Spokane legend brings World Series history back to life

December 16, 2010 

Until Gonzaga University basketball became a media darling, Spokane largely was known as the city where Bing Crosby grew up.

And thanks to the late crooner who attended Gonzaga, baseball fans enjoyed a fascinating evening of television Wednesday night.

A year ago, an archivist going through Crosby’s Bay Area film collection came across several reels — stored in a wine cellar — that indicated they contained Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

Why would Crosby have them? He was a long-time part-owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and arranged for NBC’s live broadcast to be recorded via kinescope. As the story goes, Crosby, too nervous to watch the game live, traveled to France with his wife where they listened to the game on the radio with friends.

That kinescope is the only known recording of that historic game.

So Wednesday night, I rushed home from work, powered up my Sony Bravia and stood back completely mesmerized as the Pirates and the New York Yankees came to life — albeit in black and white.

A full inning passed — the Pirates led 2-0 — before I realized I was still clutching my house keys.

As usual, Bob Costas was smooth as silk as master of ceremonies for the MLB Network event, recorded in November inside an intimate Pittsburgh theater. He seemed to know what to ask, of whom and at the right time. He allowed Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson to come across as a genuine and gracious man. Richardson made history as the first Series MVP to come from the losing team.

Among my observations:

* There were no replays available during broadcasts back then, which made for quick jaunts to the fridge and the can.

* True, it was just one game, but it would seem as though the Yankees won titles despite Casey Stengel. Why would he have Whitey Ford warm up — he pitched Game 6 — and not bring him in late in the game?

* Bobby Shantz displayed a remarkable curve. In fact, the 5-foot-6 lefty had a remarkable career. He was the 1952 American League MVP, and in 1960, he was smack in the middle of his eight straight Gold Glove seasons. Just think, modern medicine likely would have repaired whatever arm injury it was that sent him to the bullpen after that 1952 campaign. And in 1964, the St. Louis Cardinals packaged him to the hated Chicago Cubs for future Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock.

* Roberto Clemente was a free-swinger and played with élan, but he bobbled two balls hit to right field. Texas Rangers DH Vladimir Guerrero, in his prime, played much like Clemente.

* It wasn’t the best game for the late Mel Allen. The HOF announcer first reported Yogi Berra’s three-run homer as foul, and in the eighth inning he repeatedly said Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek got hit in the face with the ball. It seems rather obvious that Bill Virdon’s grounder took a wickedly bad hop and ricocheted off Kubek’s goiter.

And while the other Hall of Famer in the booth, Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince properly referred to Clemente as “Roberto,” Allen once called Clemente “Bob.” Many of Clemente’s baseball cards listed his name as “Bob,” which would not happen today.

* Prince did a remarkable job of conducting a flurry of post-game interviews for live TV. Never have I seen so many players brought up on stage in such a short period of time. And I wonder if TBS’ clownish sideline reporter Craig Sager has hired a tailor to create a replica of Prince’s sports coat, which came across as garish even on black & white film.

* I had to chuckle when Yankees reliever Bill Stafford, age 22, grabbed his crotch, seemingly without giving it a thought.

* Batters in 1960 seemed to spend almost as much time in between pitches as they do in the 21st century. If the batting gloves industry been established in 1960, the delays might be nearly identical.

* Berra — who manned left field in this game — and a couple of other players would take two bats up to home plate then swing them to get loose. The batboy would patiently wait in the opposite batter’s box to take the rejected bat back to the dugout. I can’t ever recall seeing a modern player take two bats all the way to the plate. Yogi could rake, though.

* The left-field line at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh was 360 feet away from home plate. It was 376 to right. At Safeco Field, considered a rather spacious park by today’s standards, it is 331 to left and 326 to right field.

* Perhaps the most remarkable stat? As Costas pointed out, not one player struck out in the nine-inning game. No wonder it's considered one of the greatest game in baseball history.

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