Thursday, September 23, 2010

‘Best Game Ever’ Broadcast Found in Bing Crosby’s Wine Cellar

(Associated Press) Pittsburgh Pirates vice president Bing Crosby, center,
with co-owner and treasurer John W. Galbreath, left, and President Frank McKinney,
at the season opener at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Ill., in 1947.

By Richard Sandomir
New York Times

September 23, 2010

How a near pristine, black-and-white reel of the entire television broadcast of the deciding game of the 1960 World Series — long believed to be lost forever — came to rest in the dry and cool wine cellar of Bing Crosby’s home near San Francisco is not a mystery to those who knew him.

Crosby loved baseball, but as a part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates he was too nervous to watch the Series against the Yankees, so he and his wife went to Paris, where they listened by radio.

“He said, ‘I can’t stay in the country,’ ” his widow, Kathryn Crosby, said. “ ‘I’ll jinx everybody.’ ”

He knew he would want to watch the game later — if his Pirates won — so he hired a company to record Game 7 by kinescope, an early relative of the DVR, filming off a television monitor. The five-reel set, found in December in Crosby’s home, is the only known complete copy of the game, in which Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a game-ending home run to beat the Yankees, 10-9. It is considered one of the greatest games ever played.
(Associated Press) The Pirates’
catcher Hal Smith, right, and his
eighth inning homer to put
Pittsburgh on top, 9-7.
Crosby, the singer and movie and TV star, had more foresight than the television networks and stations, which erased or discarded nearly all of the Major League Baseball games they carried until the 1970s.

A canny preservationist of his own legacy, Crosby, who died in 1977, kept a half-century’s worth of records, tapes and films in the wine cellar turned vault in his Hillsborough, Calif., home.

“Bing Crosby was way ahead of his time,” said Nick Trotta, senior library and licensing manager for Major League Baseball Productions, the sport’s archivist. Three years ago, baseball acquired the rights to Yankees pitcher Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series — leaving the finale of the 1960 World Series high on its wish list. The hunt for old games — this one unseen on TV since its original broadcast — is constant, serendipitous and often futile. Great games like the Game 7 in 1960 are often recalled with just a few newsreel clips.

Crosby was so superstitious about hexing his Pirates that he and Kathryn listened to the game with their friends Charles and Nonie de Limur in Paris.

(Bing Crosby Enterprises)
Bing Crosby, who was part owner
of the Pittsburgh Pirates,
hired a company to record
Game 7 by kinescope,
an early relative of the DVR.
“We were in this beautiful apartment, listening on shortwave, and when it got close Bing opened a bottle of Scotch and was tapping it against the mantel,” Kathryn Crosby said. “When Mazeroski hit the home run, he tapped it hard; the Scotch flew into the fireplace and started a conflagration. I was screaming and Nonie said, ‘It’s very nice to celebrate things but couldn’t we be more restrained?’ ”

After Crosby viewed the 2-hour-36-minute game, probably in a screening room in the house, the films took their place in the vault, said Robert Bader, vice president for marketing and production for Bing Crosby Enterprises.

They remained there undisturbed until December when Bader was culling videotapes of Crosby’s TV specials for a DVD release — part of the estate’s goal of resurrecting his body of work.

He spotted two reels lying horizontally in gray canisters labeled, “1960 World Series.” They were stacked close to the ceiling with home movies and sports instructional films. An hour or so later he found three others on other shelves. Intrigued, he screened the 16-millimeter film on a projector. It was Game 7, called by the Yankees’ Mel Allen and the Pirates’ Bob Prince — the complete NBC broadcast. The film had not degraded and has been transferred to DVD.

“I had to be the only person to have seen it in 50 years,” Bader said. “It was just pure luck.”

Bader’s call to baseball last spring initiated months of talks that have led to an agreement allowing the MLB Network to televise the game in the off-season, and wrap interviews and other programming around it, with Bob Costas as the host.

“It’s a time capsule,” Trotta said.

Hearing of the broadcast’s discovery, Jim Reisler, a historian born in Pittsburgh, sounded stunned.

