How a near pristine, black-and-white reel of the entire television broadcast of the deciding game of the 1960 World Series -- long believed to be lost forever -- came to rest in the dry and cool wine cellar of Bing Crosby's home near San Francisco is not a mystery to those who knew him.
Crosby loved baseball, but as a part owner of the Pirates he was too nervous to watch the Series against the New York Yankees, so he and his wife went to Paris, where they listened by radio.
"He said, 'I can't stay in the country,' " his widow, Kathryn Crosby, said. " 'I'll jinx everybody.' "
He knew he would want to watch the game later -- if his Pirates won -- so he hired a company to record Game 7 by kinescope, an early relative of the DVR, filming off a television monitor. The five-reel set, found in December in Crosby's home, is the only known complete copy of the game, in which Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a game-ending home run to beat the Yankees, 10-9. It is considered one of the greatest games ever played.
Crosby, the singer and movie, radio and TV star, had more foresight than the television networks and stations, which erased or discarded nearly all of the Major League Baseball games they carried until the 1970s.
A canny preservationist of his own legacy, Crosby, who died in 1977, kept a half-century's worth of records, tapes and films in the wine cellar turned vault in his Hillsborough, Calif., home.
"Bing Crosby was way ahead of his time," said Nick Trotta, senior library and licensing manager for Major League Baseball Productions, the sport's archivist.
Three years ago, Major League Baseball acquired the rights to Yankees pitcher Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series -- leaving the finale of the 1960 World Series high on its wish list. The hunt for old games -- this one unseen on TV since its original broadcast -- is constant, serendipitous and often futile. Great games like the Game 7 in 1960 are often recalled with just a few newsreel clips.
Crosby was so superstitious about hexing his Pirates that he and Kathryn listened to the game with their friends Charles and Nonie de Limur in Paris.
"We were in this beautiful apartment, listening on shortwave, and when it got close Bing opened a bottle of Scotch and was tapping it against the mantel," Kathryn Crosby said. "When Mazeroski hit the home run, he tapped it hard; the Scotch flew into the fireplace and started a conflagration. I was screaming and Nonie said, 'It's very nice to celebrate things, but couldn't we be more restrained?' "
After Crosby viewed the 2-hour, 36-minute game, probably in a screening room in the house, the films took their place in the vault, said Robert Bader, vice president for marketing and production for Bing Crosby Enterprises.
They remained there undisturbed until December, when Bader was culling videotapes of Crosby's TV specials for a DVD release -- part of the estate's goal of resurrecting his body of work.
He spotted two reels lying horizontally in gray canisters labeled "1960 World Series." They were stacked close to the ceiling with home movies and sports instructional films. An hour or so later, he found three others on other shelves. Intrigued, he screened the 16-millimeter film on a projector. It was Game 7, called by the Yankees' Mel Allen and the Pirates' Bob Prince -- the complete NBC broadcast. The film had not degraded and has been transferred to DVD.
"I had to be the only person to have seen it in 50 years," Bader said. "It was just pure luck."
Bader's call to baseball last spring initiated months of talks that have led to an agreement allowing the MLB Network to televise the game in the off-season and wrap interviews and other programming around it, with Bob Costas as the host.
"It's a time capsule," Trotta said.
Hearing of the broadcast's discovery, Jim Reisler, a historian born in Pittsburgh, sounded stunned.
"Wow," he said.
His book about the game -- "The Best Game Ever" -- would have benefited from seeing the NBC production, he said; he relied on the radio call.
"It would have given me a greater sense of the tremendous ebb and flow of the game," he said.
Dick Groat, the Pirates' shortstop in 1960, said: "It was such a unique game to begin with. It was back and forth, back and forth. It was unbelievable."
The production is simple by today's standards. NBC appeared to use about five cameras. The graphics were simple (the players' names and little else) and rarely used. There were no instant replays, no isolated cameras, no analysis, no dugout reporters and no sponsored trivia quizzes.
Viewers looked at the hand-operated Forbes Field scoreboard that on that day -- of 19 runs and 24 hits -- got a vigorous workout. Occasionally they saw newsreel cameras atop the ballpark roof.
Prince and Allen rarely interacted; the former called the first half, Allen the second half -- putting him on the air for Yogi Berra's three-run homer in the sixth inning (Allen first called it foul); Pirates' catcher Hal Smith's eighth-inning homer to put the Pirates on top, 9-7 ("That base hit will long be remembered," Allen said as the film showed Roberto Clemente -- Allen called him Bob -- bounding around the bases with joy); and Mazeroski's winning drive to left field ("And the fans go wild," Allen said)
The game included the play in which a ground ball hit by Bill Virdon to Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek kicked off the dirt and hit him smack in the Adam's apple. Kubek fell on his back, sat up within a minute looking dazed, stood up, then lobbied manager Casey Stengel unsuccessfully to stay in.
It also included remarkable baserunning by Mickey Mantle with one out in the top of the ninth. The Yankees were trailing, 9-8, with Mantle on first and Gil McDougald on third. Berra hit a sharp grounder that was grabbed by first baseman Rocky Nelson, who quickly stepped on the bag for the second out. For a split second, Nelson seemed ready to throw home in time for a tag play on McDougald for the final out of the World Series.
But Nelson immediately became distracted by Mantle, who never took off for second when Berra hit the ball and was now standing just a few feet away. Nelson reached to tag Mantle, but he feinted and dived back safely into first. McDougald scored, and the score was tied, 9-9.
"How about that?" Allen said after Mantle's play.
But just minutes later, Mazeroski stepped to the plate. NBC's sound was good enough to hear a fan shout, "Just get on, Billy, get on!" Mazeroski did more than that. After his home run, fans poured onto the field and danced on the Pittsburgh dugout.
Only later did Bing Crosby witness the joy and jubilation recorded just for him.
"I can still see Bing hitting the mantel with the Scotch," Kathryn Crosby said.
First Published September 24, 2010 1:30 AM