On October 13,1960, Bill Mazeroski hit his famous World Series winning, walk-off homer. Not only was it the greatest single moment in Pittsburgh Pirates history, it ranks up there as the single greatest moment in baseball history. His Pirates career was far from just one moment, Maz played 2,163 regular season games for the Pirates and 12 postseason games. He is considered by many to be the greatest fielding second baseman in baseball history, as well as one of the overall best defensive players ever.
Born on September 5,1936, Mazeroski celebrates his 76th birthday today. He is one of the most beloved members of the Pittsburgh Pirates ever. His list of accomplishments is long, two World Series rings, eight Gold Glove awards, ten All-Star selections and a Hall of Fame plaque, finally being selected for baseball’s highest award in 2001 by the Veteran’s Committee of the Hall of Fame. He played seventeen seasons in Pittsburgh, making his major league debut on July 7,1956 and playing his last regular season game on October 4,1972. More on those games below.
In the field, he earned those eight Gold Gloves by leading the National League in assists nine times, putouts six times, fielding range ten times and fielding percentage three times. Career he ranks fifth in assists with 6685, surpassed by four Hall of Famers, who all put in more seasons than Maz. He ranks seventh in putouts, topped by the same four players, along with two other HOF second baseman with more service time. In a recent SABR stat invented called Total Zone Runs, which was devised to determine just how valuable a player was on defense at their position, Mazeroski ranked first overall among second baseman. In defensive WAR, Maz ranks first among all players who put on a Pirates uniform
Among Pittsburgh Pirates hitting categories, Maz ranks fifth in games played behind Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Max Carey. He is sixth in both AB’s and plate appearances, going to the plate a total of 8,379 times. His 2016 hits ranks eighth all-time in team history, trailing seven Hall of Famers and just ahead of another two players that were inducted into the Hall.
Maz has the eighth most total bases(2,848), eighth most doubles(294), ninth most homers(138) and sixth most RBI’s with 853, ranking just ahead of Ralph Kiner. Eight Pirates have reached base more times than Maz in a Pirates uniform, a tough list to be a part of, with the entire top ten going on to make the Hall of Fame.
Now that I have given an overview of what happened during his 17 year career in Pittsburgh, I wanted to focus on those bookend games. Before making his major league debut, Bill spent three seasons in the minors, playing a total of 308 games. He played for just two teams, the Williamsport Grays of the Eastern League in 1954-55 and the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1955-56. Before being called up for his major league debut as a 19 year old, Maz had batted .306 in 80 games for Hollywood, hitting nine homers and driving in 36 runs.
Maz was one of three players the Pirates called up at the same time in July of that 1956 season. Along with Maz, pitchers Cholly Naranjo and Fred Waters, met the rest of the team in New York as they opened a series with the Giants. Another pitcher named Joe Trimble was called up, but oddly at the time, wasn’t healthy enough to pitch and he never did pitch for the Pirates that season. The word on Maz was strictly about his offense, no mention of his glovework. His nine homers at the time were leading Hollywood. Maz was replacing Spook Jacobs in the lineup, just 11 games after the Pirates had traded for the thirty year old second baseman.
The Pirates were 34-36 going into Maz’s debut, two days after his recall. He batted seventh and faced Johnny Antonelli, who was on his way to his second twenty win season. In his first major league AB, Bill recorded a single, then was erased on a double play off the bat of Bob Skinner. Maz went 1-for-3 in the game and was pinch-hit for in the ninth inning by Dale Long, who hit an RBI single to make the score 3-2 Giants, which is where the score stayed. Bill had two putouts and two assists in the field, turning his first career double play in the bottom of the first, a 6-4-3 with shortstop Dick Groat starting it and Skinner ending the play.
In 1972, Mazeroski played just 34 games all season. He was a backup to Dave Cash, and even got in some games at third base, a position he played for the first time a year earlier. On June 19,1972 he announced that he would retire at the end of the year. He was having leg problems all year, with a hard time recovering from games, even two to three days later. Maz had also put on weight, something he blamed on sitting on the bench for the first time. His plan after retirement was to coach, but never manage. He said he wasn’t the type of guy for that job, too many ulcers. It didn’t take long for him to get that coaching job, ten days after the regular season ended, he was named the new third base coach. Maz still played another 24 games after his retirement announcement though, including the last one on October 4th.
The Pirates had clinched the NL East two weeks earlier, so the last game of the season wasn’t a true send-off for Maz. In fact, he didn’t even start the game, he was only used as a pinch-hitter. Not many people were there that Wednesday night at Three Rivers Stadium. The attendance that day was a mere 4,603 patrons, there to see Bob Gibson face off against Nelson Briles. Maz made his final regular season appearance in the bottom of the fifth inning, hitting for Briles. He came to the plate with men on first and second and no outs. While the boxscore shows him with an 0-for-1, Maz got the job done, grounding out to first base to advance both runners. Just like that, his career records mentioned above were complete.
Maz still had two AB’s left in his career, pinch-hitting in game two and four of the NLCS against the Reds. On October 8,1972, just six days before he was named third base coach for 1973, Maz came to bat in the fifth inning of game two against Jack Billingham, pinch-hitting for reliever Bob Johnson. With Gene Alley on first base and no one out, Bill lined a single to center field for his last hit as a major leaguer. When he got to first base, Dock Ellis came in to run for him.
It has been nearly forty years since Maz last played a game for the Pirates and over fifty years since his famous homer, but the seventy-six year old is still a big part of the Pirates and always will be. The slick fielding second baseman can still be seen around PNC Park during the season and he is always there during Spring Training in Bradenton. Maz truly is one of the Pittsburgh Pirates all-time greats.