Dapper Dan Dinner: Fans pick Mazeroski's World Series HR as No. 1 sports moment
April 2, 2008 4:00 AM
J. Monroe Butler II / Post-Gazette
Mario Lemieux kisses the trophy honoring him as the the all-time greatest athlete at last night's Dapper Dan Dinner held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Downtown.
J. Monroe Butler II / Post-Gazette
Bill Mazeroski holds an autographed ball and Pittsburgh Pirates helmet to be auctioned at the Dapper Dan Dinner at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center last night. He received the award for the all time greatest sports moment for his legendary home run blast that won the Pirates the 1960 World Series.
By Chuck Finder Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
And your winners of Pittsburgh's Best in Sports are: '60, 66 and the '78 Steelers.
Maz's moment, the World Series-winning, Game 7, bottom-of-the-ninth, lead-off, can't-top-that home run by Bill Mazeroski Oct. 13, 1960, keeps on whipping the competition much like it beat the dreaded Yankees almost a half-century ago. From 57,125 ballots cast online and with the final imprimatur of the Dapper Dan Dinner's executive committee, that mighty swing overtook the famed Immaculate Reception and any other Super Bowl, Stanley Cup or triumphant instant in this city's esteemed 250-year past as the greatest single freeze frame in Pittsburgh's sports history.
Mario Lemieux, best known nowadays as a Penguins team owner and franchise player's landlord, was chosen as Pittsburgh's single-most stellar athlete, ahead of such luminaries as various Hall of Fame Steelers, Roberto Clemente plus homegrowns Honus Wagner and Arnold Palmer.
And the second-to-last of the '70s' Super Steelers, the 1978 edition that ambushed the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII, was the victor in the team category.
All three Best winners were officially unveiled last night at the Dapper Dan Dinner and Sports Auction inside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Maz's homer and the '60 Pirates continue to be an upset.
"I am surprised," longtime Steelers cornerback J.T. Thomas said, who expected a victory by the Immaculate Reception. "That was more than a moment. That catapulted a city. That built stadiums. That rescued the city from the exodus of the steel mills. The City of Champions, hey, come on ..."
"It is very surprising," added Mazeroski, who flew in from Florida for the event. "This is a big football town. And we're talking about 50 years, a lot of people weren't around then. I don't know how I won. I maybe would have voted for [the Immaculate Reception]."
For Mazeroski, his home-run trot keeps jogging memories nearly 48 years later. Only Toronto's Joe Carter has duplicated the feat, ending a World Series with a final-inning homer, but that was an entirely different baseball time (1993), an entirely different country (Canada).
Maz, 72, had turned 24 barely a month earlier and completed his fourth full major-league season when he strode to the plate against New York's Ralph Terry and carved a place in baseball lore. Afterward, he proceeded to play another dozen Pirates seasons, winning another World Series in 1971, the year before he retired. He went on to a Hall of Fame induction in 2001, five (of his seven total) All-Star Games, six (of eight) Golden Gloves and the reputation as one of the slickest second baseman the game has known -- his 161 double plays in 1966 still stand as the major-league record for a middle infielder. Yet his name, his visage, almost exclusively intertwined with one of his 140 career homers (in 17 seasons) and a single afternoon that completed one of American sports' greatest upsets -- beating the venerable Yankees, who outscored the Pirates in their three triumphs, 38-3.
People still ask him about that moment "every day. Even in Florida," he said. "It's not always connected to Pittsburgh, either. It's beating the Yankees."
Whereas Maz was a defensive artiste extraordinaire slightly miscast forever in footage by one homer, Lemieux was an offensive wizard whose image will be remembered for ages for, well, innumerable moments of magically making a puck dance.
Sure, there was his goal where he deked both Minnesota defensemen, then the North Stars' goaltender, in the swooping, sweeping moment that turned the 1991 Stanley Cup series in favor of the formerly star-crossed Penguins. There were goals with a Quebec Nordique on his back, with his bum on Washington's ice, with the 1992 Stanley Cup Game 1 in need of Lemieux coming to the rescue. Perhaps most of all, Lemieux's legacy will remain his personal Penguins hat trick: He saved the franchise three times for Pittsburgh, as a star after being selected first overall in the 1984 draft, as a leading creditor in bankruptcy, as the owner and chairman whose group secured a new arena and future for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the boys.
It also won't escape his epitaph that he made glorious comebacks from back surgery, from Hodgkin's disease, from retirement after a three-year hiatus (who could forget the phrase owner-player?), from semiretirement after the lockout. Nor will it go unspoken that he crammed into his career 690 goals, 1,723 points, a 199-point 1988-89, a record two-points-per-game pace before his first unretirement, two Stanley Cups and too many memories to count. That constituted quite a turn of events for a Pittsburgh puck public habituated with the worst: a waddling mascot dying of pneumonia and young French-Canadian star Michel Briere dying after just one Penguins winter.
"Absolutely," Lemieux said when asked if he was astonished to register a victory over such elite athletic company. "Look at the names on there, some of the greatest athletes of all time in their sport. Just to be nominated alongside them -- and to win --is a great honor."
Odd, then, isn't it: A club that has so dominated the local sporting landscape and fandom snagged just one of these three Best honors?
And the Best Team winner wasn't the Steelers' inaugural Super Bowl winner ('74). It wasn't the team the Rooneys label their greatest ever ('76). It wasn't even a member of the dominating-defense generation. Rather, it was the first Steelers bunch to make use of NFL offensive changes made expressly to tie up that Steel Curtain: the '78 circus that was Terry Bradshaw to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.
Those receivers never combined for more touchdowns than their 20 that season, when the Steelers went 14-2 for the franchise's most single-season victories until 2004. Bradshaw never threw for more touchdowns than his 28 that year or for a better full-season completion percentage than his 56.3. And the Steelers never cruised to victories by such large playoff margins as 23 points over Denver, 29 over Houston in the Three Rivers Stadium ice bowl and a 35-31 Super spanking of Dallas, which rallied with 14 points in the final 21/2 minutes to make it even look close.
"In '78, they changed the rules -- and that was the second time," Thomas said. Then-NFL commissioner "Pete Rozelle said it wasn't a good thing to have the Black and Gold in the Super Bowl every year, it wasn't good for business." But the Steelers adapted and won.
However, Thomas added, even this Best in Sports triumph was an upset to him: He, like so many others from those Steelers, believe the '76 squad was better.
"That ballclub, look at all the All-Pros that were on it," Thomas said. "Bradshaw got hurt, and [the defense] had to play. We had six straight shutouts. We got into the game, we played one coverage: bump-and-run, man-to-man. Mel [Blount] and I never went into a huddle. If they had to go [to the bathroom], we'd go with them. What happened to that team was Franco [Harris] and Rocky [Bleier] got hurt [in an playoff game at Baltimore]. If that hadn't happened, it would have been a no-brainer."