The Last Summer at the Polo Grounds

A while back I had found some great fan photos of the old park in Cincinnati, in its last season, and posted them as The Last Summer at Crosley Field. Well, here’s some newly discovered photos from YashicaD on Flickr of the Amazin’ 1963 season, with Casey, Duke Snider, and even Miss Rheingold on hand (click on photos for larger versions). So pop open that Rheingold, light up a Viceroy, and follow me…

First, I’ll double check my calendar…

Yep, the day looks to be Friday, July 5, 1963, vs the Pirates. And yes, the Mets lost, 3-1, thanks to a 2-run HR by Clemente off Tracy Stallard in the 8th inning, which would be their 8th straight loss. They would go on to lose 15 straight before halting the streak, and lose 111 that year (3rd worse Mets total ever).

Below, Casey and likely Ernie White chatting with what appears to be the new Miss Rheingold for 1964 (or at least a candidate)! Solly Hemus is at home plate hitting fungoes.

Duke Snider comes to the the plate in the bottom of the 2nd inning, with Frank Thomas on deck. Don Cardwell pitching, Jim Pagliaroni the catcher, Bob Bailey at third, Johnny Logan at short. Snider would strike out.

Bottom of the 5th inning. “Duke Snider, an All-Star Game outfielder currently batting .221, tapped the ball down to the Pirate first baseman, Donn Clendenon, and Clendenon decided upon a foot race. Snider won it. Clendenon stabbed the bag with his long left leg, but the Duke beat him by a foot.”, as the Mets fans rejoice. Tim Harkness then doubled him in for the early lead, but it would be Mets’ only run of the afternoon.

Three more months at the old Polo Grounds, and it was over. Duke would go on to the Giants, the Mets would go on to Queens, and the Polo Grounds would fade into memory, but hardly forgotten.

Hal Smith: Bucs Bridesmaid, World Series Hero

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.

Hal 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.

And 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. As 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

Hal Smith in 2010

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.

A Moment In Time – 5/17/64

Sunday, May 17, 1964, Milwaukee Braves vs St. Louis Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park (renamed Busch Stadium by then). 1st game of a doubleheader, bottom of the 2nd inning, Eddie Matthews, in a rare start at first base, gets Dick Groat by a half-step to retire the side, as 2B Frank Bolling (behind Groat) looks on. Cards just went up 3-0 in the frame on home runs by Bill White and Tim McCarver, and then an unearned run started by a catcher’s interference by Joe Torre.

Matthews only played first base in 7 games for the Braves that year (after having only played 1B for a few games in 1962), and interestingly, would not play the position again until he moved there virtually full-time in 1967, after the franchise had already moved on to Atlanta. Rookie Phil Niekro would come in in the 8th inning here and pitch his last of 10 games in 1964 (giving up a couple of runs on a Groat triple), before he went back to the minors to give that knuckleball more seasoning. He would stick in 1965.

Cardinals would go on to win this first game 7-3, but lost the nightcap, 4-2, dropping them to 1.5 games behind the NL-leading Giants, who were sweeping a doubleheader from the Mets.

Even then it was a long season, but every game counts. Good thing the Redbirds had their hitting shoes on for this first game – the Cardinals would go on to win the NL Pennant by only one game over both the Reds and surprisingly the Phillies, who would complete the biggest late-season collapse in modern MLB history until the 2000’s (Braves finished 5 off the pace), and took the Series in 7 over the end-of-dynasty Yankees.

Veeck – as in wrecked?

I’ve already had an earlier post about the crazy genius Bill Veeck in this blog’s youth, and I expect to have a few more. This was probably one of his better promotions, which seemed to get a little crazier as he got older.

Veeck made the Cleveland Indians a quick success after becoming owner of the club in 1946 (first AL black player, Larry Doby, in 1947, and a championship in 1948), but it would be short-lived; after getting divorced in 1949, he had to sell the Tribe to fund the settlement, but wouldn’t stay on the sidelines for long.

Veeck remarried in 1951, and then promptly purchased 80% ownership in the St. Louis Browns. The Browns would be a tough test for the budding marketing whiz, as the Cardinals shared the same park, and were far more popular. His first moves were to hire legendary Cardinals Rogers Hornsby (as manager) and Dizzy Dean (as an announcer), although Veeck fired Hornsby by June.

Thinking of more ideas to get fans into the ballpark, Veeck held a “Drink On The House” Night at Sportsman’s, July 1951. In a press photo below, Veeck is seen himself passing out free brews to the surprised Browns’ faithful. Somehow, I can’t imagine Fred Wilpon coming down the aisle at Citi Field to hand me a free Brooklyn Lager any time soon.

It was actually a good way to get the word out about one of the local beer sponsors, Falstaff, St. Louis’ own. The label below is the same as on the beers above, and below that, a Falstaff beer ad with ol’ Diz.

Either way, it seems to have worked out better than future Veeck promotions, which grew increasingly unusual. Only a month later was the famous Eddie Gaedel game, in which Veeck used the services of a “little person” to go up for an at-bat for the Browns (he walked).

