The Pace of the Game - 1960 to Present
June 27, 2011
by William Szczepanek
There has been much written about the length of baseball games and the argument that they take too long, versus those who would argue to have the game go on forever. I think the discussion should really center around the amount of quality action during a game, not necessarily how long the game lasts. After all there is no set length to a game, but recently I have become somewhat bored by not only the lack of action, but also the type of actions seen during a game.
We all know what goes on in a game today, but many don't know or can't remember what the game was like 50 years ago. Sure, we see highlights of World Series' past and see how the game was played, but we don't really have a sense for what an entire game was like back then ─ until recently.
Near the end of 2009 we heard that Bing Crosby had recorded the seventh game of the 1960 World Series in its entirety from the television. His recordings were released last year and I knew I wanted to see this DVD. My daughter was kind enough to buy it for me for my birthday and I looked forward to watching the game as if I were a 12 year old on October 13, 1960. Since this game was played on a Thursday I did not hear the result until I returned home from school and other than a few highlights, since there were no rebroadcasts back then, I never saw the game.
On the weekend of my birthday I sat down with my wife and son to watch the game and savor the experience of traveling back in time. What I saw was very surprising, both from the point of view of time and action. The game has really changed since then and the change is not subtle. We have this obsession today with multi-tasking and increased productivity and think we live in the fast paced world of the new millennium. To look back at this game is to see what life was really like back then.
Let's not make this seem like I am defending the past, or making an argument that players back then were better than today. Today's players are bigger, stronger, faster and trained more thoroughly than ever before. But, some of what I witnessed makes me feel differently about how the game is played today. So, settle down and listen to some startling observations about not only baseball in 1960, but also the pace of life. I have watched this game twice, once with narration by the TV announcers Bob Prince of the Pirates and Mel Allen of the Yankees, and again with the radio announcers, Jack Quinlan of the Cubs and Chuck Thompson of the Senators. I grew up listening to Jack Quinlan, who died in an auto accident during spring training in 1965. He was one of the best and most descriptive radio broadcasters ever. I rank him second all time to Vin Scully, but I am highly prejudiced. So, hearing him again was a special treat for me.
October 13, 1960
Eisenhower was still president and a good-sized TV had about a 21" diagonal picture which was delivered in beautiful shades of gray.
The first indication of a change in pace was by the announcers who briskly ran through the lineups. The description for both radio and TV were geared to the game and the action at hand without much small talk. Pitchers worked quickly with the average time between pitches being between 10- 15 seconds for both starters, Vern Law and Bob Turley. (Current pitchers average between 15 and 20 seconds between pitches). This was accomplished with the help of the fact that the batters did not leave the batter's box. They did not stop to fix batting gloves (none had them), or pose for their adoring fans. On a few instances they stopped to look for signs and on a rare occasion Johnny Blanchard called time because the pitcher was taking too long, which wasn't more than a slight hesitation. The pitchers and batters working together like this did more to keep the action going than any other factor in the game.
Even running the bases on a home run was not stretched out. Rocky Nelson, Bill Skowron and Yogi Berra circled the bases briskly. The dramatic home runs by Hal Smith and Bill Mazeroski had some celebratory moves, but the bases were circled very rapidly. Almost everything happened quickly.
One exception, and really one of the only, was the pace of the reliever in getting to the mound from the bullpen. Roy Face walked so slowly it appeared that his feet hurt. The thought at the time was that pitchers needed to conserve energy, but it was taken to the extreme, especially since once he got to the mound Roy Face took 23 seconds to complete all eight of his warm up pitches. That's less than 3 seconds between pitches. Bobby Shantz's warmups were of a similar duration. Today, it takes a full commercial break to warm up.
There was one cracked bat during the whole game. The Ash was sure good back then. Today's maple bats explode into splinters many times a game and time is taken to get a new bat.
Another interesting fact was that with the home run swings of Maris and Mantle and the bad ball swings of Berra and Clemente, there were no strikeouts in the game. There also were no wild pitches or passed balls. Everyone seemed conscious of the two-strike count and protected the plate and made contact. The bats were noticeably heavier and players obviously looked for the fastball and adjusted by delaying their swing to make contact on the offspeed pitches. Clemente looked awkward, stepping into the bucket on most pitches. He was ready to slam an inside pitch, but always seemed to make contact with the outside pitches. It's hard to imagine he hit .314 in 1960 with this wild style of hitting.
In fact many of the players looked awkward both hitting and pitching, but they seemed to get the job done very well. Rocky Nelson had a batting stance similar to those of the 1800's. I asked my son so I could get a younger person's perspective. He agreed that they played differently back then, but he thought they seemed to have more natural talent and had perfected their individual styles.
They weren't perfect, but they sure did execute well. Popups were never in doubt. The infielders ran to the spot and made the catches easily. Outfielders ran to the ball, then made their catches in good position. Infield play was particularly slick. All fielders seemed to release the ball quicker than today. They seemed to flick the ball to first base, not set up and fire. The throws were very accurate. Don "Tiger" Hoak caught a hard smash to third on a short hop. He smothered the ball with his body and threw from his knees - a perfect strike to first. You don't see that as much today with most player's getting to their feet before throwing.
