Book review: 'Farewell to the Last Golden Era: The Yankees, The Pirates and the 1960 Baseball Season,' by Bill Morales. McFarland & Company, $29.95.
By John P. Rossi
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sunday, September 04, 2011
As Mr. Morales notes, 1960 was the last year before expansion changed the face of Major League Baseball. There were 16 teams in the majors, the same number when the modern era of baseball began in 1901.
By analyzing developments in 1960, he traces how baseball was changed forever against the background of two great pennant races -- the Pirates drive for their first National title in 33 years and Yankees' manager Casey Stengel's last hurrah.
To give his story greater context, Mr. Morales, a history professor at Bergen Community College in New Jersey, weaves in the story of the Continental League, the last innovation of baseball's one true genius, Branch Rickey.
In 1959, Mr. Rickey, along with a group of business moguls, sought to challenge the monopoly of professional baseball by founding a third major league. They failed, but their challenge directly led to the expansion of majors in 1961 and '62 with the addition of the New York Mets, the Houston Colts (now Astros), the Los Angeles Angels and the new Washington Senators after the original Senators moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Mr. Morales also shows how baseball failed to adapt to new ideas and technologies such as television in contrast to professional football. The newly organized American Football League secured a lucrative financial deal with ABC by selling its games as a package. The new commissioner of the National Football League, Pete Rozelle, adopted the plan, launching professional football on its path to riches.
Sprinkled throughout this story of the 1960 season are some interesting insights about the state of baseball. Mr. Morales points out how the ethnic and racial nature of the game truly reflected the state of the nation in 1960. For example, Latin players did not want to be lumped with African-Americans, who in turn recognized the cultural gap that separated them from their Caribbean counterparts.
However, the heart of the book revolves around the two pennant chases that season. The Yankees, who had fallen to fourth place in 1959 after winning 10 pennants in 11 years, rebounded. Led by Roger Maris, whom they plucked from Kansas City, the Yankees ran away with the American League pennant.
For Pirate fans, 1960 was a dream season when a group of Pirate unknown scrappers led by Don Hoak, Dick Groat, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, Vern Law and Elroy Face came out of nowhere to cop a pennant.
Picked no better than fourth, they dispatched such powerful rivals as the Milwaukee Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, in the process turning Pittsburgh into a baseball-mad town. Unlike the Yankees, the Pirates started off fast but struggled toward the end of the season.
Mr. Morales concludes his book with a detailed analysis of the 1960 World Series. Behind Mazeroski's dramatic series-winning homer, the Pirates outlasted a superior Yankees team that outscored them 55 to 27. Perhaps Yogi Berra summed up what happened best: "We just got beat by the craziest team that ever played baseball."
John P. Rossi, professor emeritus of history at La Salle University, is the author of three baseball books.