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December 15, 2012

EXTRA INNINGS: A trip back in time to visit the 1962 Pirates

OPINION — AMERICAN PHILOSPHER and writer Henry David Thoreau once observed: "Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in."

Today's column is for long-time Pirate "fishermen," a trip down memory lane for those who remember the Pittsburgh team of 50 years ago, the 1962 Bucs.

You remember 1962, don't you? A man named John Kennedy was in the White House while another John Kennedy played third base for the Washington Senators. ZIP codes had not yet been introduced.

Two new teams — the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45's played their first major-league season. The late Paul Long, who was news anchor for so many years at WTAE's channel 4, helped Bob Prince and Jim Woods broadcast for the first time a total of 162 games on radio and about 20 games on television. The best box seat available at Forbes Field set you back $3.

The Bucs' record that year was 93-68, a mark we can only dream about now! But even being 25 games over .500 left them in fourth place in 1962, four games behind the San Francisco Giants, who won the pennant over the Dodgers in a playoff. The two teams had tied in the 10-team, one-division-only league.

Having come off a sixth-place finish in 1961 with a 75-79 record in the last year baseball played "only" 154 games, the Pirates won their first 10 games of 1962, tying a modern major-league record set in 1955 by the Brooklyn Dodgers. The winner of that 10th game was the first complete game and the first big league win by a lefthander by the name of Bob Veale, 4-3 over the Mets, who had opened their first season in the Polo Grounds with 10 straight losses.

The Mets' first-ever win came the following night — against the Bucs, of course.

Besides Veale, Pirate pitchers were led by Bob Friend (18-14 in 1962), Alvin O'Neal McBean, Harvey Haddix, Wilbur "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, and Vernon Law started for the Bucs. Roy Face, Tom Strudivant, and a 42-year-old lefty named Diomedes Olivo worked in the bullpen.

This would be the final season in the black and white (no gold then) for infielders Don Hoak, Dick Groat, and Dick Stuart, who were all traded away following the season, leaving only Bill Mazeroski as a holdover.

The outfield had Bob Skinner, Bill Virdon, and Roberto Clemente. Forrest Harrill "Smoky" Burgess and Don Leppert shared the catching duties.

Bob Bailey, a phenom who never got to be a has-been because he was a never-was, played in his first major-league game. So did left fielder Willie Stargell.

And when a right-handed hurler named Earl Francis came on strong at the end of the season by winning four and dropping only one in the last month of the season, manager Danny Murtaugh beamed. "I wouldn't be surprised to see him win 20 in 1963." (Francis went 4-6 with a 4.55 ERA in 1963.)

Murtaugh worked with pitching coach Bill Burwell, bullpen coach Sam Narron, first-base coach Ron Northey, third-base coach Frank Oceak, and hitting instructor Virgil Trucks.

The Bucs sent Clemente, Groat, and Mazeroski to the all-star games (They played two games for several years in the '50s and '60s).

Surprisingly, the Bucs still visit two parks they played in during the 1962 season: Chicago's Wrigley Field and Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium. And of course the 1972 Bucs were seven seasons away from playing in Montreal's Parc Jarry or San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium. Arizona and Florida were decades away from joining the National League.

Naturally, all of 1962's managers are long gone. So are Chicago's College of Coaches, where coaches took turns annually serving as manager of the club.

For those of us who remember those names, how nostalgic; for those who chuckle at the names and places mentioned in today’s column, remember this: It won't be long until you're reading in 2062 about the Pirate team of 50 seasons prior.

 

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