In an age when the stars of Major League Baseball are among the likes of negative-press favorites like Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, it can be hard to imagine that there was a time when professional athletes really were people to be admired not only for their athletic prowess, but for their character. In John Moody’s recently-released book Kiss it Goodbye: The Mystery, The Mormon, and The Moral of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates, the author details the life and career of Vernon Law, the ace of the Pirates’ pitching staff during that 1960 season.
When someone thinks of the 1960 season, and its conclusion – the stunning upset of the New York Yankees to capture the third World Series title in franchise history – chances are that the prevalent thought will be of Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s game-winning home run clearing the ivy-covered left field wall of Forbes Field. The image of “Maz” leaping around the bases, arms over his head in celebration, has become an iconic moment in Pittsburgh sports, and deservedly so. But Moody’s book gives light to some of the other characters in that 1960 fairytale – Law chief among them – and goes beyond just that infamous Game Seven.
In fact, Moody goes all the way back to Idaho, when Vernon Law was about as far from being a professional baseball player as it gets. He follows Law’s path to the Major Leagues and the Pittsburgh Pirates in an engaging, entertaining manner, while entwining the story of the magical 1960 season with his own experiences as a young child whose heroes were those ’60 Bucs. Not once does Moody let readers forget that The Deacon – a nickname given to Law by former Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince due to his ordination in the Mormon Church – was more than just a professional athlete. He was a boy from a small town who made good, and who never let his growing stardom eclipse his personal beliefs and morals.
Laced with wonderful recollections of a city that was longing for relief from years’ worth of baseball-related failure – a feeling that current Pirates fans will recognize easily – and insight from Law himself on what it was like to be in the spotlight while keeping sight of his small-town ideals and his devotion to his faith, as well as incredible photographs that help illustrate the magic that happened among those men and in that clubhouse that year, baseball fans won’t have a problem putting themselves into the story as it unfolds. There is something almost surreal about seeing beyond the moments most recognized about the ’60 World Series, a feeling of being an insider, of being right there with the Bucs as they traveled a road that no one would have thought possible.
Even when you know how it ended, and that a black-and-gold David beat a pinstriped Goliath, there is an emotional release that occurs as Moody recounts the flight of Maz’s game-winning home run, and the city-wide celebration that followed, and a reader – especially a Pittsburgh-born Pirates fan – can’t help but be glad to be a Pittsburgher. That gigantic upset, and the victory of the underdog, is in many ways the embodiment of the city itself. It had to fight to be seen as more than just a filthy city perpetually plagued by a cloud of smoke and debris from the mills along the rivers, and then to survive the collapse of that very same steel industry. It has since rebuilt itself into America’s Most Livable City, and the home of a jewel of a baseball park that brings to mind its 1960 counterpart Forbes Field.
The 1960 Pirates had to claw their way back up from being the laughingstock of the Major Leagues, and after years of disappointment and terrible luck, finally assembled a team that went all the way. Moody, who hails from Bethel Park, gets that, and every word is clearly marked with the kind of pride and affection that defines a hometown fan. It’s a terrific read, and a wonderful way to connect to a little chapter of baseball history, Pittsburgh history, and an individual whose role in that 1960 season was pivotal. Vern Law is a worthy focus point, and Kiss it Goodbye is at once an ode to a childhood hero, and a thoroughly-grounded examination of a time when all that mattered was the game itself.