The Greatest Catcher Who Ever Played the Game
'You know, all I could think about was, "We beat the Yankeesǃ We beat themǃ We beat the damn Yankeesǃ"'
More than any other play, ballplayers of all ages, sexes, and skill level dream of hitting a walk-off home run, which by definition means hitting it in the bottom of the last inning of a game and scoring enough runs to exceed the opponent's number of runs. It is the epitome of clutch hitting and usually ends with you being greeted by all your teammates at home plate and a memory that will last a lifetime.
I have determined through painstaking analysis and knowledge of human nature that the greatest walk-off home run of all time occurred in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series on October 13, 1960, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With the game between the N.Y. Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates ties 9-9, Bill Mazeroski hit a solo home run off Ralph Terry and the Pirates were World Champions.
The Yankees dominated the series statistically, outhitting (91-60) and outscoring¹ (57-27) the Bucs. But in the end the Pirates won four games and in baseball, much like presidential elections, that is all the matters.
The Pirates left the dated Forbes Field for the brand-new Three Rivers Stadium in 1970. The University of Pittsburgh purchased it and eventually demolished it to make way for an expanded campus. The portion of the left field wall over which Bill Mazeroski hit his walk-off home run no longer stands at its original location. It was moved to the Allegheny Club at Three Rivers Stadium and in 2009 moved again and to the Riverwalk outside the Pirate's current stadium, PNC Park.
A plaque has been fortuitously installed in the sidewalk at the exact spot where Mazeroski's home run cleared the wall at Forbes Field. That and a NY Times photo allowed me to stand in the footsteps of the greatest catcher to ever play the game.
Forbes Field (left field wall²): Oct 13, 1960 - Jun 02, 2023
If you are a baseball fan whose knowledge of the game is quite cursory, you may be thinking "Flack, you are wrong . . . again! What is the greatest catcher to ever played the game doing in left field?!" Well in 1958, Elston Howard with his youthful knees and bat, was phased into the Yankee lineup with Berra spending more and more time in left field. Interestingly though, Howard was not behind the plate when reliever Ralph Terry served up Mazerski's home run. Instead, it was Johnny Blanchard, a lefthanded hitter, who may have replaced Howard to better match up against Pirate starter Vern Law. Yankee manager Casey Stengel was a proponent of platooning players, though it could be that Howard just needed a rest.
Soon after standing in Berra's footsteps, I had a conversation with a fellow Kansas Citean who used to play for the Kansas City Symphony. He was good friends with Ralph Terry, who confided to him that he was "out of gas" and if Mazeroski didn't hit a home run, then it would have been the next guy.
¹ The 1960 Yankees actually still hold the record for the most runs scored by any one team in World Series history.
² The outfield wall at Forbes Field was unforgivably made of brick and was covered in ivy. The photo above makes it appear the wall it extremely tall. In reality, it is not that tall, with the upper third of the photograph being the greenery of Schenley Park wich was located directly behind the left field wall.
"Bill Mazeroski, I hate him. He made Mickey Mantle cry. The papers said the Mick cried."
• Young Calogero, A Bronx Tale
The Bill Mazeroski Home Run Plaque