero

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What a moment! Roberto Clemente and Dick Groat celebrate as the Pirates’ Hal Smith hits an unbelievably clutch 2-strike, 2-out, 3-run blast off the Yankees’ Jim Coates in the bottom of the 8th inning of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, to put the Bucs up 9-7, and to put them only 3 outs away from their third championship. Certainly the biggest HR in the history of venerable Forbes Field, and for the Pittsburgh franchise for that matter, and Hal Smith went down as one of the biggest Pirate heroes of all time, and it is often cited as one of the most memorable performances in a World Series. Or at least that’s the way it should have played out.

Hal Smith was signed by the Yankees as a catching prospect in 1949, and while he was a pretty fair hitter for a few years in the minors (albeit with limited power), someone named Berra was to be behind the plate for the Bombers for quite a while, so Smith was eventually packaging up in a staggering 10 player-for 7-player trade with the Orioles. The trade turned out to be a shrewd one for New York, acquiring two very good pitchers, Bob Turley, who would be a strong starter for the Yanks and eventually win the Cy Young in 1958, and another gentleman by the name of Don Larsen.

halsmith55_zps75fb32eaHal would eventually get his big league chance with the Orioles, as their starting catcher in 1955, and had a fair season, batting .271, but with little pop, and also unfortunately led the league with 14 passed balls. With the emergence of slugging catcher Gus Triandos, Smith was relegated to part-time status for most of 1956, until he was sent to Kansas City in August, swapped for the left-handed hitting catcher Joe Ginsberg.

Hal returned to the starting catcher role in 1957 and batted .303, with new found power, hitting a career-high 13 home runes, but the passed balls got him again, leading the league with 16 this time, so his future was as a utility man, splitting time between C, 1B and 3B for the Athletics in 1958, and 1959. And then, as luck would have it, he was traded to the Pirates for the 1960 season.

The Pirates were already set at starting catcher, with lefty Smoky Burgess coming over from Cincinnati and having a strong 1959 season, batting .297 and making the All-Star team, and would go on to have very good years for Pittsburgh well into the 1960’s. But for 1960, the Pirates would looking to upgrade in the backup catcher’s spot, and Smith, who could play other positions as well (although he only caught on the field in 1960), got the nod.

halsmith60_zps18b6486fAnd this time, he flourished as a backup, hitting .295 with 11 HRs and 45 RBIs in only 77 games, and even cut his passed balls down a bit. Also, his appearances were not based on a strict lefty-righty platoon, but mostly to give Burgess breaks along the way, and Smith performed equally well against both left-handed and right-handed pitching. And as the Pirates marched to the NL pennant, Hal Smith was one of the “steady performers” that made the 1960 NL pennant drive a “solid team victory” (NYT).

In the World Series, with the Yankees going with two right-handed pitchers in the first two games at Forbes Field, lefty Burgess would catch both games, but with lefty Whitey Ford going in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, Smith got the start. Unfortunately, Hal would go 0-3 as the Yanks drubbed Vinegar Bend Mizell and the Pirates, 10-0. With two more rightys going in Games 4 and 5, Smith was back for Game 6, again against Ford, again a Yankee laugher, but Hal managed two hits off Whitey.

Game 7 saw rightly Bob Turley take the mound for the Yanks, so Smith started the game on the bench. Burgess was having a good game, and led off the bottom of the 7th inning with his second hit of the contest. But Smoky being slow afoot allowed fate to intervene for the first time, and with the Pirates down by a run, the catcher was pulled for a pinchrunner. The Pirates didn’t score in the frame, and when Smith took over the catching duties as the Yankees tallied two more in the top of the 8th to go up 7-4, it looked bleak for the locals. But fate was not nearly done this October day in Pittsburgh, PA.

In the bottom of the 8th, Gino Cimoli, pinch-hitting for Elroy Face, led off with a single. Bill Virdon then hit the perfect double play ball to Tony Kubek at short, but as many of us know, the ball hit the most intrusive pebble in MLB history, and smacked Kubek in the throat, and there was no play. As Kubek left the game due to injury, Yankee pitcher Bobby Shantz was rattled, and instead of going for the third out of the inning with the bases cleared, allowed a single to Dick Groat with two men on and still no one out, to score the first run of the inning, and he was done.

Enter Jim Coates. Coates was a very good young hurler for the Yanks, and had a stellar year in 1960 as a spot starter, going 13-3 and being selected as an All-Star. Coates had appeared in two games in the Series already, and was less than stellar; after Art Ditmar got knocked out in the 1st inning of Game 1 at Forbes, Coates came in to put out the fire, and did for a while – until a fellow by the name of Mazeroski hit a 2-run shot off him in the 4th inning to give the Pirates a healthy lead that they would not relinquish. He fared better in Game 4, pitching the final two innings at Yankee Stadium and only allowing 1 hit, but the Yankees could not muster anything off of Elroy Face, who allowed no hits after coming in in the 7th, and the Yankees lost 3-2. Speaking of fate, had the Yanks pushed across a run or two against Face in this pivotal Game 4, the Bombers could’ve went up 3 games to 1 in the Series, and may never have had to even return to Pittsburgh to win the Series. But, such is fate.

