Commentary

The greatest game ever played

Originally Published: October 13, 2010
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com

More than 395,000 major league baseball games have been played since the National League began in 1876.

Not everybody believes Game 7 of the 1960 World Series is the greatest one. Many point to Bobby Thomson and the Shot Heard 'Round the World. The New England literati write poetically about Carlton Fisk's home run or Dave Roberts' steal or, in moments of melancholy, Bill Buckner and Aaron Boone. My friend Jim Caple is partial to Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, the tense 1-0 extra-inning affair that capped a wonderful seven-game showdown between the Twins and Braves. There's the Kirk Gibson game and that Astros-Mets game from the '86 playoffs and Don Larsen's perfect game, and try convincing a 9-year-old kid from Philadelphia that Roy Halladay's no-hitter wasn't the best thing ever.

I'm not going to disagree. There are no wrong answers here. But on Oct. 13, 1960, the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates played an exhilarating, climactic Game 7. It was a game that saw the lead change hands four times, most dramatically, of course, with the only Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history. It was a game between the underdog blue-collar Pirates, from a blue-collar city still bursting with steel mills, and the glamorous Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. It was a game that, oddly, featured not a single strikeout (the only time that has happened in World Series history). It did feature 19 runs and 24 hits and was played in a brisk 2 hours and 36 minutes. It was full of managerial decisions to second-guess, clutch hits and unlikely heroes, pitchers throwing through pain, and strange, quirky plays.

It was two days after the debut of "The Andy Griffith Show." It was the day after Nikita Khrushchev infamously did or did not pound his shoe on his desk during the U.N. General Assembly. Later that night, Richard Nixon and John Kennedy would conduct their third presidential debate.

But that afternoon at old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, two determined teams played the game for the ages.

FIRST INNING

Bill Mazeroski is remembered as the hero of the 1960 World Series. It could have been Vern Law. Maybe it should have been Vern Law.

Oct. 13, 1960, was a warm fall day in Pittsburgh, with an afternoon temperature in the low 70s. More than 36,000 fans would cram into Forbes Field for the 1 p.m. start (the first World Series night game wasn't played until 1971), and countless kids, businessmen and factory workers would play hooky to catch the game in person or on radio or television. A reserved seat in the lower deck would cost you $7.70. At the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning, across the street from the ballpark, George Silk would capture students cheering on the Pirates from high above the field, one of sports' iconic photographs.

Despite going to a seventh game, it hadn't been much of a series. The Yankees had won in three blowouts by scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0. The Pirates had won the close games. The morning papers quoted Yankees stars Mantle and Roger Maris as saying the Yankees were still the better team, even if the Pirates somehow managed to win Game 7. Pittsburgh did have one advantage: It's ace, Law, was starting; but New York ace Ford had pitched Game 6, leaving manager Casey Stengel scrambling for a Game 7 starter. Still, Pirates fans were understandably nervous. Pittsburgh hadn't won a World Series since 1925; the Yankees had won seven of the past 11.

[+] EnlargeLaw
Herb Scharfman/Getty ImagesAces Whitey Ford and Vern Law didn't face each other in the World Series, but they did oppose each other in the All-Star Game.

Pirates fans had another reason to be nervous, even though Law had already beaten the Yankees twice: He was pitching on a severely injured ankle that he had hurt during the team's pennant-clinching celebration. He was Curt Schilling before Curt Schilling, minus the blood-stained hosiery. His heroic efforts that fall would end up damaging his career.

The Pirates had clinched the pennant in Milwaukee in late September. Players drank champagne and beer -- lots of it, apparently. The clubhouse celebration spilled over onto the team bus as it left for the airport. In John Moody's book, "Kiss It Good-Bye," Law -- who didn't drink, smoke or chew tobacco (he was a devout Mormon) -- explained that, on the bus, teammates were cutting off each other's neckties, that he finally let them cut his tie. "But they weren't satisfied with that and pretty soon shirts started get torn off," he recounted. "The shirts were tied together so there was a long string of them hanging out of the bus window."

