Fifty-one years ago this afternoon, at precisely 3:36 p.m., a guy who became synonymous with the Orioles called arguably the greatest home run in baseball history. In Pittsburgh, no less.
Chuck Thompson was doing the national radio broadcast for NBC when Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski stepped to the plate at Forbes Field and hit a 1-0 pitch from the Yankees’ Ralph Terry over the left field wall to give the battling Buccos the 1960 World Series. To folks in Pittsburgh, the sight of a stunned left fielder Yogi Berra standing dumbfounded at the wall, or the image of Mazeroski gleefully rounding the bases as the home crowd spilled out onto the field, are as iconic as Baltimoreans’ memories of Brooks Robinson leaping toward Dave McNally and Andy Etchebarren on the mound in 1966, Robinson’s defensive wizardry in 1970 or Cal Ripken Jr. squeezing a soft liner to end the 1983 Fall Classic.
Here’s the call from Hall of Famer Thompson of Hall of Famer Mazeroski’s magical moment.
The Yankees held a 55-27 edge in runs scored during the series, and at the time, Mazeroski’s blast was the first game-winning walk-off in a decisive seventh game.
Now, there’s always a backstory with our online history lessons. Thompson was one of baseball’s best for decades, but this call contained two major errors that the scratchy audiotape preserved for posterity. Listen closely and you’ll hear Thompson tell listeners that it’s Art Ditmar pitching (he was actually warming in the bullpen) and that the final score was 10-0 (it was actually 10-9). But give Thompson credit for a long pause to let the crowd noise tell the story, instead of the announcer. Thompson - he of “Ain’t the beer cold!?” and “Go to war, Miss Agnes” fame during his tenure broadcasting O’s games - knew that the announcer complemented the game, rather than the other way around. The flubs may have endured, but so has the love of the game gleaned through Thompson’s voice, which crackled over front porches, marble stoops and through hidden transistor radios tucked beneath pillows.
While denizens of Charm City are generally an anti-Pittsburgh lot, true baseball fans will relish a visit to what’s left of the venerable old stadium in the Oakland neighborhood of the Steel City, the Pirates’ home before Three Rivers Stadium. Part of the outfield wall has been preserved, as has an elevated hill in the field of play which held a flagpole, and markings outline where the wall stood in its entirety. A youth park named for Mazeroski sits adjacent to the former site and you can visit where home plate used to be by going inside the first floor of the Pitt Law School. Oh, and make sure you stop by The Original Hot Dog Shoppe, home of the best hot dog I’ve ever eaten (they use a frank with a snappy casing and grill them before your eyes). It’s heart-clogging good.
Thompson is near and dear to folks in Baltimore, because he was the soundtrack of the game for generations of fans. If you want to pay your respects to him, stop by the fireplace at the Hunt Valley Towne Center plaza that bears his name, where his ashes are interred in a most inconspicuous resting place. Thompson was honored with the Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1993; he was and always will be one of Baltimore’s favorite sports sons.