The first time I had lunch with Bill Virdon, he told me about his Spring Training with the Yankees, the team who signed him after watching him at an open tryout in Branson, Missouri. The Yankees had young superstar Mickey Mantle as their centerfielder, the same age and position as Virdon, and Virdon was doing everything he could to make an impression on the renowned suit-wearing manager, Casey Stengel. This is the story Virdon told me.
“I was taking fly ball practice in the outfield, making throws, trying to impress somebody. Somehow, Mr. Stengel got between me and the relay guy. I hit him in the back and knocked him flat to the ground. When I saw what I’d done, I tried to mix in with the other outfielders. They are all laying on the ground, laughing, pointing at me, ‘He did it! He did it!’ I was traded two weeks later.”
Virdon was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and, in 1955, would win the National League Rookie of the Year with them. In early 1956, the Cardinals traded Virdon to the Pirates. His wife, Shirley, was at the hospital with their daughter and learned of the news via the radio. In 1960, Virdon roamed centerfield for the Pirates as they faced Stengel’s Yankees in the World Series. Two years later, he’d win a Gold Glove with the Pirates.
RANCE — I really enjoyed the way Jack Quinlan set the stage at the start of the broadcast. We get some background on both teams and both managers, and we delve into an in-depth description of Forbes Field, including the weather that day in Pittsburg, the dimensions of the stadium and its date of construction. He describes some unusual characteristics of the outfield. The old radio adage, “theater of the mind,” holds up well with Quinlan taking a moment to describe the setting down to the ivy on the wall in left field and center field, and how that ivy affects the batter’s eye.
The Pirates don’t hit many home runs, and no wonder. Forbes Field had a center field depth of 457 feet. That would be absolutely unheard of in our modern cookie-cutter park era. I also took note of the in-depth starting lineups and then a reiteration of those lineups before the first pitch of the first at-bat. Lineups are one of my favorite parts of any sports broadcast. As a kid, I kept a journal in the living room, and I would scramble to write as many players’ names into that journal when announcers gave starting lineups. I wanted to know as many players on as many teams as possible in baseball, football, and basketball.
It frustrates me how the starting lineups are often presented in modern broadcasts. Especially on television, it seems like announcers speed through the lineups, and sometimes don’t fully give them. Networks have come up with new and “edgy” ways to introduce teams to audiences, usually relying on graphics. An informative and in-depth lineup is becoming a lost art.
The First Inning
E — With 2 outs and no one on in the top of the first, Roger Maris hit a home run to get the scoring started, a precursor to the historic season Maris would have in 1961 breaking Babe Ruth’s record, asterisk and all. I’ve read how the 1961 season took its toll on Maris, how he died young, at 51, due to lymphoma. In recent years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the stories of Andy Strasberg whose tales growing up as a fan and friend of Maris’ are filled with humor and wonder.
RANCE — That’s a professional and clean call of the Roger Maris home run by Chuck Thompson. You hear the excitement in his voice, but Thompson doesn’t oversell it either. He “lets it breathe,” as we say in broadcasting, and then recaps the Maris homer after we hear the Pirates crowd chatter.
E — Mantle flies out to Virdon to end the first. The centerfielders are now connected in the World Series scorebooks. In the bottom of the first, Virdon was the lead-off hitter for Pittsburgh and worked a walk. He stole second and advanced to third on an error by Yogi Berra. NL MVP Dick Groat doubled Virdon home to tie the game.
R — I’m going to spend a good deal of this series learning more about Pirates captain Dick Groat. It’s not a name that gets tossed around in baseball discussions anymore. I interviewed Virdon on the day he was named a Missouri Sports Hall of Fame legend, and the hall unveiled a statue of Virdon in its outdoor garden. The curators were playing up Virdon as the 1955 National League Rookie of the Year with the Cardinals, but the statue commemorates a critical catch made in center field when Virdon was a member of the Pirates. I only got three questions in my interview that day. Being the guest of honor, he was quite busy.