The ringleader of all this was broadcaster Bob Prince. (For years, Law had refused to name the culprit.) As Prince grasped for Law's shirt under his sport coat, a teammate pulled at his shoe, but it was on too tight. Something happened to his ankle.

Law made one final start in the regular season but got pounded in a 13-2 loss. In the days leading up to the World Series, Law's ankle was the big story. "Vernon Law, scheduled to pitch the first game of the World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the New York Yankees next Wednesday, underwent treatment today for a pulled tendon in his right ankle," the UPI wire service reported. There is a photo of a shirtless Law soaking his ankle in a whirlpool sometime in the days before Game 1, reading a newspaper with the headline "Law Hurt, May Miss Opener."

Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh went with his ace -- Law, after all, had gone 20-9 that year and would win the Cy Young Award, when only one was given for the two leagues combined. Law pitched seven strong innings in Game 1 before hobbling off, allowing two runs as the Pirates won 6-4. In Game 4, he fell behind 1-0 but his own two-run double (he was a lifetime .216 hitter) in the fifth sparked a three-run rally. He again pitched into the seventh despite the pain in his ankle. In "Clemente," David Maraniss writes that, "His arm felt like he could go eighteen innings, Law recalled … but 'the leg was beginning to pain me something awful late in the game.'" Roy Face, the little 5-foot-8 forkballing reliever, finished off the 3-2 Pirates victory.

And so it came to Game 7, with Law starting for the third time. He would again be tough, resilient and effective, but after he allowed a single to Bobby Richardson and a walk to Tony Kubek to start the sixth, Murtaugh went to the mound. "I knew his ankle was hurting him and he might have injured his pitched arm if he'd stayed in any longer," Murtaugh would later say. "Winning a World Series is important but not at the cost of ruining a pitcher like Vernon Law."

The tape of the game shows Law pawing at the dirt in front of the pitching rubber. He's talking to Murtaugh, who nods his head. Eventually, Murtaugh signals to the bullpen: Law was out, Face in. He would leave with a 4-1 lead; with his third victory, he would have joined the elite few to win three times in a single World Series, alongside names such as Mathewson and Gibson.

Law wasn't the same pitcher in 1961. He told Moody that he changed his motion because of his ankle injury. "With me, I pitched as much with my lower body as I did with my upper," he said. "Normally, I'd drive off the mound with the back foot and stride from there. My theory was the closer you could release the ball to home plate the faster it's going to get there." But the injury prevented Law from using his usual push-off, so he ended up falling off the mound to increase his arm speed. Law said his arm began hurting as he was driving home from the World Series. He thought it would heal during the winter; it didn't. "Little did I know that because of my bad ankle and my having to put more strain on my arm, I had torn some muscles in the back of my shoulder," he said.

Law would pitch only 59 innings in 1961 and battled arm problems the next two years, even retiring for a spell in 1963. He recovered enough for one last big season in 1965, when he went 17-9 with a 2.15 ERA, and he finished with 162 career victories.

As for the Yankees, Stengel elected to start Bob Turley. The Pirates stacked their lineup with left-handed hitters. Murtaugh even benched first baseman Dick Stuart, the team's leading home run hitter, for 35-year-old backup Rocky Nelson, who had spent most of the 1950s smashing home runs in the minor leagues after failing an initial big league trial.

The move paid off when Nelson hit a two-out, two-run homer to right to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead.

SECOND INNING

After Smoky Burgess led off the bottom of the second with a base hit, Stengel removed Turley for rookie Bill Stafford. The Yankees were already scrambling, and the big question their fans were asking was: Why hadn't Ford been lined up to start three times like Law? It would end up as the big controversy of the 1960 World Series, a primary factor that led to Stengel being dismissed as manager after 12 seasons and 10 pennants.

Ford would tell The New York Times in 1985 that not starting Game 1 was the "only time in my life I was mad at Casey. I couldn't figure it out. Sure, I missed some time during the season with a sore arm, but I had gotten back for a few games and I was all right. I was used to pitching every fifth day, but I could have pitched the first, fourth and seventh games in the Series. It wasn't as if Forbes Field had a short left field like Fenway Park or Ebbets Field."

