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.

Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks, #10 – Comiskey Park

In 1937, Ed Burns, a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune, penned a series of articles on every major league park at the time (15 articles in all, of 16 parks for 16 teams; the Cardinals and Browns shared Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, while the Indians played in both League Park and Cleveland Municipal Stadium that year, with one article for both), which were also published in the Sporting News that year.

A very interesting series, especially from the perspective of 1937, and the hand-drawn diagrams of interesting plays and quirks of each park are wonderful. I’ll post them in order of when they were originally published, and one at a time to make things interesting. Click the Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks category link to the right to see all the articles together.

Tenth in the series, Comiskey Park, or “greater Comiskey”, as Burns puts it. The South Side stadium contains “14 acres, the largest playing field devoted to baseball in the United States”, but through a loophole, as the larger Cleveland Stadium tract was also used for other purposes. And the windows (actually a telltale trademark of old Comiskey) “make (the) concrete stands breezy”. Lastly, don’t let anyone tell you this used to be a dump – just a truck garden. And although they reaped one WS crown in 1917 (and should’ve had another in 1919), they wouldn’t have another in the old park – but they did harvest an AL pennant in 1959.

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Camera Day at classic Shea!

Hello all, been so busy with work lately that I haven’t had much time to write or research, so getting by with ninja strikes of great photos for a short while.

Here’s some photos that I took at Camera Day 1974 (Saturday, August 10) as a young tyke, and finally got around to scanning. Loved these events, getting to see my heroes up close and personal. A little blurry, but hey, I was only 11 and cameras were much less fancy in those days.

Nothing beats good old Shea in its heyday, especially with us Mets fans; the grass was always greener, the sun always brighter. Oh, and not surprisingly, the Reds and Don Gullett bested Tom Terrific and the Amazins, 5-3. Ray Sadecki himself would take the loss by allowing 2 runs in the 8th, but they were unearned due to a Felix Millan error. Ah, the good old days.

 

Ken Boswell, Ray Sadecki

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Jerry Grote

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Tug McGraw sporting a beret

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Jon Matlack

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Duffy Dyer

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Ron Hodges and Duffy Dyer

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Pastime Portraiture, #6

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Ralph Kiner, spring training, Tuscon, AZ, March 1955.

Kiner’s final spring, and final season. After nine seasons in the NL, and a bad back betraying the prolific slugger, he would spend 1955 with the Cleveland Indians as a part-time LF and pinch-hitter, with 18 HRs and 54 RBIs, but would retire after the season, at only 32 years of age. He would have a short career as a minor league executive in San Diego, until his old buddy and current GM Hank Greenberg hired him for play-by-play with the White Sox in 1961. After that, New York came calling, and Ralph became a Mets’ icon, with over 50 years of Amazin’ memories. And Ralph is still with us in 2013, at 90 years of age. So for having one of the shortest HOF careers (10 years), he’s one of the few that can say he’s been in professional baseball for over 70 years in some capacity. Long live Ralph Kiner.

Yet another great Hy Peskin shot, check out his site and buy a classic photo or two:

Hy Peskin Collection – Baseball

A Moment In Time – 7/5/37

5863547576_01f3412a56_oTurning back the clock to National League baseball in Boston, Monday, July 5, 1937, Braves Field (or the Bee Hive). NY Giants the visitors, second game of a doubleheader, bottom of the 7th inning, and Boston Bee RF Gene Moore, decked out in yellow (cap, “B” on chest and socks), is congratulated by 2B Tony Cuccinello after blasting a 2-run HR off the first pitch from Giant reliever Hal Schumacher (who just entered the game) as C Harry Danning looks on. All would have career highs and lows, and all would be affected by a war, both positively and negatively, that didn’t really seem possible in 1937.

The NL Boston franchise was a little over a year into the “Bees” experiment (1936-1940), done to shake things up a bit for the underachieving franchise. Personally, I think it would have been interesting for this moniker to follow the club through their various relocations – Milwaukee Bees, even the Atlanta Bees – how about a queen bee buzzing around instead of Chief Noc-A-Homa? Food for thought. Anyway…

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Moore in 1937

In 1937, Gene Moore himself had plenty to smile about, it seems. Interesting moniker aside, the Bees gave Gene Moore the chance he was hoping for. After slogging along as either a late season callup or early season failed experiment with the Reds and Cardinals for a few years, he played a full season for Boston upon his arrival in 1936, hitting .290 in 151 games. He would then go on to have his best season in 1937 as the Bees’ starting RF, along with the best numbers of his career overall (16 Hr, 70 RBI, .283 Avg), and making his only All Star appearance, which in fact would be right after the game above, the last before the break.

