Glove finally fits for Maz
Forget that famous World Series homer; Mazeroski enters the Hall because of his dominant defense
By Ian Browne
Contrary to popular belief outside of Pittsburgh, Bill Mazeroski's induction into the Hall of Fame Sunday will not serve as some final crowning moment for the epic home run he hit to beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.
It's plain and simple. Mazeroski -- a lifetime Pirate -- was voted into the Hall of hardball immortals by the Veterans Committee because he was one of the most dominant defensive
players of all-time.
Put a glove on Mazeroski's left hand, send him out to second base and he'd find a way to put on a show almost every day. Sunday, he will be celebrated because of that.
The brilliant Roberto Alomar could probably give Maz a run for his money at second. But during Mazeroski's career, he was the king of defensive wizardry at his position.
It is more than fitting that Rawlings began awarding gold gloves in 1957, Mazeroski's first season as an everyday player. Mazeroski won that award eight times in the following 10 seasons.
Perhaps Mazeroski's induction will pave the way for defensive dominance to be considered more in regard to a player's candidacy. For Mazeroski's offensive output -- 138 homers, .260 average -- certainly isn't Hall of Fame worthy. But defense can be just as meaningful to winning as offense.
It was natural that Mazeroski's heroics sometimes were lost in the shuffle. After all, he was teammates with a pair of legends in Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. But Sunday, he will get all the recognition he ever could have asked for.
"I'm going in primarily defensively, and I feel more proud and honored doing it that way because there are very few defensive players in there. If I'm one of them I've got to be one of the best and something special," said Mazeroski, who played for the Pirates from 1956-72. "So it's a great feeling to be going in on the defensive side."
In other words, Mazeroski doesn't get defensive if you mention his lack of gaudy offensive numbers.
Mazeroski's offensive output -- 138 homers, .260 average -- certainly isn't Hall of Fame worthy. But defense can be just as meaningful to winning as offense.
For he was symbolic of the Pirates' teams of that era. They were an old-school group that played the game the right way.
"We had a good defensive club," Mazeroski said. "We didn't have a lot of home run power, but we had good enough pitching to where we played the game, we hit and run, we moved the runners over, we did the little things in baseball that you did back in those days to win ball games."
In the Steel City, Mazeroski's defense is the stuff of legend. But around the country, he is known as the guy who hit the home run against the Yankees, much like the Giants' Bobby Thomson is known as the guy who hit the Shot Heard 'Round the World against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
And Mazeroski isn't ashamed to admit that his memorable clout didn't hurt his Cooperstown candidacy.
"I am known for the home run," Mazeroski said. "You mention my name and it's the home run [people think of.] I think it kept my name out there and once they learned about the defensive stats everything came together."
But those who played on the same side of the field as Mazeroski for all those years are almost in amazement that it took this long for his glovework to be fully appreciated.
"He was without a doubt, in my mind, the best second baseman ever to play to game," said Pirates bench coach Bill Virdon, who was a center fielder for the Bucs from 1956-68. "He spoiled me for the 10 years I played behind him. In fact, he made it tough for me. I backed him up for 10 years and I never got a ball. It's pretty tough to continue to back (someone) up religiously (when you) know that he's going to catch it."
Why was Mazeroski able to get to everything? Virdon had a better view than anyone.
"I think the one thing that really comes to mind that really makes him better than all the other second basemen is his ability to make the double play on any type of throw," Virdon said. "I've known a lot of second basemen who, if they got the good throw, were as quick as Maz. But Maz could make the double play as quick as anybody from any position. The throw came and he never, ever got taken out by a runner.
"I guess there are reasons for that. He had stumpy legs, strong legs. Many times I've seen him after the fact, he'd already delivered the ball to first base and the runner had slid into him, and he'd look down and say 'Are you all right?' [to the runner]. That's how strong he was in that area and that makes a lot of difference. He never went across the bag. He never backed
off the bag. He was always right there and made the play."
Sunday, he will be right there again, in the middle of the action, on his way to immortality.
Ian Browne is a regional writer for MLB.com based in New York. He can be reached at Ian.Browne@mlb.com. Ed Eagle, site reporter for PittsburghPirates.com, contributed to this report.