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Bill Mazeroski

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bill Mazeroski
Bill Mazeroski at Forbes Field - October 13, 2010.jpg
Mazeroski in 2010
Second baseman
Born: (1936-09-05) September 5, 1936 (age 84)
Wheeling, West Virginia
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
July 7, 1956, for the Pittsburgh Pirates
Last MLB appearance
October 4, 1972, for the Pittsburgh Pirates
MLB statistics
Batting average.260
Hits2,016
Home runs138
Runs batted in853
Teams
Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Induction2001
Election methodVeterans Committee

William Stanley Mazeroski (born September 5, 1936) is an American former baseball second baseman who played 17 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1956 to 1972. He is most remembered for hitting one of the most iconic home runs in major league history, a dramatic ninth-inning blast that beat the heavily favored New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series. It was the first walk-off home run to win a World Series, and remains the only walk-off home run in a Game 7 of the World Series.[1] ESPN ranked the World Series winner at the top of its list of 100 Greatest Home Runs of All Time, while Sports Illustrated had it eighth on its compilation of 100 Greatest Moments in Sports History.

Also known as "Maz" and "The Glove," the latter for his brilliance in the field, Mazeroski turned the most double plays (1,706) at second base in MLB history and was a Gold Glove Award winner eight times. In the 1960s decade, his 27.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) were the most of any major leaguer at his position. He ranks among the franchise career leaders in games played (fifth), RBI (sixth), hits (eighth), runs scored (eighth), total bases (eighth) and home runs (10th). He took part in 10 All-Star Games [a] and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001. The Pirates organization retired his jersey No. 9 on August 7, 1987.

While his stellar defense regularly overshadowed contributions at the plate, Mazeroski was a key component in one of the most potent offenses in the majors. In an 11-year period (1957-1967), his 121 home runs and 714 RBI were the most of any second baseman in either league. This was achieved despite the fact that he played home games at cavernous Forbes Field, whose distant reaches in left and center field were the bane of right-handed fly ball hitters. Mazeroski hit more than twice as many homers on the road (93) than at home (45) in his career.

Mazeroski was a member of two Pirates World Series championship teams. He and Roberto Clemente were the last remaining team members from the 1960 World Series winners in 1971, when they beat the favored Baltimore Orioles in seven games. Mazeroski spent his entire playing career with the Pirates before he joined the staff of manager and ex-teammate Bill Virdon as their third base coach in the 1973 season. He served in the same capacity with the Seattle Mariners in the 1979 and 1980 campaigns.

Formative years

Born in Wheeling, West Virginia of Polish descent, Bill was the son of Mayme and Louis Mazeroski, who resided in Witch Hazel, Ohio, approximately 70 miles west of Pittsburgh. Louis had been a highly regarded baseball prospect himself -- he once had a tryout with the Cleveland Indians -- but a severed foot suffered in a coal mine accident ruined his dream as well as his livelihood. Along with his parents and sister Mary, Mazeroski grew up in a small one-room house that was devoid of electricity and indoor plumbing. He often went by the name of Catfish because of a penchant for fishing, not because of any real passion for the sport but to put food on the table.

Louis became prone to alcohol, but he wasn't about to let his son follow a similar path to the coal mines. The two played catch and talked ball regularly. Their favorite drill was played with a tennis ball, which Louis threw against a brick wall and his son fielded with a glove that had been purchased with money earned from digging an outhouse, as family legend had it. The exercise was designed to sharpen hand-eye coordination and ability to quickly adjust to bad bounces, areas in which young Bill excelled as early as elementary school.

Mazeroski attended Warren Consolidated High School in Tiltonsville, Ohio, where he was a multi-sports star, most notably in baseball and basketball. He was a four-year starter with the varsity baseball team, normally as a shortstop or pitcher. In his senior year, he was named to the All-Ohio State basketball.

Mazeroski turned down college scholarship offers from Duquesne, Ohio State and West Virginia to pursue a professional baseball career. In 1954, after several major league teams had courted the infielder, the Indians, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies among them, the 17-year-old finally chose the Pittsburgh Pirates, largely because they agreed to accelerate his start in Class A ball unlike the others. Originally a shortstop, Mazeroski was moved to second base after one season in the minors and made his first big league appearance on July 7, 1956, against the Giants at the Polo Grounds in New York. His first hit was a single off Johnny Antonelli in his first at-bat.