At the All-Star Game on Wednesday, July 7 at Griffith Stadium, he would have the only All-Star AB of his career, pinch-hitting for the pitcher in the 8th inning, hitting into a force play as the third out and quickly retreating back to the dugout, and as it would turn out, largely back into the ranks of the average ballplayer.

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Moore with the 1944 Browns

The 1938 campaign started well enough, but a severe leg injury in Cincinnati in July ended his season, and he was traded to Brooklyn in the offseason. 1939 was worse, as he started the season 0-for-23, and didn’t get over .200 until June and ended up at .225, with only 3 HRs. With his power now largely gone and largely a platoon player, he was traded back to Boston, then to Washington, and finally to the lowly Browns, where he would have one more shining moment – in a war-depleted league he would be a key contributor to their surprising pennant-winning drive in 1944, and was their starting RF in the 1944 World Series. While he hit well in the first 3 games, he went 0-for-10 in the last 3, as the Browns dropped those 3 to lose the Series to the Cardinals in 6 games. He had another decent year in 1945, but after the season, with the war finally ended and young able-bodied ballplayers returning from overseas, he retired at the age of 35, never to return to baseball in any capacity. The war had giveth, and the war had taken away.

Inaugural All-Star Cuccinello in 1933

Tony Cuccinello would have a better taste of stardom. Discovered playing semi-pro ball in NYC, with both defensive and offensive prowess, he was signed to a minor league contract as a teenager, and once he caught the eye of Branch Rickey (then with the Cardinals), he quickly rose through the ranks, and the Reds eventually purchased him for the 1930 campaign. He would have superb years in 1930 and 1931, batting .312 and .315, and set the Reds 2B mark with 93 RBIs in 1931, not broken until Joe Morgan over 40 years later. After holding out for a better contract, he was shipped to Brooklyn in 1932, and although he dropped to .285, had another strong year with 77 RBIs , playing every Dodgers game that year at second base. For his efforts he was selected to the very first NL squad for the inaugural All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in 1933, and Cuccinello just made it in, batting for Carl Hubbell with 2 outs in the top of the 9th and striking out to end it, the AL taking it 4-2. And like Moore, he would exit stage right from the bright spotlight for a time.

Cuccinello in 1939

He had more fine years for Brooklyn, but after a career low 102 games in 1935, was shipped off to Boston, where he was again an everyday 2B, and he responded with a .308 season with 86 RBIs, helping the then Braves to rebound from their historically dismal .248 mark in 1935. He would continue to start at 2B for Boston throughout the late ’30’s, helping Boston to their only winning season in the decade (1937, above), and making one last trip to the All-Star game at Crosley Field in 1938; unfortunately, this time, he did not make an appearance.

Unfortunately, also like Moore, the injury bug would hit, this time in 1939, a runner’s slide ruining his knee in the middle of another fine season. After the knee was slow to heal in 1940, he was shipped to the Giants, and frustrated, retired to manage the IL Jersey City Giants in 1941. But he would reach for the stars one more time as well, and again, WWII’s depletion of able ballplayers would again play a part.

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Cuccinello in 1945

Set to manage Jersey City again in 1942, Casey Stengel, now with the Braves, came calling for Tony as a player/coach. He was used primarily as a coach and pinch-hitter through mid-1943, when he was released to sign with the White Sox desperately short of players in the war years. A reserve infielder for Chicago, he was to retire after 1944, but the Southsiders asked him to re-up for one more season.

And what a season – Cuccinello said he felt the best he had in years, and exploded out of the gate, going 8-for-21 in April, eventually batting over .400 in May. While at age 37, he couldn’t keep up that torrid pace, and couldn’t play every day, he kept his league-leading average throughout the year, along the way earning himself one final All-Star selection (albeit through the AP and Sporting News), but he didn’t have a game appearance here either, as the actual 1945 game was cancelled due to wartime travel restrictions. Undaunted, he entered the final day of the season neck and neck in the batting race with Snuffy Stirnweiss of the Yankees, Tony at .308, Snuffy at .306. Alas, it was not to be, for as the rains came to wash out a White Sox doubleheader, 45battingraceStirnweiss went 3-5 in the Bronx against the Red Sox to win what remains the closest batting race in MLB history, .30854 to .30845, helped in no small part to the Yanks’ official scorer, who reversed an error call after the game had ended, and after the White Sox’s double rainout was confirmed.