“Wow,” he said. His book about the game — “The Best Game Ever” — would have benefited from seeing the NBC production, he said; he relied on the radio call. “It would have given me a greater sense of the tremendous ebb and flow of the game,” he said.

Dick Groat, the Pirates shortstop, said: “It was such a unique game to begin with. It was back and forth, back and forth. It was unbelievable.”

The production is simple by today’s standards. NBC appeared to use about five cameras. The graphics were simple (the players’ names and little else) and rarely used. There were no instant replays, no isolated cameras, no dugout reporters and no sponsored trivia quizzes.

Viewers looked at the hand-operated Forbes Field scoreboard that on that day (of 19 runs and 24 hits) got a vigorous workout. Occasionally they saw newsreel cameras atop the ballpark roof.

Price and Allen rarely interacted; the former called the first half, Allen the second half — putting him on the air for Yogi Berra’s three-run homer in the sixth inning (Allen first called it foul); Pirates’ catcher Hal Smith’s eighth inning homer to put Pittsburgh on top, 9-7 (“That base hit will long be remembered,” Allen said as the film showed Roberto Clemente — Allen called him Bob —bounding around the bases with joy); and Mazeroski’s winning drive to left field (“And the fans go wild,” Allen said).

The game included the play in which a ground ball hit by Bill Virdon to Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek kicked off the dirt and hit him smack in the Adam’s apple. He fell on his back, sat up within a minute looking dazed, stood up, then lobbied Manager Casey Stengel unsuccessfully to stay in.

It also included a daring example of base-running savvy by Mickey Mantle with two outs in the top of the ninth, in which he deked Pittsburgh first baseman Rocky Nelson and dived safely back into the bag just as Gil McDougald was reaching home to tie the score, 9-9.

Had Mantle been tagged out, McDougald’s run probably would not have counted and the game would have been over.

“How about that?” Allen said after Mantle’s play. But just minutes later, Mazeroski stepped to the plate. NBC’s sound was good enough to hear a fan shout, “Just get on, Billy, get on!” Mazeroski did more than that. After his home run, fans poured onto the field and danced on the Pittsburgh dugout.

Only later did Bing Crosby witness the joy and jubilation recorded just for him.

“I can still see Bing hitting the mantel with the Scotch,” Kathryn Crosby said.

From the New York Times

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ballpark Farewell, Played Adagio

New York Times
September 17, 2020

CHICAGO — On a gray, damp morning this week, the home of Nancy Faust, White Sox organist, was alive with the sound of ring tones.

A young man who met Faust at a game when he was a teenager called to say he had bought tickets to Saturday’s game and was bringing his girlfriend. A woman who met Faust years ago when she and her husband had season tickets phoned to firm up plans to attend the same game as one of Faust’s 50 guests.

A series sweep by the Minnesota Twins had dropped the White Sox out of the playoff race faster than the setting sun. But for fans of the 63-year-old Faust, the team’s remaining day games at U.S. Cellular Field are steeped in meaning, starting with Saturday’s against the Detroit Tigers, which has been designated “Faust Fest.”

After providing the home soundtrack for the White Sox for 41 years, Faust is retiring at the end of the season. Her music has been the grace note bridging memorable eras in the team’s history, from the baseball barker Bill Veeck to the showman Ozzie Guillen.

Faust was an innovator, choosing songs that played off names like a musical Chris Berman. She has a knack for matching songs to on-field situations, perhaps the most famous example being her inspired choice of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” when an opposing pitcher was pulled in the heat of the 1977 pennant race. For White Sox fans, the song became a part of the everyday rotation, right up there with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

In the encyclopedia “Total White Sox,” it is written of Faust, “At times she was the best thing the ball club had going.”

Her role in recent years has been reduced, and her swan song has the feel of a requiem for baseball purists. The organ is being phased out of ballparks, with teams opting for keyboardists or canned music and video entertainment to pump up the fans’ experience.

