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In the annals of Pirate baseball, no season is as revered as 1960. It came after 33 years of pennant hopes either being laughed at or crushed in disappointment. It developed into a season of memorable comebacks and characters. It ended with the most dramatic moment in team history.
The Pirates had fallen back from second place to fourth in 1959. General Manager Joe L. Brown made no huge blockbuster trades as he had the previous offseason, although he came close to one would have potentially been the most talked about in team history. After admitting he tried to trade for Washington’s Harmon Killebrew, Brown met with the Kansas City A’s to discuss a potential deal for their young powerhitter, Roger Maris. According to The Sporting News, a large deal was proposed which would have sent Maris, shortstop Joe DeMaestri and catcher Hal Smith to the Pirates for shortstop and team captain, Dick Groat, centerfielder Bill Virdon, pitcher Ron Kline and catcher Hank Foiles. The Yankees, though, also expressed interest in Maris, and Brown decided to back away from the deal. Instead, he picked up Smith, a righthanded hitter of some skill, for pitcher Dick Hall and young shortstop Ken Hamlin and, as the A’s needed someone to replace Smith, sold Foiles to them in a separate transaction. The GM moved Kline as well, sending him to the Cardinals for outfielder Gino Cimoli and a young righthander, Tom Cheney. Cimoli, a skilled defenisive outfielder, had played regularly in St. Louis, batting .279 with 40 doubles in 1959. A righthanded hitter, his acquisition fueled rumors that the Pirates were looking to trade either Bob Skinner or Bill Virdon, but when both remained with the club, the newly acquired outfielder voiced dissatisfaction as he appearedheaded for a backup, or at best, platoon role.
The trades were not met with great enthusiasm in Pittsburgh. Fans in general questioned the trade of Kline, who had not had a particularly good season in ’59, but was an established starting pitcher. They pointed out that the team was already thin in the starting pitching department and the club was now down to just three experienced starters, Vern Law, Harvey Haddix and Bob Friend, who was coming off a poor season. Brown, though, expressed strong feelings that Friend would return to his status as one of the top pitchers in baseball. The fourth starter would remain amystery until the end of spring training. Auditioning for the role were two sore armed pitchers, George Witt and Curt Raydon, Bennie Daniels, coming off a 7-9, 5.44 season as a rookie and youngsters Jim Umbright and Joe Gibbon.
The competition for the opening in the starting rotation gave the Pirates their first of many onfield highlights. On March 16, Daniels and Umbright combined to no-hit the Tigers during an exhibition game. The only Tiger to reach base was Eddie Yost, who Daniels had hit with the pitch. Daniels, who pitched the first five innings hadn’t realized that he had not given up a hit and exited the ballpark after getting in his running to take his wife and two young children home.
Danny Murtaugh also sought to find some help in the bullpen for Elroy Face. Realizing he could not hope for another 18-1 season from his star, Murtaugh looked at 40-year-old lefthander Diomedes Olivo, before settling on Fred Green as his number one lefthander and Paul Giel, a former bonus baby who had never developed in the Giants’ organization, impressed enough in the spring to make the team. Olivo was sent back to Columbus, which was a lot closer than where Roberto Gandini ended up. Gandini, who billed himself as The Italian Mickey Mantle, had paid his own expenses to come to Ft. Meyers for a try out. He was not offered a contract, and returned to Milan.
The Pirate regular lineup appeared set and with Cimoli and Smith joining holdover Rocky Nelson, there appeared to be capable hitters off the bench. Secondbaseman Bill Mazeroski came in slimmer than in ’59 and seemed poised to reclaim the title of the best secondbaseman in the National League. Dick Schoefield would again serve as the number one utility infielder, although veteran Gene Baker, out for over a year and a half, worked hard to rehabilitate his knee and made the team as well.
Buoyed by a strong spring which saw the team run off an 11 game winning streak, including a contest the Bucs came back to take after trailing 11-0, Smith told Clemente that if the rightfielder played in 140 games, the Pirates could win the pennant. In the national media, few thought the Pirates had the pitching to keep the club close. One who disagreed was Dick Young. Young reasoned that the team had been so highly thought of the year before had mostly the same players many had picked to win in ’59.
After Face equaled his season loss total in the opening game in Milwaukee on April 12, Clemente and Law highlighted a 13-0 win over the Reds at Forbes Field on April 14. Roberto knocked in five runs and Vernon went the distance in pitching his shutout.
Three days later, on Easter Sunday, the Pirates performed their first comeback victory of the regular season in the second game of a double header. Friend had shutout the Reds in the opener, 5-0, but the Bucs trailed by the same score in the bottom of the ninth of the nightcap. Smith hit a three-run pinch homer and Bob Skinner ended the game with a roundtripper. The Pirates steamed out of port, going 12-3 in their first 15 games. No Buc was hotter than Clemente, who knocked in 18 runs in his first 16 appearances in a box score. A nine-game winning streak highlighted the Pirates’ fast start. Friend, showing he was definitely returning to his top shelf status, struck out 11 while pitching a 3-0 shutout on April 28.
