Fifty-five years ago, three home runs were hit that still retain historical baseball significance.
All Ted Williams ever wanted was to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.” Williams played his last game at Fenway Park on September 28th, 1960, at the age of 40. He was denied his place at the top of baseball history by his absence from the game for nearly five seasons serving his country as a fighter pilot in two wars, and also because of the competitive presence of Yankee great Joe DiMaggio, himself a legend. DiMaggio indeed called Williams the best hitter he’d ever seen. Williams hit .388 two years earlier, the closest anybody has ever come to his own record setting .406 in 1941. Williams always had a love-hate relationship with the Boston fans, somewhat self-induced. Only 10,000 showed up on a rainy day at Fenway to say goodbye to ‘Teddy Ballgame.” In his final at-bat, he got all of a high hard one and in the classic swing he had shown so often before, he ripped it out of the park. Everyone wondered if he would acknowledge the cheers of the fans who had so often cursed him with a tip of his cap. He did not. John Updike chronicled the event in a marvelous story for the New Yorker Magazine, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”
Bill Mazeroski was a kid from West Virginia who hit the greatest home run in Pittsburgh Pirate history when he drilled a fastball from Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry in the bottom of the tenth in the 1960 World Series, the only game seven walk-off home run in the history of the game. Unlike Williams, Mazeroski reveled in the fans’ adulation, jumping up and down as he rounded the bases. And why not? The high and mighty Yankees, winners of seventeen World Series championships since the Pirates’ last title in 1925, had outscored the Pirates 38-3 in their three wins leading up to the deciding seventh game. Singer Bing Crosby owned a piece of the Pirates back then and afraid he’d jinx them by going to the game, he went instead to Paris with his wife Kathryn to get away from the tension at Forbes Field. So delighted was he with the win that he managed to get the original film of the entire game from NBC, the only copy in existence. Game films were immediately destroyed back then, television suits thinking once a game was over, nobody would want to see it again. That film stayed in a file cabinet in Crosby’s den at his California home for two decades until accidentally discovered after his death and released for viewing after its transfer to digital format.
On October 1st, 1961, Sal Durante asked his girl friend, Rose Calabrese, to travel with him to Yankee Stadium from Staten Island to see if Roger Maris could break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. A rich restauranteur from California was offering $5,000 to the person who caught the ball in the stands. Fourth inning, pitcher Tracy Stallard of Washington showed Maris a fastball and the rest is history. Sal, then the embodiment of John Travolta in “Grease,” duck tail and all, and today a father of three and grandfather of six, all boys, is well known in New York as the greatest Yankee fan ever. Like Ted Williams, Maris was reluctant to accept the pleas of the fans to take a bow. Literally pushed out of the dugout, he waved to the crowd. There was much resentment against him for breaking the record of the revered Bambino, especially since it took him 162 games rather than the 154 it took the Babe to get his 60. When Sal caught the ball, he was escorted to the Yankee clubhouse where he offered the ball to Maris as a gift. Maris graciously demurred, telling Sal to take the $5,000. Sal and Rose had a blessed marriage of 57 years before her recent death. His obituary will read, “Sal Durante, the man who……..
The other day somebody asked me what baseball has to do to become the National Pastime once again. I answered, “Hit more significant home runs!”