Unfortunately, Veeck’s grandstanding would have little effect, and he himself would be largely responsible for the demise of the St. Louis Browns. When beer giant Anheuser-Busch purchased the Cardinals in 1952, with endless resources, Veeck knew the writing was on the wall, and looked to bidders to move the franchise. Milwaukee was the first choice, but the Boston Braves beat them to it, so the next choice was Baltimore – and Veeck planned on remaining majority owner, but the other owners were not very keen on it, and voted him down, so he sold the team anyway, and the Orioles were born.

Veeck would go on to bring success to the Chicago White Sox (during two tenures), but also more unusual ideas, both good and bad, including introducing the famous exploding scoreboard in Comiskey Park and putting players’ names on their uniforms for the first time, both in 1960, and later the infamous “shorts” uniform from the 1970’s, the beginning of Harry Caray (then White Sox announcer) singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game, and last but not least, Disco Demolition Night in 1979, in which disco records were blown up on the field, and resulted in a near riot and the forfeit of the second game of a doubleheader by the White Sox.

Veeck finally sold the White Sox in 1981 and retired from baseball, passing away in 1986. He is responsible for many of the craziest things that have happened on a baseball field, and I’d have to admit, baseball history would be a lot less interesting without him.

The Last Weekend at the Polo Grounds – but the first Mets Banner Day!

Earlier I posted some great fan photos from the last summer of baseball at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati, but how about the last weekend (specifically the last Sunday) of baseball at the late, great Polo Grounds (Mets would move into brand new Shea Stadium in 1964)? And what better way to send off the old park, but to have the very first Mets’ Banner Day!

Sunday, September 15, 1963, a doubleheader against the Houston Colt .45’s (wouldn’t be the Astros until ’65). Between games, the Mets elected to have fans come out on the field and parade banners for all to see. Photos are mainly banners taken in the stands afterward. Notice the one banner hoping for a Mets championship in the 1970’s (they wouldn’t have to wait that long!), others don’t particularly care for the Mets’ catcher Choo-Choo Coleman, and the Mets’ own banners, spelling out TO THE METS FANS! WE LOVE YOU TOO! Also, the last one is poignant, a nice tribute to the two years the Mets spent there. Photos are a little deteriorated but still great; from a cool Mets blog. As always, click on the photos for larger versions. So pop open a Rheingold, light up a Viceroy, and enjoy.

Incidentally, the Mets lost the doubleheader, 5-4 and 5-0, and were already firmly in last place (they wouldn’t escape the cellar until 1966). And sadly, there would be only two more baseball games at the Polo Grounds, with the final game that Wednesday, when only 1,752 fans saw the Mets lose to the Phillies, 5-1. And in March 1964, the wrecking ball came.

The Last Summer at Crosley Field

Ever wonder what it would be like to sit in the front row in one of the classic ballparks? Maybe right up against the bullpen, watching the greats warm up and pop that catcher’s mitt? Well, behold the wonder of the internet age, because not one, but two different folks have posted Picasa Web Albums not only from this final summer at old Crosley Field (they would move into Riverfront in June 1970), but on the exact same day, and we get front row seats, on both sides of the park!

Sunday, August 31, 1969, against the Cardinals, Bob Gibson against Jim Merritt. Reds were 1/2 game back of the Giants in the newly christened NL West, so it was a big day for the locals at the old park.

First up, Pat Winiger‘s album, from outside and various vantage points inside. As always, click on the photos for glorious larger sizes.

Beautiful day for BP

Jim Merritt warming for the Reds

Looks like a Curt Flood double to left, but either in the 5th or 8th inning.

 

And now Greg Frazier takes over with his camera, on the right field side – here we see the mighty Bob Gibson warming up in the pen, going for his 17th win of the season, just a few feet away, as Cards’ pitching coach Billy Muffett looks on (as always, click the pics for bigger versions).

Note that this second Gibson pic was taken only 2 minutes before the Merritt warmup pic above. Crazy thing, this internet!

A little later, the game starts and we’ve got a good view of the diamond from our seats! (Cardinals at bat)

Fortunately for the home team, in an otherwise stellar 20-win season, Gibson actually got bombed this day, giving up 7 earned in his worst outing of the entire campaign, with both Johnny Bench and Tony Perez going yard off Gibby, although he did last 7 innings. Interestingly, this would be Bob Gibson’s last appearance at Crosley Field.

Mudcat Grant warming up in the 7th, seen below, with the Cards down 7-5. He eventually came in to mop up in the 8th.

Joe Hoerner warmed up in the 8th, but did not come in.