Coates again had a chance to be a hero, but had his work cut out for him. With the score now 7-5 Bob Skinner sacrificed the runners to second and third, but now there was one away. He then got Rocky Nelson to fly to Roger Maris in medium right field, and Bill Virdon had to hold third as Maris fired a perfect no-bounce throw to Johnny Blanchard at the plate. Two out. Again, fate would lend a hand.

Roberto Clemente was up next, and it looked like Coates gave him a pretty good pitch – with Clemente almost bailing out, he hit a slow dribbler to the right side, and with no one getting to the first base bag soon enough, Clemente was safe at first, and another run had scored, making it 7-6. Coates has been blamed throughout history for failing to cover first on this play, but as one can see (below), Coates did made a quick jaunt to first – it appeared no one would have been able to catch the speedy Clemente in that footrace.


First and third, still two outs. Up stepped Hal Smith. While he had some pop this year, he was .222 in the Series, with only a pair of singles. Although Ralph Terry was warmed up, he had started and lost Game 4 (all hands on deck for Game 7), and the Yankees felt Coates had a good of a chance as any to get the Yanks out of the inning with the lead.

But on a 2-2 count, what happened should have been a highlight that any baseball fan would have committed to memory all these years, and maybe even had known Mel Allen’s call word for word:


As Terry then did come in, and got Don Hoak on a fly to left, all that was needed for the Pirates was to retire the Yanks in the 9th, and the Bucs even had an insurance run in their pocket thanks to Hal’s homer. Bob Friend, the Pirates’ All-Star ace, with a stellar return to form for the 1960 regular season with 18 victories, and a red hot September, with 3 complete games and winning 4 out of 5 decisions, was called upon to finish the game and secure the crown for the locals. Unfortunately, Manager Danny Murtaugh may not have checked the stat sheet before calling on Friend – he had had an absolutely awful Series, losing Game 2 after lasting only 4 innings, then being positively tattooed in Game 6 (just the day before), allowing 5 runs in 2+ innings.

After Friend let the first two Yankees on with singles, and lefty Maris was coming up, Friend was done for 1960 and Harvey Haddix came in, in a tough spot. He got Maris to foul out, but when Mickey Mantle dunked one into short right, and Yogi Berra grounded a slow roller to first, the game was tied 9-9, and Smith’s heroics were quickly buried into the narrative of the game, instead of being its ultimate moment.

Of course, Ralph Terry, who came in the 8th, would have an even worse day than Friend and Coates, as he took the mound in the bottom of the 9th – and on his second pitch of the inning became part of the memory of Mazeroski’s historic blast over a drifting Yogi Berra to win the 1960 World Series, to the same spot where Hal Smith’s shot went. And Mazeroski became the hometown hero, complete with a nice statue, and a place in the MLB Hall Of Fame. And Hal Smith was largely forgotten, except to a few diehards in the Steel City.

But then fate intervened again.

In late 2009, in Bing Crosby’s old wine cellar in Hillsborough, CA, while an archivist was looking for footage of old holiday specials, he stumbled upon two dusty film canisters marked “1960 World Series”. And with that, the video of this long lost 7th game was available for the first time since it’s original TV broadcast, and legions of baseball fans and scholars could again revisit this classic contest, culminating in an exclusive screening of the game in Pittsburgh in November 2010, with many participants in attendance, including 79-year old Hal Smith himself. And as USA Today reported it, when his homer flashed on the screen, Hal Smith was given a standing ovation, not only from the fans in attendance, but from his fellow teammates as well, a gesture that brought Hal to near tears. And as fate would have it, Bill Mazeroski could not attend due to a short illness, so Smith, in effect, had the spotlight pretty much all to himself, at least for that day.

Catcher Hal Smith, Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate Game 7 heroics 50 years later

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So, as Mel Allen said on TV that day in 1960, Hal Smith’s home run will be “one of the most dramatic base hits in the history of the World Series…that base hit will long be remembered”. After a 50-year hiatus, and with a late-inning save from Der Bingle, I trust Mel was right, after all.

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Dizzy Bean

Dizzy Dean is known today as the outstanding Cardinals pitcher from the 30’s, but also became popular due to his unique, homespun personality. He really didn’t rise to fame until the 1934 season, where he won 30 games for the NL champs – but in using his “head” in the 1934 World Series, he became a baseball folk hero for all time.