Indeed, Stengel loved to pitch Ford at Yankee Stadium -- with its cavernous distance to the left-center power alley -- and Ford was not the clear Yankees ace in 1960. He had gone 12-9 with a 3.08 ERA, and Art Ditmar, a journeyman right-hander, had gone 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA.

Stengel chose Ditmar in part because he "threw grounders." Maybe he didn't have confidence that Ford was healthy. But although Ford had gone 10 days between starts in early May, he had pitched regularly after that, although he had been pulled from a September start against Kansas City after a poor first inning. Certainly, he proved his arm was sound with his two shutouts in Games 3 and 6. Plus, he was Whitey Ford. He had started Game 1 for the Yankees in the 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958 World Series. Ditmar had once lost 22 games for the Kansas City A's.

Ditmar started the opener and lasted five batters. Stengel would bring him back to start Game 5. This time, he lasted eight batters; the Yankees lost both games.

By Game 7, Stengel had three options: (1) Game 2 starter Turley, who had been unimpressive in a 16-3 Yankees romp, allowing 13 hits and not striking out a batter (he had also spent part of Game 6 warming up in the bullpen in case Ford faltered); (2) 21-year-old rookie Stafford, who had pitched five scoreless innings of relief in Game 5; or (3) Game 4 starter Ralph Terry, who had pitched well in a 3-2 defeat.

Stengel chose the veteran Turley, the hero of the 1958 World Series, but hardly the "Bullet Bob" of his nickname after two years of arm problems.

But Turley got the quick hook. Stafford entered and walked Don Hoak, then Mazeroski reached on a bunt single. Law grounded into a 1-2-3 double play, but Bill Virdon's two-out single to right-center plated two runs. The Pirates led 4-0.

THIRD INNING

That the Pirates were even here, extending the big, bad Yankees to a seventh game, was a minor miracle. The Pittsburgh team had been baseball's laughingstock for most of the 1950s. While the city spent the decade launching a clean air project known as the "Renaissance," the Pirates remained a grimy mess. They lost 112 games in 1952, 104 games in 1953 and 101 games in 1954. They lost 90-plus games four other seasons. At one point, they had so many short players the media derisively referred to Pittsburgh's "midget infield." A once-proud franchise was last in the standings and last in attendance but first in jokes.

Branch Rickey had been lured out of retirement as the team's general manager in 1951. He tried everything. He signed Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner Vic Janowicz. He couldn't hit. He signed Seattle University twins Johnny and Eddie O'Brien, basketball All-Americans. They couldn't hit, either. The Pirates tried them as pitchers; that didn't work out. He signed a hard-throwing left-hander from California named Paul Pettit to a $100,000 contract, baseball's first so-called "bonus baby." Pettit won one major league game and hurt his arm. A prospect named Ron Necciai struck out 27 hitters in a Class D game, so the Pirates called him up to the majors, and he went 1-6 with a 7.08 ERA. Rickey traded star slugger Ralph Kiner to the Cubs, reportedly telling Kiner, "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you." And they did.

[+] EnlargeDick Groat
AP PhotoDick Groat was a hometown kid who became the 1960 MVP for the Pirates.

One of Rickey's two-sport stars did work out. Duke University basketball All-American Dick Groat had grown up just a few miles from Forbes Field and always wanted to play for the Pirates. He signed with Pittsburgh in 1952 and immediately became the team's starting shortstop. In 1960, he would win the batting crown and be named National League MVP.

Amid all the losing, the Pirates were slowly coming together. Bob Skinner was signed out of San Diego. Most baseball people thought Face was too short, so Rickey drafted him from the Dodgers' minor league system. Mazeroski signed out of high school in Tiltonsville, Ohio, in 1954. He was in the majors two years later.

When Rickey retired after the 1955 season because of health problems, new general manager Joe L. Brown completed the roster with some astute trades. He acquired Virdon from St. Louis in 1956. The key deal came before the 1959 season, when Brown traded outfielder Frank Thomas, a three-time All-Star, to the Reds for third baseman Hoak, catcher Burgess and pitcher Harvey Haddix. It would be a steal for the Pirates.

