The book: “Kiss It Good-bye: The Mystery, the Mormon, and the Moral of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates”
The author: John Moody
The vital stats: Shadow Mountain Publishing, 350 pages, $24.95
Find it: Barnes & Noble have it (linked here).
The pitch: We’ve linked to this one on the day of the Dodgers’ season opener at Pittsburgh, to remind us about just how good the Pirates once were, and how fun it was to be 6 years old.
Before Stargell, Blass and Sanguillen, take the 50-year hot tub time machine ride to the 1960 season and World Series. And there’s more beyond Maz’s homer that stunned the Yankees.
Moody and his beloved, sooty city of Pittsburgh connects with Pirates pitcher Vern Law, known as The Deacon because of his strict Morman upbringing.
To Moody, writing this book was a personal journey. It admits he started it in 2003, because two years after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, he still felt something was missing from his life.
“I wanted to return to a time when I had been happy,” he wrote in the final chapter.
To him, explaining how that 1960 season “would propel the Pirates, and Pittsburgh, from the backwaters of public opinion to the pinnacle of baseball’s promise,” went much deeper.
Not the greatest prose you’ll ever read in a baseball book, but it cuts to the heart of the matter for Moody, who was always left with a nagging question: Why was it that his favorite player seemed to struggle for the rest of his career after 1960?
Law’s 20-9 season with 18 complete games won him the Cy Young Award. The year before, he was 18-9 season in 1959. Although Law went 17-9 with a 2.15 ERA in 1965, his record in the seven seasons after that 1960 title run was a modest 60-52 with an ERA above 4.00. He actually tried to retire in August, ’63, on manager Danny Murtaugh’s suggestion, but came back, stuck around until 1967, and with a 2-6 record, he was ready to quit again. As Moody writes about Law’s final retirement at that time, “most of the 1960 team had retired and been traded, and some of the players the Pirates had acquired — particularily the flashy, base-stealing shortstop Maury Wills — were not the kind of teammates Law enjoyed being around.”
The “mystery” from the title that Moody pursues is one surrounding an ankle injury Law suffered on the night the Pirates clinched the NL pennant in September of 1960 — one that likely caused him to have problems with his control and balance, not just in the World Series, but in later years. It wasn’t just a routine injury either, but one caused by an accident on the team bus from celebrating their NL pennant too zealously.
Law didn’t want to talk about it. Until now.
“Why was I bothering this man, my lifelong hero, to recount something he obviously wanted to let go?” Moody writes. “Part of it, of course, was to get to the truth. I wanted to know who was to blame for the demise of my paragon. But there was something more to my dogged resolve. I needed to turn an emotional page in my own life … when I was a little boy asking my father why Vernon Law no longer pitched as well as he used to.”
Not to give away the mystery ending, but Law’s strong religious beliefs come into play again, and Moody is taught a life lesson he isn’t about to forget.
How it goes down in the scorebook: A profound walk-off homer.
Also: By the way, who was the Pirates’ winning pitcher in Game 7 after Bill Mazerowki’s walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth? Law started and went five innings, giving up three runs — he was 2-0 in the series in three starts with a 3.44 ERA — but again, that ankle was giving him problems. The answer: Harvey Haddux, more famous for throwing a 13-inning perfect game but then losing it in the 14th.
And one more tidbit: Credit Bing Crosby for helping the Pirates sign Law. In 1948, when Law graduated from high school in Meridian, Idaho, nine baseball scouts and agents one day converged on his home to talk to his parents about him signing a contract. Babe Herman, the former Brooklyn Dodger star, represented the Pirates, and was the only one not smoking a cigar when he visited Law’s parents. Instead, he had a bouquet of flowers and box of chocolates for Mrs. Law. Then Bing Crosby called to talk to her. Crosby was a friend Idaho senator Herman Welker, who helped arrange the call. Crosby later told Law the “real” story when he met up with him at Dodger Stadium years later. Crosby told Herman to hand out cigars to all the other scouts, knowing the smell would so disturb Law’s parents that they’d have to stand on the porch. Herman, the only one without a stoogie, had the other gifts — plus Crosby’s phone call. It worked.