A tale of two All-Stars that’s almost as long as something Charles Dickens would write.
The First Inning
ETHAN — The broadcast started with the first pitch, no pre-show, no Gillette commercials, so I looked up the line-ups on Baseball Reference and was immediately surprised. Yogi Berra was the starting left fielder. The three-time AL MVP and perennial All-Star was in left field.
Side note: Congratulations to Alex Gordon, the Royals left fielder, who was recently awarded his 7th Gold Glove. I’m still dreaming of playing catch with him and getting some pointers for my play in left field in the Grip‘N’Rip Baseball League.
I honestly had no idea Yogi played anything other than catcher. During his career, Yogi played 265 games in the outfield, as well as two at first base and one at third. This was Yogi’s first start in left field in a World Series game. He was in the outfield in Game 2 to give Elston Howard, who hit the 9th inning home run in game 1, more at bats. I spent almost the entire game reading stories about Howard.
It was noted that Pirates’ pitcher Bob Friend is the oldest player on the team. I know that feeling. I was the oldest player on the CY Sports Cyclones and probably the least experienced, too. Fantastic combination. But Bob Friend was only 29 years old. He didn’t turn 30 until after the Series concluded. Bob wasn’t yet born the last time the Pirates were in the World Series.
RANCE — Pittsburgh pitcher Bob Friend broke into the league in 1951. He faced four batters but foreshadowed some struggles coming up later in the day by going to a full count against three of the four men he faced.
E — The “senior” hurler struck out Mantle to end the first inning, which was among the top of the highlights for the Pirates in this game. In the bottom half of the inning, Virdon showed great plate discipline, working a 3 – 1 count before flying out to left fielder, Yogi Berra. He hasn’t offered at a first pitch yet which is something else I’m going to try and track.
R — Whitey Ford is still not pitching.
We learn that Casey Stengel’s “to be determined” starting pitcher is Bob Turley, who went 9 – 3 for the Yankees in the regular season and seldom pitched a complete game. “Bullet Bob” was a three-time all-star, the 1958 Cy Young Award winner and the 1958 World Series MVP. However, we are two years past Turley’s time as the most dominant fireballer in the American League.
Turley might have been a throw-forward, or whatever the opposite of throwback is. Turley is described as a former “a flamethrower, a fastballing right-hander,” who now relies on curveballs, “slow ones and quick ones, big ones and small ones.”
Maybe Chuck Thompson could have impersonated Dr. Seuss when narrating Turley’s pitching.
Oh, the curveballs he’ll throw.
Slow ones and quick ones,
Big ones and small ones,
Red ones and blue ones,
Snarkles and snoo-ones.
Also in the bottom of the inning, we meet Pirates first baseman Rocky Nelson. He sat out Game 1 and replaced Dick Stuart at first base the next day, and batted in the cleanup spot. Rocky Nelson had eight different stints with five different Major League teams. He played for three different teams twice. This was actually his second time with the Pirates, and it would be his longest and final big league stop in a journeyman’s career.
Nelson is, “the possessor of perhaps the most peculiar batting stance in all of baseball,” according to radio announcer Chuck Thompson, who went on try to talk us through it.
“If you’ve not seen it, I would ask to you assume the pose of a bare knuckles fist fighter from many years ago, and then you would have your feet about in the position in which Nelson faces the pitcher. His front foot, in his case the right, the toe of it is pointed right straight out to the mound,” Thompson said. “He looks like he is about ready to sit down as each pitch is thrown.”
The Second Inning
E — From 1948 to 1950, Elston Howard played for the Kansas City Monarchs. His manager was the inimitable and amazing Buck O’Neil. Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, thinks the museum contains a couple of pieces of Howard’s memorabilia, which means I’ll need to visit the museum again next time I head to KC. Also, it’s yet another reason I want a Monarchs jersey like Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes wore before the Sunday Night Football game against the Colts. Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Elston Howard, and Ernie Banks were all KC Monarchs. What a franchise.
