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Pirates 2014: Recalling Bing Crosby's ownership of the team
By Ron Musselman Times Sports Correspondent | Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2014 11:30 pm
Long before Sidney Crosby arrived in town, another Crosby was grabbing the headlines.
Bing Crosby, the famous singer and Hollywood actor, was part-owner of the Pirates from 1946 until his death in 1977.
The franchise captured two World Series titles during Crosby’s tenure. And he was the guy responsible for signing Vernon Law, the Cy Young Award winner who made three starts in the 1960 World Series, including Game 7, when Bill Mazeroski’s dramatic ninth-inning home run sank the heavily favored Yankees 10-9 at Forbes Field.
“Bing Crosby was the man,” Law said recently from his home in Provo, Utah. “Everybody loved his songs and so forth. He was an outstanding person, just a great individual.
“He was one of the role models that people could look up to in Hollywood. He was greatly respected by everyone.”
No one respected Crosby more than Law’s parents.
Major League scouts gathered in Payette, Idaho in the spring of 1948 to watch the 18-year-old Law pitch in a tournament in Harmon Killebrew’s hometown.
“In the stands that day was a good friend of Bing Crosby’s and a practicing lawyer. His name was Herman Welker, who later became a senator of Idaho,” said Law, who turned 84 years old earlier this month. “He had done some work for Bing, and he was close with him.
“He told Bing I was a real good prospect who had good control and could throw hard. So, the Pirates sent out Babe Herman to check me out, too.”
The day Law graduated from high school, scouts from nine Major League teams made their way to Law’s house in Meridian, Idaho. The Pirates were the last team to make their sales pitch. Midway through the conversation, the phone rang.
“Herman Welker said to my mom, 'You better answer the phone,’” Law said. “So, she did, and on the other end of the line was Bing Crosby. Mom almost fainted. But once she recovered, she was sold on the Pirates, and I signed a contract for $2,500.”
Law spent two seasons in the minors before making his big-league debut in 1950. He compiled a 162-147 record and 3.77 ERA in 16 seasons with the Pirates, including a 2-0 mark in the 1960 World Series.
Law credits Crosby, who won another World Series championship with Pirates in 1971, with a big assist.
“Bing didn’t come to Pittsburgh very often, but we’d see him on the West Coast when we played in California or when we trained in San Bernardino,” said Law.
“In the short conversations I had with Bing, he couldn’t have been nicer. I’ve got three or four handwritten letters he sent to me while I was playing, encouraging me, so on and so forth. He was very interested in the game of baseball, as well as people.”
Former Pirates shortstop Dick Groat, a Swissvale High School graduate, was named National League MVP in that magical 1960 season after capturing the batting title with a .325 average.
That’s when he had his first extensive conversation with Crosby.
“When we won the World Series championship, he put me in the Bing Crosby Pro-Am with Arnold Palmer,” said Groat, 83. “I had won the MVP and Arnold won golfer of the year on the PGA Tour, so Bing thought it would be a great pairing.
“How was it? Arnold was on top of his game and I hadn’t been playing golf for very long and I wasn’t that great. It was intimidating for me. It was a horrible experience.”
Groat, a former Duke All-American basketball player who played one season in the NBA with the Fort Wayne Pistons and currently serves as a radio analyst for Pitt basketball, remembers folks in the gallery flocking to get Crosby’s autograph while passing on him and the popular Palmer, a Latrobe native.
“We were there four days for the tournament, and Bing ruled the roost,” Groat said, laughing. “He really was a big star, a big deal. He was way out of our class.”
In December 2009, a film of the deciding Game 7 of the 1960 World Series was found in a wine cellar at Crosby’s estate near San Francisco.
The five black-and-white reels were transferred to DVD and shown on MLB Network in December 2010. Groat, who earned another World Series ring with the Cardinals in 1964, was among the former Pirates interviewed for the 50th anniversary special by host Bob Costas.
“Bing Crosby was always so superstitious,” Groat said. “We’d rarely win when he came to the games. So he went to France instead of coming to the World Series. But he paid a man to come to Pittsburgh and film the seventh game for him because Bing was too nervous to watch. I’m glad he did.
“It was a great film. I will never get tired of watching Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.”
Lots of nice stuff about Bing.
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I remember Vernon Law well. Still have his baseball cards.
Of course Uncle Bing played High School baseball at Gonzaga High, he was a good second baseman, excellent fielder without much batting skills....a so called "good field, no hit" kind of guy