Mazeroski near tears at unveiling

PITTSBURGH -- Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski soon will be able to walk down Mazeroski Way on Pittsburgh's North Side and see a statue depicting him hitting one of baseball's most famous homers.

If a sad movie makes him cry, think how such a tribute feels to a man who, while growing up in a one-room house near Wheeling, W.Va., pretended to play baseball with a wooden stick and a rock because his family once couldn't afford to buy him a ball and glove.

Mazeroski's voice was shaky throughout a brief talk Friday as a miniature version of the statue that will be erected outside PNC Park in his honor was unveiled. Former teammates Bob Friend and Dick Groat watched nearby.

Mazeroski has received nearly every award and accolade a player can earn, but this was something special.

"All I wanted to do was play major league baseball," Mazeroski said. "I played in the All-Star game. I played in the World Series. I hit a home run that every little kid dreams of and 50 years later, they're still proud and still talking about it. I got my number retired and, geez, I got in the Hall of Fame. I got a street named after you. Holy hell, how can you can get a life better than this?"

Now, he's getting a statue that's twice his size in real life.

The 12-foot statue will depict him rounding second base, his batting helmet raised high in his right hand, after hitting the homer that beat the heavily favored New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

"I was flying," Mazeroski recalled. "My feet didn't hit the ground."

Fifty years later, it remains the only World Series-ending Game 7 homer in baseball history. An oft-overlooked fact: He also won Game 1 of the same World Series with a two-run homer after hitting only 11 homers in 151 games that season.

While his Game 7 homer ranks alongside Bobby Thomson's 1950 NL playoff winner for the Giants as among the most memorable in the sport's history, Mazeroski made it to the Hall of Fame for his defensive excellence.

No second baseman in history turned more double plays, and the eight-time Gold Glove winner's .983 career fielding percentage was exceptional considering he played on one of the majors' most unforgiving surfaces, Forbes Field's concrete-like infield.

Mazeroski's statue will join those of Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell at PNC Park and will be the second unveiled there. Wagner's statue first stood outside Forbes Field and Clemente's debuted at the 1994 All-Star game at Three Rivers Stadium. A separate bronze sculpture inside the ballpark honors Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner.

Mazeroski's only misgivings are that he believes he receives too much credit for completing one of baseball's biggest World Series upsets; he wouldn't have had the chance to bat if Hal Smith hadn't hit a three-run homer during a five-run Pirates rally the inning before.

"I was just a piece on that team," said Mazeroski, who was 24 when he homered and is now 73. "I hit one home run. I get a lot of the credit and don't deserve it."

The statue was created by Pittsburgh artist Susan Wagner, who also sculpted those for Clemente and Stargell. Funds to pay for the statues will be solicited from Pirates fans, whose names will be displayed on a brick wall behind the statue if they reach a certain donation level.

Mazeroski's homer traveled over the wall at the 406-foot mark in left-center. That section of wall was preserved when Forbes Field was torn down in the 1970s and will be part of the display.