Here is the latest edition of Double the fun, a Saturday feature here on famous doubleheaders by Joe Guzzardi.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have baseball’s worst record. As of August 20th,the Pirates with a 40-81 record are three games behind the resurgent Baltimore Orioles and, in the National League, trail the Arizona Diamondbacks by seven.
Accordingly, we Pirate fans revert to our default position. We either look hopefully ahead or comfort ourselves by looking wistfully back.
Earlier this week, the Pirates signed two high school pitching phenoms, Jameson Tallion and Stetson Allie. But since teenage pitching prospects flame out more often than pan out, today we’ll take solace in the Pirate past, specifically the 1960 World Series champs whose 50th anniversary Pittsburgh is celebrating.
My weekly Saturday column is devoted to historic doubleheaders. Today, however, I’ll tell you about three September 1960 double dip sweeps within five days that virtually sewed the pennant up for our intrepid 1960 Corsairs.
On September 18, the Pirates took both ends at Cincinnati against the Reds, 5-3 and 1-0; September 20 in Philadelphia against the Phillies, 7-1 and 3-2 and September 22 at Forbes Field against the Chicago Cubs, 3-2 (11 innings) and 6-1.
By the time the second Cub game ended, the Pirates had eliminated the Milwaukee Braves and reduced to two games their magic number to finish off the St. Louis Cardinals.
Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, a late May acquisition from the Cardinals in exchange for promising but expendable second baseman Julian Javier (the Pirates had Bill Mazeroski), pitched brilliantly and won two of the six games.
Mizell’s September 18 first game line: IP 9; H 3; ER 0; BB 2; K 7
September 22 second game versus the Cubs: IP 9; H 6; ER 1; BB 0; K 2
While Vernon Law won the Cy Young and Dick Groat the Most Valuable Player Award, many point to adding Mizell to the starting rotation that also included work horse Bob Friend and Harvey Haddix as the Pirates’ turning point in the championship season.
When General Manager Joe Brown traded for Mizell, the lefty had struggled in his nine games with the Cardinals posting a 1-3 record and 4.55 ERA.
But Brown was confident that Mizell only needed a change of scenery since over his previous six seasons he had notched a 68-67 record and 3.68 ERA.
Brown, always a shrewd judge of talent, was correct about Mizell. Pitching for the Pirates for only four months, Mizell finished 13-5 with three shutouts and a 3.12 ERA.
Curiously, when the regular season ended, Mizell’s magic vanished forever.
When he started the third World Series game, Mizell was bombed. Lasting only one-third of an inning, Mizell gave up three hits, a walk and four earned runs on the way to a Yankee 10-0 rout.
By pitching two innings of scoreless mop up in the sixth game Yankee humiliation (12-0), Mizell managed to lower his series ERA from108.00 to 15.43.
In 1961, Mizell couldn’t get it back together. He went 7-10 (5.40 ERA). When 1962 started no better, in May the Pirates traded Mizell to the Mets.
Mizell failed to win a game with what would become the worst team in baseball history. When the Mets released him in August, Mizell retired.
Why Mizell had so little success after 1960 remains a mystery. Former Pirate teammate George Witt said Mizell never suffered an arm injury but that “he just seemed to lose his good hard fastball.” Mizell summed when he said: “I can’t attribute it to any one thing—just wear and tear.”
But with Mizell’s retirement came a new career. Mizell entered politics and served three terms as a North Carolina Congressman (1968-1974). Had the Watergate scandal not swept Republicans out of office during the 1974 midterm elections, Mizell might have realized his dream of becoming a United States Senator.
After Congress, Mizell served in various capacities under Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Mizell, who finished his baseball career with a 90-88 record, died in 1999.
Here’s a funny footnote to Mizell’s horrible World Series outing. Played on October 8, the game date was also Pirate manager Danny Murtaugh’s 43rd birthday.
During the pre-game pleasantries, Casey Stengel said to Murtaugh: “I knew you were comin’ but I didn’t bake a cake. I hope you have a good day except between the hours of 2 to 5.” (Author’s note: the game was played from 1:05 to 4:14.)
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association. Email him at email@example.com.