In the top of the second, in his first at bat against old man Bob Friend, Howard struck out.
No score through two innings.
The Third Inning
E — In 1955, Elston Howard became the first African American to play for the Yankees. His first at bat came at Fenway Park, where he singled in a run.
With Ralph Wimbish, Arlene Howard wrote the book, Elston: The Story of the First African-American Yankee. In it, Arlene recalls a conversation she had with Jackie Robinson, “You know, in a sense, Elston had it tougher than me. At least I knew Mr. Rickey wanted me, but Elston didn’t know if the Yankees wanted him.”
R — The Yankees string together a 2 – 0 lead with an RBI single to center field from leadoff hitter Tony Kubek, who is now 2-for-2, and then a double into the left field corner by Gil McDougald that allows Kubek to come all the way around from first base to the plate to score. The ball apparently traveled just inside fair territory down the third base line, which sent Pirates catcher Smoky Burgess down to third base to talk to the umpire for the “first rhubarb of the series.”
I had to make sure “rhubarb” was the word that Thompson used, and it was. Rhubarb was apparently popularized by Brooklyn Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber, who may have drawn inspiration from a few different places. According to WordOrigins.org, radio actors from the “golden age of radio” used to repeatedly mutter the phrase “rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb,” to simulate the sound of a crowd causing a ruckus.
“This has been a rather calm ballgame compared to the explosion of 24 hours ago,” Thompson said. “It’s burning rather brightly now for the Yankees.”
Pirates’ manager Danny Murtaugh, “a battler all his life,” got into the rhubarb with the third base umpire for a moment, but returned to his own dugout with his Buccos trailing.
E — Berra ended the Yankees half of the third inning flying out to Virdon. The Yankees then scored for the next five innings, which gave me plenty of time to read about Howard.
The Fourth Inning
E — After playing for the Monarchs, Howard was drafted to the Army during the Korean War and spent two years in the service. Howard went overseas, but he never fought. He served in the Special Services and played baseball in Japan as a representative of the US.
R — As rough as it’s going for Bob Friend in this era before pitch counts, he’s throwing strikes. He got Bill Skowron looking for his fifth strikeout of the game, then rung up catcher Elston Howard swinging for K No. 6. That whole “pound the strike zone” thing didn’t go so well for Friend when he gave up an RBI single to his pitching counterpart Bob Turley, and the Yankees extended their lead to 3 – 0. In 13 years, the American League would adopt the designated hitter rule.
E — Pitchers who rake are awesome. This game, however, is in a National League park, so the DH is a moot point. “You know, a cow’s opinion,” as Joey Tribbiani said.
R — Don Hoak’s RBI double to score Gino Cimoli means that, of course, we get to see Casey Stengel go out to the mound to talk to Yankees pitcher Bob Turley. Stengel gets two relievers up in the bullpen after Turley gave up three consecutive hits. Unlike in Game 1 with Art Ditmar, Stengel elected to leave his pitcher in the game, apparently softening on his hair-trigger handling of starters. I can’t pretend I haven’t already seen the final score of this game, and I know Turley keeps battling, because, “Well, you can understand his determination.”
It’s actually Pittsburgh which pulls its starting pitcher first. Gene Baker, whose journey to the Major Leagues is as interesting as it was long, bats for Bob Friend.
Baker served in the Navy during World War II, then caught on the Kansas City Monarchs in 1947. He played in the Pacific Coast League with the Los Angeles Angels, then an unaffiliated minor league club. He was called up to the Chicago Cubs in 1953, six seasons after Jackie Robinson had already broken in with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Baker was 28 when he first appeared in a big-league game, and did so alongside another black player, Ernie Banks.
The Gene Baker we hear about in this series is on the downslope of a fine career, but is largely used in a reserve role with the 1960 Pirates. He would jump from playing into coaching in 1961.
Baker holds an interesting distinction in the footnotes of baseball history. Baker became the first black manager in affiliated baseball in 1961, when he served as a player-coach for the Batavia Pirates of the New York-Penn League.