It all came together in 1960. The Pirates weren't a young team, as commonly depicted; their average age was actually older than the National League average. They hit .276, 11 points higher than any other team and 21 points above the league average. Law, Bob Friend and Face led the pitching staff. The Pirates scored the most runs and allowed the fewest. They held first place from late May.

The Yankees were heavy favorites, but the Pirates were a solid, underrated team.

One other thing happened in 1960 that put them over the top: Roberto Clemente became a star.

FOURTH INNING

As legend has it, the first time Rickey saw Clemente play, he pulled the young man aside and told him he was destined to become a superstar.

The story, however, is almost certainly not true.

Popular mythology also has it that the Pirates stole Clemente from the Brooklyn Dodgers, who didn't know what they had. This is also not true.

[+] EnlargeRoberto Clemente
MLB Photos/Getty ImagesRoberto Clemente took several years before he developed into a star.

Maraniss recounts in "Clemente" that several teams were interested in signing the 18-year-old Puerto Rican. The Dodgers outbid the New York Giants (in part to keep Clemente from teaming in the outfield with Willie Mays), giving him a $10,000 bonus. At the time, if a player signed for a bonus of at least $6,000, he had to be kept on the major league roster or be exposed to other teams after the season. The Dodgers knew they had a talented youngster; they also knew he wasn't ready for the majors. They tried to stash him at Triple-A Montreal, where he rarely played.

But Pirates scouts Clyde Sukeforth and Howie Haak had seen the kid with the rifle arm. As owners of the worst record, the Pirates had the first selection in the Rule 5 draft after the 1954 season. Clemente was theirs. Rickey would see Clemente play for the first time that winter in Puerto Rico. As Maraniss writes, "Rickey was an inveterate memo-keeper," dictating notes to his personal secretary after every game.

Upon seeing Clemente, Rickey writes, "I have been told very often about his running speed. I was sorely disappointed with it. His running form is bad, definitely bad … and he had only a bit above average major league running speed. He has a beautiful throwing arm." Rickey went on to critique Clemente's lack of "adventure" on the bases and in the field. He praised his hitting abilities, although noting a lack of power. In the end, Rickey wrote, "I do not believe he can possibly do a major league club any good in 1955. … So, we are stuck with him -- stuck indeed, until such time as he can really help a major league club."

Clemente's rise to stardom was, indeed, slow. He hit .255 as a rookie with five home runs in 474 at-bats. He hit .311 in 1956, but failed to hit .300 the next three seasons. As Rickey predicted, the power had failed to materialize. Clemente totaled just 26 home runs through his first five seasons.

But in 1960, Clemente was 25. He was healthy (he had suffered from a sore arm in 1959) and stronger. He hit .314 (fourth in the league) with 16 home runs, led the Pirates with 94 RBIs and made his first All-Star team. He would win the first of his four batting titles the next season.

Clemente hit .310 in the World Series, getting a hit each game. In Game 7, he would be involved in a critical play in the eighth inning.

FIFTH INNING

Bobby Shantz, the 5-foot-6 veteran lefty with the tough curveball, had replaced Stafford in the third inning and kept the Yankees in the game, firing zeros. Bill Skowron snaked a home run just inside the right-field foul pole to get the Yankees on the board in the fifth. Shantz, meanwhile, was pitching with an arm so sore that as he warmed up before each inning, he would indicate to Stengel whether he was well enough to continue.

[+] EnlargeRoger Maris
Icon SMIThe 1960 AL MVP, Roger Maris was part of the Yankees' Kansas City connection.

Like nine other members of the 1960 Yankees World Series roster, Shantz had been acquired from the Kansas City A's. Most prominent of these was right fielder Maris, who would go 0-for-5 in Game 7, but would win the AL MVP Award after leading the league in RBIs and slugging percentage. The next season, he would break Babe Ruth's home run record and win his second MVP trophy. The A's, not surprisingly, became referred to mockingly as the Yankees' farm club. It made sense: They had finished 58-96 in 1960, 39 games behind New York.

