The Lost Home Run


 

The video above is a two-minute, 12-second replay of one of Major League Baseball’s most notable home runs. On October 13, 1960, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees were tied in the bottom of the 9th inning in the seventh (and, necessarily, final) game of the World Series. If the Pirates could score a run, they’d be the World Champions. On the second pitch, the generally light-hitting Pirates second baseman, Bill Mazeroski, clubbed a home run over the left field wall, ending the game and claiming the title for Pittsburgh.

This is, easily, one of the most important home runs — if not one of the most notable moments — in Major League history. But if you watch the video above, you may notice something strange. There’s two-plus minutes of audio, yes, but only about 40 seconds of video. Most of the clip is just stills from the limited amount of video.

That’s because for a long time, that 40-second clip was all that existed of the game. The rest was erased, lost to history forever. Or, it would have been, except for an unlikely hero: world-famous singer and actor Bing Crosby.

Beyond the gifts required to be a talented performer, Crosby had three other traits which were relevant to the story. First, he was an entrepreneur. In 1945, Crosby was the first artist to pre-record his radio appearances, allowing him to take time off without having to skip shows. Over time, he became more and more interested in the recording part of the recording industry, exploring ways to record video as well as audio. Unlike mosts artists, he knew a lot about the ins and outs of this part of the business.

Second, Crosby was a sports fan — baseball, in particular. In 1946, he was able to purchase a minority share in the Pirates. The Pirates, at the time, were one of the worst teams in the Majors, finishing 7th (out of 8th) in the National League. And they’d be even worse over the following decade — from 1946 until 1960, the Pirates had only two seasons in which they managed to win half or more of their games. The 1960 World Series run was an aberration for a generation, quite literally — it was the Pirates first Series appearance since 1927.

Crosby was nervous, and that brings us to the third trait — superstition. Crosby, according to his wife (via an AP report), was unwilling to stay in the country lest he jinx the team (!), so he and his wife went to Paris for the duration. They listened to the games via the radio, celebrating with friends (and apparently starting a small, accidental fire) when Mazeroski’s hit flew over the fence. He never saw the game, though. And probably wouldn’t have, as the rule of thumb at the time for TV broadcasters was to overwrite tapes to save costs. Despite the historical significance of the World Series and Game 7 in particular, this was no different. The full recording of Game 7 was erased shortly after the game ended. (Only the 40 second clip used in the video above was preserved by the TV network.)

But Crosby probably understood this. And — in case of a win — he wanted to be able to watch a replay. He used his knowledge about the recording industry and planned ahead. He hired a company which provided kinescope services — basically, a recording made by pointing a movie camera at the TV screen — to make a video of the game from the broadcast.

Whether he watched it is unknown, but what we do know is that he kept it — even though no one knew about it for decades. In late 2009, five reels containing the entire game’s broadcast were found in his home by an executive at his company (which continues on well after his death in 1977). For some reason, Crosby was storing them in his wine cellar. Because of his superstition, Bing Crosby saved one of baseball’s most memorable games from permanent erasure.

The film was converted to DVD for the following off-season.

 

Bonus Fact: Bill Mazeroski wasn’t named the Most Valuable Player of the 1960 World Series, despite his home run — but another second baseman was. The honor went to Bobby Richardson of the Yankees, even though the New York team lost the Series itself. To date, Richardson is the only World Series MVP to come from the losing team.

From the Archives:  Monkey Business: Another tale from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

RelatedThe DVDs of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.