The winning streak came to an end when Kline beat the Bucs on May 2, snapping the team’s longest winning streak since 1945. The Pirates realized quickly they had many miles to go to win the pennant. A four game losingstreak dropped the team into second place, and the depth of the starting pitching was again called into question. Law and Friend were a combined 8-2, but the rest of the staff just 7-7. Umbright, who The Sporting News predicted would be the top rookie pitcher of 1960 based on his excellent spring, struggled with his control. Daniels failed to win, but Joe Gibbon, pitching in relief, grabbed two victories. However, when Murtaugh tried him in a spot start on May 8, the rookie lefthander failed to retire a batter.
Hitting had certainly played a large part in the wins by pitchers other than Law and Friend. Burgess (.379), Clemente (.374), Skinner (.337) and Groat (.328) were among the top eight hitters in the National League, and Clemente was tied with the Giants’ Willie McCovey in rbi’s. One Pirate who wasn’t hitting was Dick Stuart. The team’s only true homerun hitter, Stuart went his first 88 at bats of 1960 without hitting a roundtripper.
On May 13, Groat helped awaken the team from its slump with a 6-for-6 game against the Braves. It was the first time a National Leaguer had gotten six hits in six at bats since Connie Ryan did it in 1953. Law pitched the Bucs back into firstplace with a 4-2 win over Kline five days later and on May 22, Smith’s bases loaded walk in the 11th defeated the Giants, 8-7. Consecutive losses to the Dodgers and their lefthanders Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres again dropped the team to second. Koufax’s performance for the defending World Champions was particularly impressive as only his mound opponent, Daniels, was able to reach him for a basehit. After a third loss in a row to Los Angeles, who’s rookie Frank Howard hammered a 550-ft homerun, Brown decided it was time to make some moves. He traded an excellent secondbase prospect, Julian Javier, to the Cardinals for veteran lefthander, Wilmer “Vineger Bend” Mizell. Mizell was off to struggling start, but had a track record as an effective pitcher. He became Murtaugh’s fourth starter and the Pirate manager hoped Gibbon and Daniels could hold down the number five spot. In a lesser, but still important move, Brown helped bolster the Pirate bench by selling little used catcher Danny Kravitz to the A’ and Joe Christopher, a fast-footed outfielder, was recalled. The day after the Mizell trade, Law and Green pitched the Bucs back into a firstplace tie and when Haddix defeated Warren Spahn and the Braves on May 30, the Pirates had the top spot all to themselves once again.
Cimoli’s early season hitting had won him more playing time, but Virdon’s defense was just too good to keep out of the lineup. Virdon, who had tried contact lenses instead of his usual glasses, had gotten off to a quick start, but had gone back to his spectacles because the contacts seemed to fog up too much. Either way, his hitting had gone cold and his average had dropped below .200. Clemente, however, had kept up his excellent hitting and all around play. He was named Player of the Month for May and predicted, “This is only the beginning.” Clemente’s teammates saw he had become a much better hitter, especially for driving the ball. Stan Musial, the Cardinal’s record setting batsman, echoed their thoughts that Clemente was maturing as a hitter.
The Pirates were playing especially well at Forbes Field, winning 22 of their first 31 home contests. Pittsburghers were coming out in record numbers to see the team they were sure was going to stay in it until the end. Bobby Bragan, who was coaching for the Dodgers at the time, recognized Clemente wasn’t the only player on the team who had matured. “I thought they played great. They had come of age,” Bragan remembered.
While Clemente, Groat, Skinner and the catching combo of Burgess and Smith had been doing most of the offensive damage during the first two months, Stuart and Don Hoak awakened in June. Hoak, the team’s fine defensive thirdbaseman, hit .383 and drove in 17 runs during the month, while Stuart had a huge game to close it, hitting three homeruns and driving in seven in a win over the Giants.
The Pirates opened July with a 42-25 (.627) record and a three game lead in the National League. July looked like it was also going to be a good month when Murtaugh’s men beat the Dodgers with some thrilling baserunning in the ninth. Down by a run, Christopher scored from second on Clemente’s infield hit. Stuart then hit a popfly over firstbase which fell in just out of Howard’s reach as Clemente streaked around the bases with the winning run. The Bucs’s ship then drifted into rough waters, as the team lost three in a row and six of nine. One of the losses was a heartbreaking 7-6 defeat on the Fourth of July as the Pirates had led 6-1 in the game, but Haddix stopped the team’s holiday from being a disaster by winning his fifth game in a row in the nightcap. The next night, Nelson hit a gamewinning homerun in the 10th, and Skinner followed with homerun heroics against the Reds on July 6, when he hit a bases loaded inside-the-park homerun. Virdon, on a hot streak to open July, raised his average to .265, going 14-for-35 at one point.