The story goes beyond the punch line, however. As Rob Neyer writes in his "Big Book of Baseball Blunders," in the five seasons Arnold Johnson owned the A's, the two clubs completed 15 trades; the Yankees made just 11 transactions with other clubs in that time.

Johnson's cozy relationship with Yankees co-owners Dan Topping and Del Webb began before he purchased the Philadelphia A's and moved them to Kansas City. The three men were all involved in real estate and, as Neyer writes, "To name just one of the trio's ventures, Johnson -- as part of (legal) tax dodge -- purchased Yankee Stadium and Kansas City's Blues Stadium, then leased the stadium back to the Yankees. And everybody made out like bandits."

Besides Maris -- who was traded for Norm Siebern (a good player, but not a two-time MVP) -- two deals in particular raised the ire of baseball fans:

1. Clete Boyer. Signed as a bonus baby, meaning he had to remain on a big league roster for two seasons, Boyer sat on Kansas City's bench until he was included in the trade that also brought Shantz and Ditmar to New York. The Yankees could now send Boyer down for more seasoning; by 1960, he was their starting third baseman. None of the six players sent to Kansas City did anything for the A's.

2. Ralph Terry. After reaching the big leagues with the Yankees in 1956, Terry was traded to Kansas City in 1957. Two years later -- and by then a polished product -- he was dealt back to the Yankees.

Neyer points out that the A's actually acquired more future value than the Yankees in their trades (although they ended up trading away several of those players too soon). Still, the perception was difficult to ignore: The Yankees were in the World Series with a roster full of former Kansas City players while the A's rotted in the cellar. Was it a nefarious partnership? Baseball obviously allowed it to happen, but it certainly appears ethically objectionable by today's standards.

Through five, Law and the Pirates held a 4-1 lead. Could his damaged ankle hold out?

SIXTH INNING

Law had allowed only three hits, but when Richardson singled to begin the sixth and Kubek walked, Murtaugh turned to Face. Face had pitched two innings in Game 1, 2 2/3 innings of hitless relief in Game 4, and 2 2/3 innings of hitless relief in Game 5. Considering Law's ankle, you can understand the move. But would Face be able to go the final four innings? Although Face often pitched two or more innings, he had pitched four innings just once all season.

Relief aces such as Face were a relatively novel concept in 1960 (many managers, including Stengel, would still often use starters in relief), just one symbol of how the 1960 World Series represented the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. It was the last World Series before baseball expanded beyond 16 teams. In 1960, major league baseball players were making less in real money than in the mid-'40s. That would begin to change in a few years, but at the time, most players still had jobs in the offseason. Sports Illustrated, in its World Series preview, relayed the offseason occupations of some of the Pirates. Law was a cabinetmaker. Friend worked as a mutual fund broker. Skinner worked "in the circulation department of the San Diego Union-Tribune." (Imagine calling the paper and getting a National League All-Star answering the phone.)

But the most obvious relic of a baseball world the Yankees had dominated since the 1920s was on the field itself: In Game 7, the only minorities to play were Clemente, Pirates pinch-runner Joe Christopher and Yankees pinch-hitter Hector Lopez. (Elston Howard might have started for the Yankees, but he had broken his hand when hit by a pitch in Game 6.)

Teams that didn't integrate fell behind. The Red Sox didn't suit up a black player until 1959 and suffered through a long losing spell. The Yankees had enough talent to continue winning American League pennants through 1964, but that team included just two prominent black players, Howard and Al Downing. Speed and the stolen base would become a more important part of the game (the 1960 Pirates had just 34 stolen bases, the Yankees just 37). For the Yankees, the fall would come fast: sixth place in 1965, last place in 1966. The Pirates eventually would invest heavily in black and Latin American players and become one of the dominant franchises in the 1970s.

Face couldn't escape the jam this time. After Maris popped out, Mantle singled in a run and Berra launched a home run over the right-field wall. Just like that, the Yankees had a 5-4 lead. Shantz cruised through the bottom of the sixth, getting Skinner on a fly ball, Nelson on a grounder to first and Clemente on a tapper back to the mound.

