Today, I’m pleased to present a guest post from Joe Guzzardi, who recently attended a reunion for the 1960 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates and had a chance to talk to former Bucs ace Vern Law.
On June 19, I was one of the 38,000 at PNC Park for Saturday night’s game that honored the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirate World Series champions. The veterans inspired the struggling 2010 Buccos who broke their 12-game losing streak by beating the Cleveland Indians 6-4.
Vern Law threw out the first pitch. And Law was the best choice for the honor. Law, even though he was hurt, started three of the seven World Series games and won two. Down the home stretch during that magical season, Law was the Pirates’ stopper and won the Cy Young Award for his valiant efforts. (Until 1967, baseball issued only one Cy Young Award that represented the best pitcher in both the American and National leagues.)
Although Law will always treasure his contributions to the 1960 team as his greatest baseball achievement, another of his individual pitching feats will never be matched.
On July 19, 1955 Law pitched an 18-inning gem against the Milwaukee Braves in front of 10,000 Forbes Field fans.
Surrounded by what would become the nucleus of the 1960 champs including MVP Dick Groat and rookie Roberto Clemente, Law held the Braves to one earned run while striking out twelve and walking only two during the equivalent of two full 9-inning contests.
Among the fearsome Braves batters were Hall of Famers Hank Aaron (at second base) and Eddie Matthews. The Braves line up was so strong that Joe Adcock batted seventh behind future Pirate manager Chuck Tanner who was then a rookie right fielder.
Yet, pitching on only two days rest, Law dominated the powerful Braves and held the big guns of Aaron, Matthews and Adcock to a mere three hits in 21 at bats.
Law’s heroic effort kept him on the mound for 4:44. But he did not pick up the win. Bob Friend, another Bucco stalwart, got the credit despite hurling a shaky 19th inning in the Pirates 4-3 victory.
I asked Law about his masterpiece.
As Law recalled, he had been named an emergency starter that evening for Joe Gibbon who had come up sick.
After 9 innings, Pirate manager Fred Haney asked Law how he felt. Then after the 12th inning, Haney indicated that he was going to pull Law.
But Law, who was still feeling fine, convinced Haney to leave him in.
By the end of the 15th inning, Haney was determined to give Law the hook. But Law was still able to hold his ground. Said Law to Haney: “Skip, after pitching this long, let me win or lose this darn thing!”
Looking back, Law sensed that Haney felt sorry for him. “Are you sure you’re all right?” Haney asked. When Law confirmed that he was, Haney said: “Okay, go get ‘em.”
After the 18th inning, Law had exhausted his powers of persuasion. Although he tried to talk Haney into one more inning, the Bucco manager told him: “That’s it, your done. Go take a shower.”
Although Law had great confidence in Friend, who relieved him in the top of the 19th, he said that in the 1950s and 1960s “no pitcher wants to leave a game. All of us back then wanted to finish what we started.”
To Law’s dismay, Friend immediately gave up a run on two hits and a walk. But the Pirates rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 19th to salt away the win.
Said Law: “I was grateful we came back. It would have been devastating to lose a game like that.”
Law’s amazing marathon July 19 has an interesting footnote. Four days later, Law started against the Chicago Cubs. This time he pitched another complete game that went ten innings. Law dominated the Cub, giving up only four hits while striking out eight and walking none in the Corsairs 3-2 victory.
Law’s pitching line for two starts against the Braves and Cubs: 28 IP, 13 H, 3 ER, 2 BB and 20 SOs!
Since Law’s phenomenal outing fifty-five years ago, no pitcher has gone as long. And in this era of the pitch count that normally limits starters to 100 tosses, no pitcher ever will.
Joe Guzzardi is a writer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.