The World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates by Dick Groat and Bill Surface

I picked up this book on ebay a couple of months ago for a pretty good price. The book dates back to 1961 and was published in the aftermath of the Pirates beating the Yanks in the series. It was the only book written about the 1960 Pirates (that I’m aware of) until longtime Pittsburgh sportswriter Jim O’Brien began his “Pittsburgh Proud” series and penned one called Maz and the ’60 Bucs back in the mid-1990s. Can you imagine if there had only been one book published about the 2004 Red Sox? I specifically wanted to read this before tackling the much more recent The Best Game Ever by Jim Reisler, which I just got for Christmas.
At any rate, Surface was apparently a sports writer of the time, though I’m not familiar with him and the book doesn’t have an “about the author” section. So, I might be mistaken on his credentials. Groat, as you all know, was the Bucs SS and the 1960 NL MVP and batting champ. But, when I read this book, I don’t see much of Dick Groat and my assumption is that this was largely ghost written by surface.
There are a couple of chapters in the beginning of the book devoted to a brief history of the Pirates, from their inception to the birth of the nickname Pirates, to the Honus Wagner years through the Branch Rickey disaster in the early ’50s. No problems with that part of the book. But I doubt that any of those words belong to Groat.
After that you have a breakdown of the team, starting with the front office. Here we get into a little “gee whiz” journalism. Here’s a quote from the section on GM Joe L. Brown

The players know you can’t find a nicer guy, or better baseball man to have in the clubhouse, than Joe L. Brown.

Wow. He sure seems like a swell guy.
After that, it is a rundown of the players on the team in a fairly straight forward manner. Couple of interesting things:
1. Danny Murtaugh was originally second choice to take over for Bobby Bragan when the latter was axed in 1957. Clyde Sukeforth turned down the job, according to the book. Also, the job was originally Murtaugh’s on an interim basis only. However, the club which had been the laughingstock of the NL for the previous couple of seasons, played .500 ball over the last third of the season.
2. Roberto Clemente is referred to as Roberto and not “Bob”. It was right around this time that his name began getting more Americanized. But for the most part, people refer to him as Roberto in this tome.
3. There is no mention of any of the strategic controversy in the Series. No mention of Art Ditmar getting the nod in Game 1 over Whitey Ford. No mention of Stengel letting Bobby Shantz hit for himself in the 7th game with two outs and two on in the top of the 8th with the Yanks up 7-4. No mention of not pitching Ryne Duren or Luis Arroyo at all in the 7th game.
This is a whimsical quick read. I learned some new stuff and had a couple of good laughs. Well worth the money I paid and I’m sure I’ll read it again.
Other books on my shelves that I hope to tackle in 2009:
Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball by Ellis and Donald Hall
Roberto Clemente: Batting King by Arnold Hano
Branch Rickey in Pittsburgh by Andrew O’Toole
The Pirates Reader edited by Richard Peterson
Making Airwaves by Milo Hamilton
Hardball by Bowie Kuhn
Shortened Seasons by Fran Zimniuch. This is about players who died while still essentially pursuing a career in baseball. There is, of course, a chapter on Roberto.

Posted in Book Review, Roberto Clemente. Comments Off on The World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates by Dick Groat and Bill Surface
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