Throng gathers with 1960 heroes for radio broadcast
October 14, 2010 8:00 AM
Bill Mazeroski looks at the plaque and historical information which was placed near the Forbes Field wall in Oakland on Wednesday.
Philip Gruszka, of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, uses a permanent marker to highlight the letters on a sidewalk plaque in Oakland honoring Bill Mazeroski.
By Robert Dvorchak Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Conway Keibler was in Forbes Field to see it with his own eyes, but he returned for the 50th anniversary of Bill Mazeroski's game-winning home run to savor the moment.
"I told my wife before I left that I hope Maz hits a home run, because I still don't believe it," said Mr. Keibler, 83, of Brownsville in Fayette County. "I'm still walking on air."
Although Maz didn't swing a bat yesterday, he and his teammates from the 1960 Pirates scored big with a crowd that returned to the remnants of the old ballpark to revel in the rebroadcast of a World Series game that lives on in the city's heart. Later on, those Pirates were toasted once again at a black-tie gala at PNC Park that will benefit the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and Pirates Charities.
But in a corner of Oakland, it felt like Forbes Field, with the champs of yesteryear gathered by a remaining portion of the red brick outfield wall. It sounded like it, too, with a crowd of more than 1,000 cheering the baseball accounts on a cloudless day reminiscent of Oct. 13, 1960. It even smelled liked Forbes Field, with cigar smoke wafting on the autumn breeze.
"It brings back so many memories of such a wonderful time," said Bob Oldis, a backup catcher on the 1960 team who enjoyed another day in the sun. "I'm going to enjoy every moment. It still feels like it happened yesterday."
The day began with the dedication of a Mazeroski plaque near the intersection of Roberto Clemente Drive and Schenley Drive on what used to be part of Forbes Field but is now part of the University of Pittsburgh campus. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy unveiled an engraved stone accompanied by an image of Maz jubilantly rounding third base on his way home after he hit the only home run to decide the seventh game of a World Series.
In addition to Mr. Oldis, the Pirates in attendance were Dick Groat, Bill Virdon, Hal Smith, Vernon Law, Roy Face, Bob Friend, Joe Christopher, George Witt and Joe Gibbon. Vera Clemente, widow of the late Hall of Famer, and son Luis were also on hand to hear Pirates president Frank Coonelly make the dedication.
It's been quite a year for Mr. Mazeroski. On Sept. 5 -- his 74th birthday -- a statue depicting his home run gallop was dedicated outside PNC Park. Yesterday was one of several reunions with his teammates.
"It's always fun to see these guys. It was a winning team," Mr. Mazeroski chuckled. "They don't have reunions for losers, so you know if you're having a reunion, it's because you've won something. It's good to see all of them."
Next came an annual ritual that is uniquely Pittsburgh -- the replaying of a game that happened 50 years ago in a ballpark that faded out of existence years ago.
It began quite innocently on the 25th anniversary of the triumph over the New York Yankees. Saul Finkelstein, who passed away in 2004, brought his lunch to the site of the old ballpark and listened to an audio tape on his tape player.
For the next several years, he sat mostly by himself at the base of the flagpole to hear NBC Radio announcers Jack Quinlan and Chuck Thompson call the action.
Then in 1992, local author Jim O'Brien made the story public, and the crowd grew each year. The largest previous attendance was about 400 on the 40th anniversary of the game.
The ritual has been carried on by Herb Soltman and the Game 7 Gang, a group of die-hards who never tire of listening to a sporting event that changed the city's image of itself.
"It's a day of good old-fashioned baseball. It's a celebration," said Mr. Soltman. "I don't know if we're hanging on to the past, but we're tickled to revisit it."
For his part, Mr. O'Brien was the first one on the scene yesterday, arriving at 6 a.m. as Parks Department crews made final preparations for the dedication.
"I don't know of any place else in America where this type of an event takes place," said Mr. O'Brien. "This is a team that the city fell in love with, and that team loved us back. It was a magic moment. Look at the beauty of this scene. The leaves are changing. The sun is shining. People are smiling. It just doesn't get any better."
The day had the feel of a picnic. People brought folding chairs or laid out blankets on the grass to enjoy baseball. They sang "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" and cheered during the game's dramatic moments, saving the loudest roar for the game's conclusion.
The scene drew bemused looks from college students who never heard of Mr. Mazeroski and never knew that a ballpark once sat on the grounds.
Colleen Hroncich autographed copies of "The Whistling Irishman," the book she wrote about her grandfather, the late Danny Murtaugh, who was the team's manager.
And a crew from the MLB Network filmed interviews in advance of the Nov. 13 showing at a site to be determined of the recently discovered NBC video of the seventh game.
As an example of how the 1960 outcome was a life-changing event in Pittsburgh, Susan and Earl Glotfelty of Fox Chapel carried a homemade sign that said: "We Met On Oct. 13, 1960, After The Game."
A student at what was then Carnegie Tech, she went to celebrate at the Holiday Bar on Craig Street but couldn't get in because of the crowd. She met Mr. Glotfelty while waiting in line, and they married eight months later. "It was a wonderful day for Pittsburgh, and a wonderful day for the Glotfeltys," she said. "It was the most exciting thing ever."