Retrosheet box score

Unlike the World Series seasons of 1967 and 1968, the Cardinals were well back in the pack in the new NL East, looking up at the upstart Cubs and Mets by this point. As for the Reds, they did win the game by a 7-5 count as their last Crosley summer was winding down, and it was a big game for them, moving into a tie for first with the S.F. Giants, in the first year of multi-divisional play – the eventual NL West pennant-winning Braves were 2 back at this point, with a month to go. 1970 and the Riverfront Stadium era would bring the Big Red Machine and a very good decade of baseball in Cincinnati. But I’m sure with their new quadruple-decked enclosed cookie-cutter, they never saw so much blue sky at home again.

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

With the earlier Mantle post regarding a Yankees legend’s at-bats at Shea, it made sense to also check the final playing days of another Yankee immortal, Yogi Berra. Unlike the Mick, Yogi actually went on to don the Mets’ uniform and become an Amazins icon himself. But among his last few at-bats in baseball are some interesting stories indeed.

Most die-hard fans are aware that Yogi’s official Yankee playing days ended with the 1963 World Series, after which he was named the Yankees manager for the 1964 season, after Ralph Houk was summarily dismissed following the WS loss. But although he never had an official game at-bat for the Bombers in 1964, he did step up to the plate to face major league competion once – August 24, 1964, at Shea Stadium, in the Mayor’s Trophy Game vs. the Mets, the first one in the Amazins’ new park, and the last time he stepped to the plate in an actual game in a Yankees uniform.

Ticket stub (was rained out at least once), program, and rare photo of ’64 MTG info on Shea scoreboard

Skipper Berra was already in a bit of hot water with the Yankee brass and the team themselves after a very recent incident regarding Yankee Phil Linz playing a harmonica in the back of the team bus after a loss. Per Wikipedia:

Much was made of an incident on board the team bus in August 1964. Following a loss, infielder Phil Linz was playing his harmonica, and Berra ordered him to stop. Seated on the other end of the bus, Linz couldn’t hear what Berra had said, and Mickey Mantle impishly informed Linz, “He said to play it louder.” When Linz did so, an angry Berra slapped the harmonica out of his hands. All was apparently forgotten when Berra’s Yankees rode a September surge to return to the World Series. But the team lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, after which Berra was fired. It was later learned that general manager Ralph Houk had been ready to discharge Berra since midseason, apparently for a perceived loss of control over the team.

This game was soon after that incident, and Yogi, either looking to reassert control over the team, or just pull a grandstand play to loosen everyone up, found his chance in the top of the 7th inning. With two men on and one out, the score 4-3 and the pitcher Jim Brenneman due up, the time was ripe for a big slugger to pinch hit and put the game away. Yogi’s choice: Himself. As described below within the Times article the next day (which also had a heavy and unusual harmonica-incident theme), Yogi grounded into a double play to end the inning, and his Yankee playing career.

Herewith, the last box score with Yogi Berra as a Yankee:

An interesting followup to the above article is Casey Stengel’s insistence on Berra coming over to catch for the Mets, with Casey’s humorous asking price of an exorbitant $200,000. Yogi did indeed come to the Mets in 1965 after he was let go by the Steinbrenner-esque Yankee front office, but for the far more reasonable salary of $35,000, as a unique “catcher-coach”. Yogi’s beautiful last player baseball card from the 1965 Topps set says it all (albeit in a Yankee uniform sans cap):

In 1965, while Casey must have been thrilled, as it turns out, Yogi was much more coach than catcher, but did play in 4 games for the Mets that year, 3 at Shea Stadium (first game May 1 at Cincinnati, 0-1 as a pinch hitter):

5/4/65: vs Phils, 2-3 (2 singles, a run scored). Caught the whole game.

5/5/65: vs Phils, 0-1, pinch-hitter in 8th.

Sunday, 5/9/65: vs Braves, first game of a doubleheader, caught the entire game, batting 7th, but went 0-4 with 3 K’s against Tony Cloninger (in his 24-11 season with 211 K’s). He came up in the 9th with two on, but grounded into a forceout, and called it a career.

So, the final tally for Yogi at Shea: 2-9 (.222) in 4 games (1 as a Yankee, 3 as a Met), with 2 singles and a run scored. And It was Over. Except…that harmonica would come back to haunt him again in 1967, when still a coach with the Amazins, Linz himself became a New York Met!

PostScript: As for Yankee Jim Brenneman, the pitcher who Yogi pinch hit for in the Mayor’s Trophy Game, and who marvelled at how “beautiful” brand new Shea was on that August night, that game also had special significance – it was his only start on a major league mound in his short career of 5 total games against major league competition. Unfortunately, while he pitched 6 strong innings at Shea that night, surprisingly he did not get the win (the judgment of the official scorer in those days). In his 4 other appearances, 3 were official, and in one he was pinch-hit for again – this time by Mickey Mantle. So he was only pinch-hit for twice: by Berra, and by Mantle.

That 4th game? The Hall Of Fame Game at Doubleday Field, Cooperstown, NY, on 7/26/65, Yanks vs Phillies, his last MLB appearance. He walked 3, and gave up a HR, but finished the game…and got the only official win of his career against major league competition. He was out of baseball by 1966.

Now, It’s Over.