1960 Game 7, 3rd inning: A little integration

Hector Lopez digs in against Vern Law
Hector Lopez digs in against Vern Law

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Clete Boyer’s name appears on the screen as “Cletis” as he comes to bat with one out in the top of the third following Vern Law’s slick backhand stab of Johnny Blanchard’s comebacker. Boyer suspects his bat is broken, beats the handle on the ground to confirm it, and trots — trots! — back to the dugout to replace it. I have never seen a major league player trot on his way to get a new bat. They walk.

Boyer’s quick pace gives me just enough time for a quick Clete Boyer bat story, because I’m pretending that I’m not using the pause button liberally here.

I am not sure I’m remembering this right, but I think the first bat I ever owned, a black 26-ouncer, was a Clete Boyer signature model. Boyer was winding his career down with Atlanta during the years I was coming into baseball consciousness, 1970 and ’71, so while I remember the bat being a new model, I’m reasonably sure it was picked up at a discount.

Because of that bat, I always had kind of a soft spot for Clete Boyer, even though I don’t remember ever seeing him play. I don’t mean a soft spot, really, but his name had some meaning for me. I also had, for some reason, a first baseman’s mitt when I was very young, and it was a Mike Hegan signature model. Mike Hegan! How did he ever get his name on a mitt? I don’t have any soft spot for Mike Hegan, though I probably wouldn’t recall his name today if I hadn’t had that mitt.

Clete grabs a new bat and walks back to the plate without any elaborate on-deck-circle ritual of rubbing it down with just the right amount of pine tar and rosin. Announcer Bob Prince speculates that Boyer could have been “just changing bats and fiddling around a little bit” to give Bobby Shantz more time to warm up in the bullpen, since the pitcher’s spot is up next. But Shantz has been warming up since the top of the first, and if Boyer were trying to kill time he probably wouldn’t have trotted to the dugout to fetch his new bat.

Boyer pops out to Bill Mazeroski in shallow center field, and that brings up a pinch hitter, Hector Lopez.

Clete Boyer checks his bat.
Clete Boyer checks his bat.

A striking thing about watching this game from 1960 today is that almost everybody’s white. Of the 18 men in the starting lineup, only Roberto Clemente was not Anglo. Elston Howard, who was black, would have been the Yankees starting catcher if he hadn’t gotten hurt, but that’s still a couple of overwhelmingly white lineups.

Both teams used 25 men in the 1960 World Series, and six of them were minorities. Aside from Clemente, Howard and Lopez — a Panamanian who is black enough to have been considered the first black manager at Triple-A when he took over in Buffalo in 1969 — the rest of the 12 percent minority population consisted of two African-American Pirates reserves, outfielder Joe Christopher and infielder Gene Baker, who would combine for three plate appearances in this Series, and Yankees lefty reliever Luis Arroyo, who had pitched two-thirds of an inning in Game 5.

Contrast that with the 2010 World Series, when the Giants and Rangers used a combined 47 players, and 26 of them — 55 percent — were minorities. I’m not a census taker or anything, so maybe my count’s off a little if someone’s not what he appears to be, but that’s a pretty striking difference, almost five times more non-white players in the 2010 World Series than in 1960.

I think it’s easy to get into thinking about history in a shorthand way that doesn’t get at what really happened. Every American schoolkid knows that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 and baseball was integrated from that day on. And every baseball fan knows that integration hardly happened overnight. The Boston Red Sox, the last team to field a black player, didn’t do so until 1959, as everyone who’s heard the name Pumpsie Green knows.

But it goes beyond that. The Red Sox were an embarrassment by the end of the ’50s for their refusal to have any black players on the club, but it’s not like they were that far behind everybody else. The Pirates had integrated in 1953, but here they were seven years later with two blacks and a dark-skinned Puerto Rican. Howard integrated the Yankees when he came up in 1955, and now five years later they had two blacks and a light-skinned Puerto Rican, Arroyo. Not exactly a melting pot.

Hector Lopez (11) coaching Panama in the 2009 World Baseball Classic
Hector Lopez (11) coaching Panama in the 2009 World Baseball Classic

Some teams were quicker than others to truly integrate. You can’t write the history of the National League in the 1960s without talking about how the Dodgers and Cardinals dominated in part because they were more eager than other teams to sign black players. In this same year, 1960, the Dodgers had a majority-black starting lineup, with five African-American everyday players: Johnny Roseboro, Charlie Neal, Maury Wills, Jim Gilliam and Tommy Davis.

But for the most part, and certainly in this Series, baseball in 1960, 13 years into the “integration” era, was still a pretty white game.