I decided to use one of my questions to ask him who some of his favorite teammates were from the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. As a reporter, I always try to avoid asking leading questions where I know the answer already. That’s lazy and boring. I fully expected Virdon to tell me something about Roberto Clemente.
Instead, he said his favorite teammate was Dick Groat. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Groat, but I’m ready to learn. I can see why Virdon would like being a leadoff batter in front of a man who hit .325, won a league batting title, and delivered a key RBI early in this game. “Forbes field is rocking,” and Groat is clutch.
E — Only two hitters in, and Casey Stengel visits the mound. There’s action in the Yankee bullpen and Ditmar’s barely broken a sweat. This is how the World Series begins.
On Friday 13, 2012, the Royals had their home opener against the Cleveland Indians. I was there with friends from church and incredibly excited, until Royals starting pitcher Luke Hochevar gave up 7 runs in the first inning. It was demoralizing. Even so, manager Ned Yost left him in and Hochevar completed 4 innings. In 2015, Hochevar pitched 10 innings out of the bullpen in the postseason and gave up no runs. He was the winning pitcher for Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. A true baseball redemption story.
Three hitters later, Ditmar’s pulled from the game. Five hitters, three runs. Day finished. The postseason changes everything.
R — My understanding is that Casey Stengel was criticized by some for over-managing, but I’m slightly taken aback that the Yankees got a reliever up to get loose in a 1 – 1 game in the bottom of the first inning. I feel sorry for Art Ditmar lasting only a third of an inning, but I understand the decision to pull him.
I chased a rabbit trail trying to find out what happened to Art Ditmar after the 1960 World Series. Without giving too much away, it seems Ditmar faded slowly into the annals of baseball history. I found a chapter on Ditmar in a book called, “Yankees: Where Have You Gone?” by Maury Allen. Stengel’s decision to start Ditmar over Whitey Ford in Game 1 still draws criticism from historians, but Ditmar is quoted in the book as saying that Ford had a “tender arm” headed into Game 1, and that Stengel wanted to save Ford to pitch at Yankees Stadium in Game 3. Foreshadowing: this World Series is Art Ditmar’s ultimate undoing with the Yankees.
“After all, I won more games than anybody that year, and the Pirates looked like a club I could handle,” Ditmar is quoted as saying in Allen’s book. “I’d go along with Casey’s call any time. He was pretty damned successful.”
Yankees manager Casey Stengel was 70 years old during the 1960 World Series. By contrast, Pirates skipper Danny Murtaugh was 43.
Art Ditmar is still living at the age of 90. He is reportedly more apt to reminisce fondly about the 1957 and 1958 World Series, because he did not concede a run in either of those series. You can overhear the public address announcer at Forbes Field mention Ditmar’s 9 and 2/3 scoreless innings of shutout World Series baseball during the bottom of the first inning when Chuck Thompson pauses.
The Second Inning
E — Yogi Berra singled and so did Bill Skowron, putting the tying runs on base. And then Stengel calls for a pinch hitter. Really? In the second inning? Before Boyer ever got an at bat?
R — The Yankees have changed pitchers and used a pinch hitter already, and we’ve played an inning and a half. What in the name of Tony LaRussa is this?
E — Yogi Berra won 10 World Series rings. He played in 75 World Series games and will hit .318 in the 1960 series. But Game #1 was not his best. His throwing error in the first led to the Pirates first run, though Virdon would’ve scored easily from second on Groat’s hit. In the second inning, with two on and one out, Bobby Richardson hit a sharp line drive to left field which was caught by Skinner, who then doubled-off Yogi at second. I’m sure he had something witty to say about that in the dugout.
