Redemption Story: Ralph Terry
By Mike Whiteman October 22, 2023 "What I’ve learned from these experiences is to never let mistakes get you down. You can’t play yesterday’s game today. If you do, you’re licked permanently. And if you keep on trying, there’ll always be a second chance.” Good advice for baseball. Good advice for life. On October 13th, baseball and particularly Pittsburgh Pirate fans celebrated the anniversary of Bill Mazeroski’s iconic walk-off, World Series winning, home run of 1960. It was a stunning blow, one of only two of its kind in all of baseball history, and likely the difference maker in his Hall of Fame selection in 2001. But alas, while it was a great moment of triumph for Mazeroski, there was someone who lost the confrontation, someone who had to serve up the home run. Enter Ralph Terry. Terry was a 24-year old righthanded pitcher who made his MLB debut as a Yankee in 1956, then traded to the Kansas City A’s and dealt back to the Yanks in 1959. He was 10-8, 3.40 in a swingman role for manager Casey Stengel in 1960. The 1960 World Series was one of the more interesting, and perhaps bizarre, Fall Classics in baseball history. The Yankees and Pirates split the first six games of the series, with the Yankees wins by the lopsided scores of 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0. Game Seven was a seesaw affair, as the Pirates got off to an early 4-0 lead, only to have the Yankees score seven unanswered runs and take a 7-4 lead by the seventh inning stretch. The Pirates then scored five in the bottom of the eighth off Bobby Shantz and Jim Coates. After Coates had served up a three-run home run to Hal Smith, Stengel went to Terry, who had started and lost Game Four. Terry retired Don Hoak to get out of the inning and to the ninth the game went. The Yankees wouldn’t give up, and tied the game with two runs in the top of the frame. In the bottom, Terry’s second pitch of the inning was smacked by Mazeroski over the left field wall, and Yankee fans of the era were taunted by the image of Yogi Berra hopelessly watching the ball soar over the wall, and then head back to the dugout in defeat.
“I nearly caved in after Mazeroski hit that home run that won the 1960 Series for Pittsburgh.” Terry later said. “I was in a state of shock for two weeks.”
The loss gave Yankee ownership the excuse they were looking for to part ways with manager Casey Stengel, who had turned 70 during the season. Under the guidance of new manager Ralph Houk, Terry recovered from the trauma of 1960 to become a stalwart of the Yankee rotation, going a combined 39-15, 3.18 over the 1961 and 1962 seasons, leading the American League in wins and innings pitched in 1962. However, postseason success continued to evade him, as he had a 4.82 ERA in two starts in the 1961 World Series, and was the hard-luck loser in the second game of the 1962 Fall Classic against San Francisco. Terry finally broke through in Game Five, hurling a complete game win and giving the Yanks a 3-2 series lead. He didn’t look to be a candidate to start again, but a typhoon invaded San Francisco, and no games were played for the next four days. When the teams finally returned to action, the Giants tied up the series when Billy Pierce outpitched Whitey Ford in Game Six. On October 16, 1962, a rested Ralph Terry took the mound for Game Seven of the World Series with something to prove – “I never wanted to do a good job more than I wanted to do it in in this World’s Series. I had to prove something to myself that nobody else could prove. I wanted to prove I was just as good a pitcher in October as I was from April to September” – he later said.
This time he did not disappoint. He retired the first seventeen batters he faced, and held a 1-0 lead going into the ninth. After Matty Alou drug a bunt just past Terry for a single, Felipe Alou and Chuck Hiller struck out, and Terry was one out away from closing the game and the World Series out. By this point (starting with the Hiller at bat), Terry was pitching in what was among the most pressurized moments in baseball history – the “Golden Pitch.” The Golden Pitch as defined by Wade Kapszukiewicz in the 2016 SABR Baseball Research Journal occurs in the following situations: 1. Game Seven of the World Series 2. Bottom of the ninth (or extra inning) 3. The road team has the lead 4. Each pitch could result in World Series win for either team It is estimated that about 42 Golden Pitches have been thrown in baseball history. Ralph Terry threw 12 of them on this day. Three was to Willie Mays, who doubled with two outs to put runners on second and third. Up came the fearsome Willie McCovey, and in one of the most famous encounters of all time, the lefty slugger ripped the second pitch from Terry right at second baseman Bobby Richardson, and Terry’s redemption was complete.
How often does a pitcher serve up a monumental home run, then later get to redeem himself? Ralph Branca didn’t. Mike Torrez didn’t, Mitch Williams didn’t. The opportunity to go back into the same position, with the same stakes, and the same minimal margin for error, is rare, and a lot of factors need to fall into place for it to happen. Terry recognized his good fortune:“I want to thank God for a second opportunity. You don’t often get a second chance to prove yourself, in baseball or life"