Second to none

Soon Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince would refer to Mazeroski as simply "The Glove," as the perennial Gold Glove candidate set the bar for defense at his position that would still be in place decades later. Houston Astros and future Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan called him "the gold standard" for infield defense.

Mazeroski turned the double play into an art form with Gene Kelly-like footwork, magical hands, sure arm and exceptionally strong lower base that survived countless attempts by base-runners to break up the play. Coupled with acute baseball instincts, he displayed unparalleled range in the field, as evidenced by the nine seasons that he led the league in assists per nine innings and Total Zone Runs at the position. Remarkably, Mazeroski was able to accomplish this even though he played nearly half of his games at Forbes Field, whose infield was widely thought to be the worst in the majors because of its alabaster-like surface and many errant hops.

What distanced Mazeroski further from the pack was his trademark glove, which wasn't much larger than his right hand. Its compactness allowed for a quicker grip, ball transfer and release, especially on double play attempts. Once broken in, the piece of equipment would see action for several years at a time.

"Maz never really caught the ball, never really closed his glove over it turning the double play," said Pirates shortstop Gene Alley, who assisted Mazeroski on many of his 161 double plays in the 1966 season, still a major league record that might never be broken. "He could tilt his glove at an angle and hold his hand just so. It was a wonder the ball stayed in there. Then it would slide out in his hand just like that. He was the only one I ever saw do it like that."

Mazeroski also was known for extraordinary durability, especially given the physical demands of the second base position and chronic lower body issues later in his career. In a span of 12 seasons (1957-1968), he started 150 or more games seven times and at least 129 in every one. In 1966 and 1967, the iron man was in the field for all except 32 of a possible 2,921+23 innings.

Early struggles and rapid ascent

Mazeroski in 1965
Mazeroski in 1965

Success at the pro level did not come easily for Mazeroski at the outset. In 1955, the 17-year-old made his debut with Class A Williamsport, where he hit .235 in 93 games. He played exclusively at shortstop, where he was charged with 31 errors. The next spring Pirates general manager Branch Rickey noticed how well the kid turned the double play as a second baseman, which prompted his move to the right side of the diamond. Mazeroski moved up to the Triple A Hollywood farm club to begin the 1956 season. While he played 20 errorless games at his new position, the two-level jump proved to be too much at the plate. He was sent back to Williamsport, where he got back on track with a .293 batting average and 11 homers in 114 games.

Mazeroski returned to Hollywood at the outset of the 1956 campaign, only this time things were noticeably different. He hit .305 with an .823 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) to earn a promotion to the major leagues midway through the season. At a time when the vast majority of young athletes were required to hone their skills in the minors for several years, Mazeroski got the call at 19 years of age. As expected, the transition was not a seamless one. In mid-August, Mazeroski saw his batting average tumble below the .200 mark, at which point Pirates manager Bobby Bragan dropped him behind the pitcher to the final spot in the batting order for 10 games. Mazeroski regrouped to hit .243 in 81 games but later conceded that the demotion had a negative effect on his confidence at such an early stage of his career.

After Danny Murtaugh replaced Bragan at the helm in early August of the 1957 season, Mazeroski and the Pirates showed immediate and steady improvement. "Baseball men are saying that Mazeroski, with his great hands and range and arm, is perhaps the finest young infielder in the business," Sports Illustrated reported in its 1958 preseason analysis. The young Bucs promptly stunned the baseball world with a second-place finish, while Mazeroski blossomed into an All-Star for the first time in his career. His 19 home runs and 69 RBI each ranked second at his position in the major leagues. He also was selected for his first Gold Glove Award. His father Louis died of lung cancer early the next year, but not before he had witnessed his son achieve stardom.

The home run of all home runs

On the heels of a subpar season for Mazeroski and his fourth-place team, the 1960 campaign exceeded the wildest dreams of Pittsburgh sports fans. The Battlin' Bucs as they would become known dominated the National League virtually from the start to claim their first pennant since the 1927 season. Meanwhile, Mazeroski was an NL starter in both All-Star Games. The Pirates seized control of the race in August, when they won 21 of 31 games with their second baseman in a lead role. He hit .373, drove in 16 runs and had a 26-game errorless streak in the month.