The Fourth Inning
R —I knew the Bill Virdon “statue catch” was happening sometime in this game, but I had forgotten the details. It came on a ball off the bat of the legendary Yogi Berra in the fourth inning of Game 1, on what Chuck Thompson described as a shot that was every bit of 400 feet toward the wall in right center field. Thompson first tracks Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh right fielder, turning and running for the ball.
“Virdon is back there,” Thompson said, almost interrupting himself.
Then Virdon makes the catch at the wall, a moment immortalized with a bronze statue at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
“It was impossible for me to say which of them had caught the ball,” Thompson said. “Then, suddenly, Virdon spun away from the wall and rifled his throw toward second base.”
Manager Danny Murtaugh was quoted as saying that he wanted Bill Virdon to show the Yankees how center field should be played.
E — “The defensive play of the ballgame, so far, to the Pirates’ centerfielder Bill Virdon,” Chuck Thompson said. I listened to the call of the play multiple times, delighting in the roar of the crowd and Thompson’s description of trying to discern whether or not the ball had actually been caught.
Virdon told me a little about The Catch. “I heard Clemente yelling something, but I wasn’t sure. Going back, I felt that it was going to be tough to catch, but I also felt that I had a chance. I caught the ball up high, over my shoulder, and stepped on Roberto’s foot as I bumped into the wall.”
That catch was featured on a baseball card which sits on my writing desk, “Virdon Saves Game.”
R — I went down another rabbit trail, with the commercials included in this old WGN broadcast. While I’m well-educated when it comes to Gillette razors (and I use Gillette products even though I barely grow anything worth shaving), I had no idea what “Saratoga Vichy” was. I just spent the inning reading about mineral water.
The “Saratoga Vichy with the yellow label,” jingle was replaying in my head as Bill Mazeroski cranked a home run, the Forbes Field crowd went nuts and the Pirates widened their lead to 5 – 2.
“A line drive that went zooming out over the scoreboard,” Thompson said of Mazeroski’s blast.
E — I had no idea there was a World Series “inclusio.” I learned of the literary technique in seminary. Basically, an inclusio marks the beginning and ending of a passage, helping to alert the reader (and listeners) to important themes, phrases, and ideas. Mazeroski hitting a home run in Game 1 just elevated the entire series.
R — Back to Gillette, Thompson started a live read after the third out with the opening line, “We give you the score as often as we can…”
There’s a lot of truth to that in radio. It’s a tip I picked up from reading a Dan Jenkins book when I was a 20-something announcing Camdenton High School football on 93.5 KMYK at Lake of the Ozarks. “You can’t say the score enough.” It’s true. There are no on-screen graphics in radio (nor are there on-screen graphics in the GRBL), so I do my best to say the score of the game often. It’s fundamental for sports broadcasting, yet often overlooked out of negligence and ignorance.
The Fifth Inning
R — Jack Quinlan did a nice job in the fifth inning summing up the significance of the World Series to Pittsburgh, where hotels were completely booked weeks in advance, tickets were almost impossible to come by, and thousands of fans reportedly turned out to attend a “college-type” pep rally for the Pirates. For many, that would be the closest any of them got to actually seeing the Pirates. Like Ethan and me, they relied on the radio broadcasters and their imaginations to picture the scenes.
I’m taking advantage of my 2019 technology and Google searching all kinds of stuff while I listen to this game. Baseball fans of 1960 had the radio and the big screen in their mind, and that was it.
E — It had been 33 years since the Pirates reached the World Series. I can completely relate to that. When the Royals made the Wild Card game in 2014, 29 years had passed in between postseason appearances. I bought a t-shirt celebrating my team, knowing they might only play in one game. (One of the best postseason games ever!) This Pirates team reminds me a lot of the 2014 – 2015 Royals. Speed, defense, put the ball in play, and a bullpen guy.
The Sixth Inning
R — I took a brief moment to read about Vern Law, or “Vernon Law” as he’s being called on the broadcast. The announcers kind of undersell Law, who won the National League Cy Young Award in this season. Law had the winningest season he ever had as a big leaguer in 1960, going 20 – 9. After Law struck on Mickey Mantle in the top of the sixth inning, Jack Quinlan gave him some love.
