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2001 Hall of Fame Inductions
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Mazeroski: I'm proud to be 'defensive'
New Hall of Famer shares his thoughts Cooperstown, Clemente and that famous homer

Most baseball fans remember 2001 Hall of Fame inductee Bill Mazeroski as the hero of the 1960 World Series. His ninth-inning home run in Game 7 against the mighty New York Yankees was the first walk-off home run in series history and secured the Pirates' first World Championship in 35 years.

But in Pittsburgh, "Maz" is remembered as a local kid who went on to become the greatest fielding second baseman in the history of the game. While he was no slouch at the plate (138 home runs and 853 RBIs in spacious Forbes Field), he will be one of the few players to enter the hallowed halls of Cooperstown based on what he did with the leather. An eight-time Gold Glove winner, Mazeroski holds the record for most double plays in a season (161 in 1966) and most career double plays (1,706).

  BILL MAZEROSKI

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Mazeroski sat down with MLB.com's Ed Eagle to talk about his induction into the Hall of Fame, his defense, THE home run and his on-going relationship with the City of Pittsburgh.

MLB.com: This honor has been a long time coming in the eyes of just about everyone who has every played on the same field as you or watched you play. How does it feel for you now?

Mazeroski: It's exciting. It's different. I didn't know for sure if it would ever happen. But when it did happen, I know the people around me and the people of Pittsburgh who said I belonged there for all this time were probably more happy than I was.

It was pretty exciting for me and I imagine that Pittsburgh was pretty hectic that day, too. It's a special feeling for everyone who felt that I belonged in the Hall of Fame, too, so that makes it extra special.

MLB.com: Can you talk a little bit about your background?

Mazeroski: I grew up in the valley between Steubenville (Ohio) and Wheeling (West Virginia), on the Ohio side. First I played for Rush Run (Ohio). We had a baseball team there, it wasn't semi-pro, it was just a bunch of guys who had a team and played other little towns. They used to do that a lot in those days.

That's where I got started. (I moved on) to high school and semi-pro, and just playing pickup games down in the valley there.

MLB.com: How about your ascent through the Pirates' organization? It didn't take long. You were in the Major Leagues at 19.

Mazeroski: I started in Williamsport, Class A. That's when they had Class A, B, C and D. So I started up pretty high for a 17-year-old kid in Class A, and there were a lot of older guys there. I played there for a half of a year and the next year they sent me to Hollywood, Calif., which was Triple-A. That was probably a little too quick. I played about a month there and they sent me back to Williamsport.

Then at Williamsport I played well. I hit .290-some, I was about third in the league in hitting, and the next year I went to Hollywood, did really good, and they brought me up in July to Pittsburgh.

MLB.com: Playing ball in Hollywood had to be an interesting experience for an 18- or 19-year-old kid.

Mazeroski:It was an experience, all right. It was well over my head, seeing Jane Mansfield at games and all of those people you see in the movies. We were their favorite team. They always came out to watch us play. It was different.

MLB.com: Could you talk a little bit about the 1960 Pirates team? Even before the World Series you guys seemed like a team of destiny.

Mazeroski: We had a great team. We had great pitching with (Vernon) Law, (Bob) Friend, (Harvey) Haddix, and (Wilmer "Vinegar Bend") Mizell. We had the best relief pitcher in baseball at that time with Elroy Face, and he saved a lot of games and had some great years.

We had a team, if it was the seventh inning or later and we were two or three runs down, it just felt like the game was now starting for us. We had that feeling that we were going to come back and beat somebody. The people playing against us almost knew it, too. Things would start to happen and we'd come back and win. We did that all throughout the year. We didn't have any slumps in that area. That paid off.

We had a good defensive club. 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. We just kept it up and knew we were going to win just about every game.

MLB.com: Then, of course, we have Game 7 of the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees. You are 23-year-old who just hit the home run that every kid who has ever swung a bat dreams of hitting. Could you take us back to that moment and tell us how it changed your life?

