It was the summer of 1960, beastly hot as always. I was not yet 16 years old. The Flying Fraction, the 77/54 street car, creaked along the tracks as I made my way to dirty, dingy Forbes Field to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play. As we rounded corners the wheels bit into the track; they complained loudly. I sat on a wooden bench, my baseball glove tightly held in my left hand and my right braced against the side of the car just in case we lost power or worse yet, skipped off the tracks. I had experienced both, and it was not fun. The streetcar trip took about 45 minutes if everything was on time, not including a 15 minute walk/run up the hill to the street car turnaround, and a ten minute stroll to the park. Bleacher seats cost a dollar. That left me a few quarters for a hotdog.
Games were played during the day, even though there were lights. Most were not televised, our folks did not have a television anyway. We lived in a working class neighborhood. Mom stayed home to raise us; Dad worked at a dairy plant six and a half days a week. He took a second job to make ends meet. My summer job was day labor in the Borough park where I earned 50 cents an hour, and gave most of that to dad.But as a family we had all we needed.
The 1960 Pirates were actually closing in on a National League Pennant, an historic event, and we were excited. The team was filled with colorful characters, some very straight-laced and others reminiscent of the partiers of years gone by. They would go on to win 95 games and clinch, then head to the World Series. Improbably, they would beat the vaunted New York Yankees in seven games, with a walk off home run by Bill Mazeroski in the bottom of the ninth inning. One of baseball's greatest moments.
This Sunday they were playing the Saint Louis Cardinals, and the crowd was, as always that year, going to be loud and big. As I handed my dollar in and walked to my seat in far right field, I felt the power that only a city that needs a good reason to cheer can feel. We were Pirates fans, cheering the vaunted Bucs on to victory.
I gazed over the top of the railing. A Pirate player approached and waved. He was one of the few black players in baseball, and even on the Pirates team. Number 21, Roberto Clemente, was the best of the 1960 Pirates, but he was overshadowed by the more flashy and American-born players. Roberto Clemente had a thick accent and the newspapers quoted him in Pidgin English, phonetically, as if they were making fun of him. He was a target of discrimination at Spring Training in Florida, but like Jackie Robinson, he showed great grace and never retaliated,
I watched as he casually caught fly balls, basket-catching most, and then watched as he rifled the ball, sometimes underhanded, back to the infield. Once, during the game, he threw out a runner at the plate, firing a direct shot to catcher Smoky Burgess, The crowd was delirious. Overall, I’d get to see him five more times in the 1960 regular season.
The Pirates won that day. In October my dad and I went to one of the World Series games, winning a ticket lottery, paying 14 dollars a seat. The Pirates were creamed by the Yankees. My absence from high school, totally unexcused, earned me detention for the rest of time where they played the Series I heard the final inning of the final game on the school’s PA system.
Yes it's just a small leather-wrapped baseball. A friend of my Dad’s got me an autographed ball, one signed by all the members of the team, even the manager. I still have it, and have kept it and the box in fairly good shape all these years. My life changed quickly: college, army, marriage, kids. Some memories fade. years later, Roberto Clemente died tragically while on a humanitarian flight. He’s still the only player ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame immediately after he died.
I never saw Jackie Robinson play, but my memories of the man who followed him, Roberto Clemente, a player who might never have had the chance if it weren’t for Jackie, are golden.
Great story, and brings back such memories!
I saw Roberto play against the Cardinals in old, old, Busch Stadium, and he was exceptional. He may have had one of the best arms in baseball history. I saw him throw the ball from the right field wall to home plate, and it was a perfect throw, never hitting the ground!
The St. Louis fans enjoyed and respected Roberto. St. Louis is home to a vast "Cardinal Nation".
anadyr, I too also "Skipped" school to watch the 1960's final game. It was all black and white on TV, but when Bill M., hit that home run everyone went wild!
The 1960 Champs were a truly great team, and I have not thought about that wonderful catcher, Smokey B, in a long time.
Remember when you know most of the names of every player on every team?
Wow, have things changed! Thank-you for the excellent post.
Can you relate to moments in your life where you never thought about having a camera?
I met Stan Musial, a few times, but never had any pictures of the events. He was a class guy, and a good friend of his was the late Al Hirt.
The last time I saw Stan he was in a "Walker" but still had a great attitude, and was an inspirational person.
May he and Roberto, RIP!
Thanks for "Taking me off the hook"!
I forgot we did not have cell phone camera's and camera's like today.
I never go anywhere without my camera, and have learned from great guy's like Jasper, you just don't know where you will want or need that camera.
Thanks again for reminding me that "Technology has changed, all of our lives", both good and bad!
Bob Prince was one of the greatest!
Can I share with you a few more announcers who were very memorable and special?
Harry Carey and Jack Buck did the Cardinal Games in the 50's! They would drink Budweiser to do "Live" commercials. By the 9th inning, they would "Feel no pain", but what great guys they were!
BTW, Harry use to broadcast the games "Ready the tape" as it came in from away games. He would improvise as the tape came in! I met him in Chicago, where he lived at the old Ambassador Hotel, and he was a real "Character" What he meant to the Cubs!
Vin Sculey, (LA) has to be "Up there" as well!
These people will Never be replaced!
Bob had the nickname Motormouth but he reveled in that abuse. His delivery was fantastic. I recall a night in 1958 when the Pirates played the Milwaukee Braves in County Stadium there. Harvey Haddix was the Pirate's starting pitcher and it was clear in about the sixth inning that he had a perfect game going. Prince never mentioned it--bad luck to do so-and Prince filled the airwaves with everything except the box score, just commenting that the game was tied 0-0.
In the bottom of the 12th the Braves finally scored on an error and a double by first baseman Joe Adcock. Joe passed the previous runner on the bases and the final was only 1-0. It still is the longest perfect game in history. I can still hear Bob Prince calling that game on my transistor radio, over KDKA, as the night seemed to make the reception more or less audible. Yes what memories!
Remember keeping your transistor radio in your bed to not let others know you were listening to a game?
Joe Adcock, another name from baseball history!
I did visit the old "County Stadium in Milwaukee" It was cold that day, but the food was exceptional at that park!
Do not go to games anymore, I am "Surrounded with Cardinal Nation Fanatics" and I respect them, I just don't have time to go!
We are close to the World Champion SF Giants and I've met a few here in MRY. Most are throwbacks, eccentric, young, brash and very talented. Sergio Romo for example is very funny, and a great reliever. A good friend is a member of the staff of the head of the Giants organization--like the 49ers of old with Eddie D, he tells me it's one big family all the time, and that translates to winning World Series..
What an excellent and vivid baseball story! Upon reading it, my memory recalled the aroma of the Ball Park hotdogs in the center field bleachers at the old Briggs Stadium (later Tiger Stadium). It is still standing at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull, though it is no longer the home of the Detroit Tigers.
Another great play by play baseball announcer was Ernie Harwell. I can still recall listening to him call the games on my transistor radio when I should have been sleeping. He was able to paint a picture of the game over the radio. A called third strike was: "he stood there like the house by the side of the road" and a double play was always a "twin killing". I believe that baseball and radio were a perfect combination.
Yes we often closed our eyes and watched the game in our minds. Many of those fabled announcers were great at improvising, and giving vivid descriptions of homeruns, and even as you mentioned, double plays. It was very comforting to hear them even on my Westinghouse transister radio, the size of a brick and about the same weight, with four C batteries that lasted about an hour! In Pittsburgh there's a unique set of "isms" about places and things: Buccos, for the Pirates, "Stillirs" for the Steelers and so on. Bob Prince steered clear of those but his voice made up for his lack of language quirks.