Thursday, August 23, 2007

World Series and Remembrance - The Sixties

I was too young to remember the moment when Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski shocked the baseball world on October 13, 1960 with a seventh game, ninth-inning World Series-winning home run to beat the vaunted New York Yankees.
(Photo by Bruce Bennett Studio / Getty)

Prologue - I wrote a long article with the same title years ago on a different PC. There might be a hard copy somewhere in a box, but there's no electronic version, so I'll start over here with my remembrances of every World Series since 1961. This is an interesting starting point as I'm reading a biography of Roberto Clemente where the famous 1960 World Series between the Yankees and Pirates is underway. I was six at the time and hadn't quite become aware of the major league baseball scene, or if I was aware, the memories have been pushed out by other memories, trivial knowledge, beer or all of the above.

The Sixties

1961 - A Fleeting Glimpse at Age Seven - I have just a fleeting memory of this series between the Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds. It was playing on the black-and-white TV in the family room of my aunt and uncle's house in upstate New York. I wish I could tell you more, but that's all I remember. I don't even remember Mantle and Maris chasing and Maris breaking Babe Ruth's single season home run record that year. I remember my mother telling me some time earlier that 1) Dwight Eisenhower was President, and that 2) she wasn't going to die anytime soon enough for me to worry about. Clearly, baseball wasn't that big a deal to my family in 1961. The Yankees won yet another Series--four games to one to come back from their shocking loss to the Pirates in the 1960 World Series.

1962 - Felipe Alou Makes Me a Yankee Fan - With this World Series, my life as a baseball fan began. The games were played in the afternoon and with the San Francisco Giants challenging the Yankees, many of the games were played in late afternoon when I could watch them after school. My mother, who didn't become a big baseball fan until later in life, was rooting for the Giants because their lineup included Felipe Alou (that's his picture at the top of this article), who she thought had a very beautiful sounding name. To be contrary I rooted for the Yankees. In truth I probably would have become a Yankee fan anyway. They were the only game in town, with games being carried on the radio and sometimes TV from New York City. The expansion Mets weren't even a blip on my 8-year old radar screen.

This series went on for a long time because of multiple rainouts in San Francisco and ended with a vicious line drive by Willie McCovey that Yankees 2B Bobby Richardson caught for the final out of Game Seven. This Series was a great way to catch the baseball bug.

As an aside, I also thank my mom for keeping me on track as a football fan. The NFL was important in central NY back in the early '60s, as former Syracuse University star Jim Brown ruled as the best running back in the league for most of his career. You were either a Browns' fan (because of Brown) or a New York Giants fan. My issue was a technical one when at age seven or so, I inexplicably forgot what 3rd and 6 meant. My mom explained and I never forgot again.

1963 - Infallibility Denied - Having won the last two World Series (and most of the last 14 I would learn later), the Yankees were considered invincible (at least in central New York). Boy, were we in for a shock. I was in 4th grade at the time. The games were still played in the afternoon and both 4th grade teachers were big baseball fans. They set up a TV in the other classroom and we all crammed in to watch our beloved Yankees dispatch the Dodgers. Even in 1963, we were too young to know of the past rivalry between the teams that ended when Dodgers left Brooklyn just seven years earlier.

We watched in disbelief as Dodger lefthander Sandy Koufax struck out 15 Yankees on the way to the Game One win, beating our ace Whitey Ford in the process. I don't remember any more from the school setting, but I remember being out with my father, who was shopping for a new car for my grandmother. (Boy, baseball really had us in its grip.) While we shopped, we listened to another Dodger win on the radio. The Series ended in four quick games, with the vaunted Yankees scoring a total of about 5 runs. Other generations had experienced this crushing loss of innocence (in 1955, when the Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the World Series, and in earlier years (1946 and 1948 were two) when the Yankees didn't even win the pennant), as we learned in 1963 that our Yankees weren't infallible (though we wouldn't have known what that word meant). Life as a Yankee fan would get a lot worse, and soon.

1964 - The Last Hurrah, Well Almost - But not a lot worse so soon as 1964. I don't remember much about the pennant race, it seems like the Yankees were relatively unchallenged. Rookie pitcher Mel Stottlemyre was a big reason. He came up in mid-season and won at least 10 games, establishing himself as one of the mainstays of the Yankee pitching staff heading into the World Series (I almost wrote post-season, but the World Series was the post-season in 1964).

The National League pennant race was a different story. I remember checking the standings in September and noting the Phillies big lead--OK, I thought, so the Phillies will be the Yankees opponent in the Series. At least they don't have Sandy Koufax. Well the Phillies weren't the NL champs, losing a 6-1/2 game lead with 12 games to go, the sad mantra I learned after I moved to suburban Philly in 1970. The St. Louis Cardinals won behind a pitcher nearly as frightening as Koufax, tall and powerful Bob Gibson. As the Dodgers' offense had featured the base stealing prowess of Maury Wills, the Cards leadoff man Lou Brock was as nightmare for pitchers and catchers when he got on base as he often did. We Yankee fans weren't the least bit cocky.