The Pirates were rewarded with a trip to the 1960 World Series, where Mazeroski forged his legacy against the New York Yankees with a pair of game-winning home runs. The second came on October 13 off reliever Ralph Terry at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the only homer to end a World Series game 7 in major league history.

One of the greatest games in baseball history got wilder yet in the top of the ninth inning, when the Yankees plated two runs to forge a 9-9 deadlock. At that point, Mazeroski admittedly got caught up in the sudden turn of events. It seemed the second baseman had forgotten that he was to lead off the bottom half of the inning, and it wasn't until first base coach Lenny Levy reminded him that he hurriedly picked up a bat.

At precisely 3:36 p.m. local time, on a 1-0 count, Mazeroski slammed Terry's high fastball just to the left of the 406-foot marker in distant left-center field.

"Here’s a swing and a high fly ball going deep to left! This may do it!" NBC Radio broadcaster Chuck Thompson told the national audience. "Back to the wall goes (Yogi) Berra ... It is over the fence -- home run! The Pirates win! ... Ladies and gentlemen, Mazeroski has hit a one-nothing pitch over the left field fence at Forbes Field to win the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates!"

"I thought it would go over (the wall). I was hoping it would," Mazeroski told reporters in the jubilant home team clubhouse afterward. "But I was too happy to think. All year we’ve been a fighting, come-from-behind ballclub. We always felt we could pull it out even after the Yankees tied it in the ninth, but I didn’t think I’d be the guy to do it.”

The legendary homer gave the Pirates their first World Series championship in 35 years and set off a raucous celebration in the Steel City that lasted for days.

"I was almost at second base when (the ball) finally went over," Mazeroski said. "I was running so hard, just trying to make sure I'd get to third. Then it took a moment or two to realize what happened -- it was gone."

At that point, Mazeroski finished his sprint around the bases like a giddy schoolboy before he was mobbed at home plate. "You know, all I could think about was, "We beat the Yankeesǃ We beat themǃ We beat the damn Yankeesǃ" he said.

Fourteen-year-old schoolboy Andy Jerpe retrieved the ball amid the cherry trees in Schenley Park, which was adjacent to the ballpark. Mazeroski signed the ball for him in the clubhouse, but the keepsake was lost during a neighborhood game a short time later.[2][3]

In the fourth inning of Game 1, with Don Hoak on base, Mazeroski hit a two-run homer off reliever Jim Coates that cleared the large scoreboard in straight-away left field. The blow extended Pittsburgh's lead to 5–2 and proved to be the difference in a 6–4 victory. Even though Mazeroski hit .320 with team highs of five RBI, four runs scored and two home runs, Yankees counterpart Bobby Richardson was selected the Most Valuable Player of the series.

A portion of the brick center field wall from Forbes Field still stands as a memorial on the University of Pittsburgh campus in the Oakland District. Locally, the barrier is commonly referred to as "Mazeroski's Wall." Although not the actual section of wall that his famous home run cleared, a nearby plaque in the sidewalk of Roberto Clemente Drive does mark the spot where the ball went over the wall. A Little League Softball field dedicated to Mazeroski lies on the other side.

"Maz" (right) in the Pirates' dugout at McKechnie Field on March 7, 2010 with Pirates pitching coach Joe Kerrigan (left)
"Maz" (right) in the Pirates' dugout at McKechnie Field on March 7, 2010 with Pirates pitching coach Joe Kerrigan (left)

In September 2010, a statue of Mazeroski was unveiled outside PNC Park in Pittsburgh, depicting his legendary home run celebration — a runner pose with both arms extended, ball cap in right hand.

Hall of Fame selection and other honors

Pirates 9.png
Bill Mazeroski's number 9 was retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1987.

Mazeroski was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001. He waited 23 years to gain admittance, which prompted Newsweek columnist George Will to remark six years before his election, "The exclusion of Mazeroski from Cooperstown is a case of simple discrimination against defensive skills."