But, as with Moore, with young men returning from war to enter the baseball ranks, the near-batting champ was no longer needed, and Cuccinello retired after the season. He did go on to be a long-time coach in the majors, achieving more success than that as a player, with AL pennants in Cleveland in 1954, Chicago in 1959, and the ultimate prize, a World Series ring as a Detroit in 1968, whereupon he retired for good.

Danning in the 1930’s

Harry Danning had the brightest of all the careers here – primarily due to his stellar defense, the catcher spent his entire career with the Giants, first as a reserve catcher (above) behind Gus Mancuso (since coming up for good in 1933), but when the All-Star catcher broke his finger just a few days after the All-Star break in 1937 (about a week after the photo above), Danning impressed so much that the two shared catching duties for the rest of the season, as the Giants won their second pennant in a row. Danning would also replace Mancuso (who had gone hitless in the first two games) in the 1937 World Series, and played the rest of the way, batting .250 with 2 RBIs, although the Giants again fell to the Yankees. Danning then moved to a full time role in 1938, and would become a legitimate All-Star in his own right, batting over .300 from 1938-1940, was even in the Top 10 in MVP voting in 1939 and 1940, and was elected to the NL All-Star roster for 4 years running, although his power numbers slipped precipitously in 1941. Although his average improved, his power continued to decline in 1942, although he was still the Giants’ primary catcher at 30.

Danning with Red Ruffing and the 6th Ferrying Group in 1944

With 1943, Danning put aside his Giant cleats and joined the Army to help in the war effort. As luck would have it, he was stationed in Long Beach, CA, as part of the Army Air Force 6th Ferrying Group, and would continue to play baseball during the war. However, whether he would be playing for New York or Uncle Sam, his knees started to wear from years of catching; he was advised to retire from playing baseball at all in spring 1945, and would not return to the Giants or dreams of any future glory.

But way back in 1937, no one was thinking of war on a sunny July day in Boston. Moore’s clout would put the Bees up 8-6, the eventual final score. Boston would take that nightcap to split the day, and push the Giants 2 games back of the Cubs. Boston would finish at a respectable .520, their best record as Bees, and best season until the mid-1940’s, but the Giants and Danning would take the aforementioned pennant that year, the only crown for all three.

And all three had their moments in the sun, some sunnier than others, and all had lives greatly affected and altered by World War II, just like in all other walks of life in America. And all, in various ways, did contribute to the war effort, albeit on the “front lines” at home.

Radio Broadcast – 4/22/50, Dodgers vs Giants, Ebbets Field

Here’s my third YouTube upload of a classic radio broadcast – April 1950, Dodgers vs Giants, Ebbets Field, Red Barber, can’t get any better than that.

From the YT page details:

Red Barber in his Dodgers prime! Original full radio broadcast, and the first Dodgers game carried on a national radio network, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, Saturday, April 22, 1950, against their arch-rivals, the New York Giants, and the first weekend of the young season. Dodgers went in 3-1, the Giants 0-4. Both would turn out to have fine seasons, but fall short of the Whiz Kid Phillies for the ’50 pennant. The Ol’ Redhead himself calls the first 3 and last 3 innings, and Connie Desmond the middle 3. Gil Hodges hit a solo HR in the 2nd, Giants P Jack Kramer a 2-run shot in the 4th, and Hank Thompson a solo shot in the 7th. And there’s endless ad reads for the brand new Post Sugar Crisp cereal! Ebbets announcer Tex Rickards can be heard at the beginning and end of the game (each batter had yet to be announced in ballparks), and Gladys Gooding on the Ebbets Field organ. So as Red says, “join us now for another Brooklyn ball game” – a classic time capsule of a Dodgers/Giants showdown in Flatbush, enjoy!

Line score:

NY    2 0 0 – 3 0 0 – 1 0 0 – 6 8 2
BRO 0 1 0 – 0 4 1 – 0 1 x – 7 7 0

Retrosheet Box Score and Play-by-Play: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1950/B04220BRO1950.htm