Baseball: The Summer of 1960

Baseball: The Summer of 1960

"The Voice": Mel Allen 1913-1996 (Wikimedia Commons)
“The Voice”: Mel Allen, 1913-1996

I’m a frus­trat­ed fan of the Wash­ing­ton Nation­als, as I was the old Wash­ing­ton Sen­a­tors. As a New York school­boy in the Fifties, I’d go up to Yan­kee Sta­di­um to root for the Sen­a­tors when they were in town, wear­ing my navy blue cap with the white block “W.” Big, scary Bronx voic­es would shout: “Hey, kid—the Wash­ing­ton section’s in the bleachers.”

The Sen­a­tors were peren­ni­al heart­break­ers, although in mid-1952 they were only three or four games out of first place and con­sid­ered to be pen­nant con­tenders. Known for light hit­ting and good pitch­ing, they played hard and were usu­al­ly fun to watch.

By 2012 the Nation­als, who returned base­ball to Wash­ing­ton in 2005, have been play­ing great base­ball, and there’s rea­son to hope for “Joy in Mudville” soon. But the first six years were pret­ty rough. In 2009, anoth­er Nats loss again to the Phillies, I did a weird thing. I watched the video on Direct TV while lis­ten­ing to a CD of the New York Yan­kees game at Grif­fith Sta­di­um on 5 July 1960, last year of the orig­i­nal Wash­ing­ton Sen­a­tors. (Found it on eBay.)

Trans­port­ed back in time, I heard Phil Riz­zu­to and Mel Allen (one at a time, no tag-team) call a pitcher’s duel between the Yan­kees’ Ralph Ter­ry and my hero Pedro Ramos, which the Sen­a­tors won 5-3 in extra innings. (As Casey Sten­gel said, “you can look it up.”)

How broad­casts have changed: Allen and Riz­zu­to called plays and made pre­scient observations—nothing else. There were no rem­i­nis­cences of their play­ing days, no ball­girl inter­views with celebri­ties in the bleach­ers while the game was going on, no goofy mas­cots, no songfests, no fire­works, no instant-replay, no strike-zone reviews (the zone was uni­form, the umps impar­tial). Just baseball—pure and ele­gant, as God and Abn­er Dou­ble­day intended.

60leaf-0212How the game has changed. Ter­ry and Ramos (chew­ing a big wad of ‘bac­cy) each went eight innings. Relief pitch­ers came in and stuck—were not pulled after one bat­ter because the next guy was bat­ting from the oth­er side of the plate. The phrase “pitch count” didn’t exist. (I real­ize that since 1980, there is reli­able evi­dence that you can blow a young pitcher’s arm by leav­ing him in too long.) There were no “Des­ig­nat­ed Hit­ters.” From slug­gers to pitch­ers, every­body knew how to bunt and run bases. No balls went through legs or over heads.

“Rhubarbs” (Red Barber’s term) were sim­i­lar: José Val­diviel­so charged the mound when Ter­ry brushed him back (Phil men­tioned his “Latin tem­per,” which he wouldn’t do nowa­days.) The next inning Pedro hit Man­tle while “Meekie” took his base with a big grin, and the umpire fined Pedro $50 and warned him not to do it again.

Sen­a­tors pitch­ers loved to razz Man­tle. In 1956, Mick had hit a Ramos pitch almost out of Yan­kee Sta­di­um. And it was Chuck Sto­bbs, the win­ning pitch­er in this game, who had served the ball Man­tle hit 565 feet out of Grif­fith Sta­di­um in 1953, the sec­ond-longest home run on record. (The longest was by Babe Ruth, who hit one 575 feet against the Tigers in 1926.)

I was struck by the clean base­ball both teams played. Aside from a hit bat­ter and a wild pitch, there were no gaffes. The typ­i­cal inning end­ed “noth­ing across” (a medieval term mean­ing no Yan­kee runs or hits and no Sen­a­tor errors, or vice ver­sa). Hits were scat­tered, even from the vaunt­ed Yan­kee line­up. Deci­sions on reliev­ers, pinch hit­ters and run­ners by man­agers Casey Sten­gel and Cook­ie Lavaget­to were foxy and smart; nobody could argue with them. The Wash­ing­ton crowd booed José when he charged the mound, know­ing Ter­ry wasn’t pur­pose­ly try­ing to hit him.

Even the adver­tis­ing was fun. The spon­sors were the Atlantic Refin­ing Com­pa­ny (“Atlantic Impe­r­i­al, the gaso­line that cleans your car­bu­re­tor as you drive”—remember car­bu­re­tors?) and Bal­lan­tine Beer (“the Crisp Refresh­er”). There were no ads for patent med­i­cines designed to ward off RLS, DES, PID, HIV or the dread­ed ED. Mel and Phil would have been embar­rassed to talk about such stuff.

Ah, the sum­mer of 1960. The Yan­kees went on to win the pen­nant, the Sen­a­tors played close to .500 and fin­ished 5th out of eight before pack­ing up for Min­neso­ta. What a won­der­ful, enter­tain­ing game that was—managed, pitched and announced—now a half cen­tu­ry ago.

One thought on “Baseball: The Summer of 1960

  1. I just heard the broadcast…you are so-o-o-o right. Also, in the lat­ter part of the CD, you can hear Char­lie Brot­man announce Chuck Sto­bbs as the batter…no scream­ing, no hype, just clas­sic Brotman…I love it!!!

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