He worked his way up to the Pittsburgh coaching staff. On Sept. 21, 1963, Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh was thrown out of a game for arguing with an umpire. Baker, a bench coach, took over, technically becoming the first African American to manage a Major League Baseball team, albeit for only two innings of one game.
The first full-time black manager was Frank Robinson, also a player-coach, with Cleveland in 1975.
E — Yankees lead 3 – 1.
The Fifth Inning
E — In 1955, Howard’s rookie season, the Yankees faced the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. In his first World Series at bat, off Dodgers’ pitcher Don Newcombe, Howard homered.
Mickey Mantle once said, “We played together about 14 or 15 years, and I know that, if it hadn’t been for Elston, there’s about three or four pennants that we wouldn’t have been in. He helped win ‘em.”
R — Mickey Mantle’s first hit of the 1960 World Series was a home run to right field that scored Roger Maris. It was the Mick’s 12th World Series homer. Mantle hit an opposite field homer right-handed off of Pirates left-handed reliever Fred Green.
At the time, Mantle was three bombs behind Babe Ruth’s record of 15 career World Series home runs, but Mantle would go on to set the record of 18, and he still holds the record in 2019.
Just about everyone from northeast Oklahoma has some sort of Mickey Mantle story, even if they never actually met the Mick. I’m no different, I guess.
Once on a whim and with some time on our hands, my best friend Aaron Bates and I visited Mickey Mantle’s boyhood home in Commerce, Oklahoma. On Nov. 17, 2012, we drove from Ozark to Baxter Springs. According to an old song called “Choctaw Bingo” by James McMurtry, Baxter Springs is “one hell raisin’ town way down in southeastern Kansas.” It’s right next to where the state lines of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri all intersect.
We were in Baxter Springs so that Aaron could be interviewed as part of a documentary on the Joplin Spooklight, also known as the Hornet Spooklight, that would air on Investigation Discovery. As a matter of fact, it still airs sometimes on Investigation Discovery. He and I had produced a short film on the glowing ghost light while we were in college, and successfully entered the film in a festival at the Moxie Cinema in Springfield.
But I digress, we were in the neighborhood with time to kill. Aaron suggested we look up the boyhood home of Mickey Mantle in Commerce to see what we could see. We drove past it once accidentally, which gives you an idea of how humble it is. There are about three main streets in the small town of Commerce, where lead miners settled and lived, and the house stands on one of them, Quincy Street.
No one lives there now. Everything is locked up, so you can’t go inside. However, we could read a big plaque on the wall, stand on the front porch, and walk in the side yard next to an old shed. That old shed is the real tourist attraction. That shed reportedly stood as the backstop for a young Mickey Mantle to learn to become the greatest switch-hitter of all time. A young Mantle was first handed a baseball bat at the age of 5 or 6, according to an inscription on the house.
“Mutt, his father would pitch righty and Mickey’s grandfather would pitch lefty while teaching (Mantle) the fine art of switch-hitting. Every day when his father returned home from the mines, he and Mickey would start batting practice that lasted until dark.”
Mickey Mantle hit the baseball toward the house, which would have gotten most kids into serious trouble.
“They made up games to add some fun to Mickey’s batting lessons. A ball hit below the windows was a single, above the windows a double, the roof a triple and over the house was a home run,” the inscription reads.
“The Commerce Comet,” which no one outside of Commerce probably calls Mantle anymore, once said, “I was the only kid in town that didn’t get in trouble for breaking a window.”
Aaron and I walked around, stood along the wall of the shed, observed some dings on the side of the house, got back into the car and headed for Missouri. There was something childlike, simple and a little bit magical about the short visit to the Mick’s boyhood home.
E — Through 5, Yankees now lead 5 – 1.
The Sixth Inning
E — On the last day of the 1960 season, three days before Game 1 of the Series, Elston Howard sprained a ligament in his right ring finger. Doctors said he was supposed to sit out until at least Game 3. Stengel pinch hit him in Game 1 and he caught in Game 2.
