No matter what happens during baseball's postseason scramble,
one thing's for certain: The Pittsburgh Pirates are the World
Series champions. They beat the great New York Yankees. They did
it on Oct. 13--at 3:36 p.m., to be exact--thanks to a
cataclysmic clout by a 24-year-old second baseman in the final
inning of the seventh game.
Confused? Don't be. It happens every year.
Getting in is never a problem. Next season you can have a
front-row seat. Just head over to the University of Pittsburgh
campus, where Forbes Field used to stand. The stadium was razed
in 1971, but a portion of the ivy-covered redbrick outfield wall
is still there, including the painted 457-foot marker and the
flagpole from deep centerfield.
The person responsible for the Pirates' continued World Series
success is Saul Finkelstein, a customer service rep for the
Pittsburgh Symphony, who has been taking off every Oct. 13 since
1985, when he got his hands on a tape of the radio broadcast of
the most dramatic game in Pirates history. Finkelstein was 12 on
Oct. 13, 1960, when his hometown Pirates, who had gone 35 years
without a championship, beat the Yankees, winners of 17 World
Series during that same period. When he obtained a copy of radio
announcer Chuck Thompson's dramatic play-by-play, which was
originally broadcast by NBC, Finkelstein celebrated by going to
the old wall and listening to the game in its entirety. "It's
one of the most incredible broadcasts I've ever heard," he
explains. "You can actually see it better listening to it than
you could watching on TV."
October 18, 1998
Finkelstein has repeated the ritual every year since, and it now
draws as many as 300 listeners. Just before 1 p.m. he pushes the
PLAY button on his tape machine. When New York takes a 7-4
advantage in the eighth, there are groans. The Pirates close it
to 7-6 in the bottom of the eighth, and then backup Pirates
catcher Hal Smith smacks a three-run homer to give Pittsburgh a
9-7 lead going into the ninth. Color commentator Jack Quinlan
calls it "one of the most dramatic home runs of all time." The
Yanks tie it up in the top of the ninth.
Then Bill Mazeroski leads off in the bottom of the ninth. As the
clock hits 3:36, he knocks Ralph Terry's 1-0 pitch toward the
leftfield wall--the very wall at which the modern day crowd is
gathered--and the listeners see leftfielder Yogi Berra drifting
back, turning and dropping to his knees. They imagine themselves
charging the field as Maz, his right hand raised in triumph,
lands with an exuberant thud on home plate.
One person missing all these years has been Mazeroski himself.
"One of these days," says the 62-year-old Maz, who lives in
nearby Greensburg, Pa., "I'm just going to have to show up."
May we suggest a 3:37 arrival?
Brad Herzog, of Pacific Grove, Calif., is a frequent contributor