When Law comes to bat in the bottom of the inning, we learn that he is an ordained priest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. After some quick research, I learned that Law was ordained at the age of 17. Vern Law learning is broken up by my man Bill Virdon hammering a double to right field that scores Bill Mazeroski from second base and the Pirates lead 6 – 2.
E — That RBI double solidified my vote for Bill Virdon as Player of the Game. Walk, stolen base, run scored, double, RBI, and the defensive play of the game. This Player of the Game Award is not sponsored by anyone and will not result in any financial gain whatsoever.
The Seventh Inning
R — Bill Virdon’s favorite teammate Groat was a basketball all-American at Duke University. A Blue Devil going on to play Major League Baseball would be absolutely unheard of in the era of Coach K. Matter of fact, Groat played one season in the NBA, having been named college basketball’s player of the year in 1952. Groat reportedly left the Fort Wayne Pistons for military service in 1952. On cue, he makes a nice play at shortstop while I read his brief biography and listen to the top of the seventh inning. Dick Groat, 88 and still living, is apparently good at a lot of stuff. No wonder Bill Virdon values him so much as a teammate.
After Yankees reliever Ryne Duren plunked Bob Skinner, Thompson mentioned Duren’s glasses on the broadcast. Duren was known for his vision problems and “Coke bottle” glasses. In spite of the vision trouble and allusions to the idea that he was dangerous, Duren only hit 41 batters in his 10-year career. He struck out 630 in 589 innings. Duren hit seven batters in 1960.
By contrast, Ethan’s team, the CY Sports Cyclones, hit 11 batters in a single game in 2019. That’s a league record I think may never be touched again.
E — That was against the Shockers. It was so hot that day, I remember feeling like my feet were on fire standing in left field. I felt so bad for those getting hit, too.
Side note: Alex Gordon, my favorite Royals player, led the majors with 19 HPB this season and holds the Royals all-time record for being hit with 118. I was hit exactly once this season and hope it never happens again.
The Eighth Inning
R — Roger Maris is now 3-for-4, triggering Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh’s first mound visit with Vern Law. It’s a full-fledged conference on the mound, and yet another mention of Dick Groat being Pittsburgh’s team captain. On field captaincy is something rarely utilized and even more rarely discussed in today’s game.
I’m perking up for the entrance of Roy Face, who was a closer before we called them closers. I also enjoy the custom of Vern Law waiting for Roy Face to arrive to the mound from the bullpen before he exited for the dugout.
Face threw a forkball and a slider. Does anyone even through a forkball anymore? Doesn’t matter, Mickey Mantle fouls the first forkball he sees backward. Panamanian Hector Lopez is running at second for the Yankees, and Roger Maris is now on first. It’s worth noting that this is all happening a year before Roger Maris made history by slamming 61 home runs in 1961. Roy Face got Mantle swinging, and I will now devote the rest of this offseason to learning the forkball.
E — Twin brothers Shane and Shaun were two of my catch partners last year. We played catch in Chicago near The Bean and the two of them travelled to Springfield for a weekend where I conducted catch-playing tours of the Queen City and introduced them to cashew chicken and all the coasters at Silver Dollar City. Shane throws a forkball. It basically acts like a knuckleball. While we were in Chicago, I completely missed one of his throws. Didn’t even touch my glove. That is a very weird feeling, to think you’re going to catch something thrown at you and miss it. My hands aren’t big enough to throw a forkball, but it was awesome being on the receiving end, watching it jerk and jive. I would have no desire to try and hit it.
R — Jack Quinlan mentions that Roy Face works as a carpenter in the baseball offseason. I always try to mention players’ occupations when I’m calling Grip’N’Rip Baseball League games. I find it interesting, it helps people get to know the players and it illustrates the “all walks of life” population that the league draws its players from. Anecdotally, my dad tells me that learning what the players do for work is one of his favorite parts of following the action.