Not all the drama of 1960 went the Pirates’ way. On July eighth in Philadelphia, homeplate umpire Ed Vargo called the Phillies’ Ruben Amaro safe on a close play at home which cost the Pirates a win. Bob Oldis, the team’s thirdstring catcher, argued vehemently he had made the tag following Clemente’s great throw. Several of his teammates joined Oldis in objecting the call and the catcher bumped Vargo during the argument. He was fined and suspended for two days. Oldis’s supporters, Hoak, Green and Groat also drew fines. Groat was almost ejected from the second game of the doubleheader that day before it even started, when, as he delivered the lineup card to homeplate, he told Vargo the call was the worst he had ever seen.
The superior play of the Corsairs was recognized in by their peers. Eight Pirates were named to the All-Star Team, including Clemente, Groat, Burgess, Skinner, Mazeroski, Law, Friend and Groat. Maz and Skinner were namedas starters and Friend opened for the National League in the first game, played in Kansas City on July 12. Bob picked up the win, allowing only one hit in three innings and Face pitched 1 2/3 innings of hitless relief. Surprisingly, Elroy didn’t get the save that day. The honor went to Law, who pitched 2/3 of an inning to finish off the American League. Starting what he had finished the day before, Law took the mound for the National League the next day in New York. Law added two shutout innings and a victory to his All-Star stats.
A look at the statistics through the team’s first 80 games shows why they were winning. Clemente’s .325 average placed him third in the league and his 53 rbi’s, on just six homeruns, ranked him fifth. Groat was fourth in the league in hitting at .315, while Skinner’s 55 rbi’s garnered him one position ahead of Clemente in the standings for that category. Nelson was hitting .326 with five homers in just 89 at bats and Burgess was hitting .306. On the mound, Law’s 11 wins tied Sad Sam Jones for the most in the National League and the two were followed by Friend and the Cardinals’ Larry Jackson with 10 each. On July 17, Groat raised his average by getting seven hits in a doubleheader against the Reds. One of the hits was the 1,000th of the former Duke University basketball star’s career. Often underrated as a shortstop, Groat’s new teammate Hal Smith remarked he was surprised by how much ground Groat covered at short. Not blessed with outstanding speed, Groat knew how to play hitters perhaps better than any shortstop in baseball. Bragan remembered that as a player, Groat was always thinking. “One thing Groat would sometimes do,” Bragan said, “was that with a fast runner on first and a slower runner at bat, he would sometimes let a pop fly drop and he’d throw out the faster runner going to second.”
Groat’s counterpart in the outfield was Virdon. He did not have the footspeed of Willie Mays, but seemed to cover nearly as much ground. Again, this was due to an excellent knowledge of the tendencies of National League hitters. Virdon knew where players were likely to hit the ball and was able to read the ball off the bat very well, making him one of the top centerfielders in the game.
Don Hoak was a top defensive player at his position and in rightfield and secondbase, the Pirates may have had the two greatest players ever to cover those spots in Clemente and Mazeroski.
Following the All-Star Games, the Pirates cooled off. Murtaugh and Clemente attributed the Pirates’ sluggish play to the fact that eight of the players had participated in the two mid-summer classics. Clemente noted that the players had no time to rest, it was fly in to Kansas City from where a player’s respective team was playing, play a game, fly to New York, play another game then fly to meet your team. This meant five regulars and the team’s three best pitchers were tired out. Back to back losses to rookie Juan Marichal and Billy O’Dell of the Giants, dropped the club out of first for the first time in nearly two months. But the morning of July 25 was to be the last time Pittsburghers would see the team out of first place in their morning paper. Friend stopped the Cardinals 4-2 that day with relief help from Face. St. Louis had been the hottest team in the league, having won 17 of 23, but back to back homeruns by Skinner and Clemente gave the Bucs the runs they needed to win. Law, Green and Face put St. Louis in their place once again the following day and Green hurled four innings of shutout relief on July 27 after George Witt and Earl Francis (who had taken the places of Daniels and Umbright on the roster earlier in the season) both left the game with arm problems and Gibbon had been ineffective.
Witt returned to start again on August 1 and the rookie phenom of 1958 initiated a seven game winning streak with his first victory since his freshman year. Mizell, coming on strong, had won six of his last eight, including a 1-0 shutout over San Francisco, a game saved by a tremendous wall-crashing catch by Clemente. After the Pirates beat the Giants for the fourth time in the series, including a game in which the team won 8-7 by scoring three times in the bottom of the 10th, the great Willie Mays conceded Pittsburgh was the best team the Giants had played all season. In all, the Pirates had beaten San Francisco, thought to be a favorite in many preseason polls, six times in their final at bat.
