I think I can identify with that sinking feeling that many Pittsburgh Pirate fans possess right now. It’s similar to what I felt in October 2004 during the American League Championship Series, when the New York Yankees, with a chance to take the series at home with a decent starter, lost Game 6 and were faced with a difficult pitching choice. For the ’04 Yankees, it was Kevin Brown. For this year’s Pirates, it was—almost--A.J. Burnett—who, come to think of it, the Bronx Bombers allowed to depart at the end of his contract two years ago, because he didn’t come up big enough often enough.
This year, though, Pirate fans might be thinking of another name associated with the Yankees: Bill Mazeroski. No, obviously, he did not play for the Bronx team, but he broke their hearts in the most dramatic way possible: with the only walkoff home run in Game 7 of a World Series.
“Maz” was a peerless second baseman—some say the best defensive one of all time, with eight Gold Gloves to his credit. But more often than not, it takes a bat—even a bat wielded under the most dramatic circumstances—to make the case for greatness to Hall of Fame voters, and that may well have been the case here.
I have written before about photos I took this past July of three other statues of Pirate Hall of Famers at PNC Park: Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. But the Mazeroski statue stands out among this quartet. While the other images capture their heroes in moments that could have occurred at any time in their careers, local sculptor Susan Wagner’s bronze likeness of the second baseman captures Maz in the great moment of his life, when his ninth-inning swing off reliever Ralph Terry beat the greatest dynasty in professional sports, an overwhelming favorite in the series.
At 5 ft. 11 inches, Mazeroski was of average height, But an indelible moment, captured with a camera, can make you appear larger than life, and so the great Pirate is here: 14 feet, 2,000 pounds, arms fully extended in triumph, waiting to jump into the ecstatic arms of his champion teammates.
It must have been tough, but I’m glad that Pirate manager Clint Hurdle dispensed with the services of Burnett in this do-or-die game. The assumption on the part of many seemed to be that, at age 36, with eight postseason appearances in six different series, Burnett would be a seasoned vet. But his earned run average in those starts was a whopping 6.37, and the big right-hander admitted that, on the field of the St. Louis Cardinals in the opening game of this series, he had been too emotional before he finally unraveled.
Gerrit Cole might be a rookie, all of 23, but that shouldn’t be a handicap: He did perfectly well against the Cardinals in Game 2. Besides, Mazeroski was only a year older when he unleashed his mighty swing.