On SABR Day last week at the Forbes Field Chapter, our guest speaker was Dick Groat, Pirates’ shortstop on the 1960 World Champion’s captain and National League’s Most Valuable Player.
Groat told a captive audience about his All-American Duke University basketball career and his days in the NBA with the Ft. Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons. The Pistons were so eager to have Groat on its squad that it chartered a plane to take him back and forth from Pittsburgh to Ft. Wayne so he could play for both teams.
Inevitably, the conversation got around to that famous World Series when the Pirates upset the heavily favored New York Yankees.
Groat speculated that one of manager Danny Murtaugh’s most insightful moves was to bench Dick Stuart for the seventh game. Whether facing righty starters (Art Ditmar and Ralph Terry) or the lefty Whitey Ford, the right handed hitting Stuart batted clean up in five of the preceding six games.
In the seventh game, however, Murtaugh inserted Rocky Nelson at first possibly because Stuart was in a slump (.150, the worst average of any regular on either team) or a better fielder. In my last blog, I wrote about Stuart’s notoriously bad fielding.
Both reasons could be correct. In the bottom of the first inning, Nelson hit a two run homer off Bob Turley to stake the Buccos to a 2-0 lead.
But more importantly, as Groat remembered it, Nelson made a play in the top of the ninth inning that Stuart may not have.
Here are the details. The Yankees trailed 9-7, Gil McDougald was on third and Mickey Mantle, who had driven in Bobby Richardson to make it 9-8, was on first. Yogi Berra hit a smash down the right field line that Nelson grabbed. (Berra: “I hit the heck out of it.”) After Nelson stabbed Berra’s shot he stepped on first for the second out. But Nelson inexplicably didn’t throw home to nail McDougald who had taken off and scored the tying run. If Nelson had thrown to catcher Hal Smith in time, the game would have ended and the Pirates would have been winners.
All the while Mantle, sensing he would have been a dead duck, didn’t try to get to second. Instead, Mantle safely dove under Nelson’s tag. Score tied 9-9, Mantle on first, two outs.
The next batter, Bill Skowron, hit into an inning ending force play, Groat to Bill Mazeroski, that set the stage for Maz’s bottom of the ninth heroics.
What if Stuart and not Nelson had been the Pirates’ first baseman? If Berra’s grounder gets past Stuart, it ends up in the deepest corner of the cavernous Forbes Field. McDougald scores easily and maybe the fleet footed Mantle too (but maybe not with Roberto Clemente’s arm in right).
The worst case for the Yankees is Mantle on third, one out with Skowron at bat, slugging Johnny Blanchard on deck and Clete Boyer in the hole. The Yankees also had two capable pinch hitters on the bench, another home run threat Bob Cerv and Hector Lopez who hit .429 for the series. Whether the Yankees would have kept on scoring is speculation but its probable that the Pirates would have needed more than Maz’s one-run homer to win the seventh game.
Ironically, Stuart was in the on deck circle to bat for pitcher Harvey Haddix while Maz was at bat. As he watched Terry get ready to deliver his fateful pitch, Stuart thought that if he got to bat, he could have been the hero. What Stuart didn’t realize is that by staying on the bench, he had already played an important part in the Pirates’ unlikely World Series victory.