Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Kennedy and the Pirates

The Youngstown Vindicator, October 10, 1960 via Google News Archive

Sixty years ago to the day, this was the front page of the Youngstown Vindicator. On the day before, candidate John F. Kennedy did a campaign sweep through the Mahoning Valley. The picture shows him speaking from the Tod Hotel to a crowd that filled Central Square and was estimated at the time at 60,000.

His itinerary took him from the Youngstown airport to downtown Youngstown. He then rode in a motorcade through Girard, Niles, and Warren, where he spoke on Warren’s square to a crowd of 42,000. He then drove to Salem, speaking to 10,000, and then through Canfield, Boardman, and back to Youngstown.

I saw John Kennedy that day. I would have been six years old. It was probably on his trip through Canfield. It was late evening and I remember being lined up along the side of the road with my parents. It happened quickly but I remember him standing and waving, still young and vibrant, unlike the aging Eisenhower. Less than a month later, he was elected, and on a cold day in January, the candidate I saw was sworn in, capturing our imagination with his inaugural address and those words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

The irony of this day was that the big headline of the day was the victory of the Pirates over the Yankees in the fifth game of the 1960 World Series, giving them a 3-2 lead in the series with the final two games at home in Forbes Field. Many of us listened on transistor radios (some of my older friends would try to hollow out a book, put the radio in there and listen at school on headphones (the dead giveaway). The Pirates were from nearby Pittsburgh but seemed like the underdogs against the all-powerful Yankees of Maris and Mantle and Whitey Ford. In the final two games, the Yankees would win the sixth game 12-0. The seventh game was tied 9-9 in the bottom of the ninth when Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off homerun off of Ralph Terry, usually a starter, pitching in relief.

That World Series and how Pittsburgh won it is one of the highlights in Pittsburgh sports history. Pittsburgh has only won two more World Series since then, in 1971 and 1979. It was only time Mickey Mantle was ever seen to cry by his teammates. The moment when Mazeroski rounded second base and saw the ball go over the fence and began celebrating has been captured and memorialized forever by the statue below, outside PNC field.

Ironic Moments in Pittsburgh History” by daveynin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

These were halcyon days for a six year old. Seeing a future president and keeping hope alive that the Pirates would win it all against those hated Yankees (and then against all hopes, they really did!). I’m glad we didn’t know all that the 1960’s had in store for us–the Cuban missile crisis and hiding under our school desks, the deaths of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., Vietnam, and riots.

It seems we are destined to live our lives between hope and sadness. Maybe that can be a comfort in what seems to have been a pretty terrible year. Out of the Sixties came inspiring ideas, great cars, moon landings and new technology, some of the best Browns teams ever, so much good music, some of it coming out of Youngstown. Given all that, I’m not giving up hope. Personally, I look forward to an Indians-Pirates World Series. And I hope that we find the way to say “no” to any who would divide us from our fellow citizens. I want to say “yes” to all who rally us to being “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all,” words I recited every day in Mrs. Smith’s first grade class at Washington Elementary during those days in October 1960.