There is mention of the grounds crew dragging the infield in the top of the 6th. Before I had reconstructive ankle surgery, I thoroughly enjoyed my few weeks as part of the Grounds Crew at Hammons Field, which recently won its 6th MiLB Field of the Year Award. Brock Phipps and Derek Edwards know their stuff.
Howard was the lead-off hitter in the top of the sixth and Chuck Thompson described his hit. “Here’s the curve, well hit to centerfield! Bill Virdon on the run. He’s going back, he’s near the wall, at the light tower…he can’t get it. It’s off the wall and the right fielder Clemente is up with the ball. Howard’s around second on his way to third and he’s in standing up. Bill Virdon crashed into the wall at the 436 sign right next to the big light standard in right centerfield. He failed to come up with that ball and it was a long triple.”
R — Elston Howard hit the ball 436 feet into right center field. The ball crashed off the wall, and Pirates center fielder Bill Virdon crashed into the ivy vines and the outfield wall. Howard went to third base safely with no slide, then scored on the ensuing double to left field by Bobby Richardson.
The man who made a catch immortalized with baseball cards and a statue the day before could not rob Yankees’ catcher Elston Howard.
E — And then the Yankees offense exploded.
Triple, double, passed ball, ground out, error, single, walk, bases loaded for Mantle.
R — We enjoy another rhubarb as Pirates’ pitcher Clem Lebine struck out Mickey Mantle looking with the bases loaded. Mantle got involved in a verbal exchange with the home plate umpire before retiring to the dugout. It was Mantle’s second strikeout of the game.
Lebine promptly gave up a 3-RBI base hit to Yogi Berra and the Yankees’ lead extended to 9-1.
Yogi Berra is seeing the ball well, which makes the managing situation with him and Elston Howard interesting. I am of the opinion that Berra’s bat needs to stay in the lineup, so I’m actually seeing eye-to-eye with Casey Stengel on Berra. However, I think the smart lineup move is the move Stengel made for this game. He started Howard at catcher, Berra in left field, and Hector Lopez on the bench. It’s not an easy move, as Hector Lopez hit .284 in 1960 with 42 RBI. I think Stengel needed to go with the hot hand, and he needed to get Howard in the lineup.
Speaking of Howard, he stayed hot with his second hit of the inning, an RBI single that scored Yogi Berra from third base. What’s more impressive and maybe frightening is that Howard broke his bat during that plate appearance. He didn’t do it on the hit, but by slamming the end of the bat on the ground as a gesture of frustration after he swung and missed at a pitch from George Witt.
E — Hello, Bo Jackson.
R — Howard had to retrieve a new bat to replace the broken one, and got his RBI base hit on the very next pitch. New York scored seven runs on seven hits in a monstrous inning.
E — And then Turley becomes “that guy,” making two outs in the same inning, flying out to Virdon.
The Seventh Inning
E — After the 1955 World Series, Howard went with the Yankees on a 25-game goodwill tour of Japan. He led the team with a .468 average during the tour. That is my dream job. To go to other countries and make new friends and play baseball. I probably need to get a passport. Howard was the hero of the 1958 World Series, winning the Babe Ruth award for the most outstanding player. In this World Series, Howard hit .462, leading both teams in batting average and OPS.
R — Mickey Mantle’s life story is one of many great examples of a person being emotionally unable to handle fame and hero worship without dire consequences.
In Mayes County, Oklahoma, where I grew up, Mickey Mantle is still revered as a hero. Though he grew up formidably in Commerce, nearly an hour’s drive to the northeast, he was born in Spavinaw. There really isn’t much for the 400-something people of Spavinaw to be proud of apart from the spillway at Spavinaw Lake, where you can catch fish with your bare hands, and Mickey Mantle.