The carpenter struck out Bill Skowron with a slider to get Pittsburgh out of the jam and into the bottom of the eighth with a 6 – 2 lead.
E — Thanks to Tony’s creativity and generosity, whenever people ask me what I do, for the last few months, I’ve answered that I’m a ballplayer. I get really weird looks, but it usually leads to great conversations.
The Ninth Inning
R — Jack Quinlan briefly mentions that Roy Face learned to throw the forkball from “Fireman” Joe Page, who popularized the pitch as a reliever with the Yankees and then played together with Face on the Pirates in 1956.
Speaking of the forkball, the Yankees seem to have figured it out a little bit. Pinch hitter Elston Howard hit a two-run homer to right field, a distance somewhere north of 350 feet. I’m looking at photos and diagrams of Forbes Field to try to mentally picture the scene.
Swinging it back around to Bill Virdon’s favorite teammate, Pirates captain Dick Groat turns two off the bat of Hector Lopez. It’s Bill Mazeroski to Dick Groat to Dick Stuart, and it’s a 6 – 4 win for the Bucs.
E — I visited with Roger Bossard, third generation groundskeeper and the head groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox. (His dad is getting ready to be the third Bossard elected into the MLB Groundskeepers Hall of Fame.) In the 1960s, once the game started, the infield would only have been raked once, after the last out of the fifth inning. The dirt, clay, and material was good, but not near as close-to-flawless as the infields of today. Also, today, infields are raked three times every game.
“The car Henry Ford made in 1908 was really good, but not near as good as the car he made in 1938. Things change, and that’s good,” Bossard said.
Funny bounces and tough hops were the norm toward the end of the game and scorers were brutal at assigning errors. That sounded like a tough grounder that Groat “turned into a marshmallow,” to borrow from Rex Hudler, to start the game-ending double-play dance. I think this might be a second World Series inclusio — a late inning ground ball to the shortstop that made the difference.
Side note: It’s when I worked for the grounds crew of the Springfield Cardinals and was running to do my very first infield rake during a Missouri State Bears game that I discovered my ankle was still broken.
R — Chuck Thompson notes his belief that Danny Murtaugh won the chess match between the managers and credits his move to lift starting pitcher Vern Law in the eighth inning to put in Roy Face with a four-run lead. It was a save situation for Face by modern scoring standards, because there were two runners on base and the would-be game-tying run was in the on deck circle.
I’m reminded of Henry’s Towing High Rollers closer Chris Matlock, who came on in an almost identical situation in the 2019 GRBL championship game. However, unlike Roy Face, Matlock didn’t cough up any runs. He got his five-out save and the Rollers won 4 – 0.
I’m researching forkballs during the postgame recap, and I think I’m ready to get some work in the bullpen. The forkball is basically the brother of the split-finger and a cousin of the sinker.
I’d imagine Casey Stengel was very, very unhappy about New York committing a pair of errors and stranding seven runners on base. It’s also ludicrous to me that Casey Stengel had not named a Game 2 starting pitcher at this point in the timeline.
Stengel absolutely had to have known who his pitcher was going to be at this point, he’s just being difficult. Kickapoo High School baseball coach Jason Howser used to pull similar stunts on me all the time when I was covering his team for the Springfield News-Leader. I knew, Howser knew, his pitcher knew and the other team knew who would get the ball for a big rivalry game against Glendale, but Howser told me the pitching decision was “to be determined.” Yeah, alright.
E — My postgame takeaway is this, I want a Bill Virdon Pirates t-shirt or jersey. Unfortunately, the Pirates didn’t put last names on jerseys until after his playing days were over. The #18 underneath his last name would be an anomaly. I’d have to look for a managerial jersey with the Expos or Astros.
Pirates lead the Series 1 – 0.