What results is the sporting equivalent of FM radio, with the music virtually the same from one city to the next. In the effort to create a more interactive fan experience, is an intimate connection being lost?

Eric Carlson, who is 29 and a lifelong White Sox fan, believes so. He met Faust as a teenager when he approached her booth behind home plate during a game to suggest she play “Around the World” by the group ATC.

When he returned to his seat and heard the strains of the song fill U.S. Cellular Field, Carlson said: “I felt special. I was thinking, of all the people in the stadium, she was playing that song for me.” Speaking by telephone, he added: “Most of the players, they don’t even want to give you the time of day anymore. But Nancy’s very down to earth and approachable.”

Carlson, though part of the generation that is the target of baseball teams’ entertainment upgrades, remains an unabashed fan of Faust. “Some of the songs she plays, I feel they actually sound better than the originals,” he said, adding: “I’m a Sox fan, so I’ll still go to games after this year. But it won’t be the same.”

Society has changed, Faust said, and the differences are reflected in ballpark entertainment. Whereas she used to play a song in its entirety, she is now limited to 20- or 30-second snippets. “What I’m doing is sound bites,” she said, adding, “I don’t want that to be my legacy.”

Since 2005, she has worked only day games. The team is interviewing organists for her position.

The people who say organ music gives a ballpark the feel of a cathedral are being supplanted by the likes of Guillen, the White Sox manager who grew up in Venezuela, where he said organ music was not part of the game-day experience.

Guillen compared Faust’s music to the vuvuzela, the South African horn. “At the beginning of the season, it’s fun,” he said. “Now in June or July, it gets old.”

Faust was 23, with a striking resemblance to Joyce Bulifant, the actress who played Murray Slaughter’s wife on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” when she was hired in 1970 to play the organ at White Sox home games.

From her perch in center field — where Veeck had placed the organ booth in 1960 to foster fan interaction — Faust could see a petition being passed around the crowd during her first few months on the job. It decried the presence of a pretty young woman on the team’s payroll.

“The petition said it was not appropriate,” Faust recalled. “I remember feeling so embarrassed.”

In the beginning, Faust wore headphones during the games so she could listen to the radio commentary of Harry Caray. One day, she said she heard him say, “This game is going so slow they are going to have to carry me out of here,” and a song popped into her head. She played a few bars of “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.”

Caray picked up on it and made sure his audience did, too, and Faust’s signature style was born.

“What kept me going was I got such positive reinforcement from Harry and from the fans,” she said, adding, “I loved having the ability to reflect every aspect of the ballgame for the fans.”

Faust and her husband, Joe Jenkins, live on five acres in Lake County. It is a 45-mile commute from the ballpark that can take 90 minutes in traffic, but the White Sox are never far from Faust’s thoughts. If she leafs through a family album, her eyes invariably come to rest on the photograph of her only child, Eric, 27, taking his first steps on the field at the old Comiskey Park.

If she looks outside, she can see the donkey, Mandy, whose predecessor, Rosie, was unclaimed by a ticket-holder in one of the ballpark promotions organized by Veeck. Faust brought her home, and she remained with the family until her death in 1986.

In the music room, next to her Hammond organ, Faust can look at a framed 45 gold single, a gift from Mercury Records, which produced the Steam song that experienced a spike in sales when Faust started playing it.

She is constantly updating her playlist. She checks the most popular ring tones for inspiration. Before the Yankees came to town last month, Faust learned Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” Another recent addition is Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” Last weekend, when theKansas City Royals were in town, a fan stopped by Faust’s booth and suggested she play a John Mayer song before the next at-bat of the Royals outfielder Mitch Maier, and she obliged him.

Paul Konerko, the White Sox first baseman, said he noticed when Faust played off someone’s name during her musical introductions of the opposing batters (the White Sox players choose their own music).

“I think when you hear the organ, that’s kind of a connection to old-time baseball,” Konerko said.

Faust, whose tenure with the White Sox has spanned 13 managers, said she had settled on a song by Madonna for her sendoff: “This Used to Be My Playground.”

September 17, 2010