 

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Even most casual baseball fans have heard of the supposed headline after St. Louis Cardinals ace Dizzy Dean got hit on the head by a thrown ball in Game 4 of the 1934 World Series, in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis – “X-Rays Of His Head Revealed Nothing”. Most sources state it came from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the next day, while there seems to be nothing to indicate that that is so. Also, a recent published post about Dean by the Post-Dispatch alluded to another paper entirely, and not their own. In any event, it’s part of the legend of the story, which has grown a little hazy with time, especially due to the fact that there is very little in the way of photographs of the incident that exist, or at least are not readily available. The one above, which appears to be the closest shot known, seemed to be the only one publicly available, until recently.

 

Here now are a few AP press shots that have recently been found (click photos for slightly larger versions):

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Fascinating to see the incident from this angle. And how did he get beaned all the way out there you ask? Well, Dean (somewhat foolishly, in hindsight) was put in as a pinch runner, and stormed into second to break up a double play, and he did alright – the shortshop’s toss to first plunked him right in the noggin. New York Times articles on the incident, including Manager Frisch took a lot of heat for putting Dean in:

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In any event, they did score the tying run on that play, and Dizzy was able to recover enough to pitch Game 5 – but was he 100%? Turns out he lost that game, putting the Cardinals down 3-2 in the series going to Detroit, but with his brother Daffy (Paul) Dean able to hold off the Tigers in Game 6, Dizzy stormed back in Game 7 and twirled a complete game shutout to win the championship for St Louis. As one paper noted, it was “A Dizzy spell in Detroit”, and he made of the Tigers “a fine animal rug for the Dean homestead.”

Dizzy would not return to the World Series until 1938 with the Cubs, by then hampered by injury, and the Cardinals themselves wouldn’t return until the 1940’s – but the “Gashouse Gang” of the 1934 World Series, along with Dizzy Dean, will always have a unique place in the annals of baseball lore.

You Gotta Believe (in YouTube)!!

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Although my first Mets’ game was in 1971 (Mets won 2-0 over the Phillies), and I saw another game at Shea in 1972, I really didn’t become a die hard Amazins’ fan until the 1973 World Series. I remember seeing them on our small TV and thinking that this would be a great team to root for, being in the Fall Classic every year! I also remember being so bitterly disappointed when they lost the 7th game, and especially hated Wayne Garrett, who unforgivingly made the last out (I was just a kid).

Anyway, for some reason, video of the TV broadcast of this series is among the scarcest in the game, whether the master tapes were lost or damaged, or some other mysterious calamity befell the reels; and except for produced highlight films of the series, have not seen any of the original games as they were broadcast in over 40 years. Until now.

Someone wisely made tapes of Game 3 all those years ago, and has recently uploaded them to YT. First game at Shea, on NBC, with Curt Gowdy, Lindsey Nelson and Tony Kubek. Seaver vs Hunter. Four videos in all, of four different half-innings – the entire 1st, top of the 5th, and some of the top of the 9th. No other videos from the source yet, but more to come, see below.

Retrosheet box score: http://tinyurl.com/8ujxlkn

Top of the first. Gowdy PBP. A’s are scoreless, including striking out Reggie Jackson, and a great placard from the Mets’ old sign man, Karl Ehrhardt.

Bottom of the first, Gowdy PBP, Mets go up early 2-0, including a leadoff HR by Wayne Garrett.
Unfortunately, that was the extent of the Mets scoring for the evening.

Top of the 5th. Gowdy PBP. Tom strikes out the side! In case anyone wonders what all the fuss was about regarding Tom Terrific, watch this.

And THIS is what You Gotta Believe! was all about. Top of the 9th, special bonus with Lindsey doing PBP. Tug (You Gotta Believe!) comes in for Sadecki with 2 on and nobody out in a 2-2 game, and shuts the door, for now (and check out what appears to be a “75” type patch on Yogi and Rube’s jackets in the dugout). Complete with great fan shots and Tug pounding his glove and going manic in the dugout. Wow, memories. This was the 1973 magic I remember well.

Mets lost on an unearned run in the 11th inning off Parker (walk, rare passed ball by Grote, Campaneris single). Too bad, a win here would’ve gone a long way towards a ’73 title, since most of us know they won the next two at Shea to take a 3-2 series lead to Oakland, but lost both out west to lose the series in 7 games. This series came to be known by Mets fans as the “Near Miracle”, and has largely faded into the background of Mets’ lore. But, for me, this is the World Series of my youth.

The original uploader says in YT comments that he has almost this entire game, until it cut off in the 10th inning, and also will be posting video from the 1973 NLCS! Can’t wait. So watch this space!