Actor Thomas Jane’s portrayal of Mantle in the 2001 film 61* came as a shock to many northeast Oklahomans, except for those who actually knew the man. Mantle was a flawed hero. Most real-life heroes are. Billy Crystal idolized Mantle, as many baseball fans of a certain age in that era did. Mantle spent all 18 years of his career in Yankee pinstripes. It was a rare feat then and an almost unheard-of accomplishment today for one professional athlete in any sport to stay with one team for his/her entire career.
E — Hello, Alex Gordon.
R — Billy Crystal directed 61,* which depicted Mantle’s struggles with alcoholism in a way that Mantle’s sons would shrug off as mostly accurate.
“I felt so bad sometimes when we were shooting,” Crystal said in a piece in the Oklahoman by Barry Horn which originally ran in 2001. “This is what the story had to be.”
Even Mantle’s own sons acknowledged their father’s struggles with substance abuse and infidelity in the wake of 61*’s release.
“It could have been worse,” Danny Mantle was quoted as saying. “You know, that was the way dad lived his life.”
Mickey Mantle batted right-handed for the second time in the 1960 World Series, this time with two runners aboard against left-handed Joe Gibbon. Mantle hit his second homer of the game, a 450-foot blast over the wall in center field and over the head of Bill Virdon. Mantle now has five RBI in the game.
“I don’t have too much opportunity to see Mantle. I’ve heard about his tremendous tape measure shots, but there is one that’s gotta go down. They must drive a golden spike into Schenley Park out there. That one won’t be forgotten for a long time,” Jack Quinlan said on the broadcast.
“Tape-measure shots” would be an often-repeated phrase when it comes to the Commerce Comet.
Mickey Mantle robbed Roberto Clemente of a base hit (and helped out Yankees pitcher Bob Turley) with a catch on the run in center field to start the bottom part of the inning.
In this game, Mantle is every bit of the boyhood hero he was for so many for so many years.
Mantle’s struggles with alcoholism were not born in a vacuum. In “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood,” author Jane Leavy revealed that Mantle suffered sexual abuse as a child. Mantle himself estimated that he abused alcohol for 42 years, according to Leavy’s book.
Alcoholism likely contributed heavily to memory blackouts, anxiety attacks, and scores of other issues Mantle likely never discussed with anyone, at least not openly. By the time the Mick got help in 1994, it was too late for his body to recover. Mantle died of complications from cancer and cirrhosis of the liver in 1995.
The Eighth Inning
E — Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Howard was the AL MVP in 1963. A 12-time All-Star, he won 2 Gold Gloves, four World Series as a player, and two as a coach. Like his former manager and friend Buck O’Neil, who was the first black coach in the National League for the Cubs, Howard was the first black coach in the American League, coaching first base for the Yankees. He was there in 1974, the year Virdon managed the team. Odd fact, the year Virdon managed, the team never played a game in Yankee Stadium. Great trivia question. Future Royals World Series champion manager Dick Howser was also a coach on Virdon’s Yankees team.
R — Mickey Mantle robbed another Pirate of a hit with a grab on the move, this time a one-handed grab against Don Hoak.
As a society, we’ve made great strides when it comes to openly speaking about addiction and the importance of help and treatment for those who suffer from it. In Mickey Mantle’s time, a tremendous stigma surrounded substance misuse. Remnants of that stigma still linger today. Many people still can’t comprehend that Mantle drank, partied, and womanized like he did.
Today, we’d probably call it “toxic masculinity” or “jock culture,” or even hero worship, but it simply wouldn’t be becoming for a man of Mantle’s stature to struggle so openly with a serious mental issue beyond his control. People loved Mantle for what he could do on a baseball field and for the way he could talk to reporters about his life while sounding like an everyman.
Ballplayers were thought to be hard playing, hard living, hard drinking, hearty men. Mickey Mantle was a standout among that crowd, and Americans loved him for it. Mantle’s identity was so wrapped in being an affable, personable baseball star that it destroyed him. He struggled on mangled knees to continue playing the game, and he struggled with personal demons of who Mickey Mantle was away from a baseball stadium.