I was in the fifth grade that year--still elementary school, but I don't specifically remember watching any action in school. I don't remember many details about the action other than Gibson and Brock's general heroics. I do remember watching one game on the color TV in my aunt's living room. This was a special treat, as that TV was generally reserved for reverent viewings of Bonanza. We didn't have a color TV at our house and wouldn't get one until the move to PA. The series went the full seven games, with Gibson getting the better of Ford in Game Seven. A tough loss to a good team, we all thought. We'll get 'em next year.

1965 - More Koufax - Yankee management tried to get a leg up on the Cards for 1965 by hiring their manager, Johnny Keane, to replace Yankee skipper Ralph "The Major" Houk, who, horror of horrors, had now led the team to two straight World Series losses. (Correction: Keane replaced Yogi Berra, who managed the 1964 AL pennant winners; Berra replaced Houk, who lost one World Series in a row.) April 1965 came and the whole Yankee team, substantially unchanged since 1960, seemed to all get old at once. They won about 3 games out of the first 15 and never got close to contending--one of the worst seasons in Yankee history. Keane was fired at season's end. (Correction 2: Keane was fired in mid-1966 and Houk was restored to the job, where he stayed through 1973)

The Minnesota Twins, a much rebuilt team that had been the hapless Washington Senators just a few years earlier, won the AL pennant behind hard-hitting Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva and pitchers Mudcat Grant and Jim Kaat. Twins SS Zoilo Versailles (a great name) was another mainstay. Back in the Series for the NL were the Dodgers, carried again by their ace Koufax and his right-handed counterpart Don Drysdale. Wes Parker, Maury Wills and Tommy Davis were other players on a team built with pitching, speed and defense. This time the seasoned Dodgers were favorites over the Twins and form held as Sandy Koufax and company won a 6-game series. I remember watching this series on the television in our new family room, added to the back of our small ranch house that year. My dad would come home from work and ask me for an update on the game in progress--nice of him given that I don't think he really cared now that the Yankees weren't involved.

1966 - When Orioles Fly - The regular season was dominated by the two teams that made it to the World Series and by the two players who lead their teams--Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers, and Triple Crown winner and MVP Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees were terrible again. I'm blocking on who they hired as manager to replace Keane--maybe they brought Houk back. (Confirmation, per above, they did after about one month.) It didn't matter. For this year and two more Yankee fans concentrated on seeing Mickey Mantle get to 500 career homers before he had to retire because of his bad legs. The seeming invincibility of Koufax and the Dodgers' wins in two of the last three Series made them the decided favorite.

Given the era of play, the pitcher-dominated mid-'60s, the low-scoring games of the 1966 World Series weren't a big surprise. How few were played and who won them was a big surprise. The young Orioles pitchers dominated the Dodgers and won the series 4-0. I think that as an American League fan I was happy about the outcome, though I was probably disappointed that so few games were played.

1967 - Simply The Best - The Red Sox won a great four-way race among themselves, the White Sox, Twins and Tigers, becoming the first "worst to first" team (Correction: Actually 9th to first. The Yankees were 10th in 1966.) in my memory. The St. Louis Cardinals were clearly the class of the National League as Sandy Koufax shocked the baseball world by retiring at age 30 with an arthritic elbow. The Cards were a complete team, but again led by pitcher Bob Gibson and LF Lou Brock, who if anything were more menacing than in 1964. Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski led the Sox, the second AL Triple Crown winner in two years, and the last one in any league to this day.

I was in middle school and I remember the '67 Series being the last one to be broadcast inside the school. A TV was set up in the cafeteria. I don't remember going there as a class, but we could stop by between classes and keep up with the action. I had no trouble rooting for the Red Sox, the underdog from the American League. In fact, I remember being pretty bummed out about all of Bob Gibson's strikeouts and Lou Brock's stolen bases, as these two stars picked up right where they left off in 1964.

The series went back and forth before being decided in Game Seven. Gibson started his third game on his regular spot in the rotation. Sox ace Jim Lonborg pitched on two days rest. The pitching mismatched proved to be too big for the Sox and the Cards won easily. This was the best team I'd seen up to that point and I can still remember the starting lineup--Cepeda at 1B, Javier at 2B, Maxvill at SS, Shannon at 3B, Brock in LF, Flood in CF, Maris (over from the Yankees) in RF, McCarver C and Gibson P.