Mazeroski: I don't know if that one moment changed my life any. I just went to the plate thinking that I had to hit the ball hard somewhere. I wasn't trying to hit a home run; I was just going to hit the ball hard.

When I hit the ball, I hit it hard (and) I knew in my mind that Yogi (Berra) wasn't going to catch the ball. Yogi was playing left field. I said "I'm running hard and I'm running into second and I'm going to look up, (because) if he misplays it off the wall I'm going to get on third because there will be a lot (more) ways to score if I am on third than if I'm on second base."

But when I looked up it went over (the wall). I never showed emotions on the field but that time I had to, and I don't believe I touched the ground all the way from (second base) to home plate.

MLB.com: What was the reaction like in Pittsburgh after that?

Mazeroski: The town went crazy. They went 30-some years without a pennant or a championship of any kind. I heard the paper was knee-deep (in the streets), and I went down the next day and it looked like they had one great party.

MLB.com: Did you get to enjoy any of it?

Mazeroski: No, I didn't go downtown (after the game). We went to Schenley Park (behind Forbes Field) and sat in the park for awhile, my wife and I.

There wasn't a soul there. Everybody was downtown. I mean, from all around Pittsburgh. They all ran down to Pittsburgh when it happened and had one big party.

The best part about it was that there was nothing bad, no cars turned over, it was all good and everyone just had a good time eating, drinking, and whatever they do.

There was all this stuff happening and it was just nice to be in a quiet place for a while.

MLB.com: You are considered the greatest fielding second basemen in the history of the game. It must feel good to be a guy, though you could definitely swing the bat, who is going in more as a defensive standout.

Mazeroski: That's right. 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, and if I'm one of them I've got to be one of the best and something special. So it's a great feeling to be going in on the defensive side.

MLB.com: Do you think the home run overshadowed your defense?

Mazeroski: I don't think so, (not) once the stats were out there and it was brought to (the veteran committee's) attention what defense means how much it does to win ballgames.

I am known for the home run. 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.

MLB.com: How about the 1971 team? You and Roberto Clemente provided veteran leadership on that club. How did that group compare to the 1960 team?

Mazeroski: A lot of people have asked that. I haven't gotten into the comparison. I think (the 1971 team) had a little more power than (the 1960 team) did. The defense was about the same. I don't know if (the 1971 team) did the little things like (the 1960 team) did.

It was a pretty good team. I didn't play a lot that year. Dave Cash was playing a lot then. I just played a couple of weeks when he went to military reserve duty. He didn't get many days off.

The World Series was the greatest that year. Just to see Clemente show the people how he could play and what he had shown us for years. I played with him for 17 years, and to watch him play was just a great thrill. Watching him have the World Series that he had was very gratifying.

MLB.com: Do you enjoy your role working with the Pirates in Spring Training now?

Mazeroski: I enjoy that. For two weeks it's fun to see how the guys still are. You get back into the old memories and see what they go through.

The camps are run a little different. They do a little more exercise and a little more conditioning than we used to do. We used to do a few jumping jacks and a few stretches and we were ready to go. Now it's planned-out conditioning, and they stay in shape year-round. We had to get a job and work in the winter and they come down ready to play.

It was fun to see that and see how things have changed over the years.

MLB.com: How about your relationship with the City of Pittsburgh? A lot of Pirates fans lobbied the Veterans Committee for your admission.

Mazeroski: That's a great feeling, to know that you have a lot of support and people are writing letters and care enough about you to take the time to do that. That's really a fantastic feeling. They just go out there and do it on their own because they feel that it is right to do that. It was very nice of them. It's really impressive. That was really thoughtful.

MLB.com:What do you think is going to go through your mind as you step up to the podium to make your introduction speech?

Mazeroski: That I don't know. That I wish I could tell you right now. It depends on the atmosphere. If the atmosphere is up and jovial I'll be able to talk. If it's a sad mood I've got big problems!

Ed Eagle is the site reporter for pittsburghpirates.com.