The Cardinals still hoped to prove Mays wrong. On August 11, Musial homered in the 12th to win a pitching duel for Ernie Broglio over Friend. In order to stop a possible riot which the Galbreaths feared could happen if the Pirates were to receive a bad call in a close pennant race, the Pirates changed their policy of allowing fans to bring beer into the ballpark. It had been noted that drunkenness seemed to be increasing at Forbes Field, where Pennsylvania Blue Laws prevented beer from being sold. Fans had been allowed to bring their own bottles into the park with them. The Pirates also feared that the increased alcohol consumption by some of their patrons was keeping families away from the ballpark. One example cited was a bus trip from Lorraine, Ohio. The bus contained 38 fans and 30 cases of beer. Even Pittsburgh Brewing Company, one of the Pirates’ sponsors, supported the beer ban, although the decision did not sit well with several local tavern owners.
On August 14, the players took control back by sweeping a doubleheader from the Cardinals. The second game saw Hoak and Groat successfully work the wheel play on an attempted sacrifice off the bat of Joe Cunningham. The play helped send the game into extra innings and Hoak’s hit in the 11th won it. There was a sad note to the victorious day for the Bucs, as Fred Clarke, the team’s Hall of Fame player-manager passed away at the age of 87.
Hoping to help ease some of the burden on Face and Green, Brown signed veteran reliever Clem Labine. Labine, who had been a clutch pitcher for the Dodgers in the 1950’s had been sent from LA to the Tigers earlier in the year. He had not pitched particularly well in Detroit and was released. The Yankees told him that they were interested in signing him, but weren’t ready to offer a contract just yet, when Brown called.
With Pittsburghers caught up in pennant race frenzy, the slogan “Beat ‘Em Bucs” began to appear everywhere. A popular ditty sung to the tune of Camptown Races proclaimed, “The Bucs are goin’ all the way,” and was heard on every radio station.
Again, though, the Cardinals tried to stop the Pirates from getting as far as first base. After losing a game to the Cubs, the Bucs dropped three in a row to St. Louis. Ironically, the losses occurred during the same dates the 1921 Pirates had been swept in a key five game series by the second place New York Giants. The 1921 Pirates continued to stumble and ended up having to look up at the Giants at season’s end. But the 1921 Pirates did not have a pitcher who could stop a losing streak the way Vern Law did in 1960. Law pitched a complete game on August 29th and his Bucco teammates exploded for 10 runs in Los Angeles.
The Pirates still had one more break they had to overcome. After adding two 40+ players to their roster in September by calling up Olivo and activating coach Mickey Vernon, the Pirates lost Groat for three weeks when his wrist was fractured by a Lew Burdette pitch. Schoefield replaced Groat in the game and went 3-for-3 to help beat the Braves. The backup infielder surprised by hitting even better than Groat until the MVP candidate was able to get back into the lineup. Schoefield batted .403 over the next three weeks and the Pirates didn’t miss a beat.
On September 12, the Bucs set a new single season attendance record as they beat San Francisco,6-1, passing the old mark of 1,517,021 set in 1948. The rest of the season now appeared a formality, although Vern Law won his 20th on September 18. The victory champaign was opened on September 25, after the Pirates received word the Cubs had beaten the secondplace Cardinals to eliminate them from the pennant race. As the Pirates learned this while on the field during their game against Milwaukee, they had to wait a little longer before letting loose. Pittsbrughers also went wild with jubilation and a parade was held in honor of the National League Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, a title those fans under the age of 33 had never been able to use.
The players received their share of laurels. Groat, who had been hailed by The Sporting News as its likely National League Player of the Year before his wrist injury, was named National League Most Valuable Player. Local fans voted him the team’s most valuable player as well and he was honored by the city’s Dapper Dan Club with its annual award as the Pittsburgh sports personality who did the most to publicize the city. Groat, who returned for the final few games of the season, won the batting title with a .325 mark. Hoak and Clemente also received support for the MVP, but Clemente’s eighth place showing hurt him as he felt his accomplishments had been overlooked. Some said racism may have played a role, while others noted a local sportswriter had heavily campaigned for Groat’s election. Clemente was voted by Pittsburghers as their most popular Pirate.
Law was awarded the Cy Young Award as baseball’s top pitcher. Further justifying Brown’s confidence he would bounce back in 1960, Friend was presented the Comeback-Of-The-Year Award. Haddix and Mazeroski won gold gloves and, The Sporting News, which took into consideration Mazeroski’s play in the World Series named him Player of the Year. Finally, Manager Danny Murtaugh was not left out as he received his second Manager of the Year Award, claiming a clean sweep of the title presented by The Sporting News, AP and UPI.By Pirates Encyclopedia