On induction day at Cooperstown, Mazeroski only made it as far into his prepared remarks as thanking the Veterans Committee voters for choosing a player based largely on defensive skills (a rarity) before getting so overcome with emotion that he had to stop. Apologizing to those who "had to come all the way up here to hear this crap," he then sat down to a long and loud standing ovation from the audience and his fellow Hall of Famers.

In 1979, Mazeroski was inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.[4]

In 1987, Mazeroski ran for the Democratic nomination for County Commissioner in his home of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania but his bid was unsuccessful.

In 1995, Harrison Central High school, located in Cadiz, Ohio had a field donated by Bill which would later be known as "Mazeroski Field"

In 2003, the Ohio Buckeye Local High School in Rayland (which had since absorbed Warren Consolidated) honored him by naming their new baseball field after him, placing a monument behind home plate in recognition.

In 2004, the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference saluted Mazeroski by electing him among the inaugural members of their Hall of Fame, alongside Boston Celtic great John Havlicek and former Olympic wrestler Bobby Douglas.

Mazeroski was recognized by Major League Baseball by being selected to throw out the first pitch of the Home Run Derby that preceded the 2006 All Star Game at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, receiving a long standing ovation. He also was picked to manage the National League during the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game during the All Star week celebrations there.

Film cameo

Mazeroski was the focus of a staged game-ending triple play as part of a cameo appearance in the 1968 Hollywood hit film The Odd Couple. In the scene, Oscar Madison was distracted from witnessing the play by an annoying phone call from Felix Ungar (immediately after sarcastically predicting to fellow sportswriter Heywood Hale Broun that the Mets still had a chance to win if Mazeroski hit into a triple play). In reality, Mazeroski never suffered such an inglorious moment during his playing days, but according to the Society for American Baseball Research was part of triple plays in both 1966 and 1968 as a fielder.

According to an anecdote recorded at the Internet Movie Database web page on The Odd Couple, the scene was actually filmed just prior to the start of a regular game at Shea Stadium on June 27, 1967. Maz reported that he was given only 10 minutes to get it done:

"They had a guy out there pitching and he was throwing fastballs. I knew I had to hit a liner to the third baseman. It only took two takes. The first pitch, I hit a line drive that went just foul. The second one, I hit a one-hopper right to third. He caught it, stepped on third, threw to second, threw to first, a triple play. Now that took talent!"[5]

Jack Fisher was the pitcher for the Mets in that scene.

Life after baseball

Mazeroski at PNC Park for the 50th Anniversary celebration of the 1960 World Series
Mazeroski at PNC Park for the 50th Anniversary celebration of the 1960 World Series

Mazeroski serves as special infield instructor for the Pirates in spring training and is retired in Panama City, Florida. He was also in a commercial for FSN Pittsburgh featuring former Pirates first baseman Sean Casey.

His son Darren is a retired junior college baseball coach. His son Dave is an atmospheric scientist who did not pursue a baseball career.

In 2010, the 50th anniversary of the 1960 World Series, Mazeroski was to be the guest of honor at the first showing of the original television broadcast of Game 7, which was thought to be lost before it was discovered at the home of Bing Crosby, the one-time Pirates team co-owner. However, he was unable to attend due to an undisclosed illness that left him hospitalized for several days.

The annual The Bill Mazeroski Golf Tournament is held each spring. Proceeds from the event go to a baseball scholarship that is awarded to a senior graduate of Buckeye Local High School in Warren Township, which is located near his former high school.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ MLB held two All-Star Games from 1959 through 1962

References

  1. ^ The Ultimate Walk-Off. si.com archive, retrieved April 7, 2016.
  2. ^ "Former Point Breeze teen still wonders about lost Mazeroski ball". Pittsburgh Tribune. September 19, 2010. Archived from the original on September 23, 2010. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  3. ^ Westcott, Rich (2001). Great home runs of the 20th century. Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-858-4.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 28, 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ IMDB The Odd Couple Trivia Page

External links

Preceded by
Luis Aparicio
Last hitter of the World Series (Home Run)
1960
Succeeded by
Vada Pinson
This page was last edited on 22 July 2021, at 06:27
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