It’s become increasingly common for me to read or hear someone defend an athlete who makes poor decisions (or gets arrested, or really hurts somebody) by saying, “(Fill-in-the-blank)ball is all he’s got. If you take (Fill-in-the-blank)ball away from him, he’s got nothing.”
I don’t care if you’re Mickey Mantle batting .317 for the Yankees in 1960, Collin Fraley hitting .348 for the Drury Panthers in Division-II or Ethan Bryan going 2-for-5 as a “rookie” in the Grip’N’Rip Baseball League… There must be more to the man than just baseball. If you don’t know what the “more” is, than you need to find it.
Mantle, as many who struggle with addiction do, tried to find his “more.” I think he found it in storytelling. No one told better stories of Mickey Mantle’s nightlife antics with friends Whitey Ford and Billy Martin than Mantle himself.
There were funny stories shared of sneaking into hotels past curfew and the watchful eye of Casey Stengel, of a brawl at the Copacabana night club that resulted in a lawsuit and a hilarious story of Mantle taking the witness stand in a courtroom, and about staying out all night in Kansas City on the night Billy Martin was traded to the Athletics, then playing a game the next day.
Those effects caught up to Mantle later in his life. What’s more, Mantle’s behavior damaged the lives of his wife and four children. Mantle recounted his sons taking after their father and having their own battles with addictions.
In a 1994 interview in Sports Illustrated, Mantle discussed partnering with his sons to run a baseball fantasy camp.
“They all drank too much because of me,” Mantle said. “We never played catch in the backyard. But when they were old enough to drink, we became drinking buddies.”
In 1994, Mickey Mantle went to the Betty Ford Center in California for treatment. David and Danny Mantle recounted in Men’s Journal a conversation with their father in the booth of a New York City restaurant.
“We were sitting in that booth there after Dad got sober and apologized for not being a father,” says Danny. “He said, ‘I should’ve been home more, should’ve been more attentive, given you boys direction. It wasn’t right that Mom had to raise you herself. I was selfish, and I regret it.’”
“I think it was also the first time he told us he loved us after writing the letter to Mutt,” says David. “One of the hardest things you do at the Betty Ford clinic is write a letter to your father, and when Dad did it, he cried for two days. He apologized for not being a better player, for not taking care of his body. I guess that confession kinda opened him up, ’cause he was never big on expressing himself.”
In 1960, the best way Mickey Mantle could express himself was by hitting baseballs. He was great at it.
“For a long, long time now, they’ll be talking about the batting of Mickey Mantle in this ballgame today,” Quinlan said.
We did. Mantle is baseball’s ultimate anti-hero, and we all loved him for it.
The Ninth Inning
E — At the end of his playing career, Howard was traded from the Yankees to the Red Sox. Some sources say he considered retiring instead of finishing out the season out of a respect for the Yankees, but his wife talked him out of it. Fans of Howard had to be happy he was still playing, but torn he was wearing the red stirrups of Bean Town.
I used to collect the baseball cards of Dan Quisenberry, side-arming relief pitcher for the Royals, and, at one point, had all of them. Then, he was traded to the Cardinals near the end of his career. That was quite the dilemma as a fan. I never collected his cards with the Cards or the Giants.
Joe Posnanski wrote an incredible column about the end of Elston Howard’s playing career and why he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. “In 1967, Elston Howard hit .178/.233/.244. That was a 42 OPS+. It made him worth roughly 1.3 wins LESS than a replacement player. Somehow, he got an MVP vote.”
I’d love to see both Howard and Quisenberry in the Hall of Fame.
The game is over. The Yankees won 16 – 3 and evened up the series.
E — Elston Howard impacted future baseball players, too. He invented the baseball doughnut. I have one on a practice bat that I swing on a regular basis.
The Yankees struck out 11 times. The Pirates didn’t strike out once.
A new record was set. The most hits in a World Series game between two teams — 32, breaking the one set by Cardinals and Red Sox.