Pirates: Mazeroski's homer still a winner

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When he gets a new day planner each year, Herb Soltman flips the pages to Oct. 13. Although the information is indelibly stamped into his memory, he ritually writes down the numbers relating to the seventh game of the 1960 World Series that ends with Bill Mazeroski hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth to beat the New York Yankees.

"That day, to me, was my defining moment in sports. It was the most exciting thing I ever saw in person. To win a World Series the way the Pirates did against the Yankees has to be at the top of my list," Soltman said.

Soltman, 74, was center stage yesterday at something that is uniquely Pittsburgh -- faithful fans and curious onlookers gathering at the remnants of the Forbes Field outfield wall to listen to the radio broadcast of an event that happened 49 years ago.

He is the leader of something called the Game 7 Gang, a group of men with varied backgrounds who got to know each other by attending the event. And it is he who got a copy of the NBC Radio broadcast, now digitally preserved on compact disc, so that people can hear the call of the

game by Chuck Thompson and Jack Quinlan.

A blast from the past? A golden oldie? Hanging on to a moment frozen in time? Preserving a part of history?

"All of the above," Soltman laughed.

"I don't quite understand it myself. It's got to be something in my psyche. A psychologist would probably have a field day. I was there. I was a witness to history. I don't know what it is, but it sure is a lot of fun. It's just a day of re-living old-time baseball."

Old-time baseball is a Series finale played during the day in mid-October with the Pirates, minus the burden of their onerous recent history, competing for a title and beating the Yankees. It was and is the only time a home run ended the seventh game of a Series.

This ritual of returning to Oakland is a grassroots affair. A gentleman named Saul Finkelstein of Bellevue started it in 1985, eating his lunch while listening to his own taped recording. Later, Soltman secured a copy of the broadcast from sports historian John Miley of Evansville, Ind., which is played on a sound system while people sit around on benches and folding chairs. In terms of sales, Miley said the game ranks right at the top with Bobby Thomson's home run in a 1951 playoff game, with Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 Series a distant third.

In no other city, however, do fans gather in public every year to listen to the account of an event well known to history. And next year promises to be one of the most memorable because it will mark the 50th anniversary.

Several hundred people were on hand yesterday, including Roy Face and Bob Friend, who were in action for the Pirates that day. Also in attendance were Enos and Renee Abel, who met that day and were engaged a year later.

Soltman was in the stands witnessing a 10-9 victory that secured the third world title for the Pirates. He scored reserved seats and moved down to the box seats at the top of the ninth inning "in case something happens." He watched Mazeroski take a pitch for ball, then rejoiced as a slider thrown by New York's Ralph Terry was smacked toward the 406-foot mark in left at 3:36 p.m.

The home run was applauded once more yesterday, just like it was happening all over again. Many of those cheering confessed to have goose flesh even if the outcome was already known. How can that ever get old?

Soltman recalled that he leaped over the railing and arrived at home plate just seconds after Mazeroski, joining in the bedlam. For a moment, he entertained thoughts of trying to dig up home plate, but a policeman's boot was firmly planted on it. The ensuing celebration, which has lasted 49 years, is a reminder that the word fan is derived from fanatic.

"The whole city went nuts that day," Soltman said. "It's like that [Paul Simon] song, 'Still Crazy After All These Years.' It applies to all of us at the wall."

That day, to me, was my defining moment in sports."

Robert Dvorchak can be reached at bdvorchak@post-gazette.com .


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