Infield gloves were slightly smaller, but there were no bobbles. Fielding was exceptionally clean. Double plays were made with finesse ─ Richardson to Kubek to Skowron. On a ball to deep short, it was Groat to Mazeroski to Nelson. They made it look easy and slick. The announcers made nothing of it. Just another double play. It was expected. It just seemed faster than today.
Outfield play was especially good. The outfielders made it look easy. On a fly ball to Maris with a man on third in a critical situation, Maris ran over caught the ball and released his throw within two steps. The throw was on the fly to the catcher and held the runner. No comments on what a great throw it was. It was expected. Today, I often see outfielders take 5 steps before gunning their throws 30 feet in front of the catcher, which in all fairness reduces the chance of a bad throw, but does give the runner more time. On another play Roger Maris went to the corner for a ball hit down the first base line, plucked it off the wall and threw to second on the fly to hold the runner to a single. Clemente caught vicious line drives to right like they were simple fly balls, one of them with his famous basket catch, and used his cannon arm to stop runners from advancing to third on hits to right. Outfielders consistently hit the cutoff man. Players were in position.
It was amazing that the pitchers actually could hit too. Vern Law crushed a ball out of the park but foul down the line. Bobby Shantz batted for himself with 2 men in scoring position in the eighth and consistently made contact before flying out to right. He singled to left his previous at bat. The pitchers actually looked comfortable hitting.
All players used the bunt as a decoy. Even Mantle and Maris faked bunts to draw infielders in. Both teams did well sacrificing runners. Bob Skinner laid down a perfect sacrifice and Mazeroski laid down a sacrifice near the third base line with runners on first and second that was so good he beat it out for a hit. The skill level at bunting by all players was significantly better than today.
The other aspect of the game that is not seen today occurred when Yogi Berra came to the plate after he hit a home run in his previous at bat. Roy Face's first pitch was very high and inside. A warning from Face for Berra not to get too comfortable. The game went on without incident.
Important Aspects of the Game that are Forgotten.
With two strikes on him in the bottom of the eighth Roberto Clemente topped a ground ball down the first base side. With no hesitation Clemente was out of the box and tearing down the first base line with long digging strides. Jim Coates, though sometimes criticized for not covering first, was off the mound with the hit and ran to cover first. Because he also played the ball he did not have the correct line to the bag, and It didn't matter that Skowron fielded the slow roller cleanly, Clemente beat Coates to first in his mad dash. The effort kept the inning alive for the Pirates who were still 2 runs down.
Hal Smith was now the catcher as Smokey Burgess was replaced by a pinch runner. Early in the count Smith screwed himself into the ground on a swinging strike obviously trying to hit the ball out of the park. A few seconds later Smith made contact on a ferocious swing and sent the ball over the wall at the 406 ft mark. At the time, announcer Mel Allen called it "...one of the most dramatic base hits in the history of the World Series. …. That base hit will long be remembered." Today, no one seems to remember it.
In the ninth Mickey Mantle lined a single to right to score Richardson. The Yankees were still a run down with Gil McDougald on third, pinch running for Dale Long and Mantle on first. Yogi Berra was now the batter with one out. He hit a line drive to first baseman, Rocky Nelson. Nelson stabbed the ball and stepped on first to get Berra out. Here is where Mantle's base running ability and experience came into play. With Mantle now trapped off of first, Nelson turned to throw to second while still watching the runner on third move to home. I would bet that 99% of the runners in that situation would have run to second base, but Mantle instinctively knew that the force was off and first base was safe haven. Mantle dove to the home plate side of first and eluded the lunging tag of Nelson. McDougald scored and the game was tied.
The rest of the game is what people remember. Bill Mazeroski leads off the ninth with his dramatic home run in the same place that Hal Smith hit his home run that would never be forgotten. Mazeroski is the rightful hero and Smith is unfortunately forgotten completely.
The Scene in the Clubhouse
We have all seen the interviews in the clubhouse after a World Series ─ the celebrations and excited comments from players. The interviews after this game were no different except for the pace. It was as if the interviewer was told to get as many comments as possible ─ in 4 minutes. In this timeframe there were 18 interviews done in shotgun fashion. To watch it today it almost seems comical. Each player was asked a question and could barely get any words out before the next player was pulled to the podium.
For instance Hal Smith was the first player interviewed:
And on it went in rapid fire fashion for the remainder of the interviews. It may have been a record for most interviews in the shortest period of time.
I originally sat down to watch this game and comment on the players and how the game has changed. What was reinforced in my mind was the demeanor of the players. There was no attempt to show up another player or stand in the batter's box and admire your hit. It was all business and it was accomplished in an efficient manner.
But, what really impressed me was the pace of the game. Maybe we're really not all that efficient now in how we work. Maybe computers have made life easier and we just think that our levle of work is better now. In no way will I say that the players were better then than they are now. It just seemed like they were more professional. In fairness, Mazeroski could probably turn a double play better than just about any before or since and Clemente could make the hardest plays look easy. And the iconic Mickey Mantle was Mickey Mantle and everything you expected him to be. He could even kneel in the batting circle better than anyone else. So, this game with these players cannot be compared fairly to an average game today.
There was nothing average about these players, except their salaries.
Time of game: An exciting 2:36
Not bad for a 24 hit, 19-run ball game.
From a baseball card perspective it is interesting to note that all of the players mentioned actually had cards produced in 1960 and they were on the correct teams ─ just another indication of the stability of these rosters.