Bill Mazeroski
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Bill Mazeroski

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.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgBaseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty 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 and hit one of the epic home runs in major league history, a dramatic ninth-inning blast that decided the 1960 World Series and remains the only walk-off home run in a World Series game seven.[1] Nicknamed "Maz" and "The Glove," the latter for his brilliance in the field, he turned the most double plays (1,706) at second base in MLB history and was a Gold Glove Award winner eight times. Mazeroski took part in 10 All-Star Games [a] and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.

Mazeroski was a key member of two Pirates World Series championship teams, in the 1960 and 1971 seasons. He and Roberto Clemente were the last remaining Pirate players 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 a 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

Mazeroski was born in Wheeling, West Virginia of Polish descent and grew up a Cleveland Indians fan in Rush Run, Ohio. He attended Warren Consolidated High School in Tiltonsville, Ohio, where he overcame family economic hardships to excel in several sports, baseball and basketball in particular. He started on the varsity baseball team as a freshman and was named to the All-Ohio State basketball team as a senior.

Mazeroski turned down college scholarship offers from Duquesne, Ohio State and West Virginia to pursue a professional baseball career. In 1954, the 17-year-old signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Originally a shortstop, he was moved to second base and made his major league debut on July 7, 1956, against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. In his first plate appearance, he singled off Johnny Antonelli for his first career hit.

Second to none

It wasn't long before Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince would refer to Mazeroski as simply "The Glove," as he set the standard for defense at the position that would remain in place decades later. Houston Astros and future Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan called Mazeroski "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 oak-strong legs that survived countless attempts by base-runners to break up the play. He possessed great range and acute instincts, 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.

Mazeroski also was known for extraordinary durability, especially given his chronic leg problems and the physical demands of the second base position. In a span of 12 seasons (1957-68), he started 150 or more games seven times and at least 129 in every one. In 1966 and 1967, he was in the field for all except 32 of a possible 2,921 2/3 innings.

Early struggles and rapid ascent

Mazeroski in 1965

As a rookie, Mazeroski saw his batting average tumble below .200 in mid-August of the 1956 season. It wasn't long before manager Bobby Bragan dropped him to last in the batting order for 10 games. Years later, Mazeroski conceded that the demotion had a negative effect on his confidence as a young player.

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 earned his first Gold Glove Award.

While his stellar defense regularly overshadowed his contributions with a bat, Mazeroski had a number of productive offensive seasons with one of the most potent attacks in the majors. In his prime years, he drove in more runs than any middle infielder in baseball even though he was frequently in the bottom third of the order. He had a career-high 82 RBI in 1966, when he batted no higher than the sixth spot in all except 17 games. Overall, he hit over twice as many home runs (93) on the road than at his home park (45).

The home run of all home runs

Mazeroski forged his legacy in the 1960 World Series, when he slammed two game-winning home runs. The last came on October 13 in Game 7 off New York Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and it remains the only so-called walk-off homer to decide Game 7 of a Fall Classic in major league history.

After the Yankees had plated two runs to tie the score at 9-9 in the top of the ninth inning, Mazeroski admittedly got caught up in the sudden turn of events. It seemed that 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 Terry's second pitch, Mazeroski slammed a high fastball just to the left of the 406-foot marker in distant left-center field. The legendary blast gave the Pirates their first World Series championship in 35 years and set off a wild celebration in Pittsburgh that lasted for days.

"The home run took a while to sink in because all I could think of was, 'We beat the Yankees! We beat the Yankees!'" Mazeroski told reporters in the jubilant home team clubhouse afterward.

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 Jim Coates that cleared the left-field scoreboard. It extended Pittsburgh's lead to 5-2 and proved to be the difference in a 6-4 victory. He hit .320 with team highs of five RBI, four runs scored and two home runs in the series.

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.

A portion of the brick center field wall from Forbes Field remains standing on the University of Pittsburgh campus in Pittsburgh's Oakland District as a memorial. Locally, the barrier is usually referred to as "Mazeroski's Wall." Although this is technically not the actual section of wall that Mazeroski's famous home run cleared, a nearby plaque in the sidewalk of Roberto Clemente Drive does mark the spot where the sudden-victory homer cleared 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)

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.

In September 2010, a statue of Mazeroski was unveiled outside PNC Park, depicting his famed celebration--running with both arms extended, ball cap in right hand--after his Game 7 walk-off home run to win the 1960 Series. Sports Illustrated ranked that home run eighth on its list of the 100 Greatest Moments in Sports History.[1]

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 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.

Mazeroski would have been the guest of honor at the first showing in 50 years of the previously-lost television footage of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, but he was unable to attend due to an undisclosed illness that left him hospitalized.

Mazeroski hosts an annual golf tournament, The Bill Mazeroski Golf Tournament.

See also

Notes

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

References

  1. ^ a b 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 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 .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 article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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