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The greatest baseball game ever played?

There is a novel from 1836 by Frederick Marryat called Mr. Midshipman Easy, which is among my favorites. It's a nautical novel, of course--Marryat was a retired English naval captain--and it's hilarious in a Tom Jones/Withnail and I kind of way. (Actually, Marryat's daughter, Florence, wrote a compelling vampire novel which I have enjoyed that was published in 1897--the same year as a somewhat more famous vampire novel!--called The Blood of the Vampire.) The title character of the midshipman bildungsroman is always asking people if they wish to "argue the point."

So, in that spirit: Shall we argue the point of what is the best baseball game ever played? I think there are two contenders: Game Six of the 1975 World Series, and Game Seven of the 1960 World Series, which was played on this very date.

It featured the Pittsburgh Pirates against the New York Yankees. The latter are extolled for their 1961 squad, for that was the season that Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chased after Babe Ruth and his single-season record of 60 homers, with Maris topping the Babe by a dinger. That team was not as good as people would have you believe. The home run chase has led to the conclusion that this was an all-time team, when it was not. Still, they won the World Series handily over the Cincinnati Reds (whose season was chronicled by Jim Brosnan in diary I recently wrote about for The Daily Beast), and they'd repeat in 1962. Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers would stop them in 1963, and the Yankees' latest dynasty would come to an end with another World Series loss--to the St. Louis Cardinals--in 1964. Mickey Mantle would never be close to the same player again after that campaign. By 1967, an injury-diminished Maris would be helping the Red Birds beat the Impossible Dream Red Sox.

Maris is remembered for that historic 1961 season, for which he won the MVP, but he also won the MVP in 1960. The Yankees were heavy favorites against the Bucs. There was Maris, Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra near the end of his career, Casey Stengel was in his last year with the club (Ralph Houk--who managed the Red Sox in the early 1980s and was there in 1983 for Carl Yastrzemski's last year and Wade Boggs' emergence as a superstar--took over the next season, and set the single-season victory mark for first year managers with 109, which Alex Cora fell one short of this year).

The numbers of this series are a lot of fun, and they say much. For instance: in the aggregate, the Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27, but there everyone was for a Game 7 at Forbes Field--a game which actually had a lower attendance than Game 6. Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski had what is surely the greatest hit in baseball history, and I'm not sure how you top it, when he homered in the bottom of the ninth for a World Series-winning walk-off. People complain that Mazeroski, whose offensive stats look light by the modern standards of slugging, is only in the Hall of Fame for one hit. The hit didn't hurt--obviously--but this was one of the ten greatest defensive players in the history of the sport. Maybe the greatest. He's close. Lots of MVPs is this series, too, including Maz's double play partner, shortstop Dick Groat, who took the NL honor that year. A Groat Hartland Statue--which was a toy made for children at the time, and a piece highly prized by collectors now--will be featuring in a short story of mine which I touched on not too long ago in these pages called "Dunedin." Small world.

A number of years ago, a kinescope of the game was discovered. If you don't know what a kinescope is, it's basically a tape made from someone holding up a video camera to a TV set. At the time, broadcasts of this nature were wiped by the TV stations. This was done everywhere throughout the 1960s and before. It's not like the BBC, for instance, was saving the tapes of those live Beatles sessions that went out in 1963. They were basically bootlegged by kids. Well, this broadcast was bootlegged by Bing Crosby, the singer and massive Bucs fan. He was in Paris at the time, listening live on shortwave radio, and he wanted a souvenir if the Pirates won. He had invested in an electronic company called Ampex, and he had them make the kinescope, which ended up stashed away in--get this--Crosby's wine cellar, where it remained for nearly fifty years.

This is not that television broadcast. It's the radio broadcast, with Chuck Thompson doing play-by-play. The end of the game is crazily dramatic, with the Yankees taking the lead in the top of the eighth, the Pirates going ahead in the bottom of that inning, the Yanks tying it in the top of the ninth, and then you know what happens. Thompson muffs the call in his excitement over Maz's homer, but it's a very human touch. The kid in all of us, etc.

Thompson had two sayings he was known for, one being, "Go to war, Miss Agnes!" This came from a buddy of his, who was bad at golf, but trying to swear less when he shanked a shot; hence, this expression (which I suppose is like Ralphie trying to say, "Oh, fudge," in A Christmas Story), which Thompson phased out as the war in Vietnam became more and more controversial. His other saying--for when things were going well for the home team: "Ain't the beer cold!" How awesome is that?

And here is a stat to blow the mind of the modern baseball fan: There was not a single strikeout in this game. It remains the only game in MLB postseason history about which that can be said. I bet you that between the two Championship Series games today, there will be 25-30 strikeouts.


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