Here’s Lopez, tossing away his second bat. He started a lot of games at third base in 1960, especially when Boyer was hurt in April and May. He also spent some time in left field and played a few games at second base, where he’d played a lot early in his career in Kansas City. But by this time, at 30, he was about done with that. He would play two more games at second the rest of his career, which lasted until 1966.

His playing career that is. Lopez managed Panama in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He was 79 at the time. He looked about 55.

He has an exaggerated stance, hunched over and closed, like he’s going to aim to right field. He does whack a couple of fouls that way. He’d been a pretty good hitter with the A’s, once hitting 22 home runs, and would be a solid fourth outfielder/utility type in his Yankee years. In 1960, his first full year in New York, he’d hit .284 with nine home runs and a 115 OPS-plus in 131 games.

Now there goes the no-hitter as Lopez bangs one through the left side of the infield for a base hit, the first of the game off of Vern Law. Bobby Richardson, at the top of the order, hits a line drive to left that hangs up for Bob Skinner, who puts it away for the third out. Still 4-0 Pirates.

Rocky Nelson shows off his mastery of left-handed pitchers as he draws a walk
Rocky Nelson shows off his mastery of left-handed pitchers as he draws a walk

Shantz takes over on the mound for the Yankees. The lefty had somehow won the American League MVP with the fourth-place A’s in 1952 and then led the league in ERA in 1957 as a swing man for the Yanks. Mel Allen talks about how a sore arm had limited him since that MVP year, but he’d settled in as an effective reliever. He would spend 1961 with the Pirates before bouncing from the Astros to the Cardinals, Cubs and Phillies over his last three years.

He gets Bob Skinner on a grounder to first, and then Rocky Nelson gets a nice hand as he comes up. He hit a two-run homer in the first inning. Here he hits a rocket down the right-field line, foul.

“It will be interesting to note the duel between Shantz and Rocky Nelson,” Prince says, “for Nelson has a greater lifetime average against left-hand pitching than he does against right-hand pitching. He says it’s because he waits longer on the left-hander and can pull him a little better on occasion.”

Well, that’s interesting. Casey Stengel, sitting in the Yankees dugout, is the master of the platoon, but I had not expected to hear the TV announcer of the 1960 World Series talk about a guy’s platoon splits. And what a counterintuitive story Prince tells, the lefty-swinging Nelson hitting lefties better than he hits righties. Could this be?

Unlike a viewer in 1960, I have the Internet and can answer that question while Nelson waits for Shantz’s next pitch.

The short answer: Nelson did not hit left-handed pitching better than he hit right-handed pitching. In his regular-season career to that moment, Nelson’s batting average against righties was .266. Against lefties: .214. And it wasn’t just that he didn’t hit lefties better than righties. He hit lefties so little he rarely faced them. Nelson had 1,409 plate appearances in the big leagues to that point in his career, and 84 of them had come against left-handed pitching. That’s 6 percent. By way of comparison, Yogi Berra, a left-handed hitter who hit lefties pretty well, faced a left-hander in about 28 percent of his big-league at-bats.

Roberto Clemente on one knee in the on-deck circle
Roberto Clemente on one knee in the on-deck circle

So Nelson was no lefty-killer, but maybe Prince was just talking about 1960. Sure enough, Nelson had a better batting average against lefties than against righties in 1960, .368 to .293.

But he achieved that .368 average in 19 at-bats! He was 7-for-19 with a double. If two of his singles had been turned into an out — a bad hop here, an at’em ball there — he’d have hit .263 against lefties and Prince would have had nothing to talk about. Instead Prince is passing on Nelson’s pontifications about what makes him such a good lefty-on-lefty hitter because of his flukey success in 19 at-bats toward the end of a career in which he hit .188 against left-handed pitching. The next year, his last, Nelson, all waiting longer on the lefties and pulling them and everything, went 0-for-10 against them.

See, kids, this is how it used to be. Before the Internet, before Bill James, TV announcers and newspaper reporters — and ballplayers and managers — would say stuff like this, and we’d just have to take their words for it. Now, we can fact check their asses. It might take 50 years, but we can figure out the truth.

Nelson, ducking out of the way of sweeping curve after sweeping curve, works Shantz for a walk. Of course he does, because after all that you knew he wasn’t going to make an out.

Clemente comes up. Prince, the Pirates announcer, does a funny thing. He pronounces his name close to correctly — “Clementay” — and then quickly corrects himself to an anglicized pronunciation: “Clumenty.” The right fielder hits a slow grounder to Bobby Richardson, who starts a nifty 4-6-3 double play, Tony Kubek making the relay. Clemente, who is fast, is out by a step and the third inning is over, the Pirates leading 4-0. Are the Yankees really going to go down this quietly?

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Hector Lopez WBC photo by Reuters. Used without permission. Will remove on request.

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