SEVENTH INNING

The crowd grew tenser as the game entered the seventh inning. Face got through the top of the inning, allowing only a single to Shantz. When slow-footed catcher Burgess led off the bottom of the inning with a base hit, Murtaugh had a tough decision: Do you pinch run for one of your best hitters (Burgess hit .294 on the season, .333 in the series), knowing he's likely to get one more at-bat?

Murtaugh used a pinch runner, but Hoak lined out to left field and Mazeroski grounded into a double play.

That meant the Pirates had to bring in Hal Smith to catch the eighth inning. Smith, coincidentally, had come over in the offseason from the A's. He had a decent bat with some good pop (11 home runs in 258 at-bats in 1960), but his glove work limited him to backup status. In baseball, you can't predict how one move will affect the game down the line. Smith would get his shot.

EIGHTH INNING

Tony KubekAP PhotoManager Casey Stengel walks out to check on Tony Kubek after he took a bad hop to the throat.

The baseball gods can be cruel. Playoff games have been decided by pebbles, fans, umpires, wild pitches, errors, bloopers and everything in between.

Ask Kubek about the baseball gods. Game 7 turned on a bad hop, a routine double-play ball turned into an infield single that nearly killed the Yankees shortstop.

In the top of the eighth, Face retired Maris and Mantle, but Berra walked, Skowron reached on an infield single and Johnny Blanchard singled in Berra. A tired Face was left in, and Boyer doubled to left to score another run for a 7-4 lead. Shantz was due up with runners at second and third; he had allowed just one hit in five innings. Do you let him hit? Stengel left him in, a decision he would regret. Shantz flied out to end the inning.

Forbes Field sat quiet; with a three-run lead and just six outs to go, it looked inevitable: The Yankees would again be champions of baseball.

Pinch hitter Gino Cimoli led off against Shantz and singled to center. That brought up Virdon. After strike one, Virdon grounded the ball right to Kubek, but it took a terrible, high hop and ricocheted off his throat. His mouth filled with blood, and his windpipe swelled up. He wanted to stay in the game, but was having trouble breathing. For a time, doctors wondered whether he would need an emergency tracheotomy.

"It was a terrible infield," Kubek told The New York Times in 1985. "It was like the beach at Normandy, half sand, half pebbles, and they never dragged it."

And he's right. Visible in highlights of the game, by the eighth inning, the infield was littered with little potholes from all the footprints. The ball hit one of those little holes … or a maybe a small boulder. When you watch old highlights from this era, the quality of the fields is one of the amazing things that stands out. The fields often look shoddy, and the grass is thin and worn out, the infields uneven. It's just the way things were. Teams didn't spend the money or have the equipment to keep fields in the pristine condition we see today.

So Kubek was out, replaced by Joe DeMaestri. Groat bounced a single past Boyer to score one run. Even though lefties Skinner and Nelson were due up, Stengel went to the bullpen, replacing Shantz with right-hander Jim Coates. (To be fair, other than Ford, the only other lefty on the roster was little-used reliever Luis Arroyo.) Pirates players would say they were happy Shantz was out of the game. Skinner was the team's No. 3, but Murtaugh applied his own questionable strategy, having Skinner bunt the runners over to second and third. Nelson lofted a fly ball to right, too shallow to score Virdon. That brought up Clemente.

Coates worked him outside and Clemente fouled off three outside pitches, breaking his bat and retreating to the dugout for new lumber. Upon digging back in the box, Clemente saw another outside pitch from Coates. He lunged at it, topping a slow chopper wide of first base. Skowron charged and fielded the ball, but Coates wasn't at the bag. Clemente legged out the infield single. The score was now 7-6.

Coates was vilified in the media for failing to cover first base. Coates originally went after the ball; by the time he veered off for first base, it was too late. That brought up Smith, hitting in Burgess' spot.