1968 - The Year of the Pitcher - Perhaps the worst Yankee team ever (Correction: The '68 Yankees actually finished above .500. The '66 and '67 clubs were terrible--10th and 9th places respectively) was no competition for the Detroit Tigers, who won the AL handily behind 30-game winner Denny McLain. Portly lefty Mickey Lolich won at least 20 more games. We had seen a few of the Tigers when they were Syracuse Chiefs a few years earlier--OFs Willie Horton and Jim Northrup were two that I remember. The Tigers had a solid lineup and appeared ready for the challenge, which was nothing less than a repeat pennant by the defending champion Cardinals. The Cards brought their powerhouse back intact. 1968 was the apex or nadir of the Years of the Pitcher, depending on your point of view. Bob Gibson led the NL with a 1.12 ERA. Luis Tiant of Cleveland led the AL at about 1.6. Yaz led AL batters with a .301 average-- the only .300 hitter in the entire American League. Don Drysdale set a new record with 56 consecutive scoreless innings. The Yankees hit about .220 as a team for the year (Bobby Cox played 2B for awhile on this team).

There was no TV at school, even in the cafeteria. I conveniently contracted a case of bronchitis (or was it mono) for the Series and watched most of it from home. The favored Cards won three of the first four games, beating McLain in the process--with Gibson and Brock leading the way yet again. Lolich salvaged the Tigers only win in Game 2, but came back in Game 5 with another strong game to keep the Tigers alive. I forget how the Tigers won Game Six, but the Tiger manager went with Lolich over McLain for Game 7, a gutsy call and the right one it turned out as Lolich pitched a fine game. Still the Cards might have pulled it out if not for a misplayed fly ball by Gold Glove outfielder Curt Flood. He turned a fly ball into the triple that helped the Tigers take the lead and win the game and the series. Very exciting stuff and one of my Series watching highlights.

1969 - It Was a Miracle - By now I was in 9th grade. The Baltimore Orioles demolished all comers in the AL race, winning well over 100 games. The Yankees improved dramatically but were still never in the race. Over in the NL a miracle occured as the Miracle Mets did their own "worst to first" act behind young pitchers Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan. The Cubs held the NL East lead most of the season (this was the first year of divisional play) and are accused of choking, but the real story was the amazing play of the Mets over the last 50 games, of which they won about 40. The Mets quickly dispatched Henry Aaron's Braves in the first National League Championship Series. The Orioles did likewise to the Twins in the first ALCS. All, except maybe Mets fans, expected the Series to look a lot like the ALCS--an Orioles rout. The Mets had most of the position players from their last place team of 1968--CF Tommy Agee, LF Cleon Jones, 1B Ed Kranepool, SS Bud Harrelson, RF Ron Swoboda--an unintimidating lot compared to an Orioles lineup with Brooks and Frank Robinson and giant slugging 1B Boog Powell. The O's also had many of their kid pitchers of 1966 back as established stars (including future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer). I didn't see much of this series, but you know how it turned out--with the Mets winning in five games, led by the likes of Ron Swoboda and Al Weis. Only seven years removed from a laughable first season under Casey Stengel when they lost 120 games, Gil Hodges' Mets pulled off the biggest World Series upset of the '60s--approached only by the Pirates defeat of the Yankees in the first series of the decade.

I hoped for better times for my beloved Yankees (I picked my gym locker number, 234 (Correction: 236--how could I forget?), because that was Whitey Ford's lifetime win total) in the '70s to come. Read all about it at:


priscilla said...

An amazing account of the 1960's and your reemberances. Particularly 1964- brought back memories- I was still in Pittsburgh and learned that we would be moving to NH and how I cried- I missed that entire season.
thanks, your blog is a wonmderful way to bring me up to date. I really enjoy your posts on the DB.

Ivan said...

Nice blog. Sorry you missed the heartbreaking 60 series. We would run out of school (PS 23) every afternoon to the local Sears store down the street so we could watch it on a big (relatively) set. I remember the devastation after Maz hit that home run. I can still see Yogi - playing left field turning around and watching the ball go into the stands.
BTW - the Yankee managers = Houk was fired, then Keane. Keane was fired and replaced by Berra for one season. They won the penant but Yogi got fired (remember Phil Linze and the harmonica. Then Houk came back.

dadlak said...

Pris, have you read the Clemente biography? I'm in the middle of it now. If you were ever a Pirates fan in that era, it's a must read.

dadlak said...

Ivan, thanks for the compliment and the recollection. I remember Phil Linz and the harmonica. I forgot that Yogi got the job in the '60s. I remember him from the '80s as Yankee manager. Which pennant did Yogi win? I thought they hired Keane away from the Cards after '64 and didn't win another pennant until '76 with Billy Martin.

dadlak said...


You were right of course. Yogi managed the AL champion Yankees in '64, then was shown the door in favor of Keane. Keane managed in '65 and for a few weeks in '66 when he was sacked and Houk returned to stay thru 1973. Schoendienst took over the Cards and won the Series in '67 and the NL pennant in '68. Thanks!