The backup catcher took strike one, then passed on a high pitch for ball one. He missed with a big swing. Coates tried to get Smith to go after another high fastball, but the catcher checked his swing. On the 2-2 pitch, Smith jacked a low fastball out to left field. Berra (yes, he played left field that day) watched it sail over the ivy-covered brick wall. Smith had given the Pirates a 9-7 lead. On the highlight, you can see Groat and Clemente bouncing and jumping across the plate, looking like two schoolkids playing hopscotch.

Terry, who had warmed up as many as five times during the game, replaced Coates to record the third out.

NINTH INNING

Bill MazeroskiIcon SMIBill Mazeroski remains the only player to win Game 7 of the World Series with a walk-off home run.

Mazeroski was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the veterans committee in 2001. He had never received much support from the baseball writers, getting 6 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility and maxing out at 42 percent. His career statistics are modest -- 2,016 hits, 138 home runs, .260 batting average -- but even all these years later, most experts still regard him as the greatest defensive second baseman of all time, unparalleled in his quickness turning the double play, "the Van Gogh of his genre," as Jayson Stark once wrote.

He tried to give his acceptance speech that August day in Cooperstown, but made it through only three sentences before his eyes reddened and tears began flowing. The crowd chanted "De-fense, de-fense." By all accounts tough, modest, quiet and respected, Maz couldn't finish. "I'd like to thank all the friends and family who made this long trek up here to listen to me speak and hear this crap," he finally said. And he left the podium.

His selection was controversial, the argument being that his hitting didn't make up for his artistry in the field or that he was elected merely for hitting one home run.

Maybe so. But it was, after all, one beautiful, majestic, Yankee-beating, Game 7, World Series-winning home run. The only one of its kind.

Ever humble, Maz recently told ESPN.com's Jim Caple that "I was just a small part of that team; I was just one guy out of 25. I just happened to hit the home run. I probably get way too much credit for winning that World Series, when it took the whole team to do it."

The Yankees had tied the score with runs off Friend and Haddix, the tying run scoring thanks to Mantle's tremendous baserunning maneuver to avoid a game-ending double play.

Maz was leading off the bottom of the ninth but was still in a daze from the Yankees' rally. "When I took the field, running out there in the last of the ninth inning, with a two-run lead, I said, 'All we have to do is get three outs and it's over,' but gee whiz …" he told Caple. A teammate had to tell him he was up.

Maz grabbed his bat and stepped in. Stuart was on deck to bat for Haddix. If the game went extra innings, the Pirates didn't have a good option left in the bullpen.

Ball one. It was 3:37 in the afternoon. On radio, Chuck Thompson accidentally misidentified Terry. "Art Ditmar throws," he says. "Here's a high fly ball going deep to left. This may do it. Back to the wall goes Berra … it is … over the fence, home run, the Pirates win!"

It was a mammoth blast. Forbes Field was massive to left field -- 365 feet down the line and 435 feet to the flagpole in deep left-center field. As Berra turns around to chase the ball, you can see it fly over the 406 marker carved out in the ivy. Considering the 18-foot wall it flew over, Mazeroski's home run must have traveled 430 feet or so. Terry drops his glove and walks off the mound. (He'd get another Game 7 opportunity two years later and pitch a 1-0 shutout to defeat the Giants.)

On the video, Mazeroski rounds second base, waving his batting helmet over his head, something he had never done before. ("I don't believe I'm touching the ground there. It looks like I'm floating," he says now.) He rounds third base, there's a kid racing after him, he swings his arm around one more time, the crowd is screaming and hugging and crying, and he's greeted at home plate by a mob of teammates and fans in suits, and he disappears into the center of joy.

Box score

Sources: "Stengel: His Life and Times" by Robert Creamer; "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero" by David Maraniss; "Kiss It Good-Bye: The Mystery, the Mormon and the Moral of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates" by John Moody; "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders" by Rob Neyer; "Bottom of the Ninth: Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball From Itself" by Michael Shapiro; The New York Times; Sports Illustrated; Baseball-Reference.com; "The Official Major League Baseball World Series Film Collection" from A&E Home Video and Major League Baseball Productions

David Schoenfield is a senior editor for ESPN.com.

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