Former Point Breeze teen still wonders about lost Mazeroski ball
Andy Jerpe did not see Bill Mazeroski's home run, at least the part where Maz connects with Ralph Terry's second pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tied Game 7 at Forbes Field. He did not see the squat form of Yogi Berra drifting back in left-centerfield, turning to play the ball off the wall, then watching forlornly as it sailed away to give the Pirates a stunning World Series victory over the mighty New York Yankees. He did not see Mazeroski rounding the bases, joyfully waving his helmet.
What Jerpe did see nearly 50 years ago was the ball materialize from the sky like a UFO and plunk down about 15 feet to his left from where he stood amid some cherry trees outside the ballpark, adjacent to Schenley Park.
"I picked up the ball and thought, 'Huh. Somebody hit a home run,' " Jerpe recalled over the phone from his home in Greenbelt, Md., last week. "Then I could tell something major happened by the reaction of the crowd. It was almost deafening. Everything was reverberating."
It was 3:36 p.m. Oct. 13, 1960, and Andy Jerpe had history's most famous World Series home run ball — and the whole wide world — in his 14-year-old hands.
And then he didn't.
A few months after a police officer escorted Jerpe into the delirious, champagne-and-beer-soaked Pirates' clubhouse, after Maz and teammate Hal Smith signed the baseball, after he walked on air to his home in Point Breeze and produced the treasure from his book bag for his incredulous family, he lost it. Jerpe lost the first and only home run ball that ended the seventh game of a World Series, the ultimate symbol of perhaps the city's greatest sports moment.
The next spring, "the first nice day, a Saturday," he said, some pals came by lacking a ball and talked him into using the Maz baseball he kept on a bedroom shelf under Plexiglass, housed in a display he made in shop class. "Peer pressure," he said. They went across the street to a field. Jerpe said he was hitting some fly balls when an errant hit sliced off to his right into some weeds and grass taller than knee-high.
It was a scene that, coincidentally, would reappear many years later in the movie "Sandlot," in which some kids lose a home run ball signed by Babe Ruth. But this was real. Jerpe said the search party labored for about an hour and came up empty. He even returned the next day to look again, he said, but still no ball. For good.
Or was it• Is it possible the ball still exists, that one of his buddies found and somehow concealed it, or someone else located it• Jerpe, 64, a semi-retired electrical engineer, admits the thought occasionally has flitted across his mind, like when you lose something and think of every crazy possibility. And kids, after all, are kids. But he quickly dismisses such notions.
"There's no evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever," he said. "Nobody knows what happened to the ball. Conjecture is meaningless."
'I felt like I made a mistake'
Jerpe's reaction, however, was not a matter of conjecture.
"I felt like I had done a really stupid thing," he said. "I felt like I made a mistake. I shouldn't have hit the foul ball. I shouldn't have pulled the ball out of its protective case."
Jerpe said bringing home the ball seemed to bring him and his dad closer, but he never told his father, or anyone else, what happened. He said he guarded the secret, "the secret of embarrassment," for a long time but eventually stopped beating himself up over it.
"I don't have a lot of regrets," he said. "I'm sorry I lost the ball, but I've forgiven myself."
He even laughed when told the ball, if it could be verified, might be worth between $500,000 and $1 million, according to the lead cataloger at the prestigious Heritage Auctions. "I mean, it's probably the second-most-famous home run in history," said Jonathan Scheier, referring to Bobby Thomson's 1951 "Shot Heard 'Round the World," which also has not been found.
Would Jerpe have sold it• Maybe, he said, "for the right price."
Rumors flying around the Internet have others supposedly finding the ball. According to one prevailing story, the ball was retrieved by a 13-year-old named Ted Szafranski, who traded it to Maz for two cases of beer. The ball subsequently was sent to the Hall of Fame. The preposterousness of such a rumor, plus the fact that a hall official on Wednesday said the ball is nowhere to be found, has not stopped Time, Wikipedia and others from going with it.
There is ample evidence about Jerpe, in addition to his own account. He (and the ball) appeared on Paul Shannon's "Adventure Time," a popular local kids' show in the 1950s and '60s. A brief AP story with a "PITTSBURGH, Oct. 13" dateline, picked up by dozens of newspapers across the country, identifies Jerpe as the "14-year-old Pittsburgh schoolboy" who brought the ball to Mazeroski, who then signed it and gave it back. Maz is quoted as saying, "You keep it, son. The memory is good enough for me."
Jerpe said he does not recall that. "It might have happened," he said. What he does recall are reporters "scattered around like a horde of insects," and the Pirates spraying what he thought was "water" on each other. "They were jumping up and down, acting like little kids," he said. "They could have been my age." He also got another autograph, from Smith, the catcher whose three-run homer in the eighth inning temporarily put the Pirates ahead, 9-7.
Jerpe is one of seven children. His father worked as a chemical engineer at the Gulf Research Laboratory in Harmarville, and his mom taught at several elementary schools in the city. He had just started ninth grade that fall at Central Catholic High School in Oakland where, he said, you could hear the crowd from Forbes Field a few blocks away.
On the day of Game 7, he said he wandered over to the ballpark and found his way inside. But he stayed only a short time because he needed to help his mom get ready for dinner. He also wanted to beat the crowd. "I didn't want to get squashed by all those people," he said.
The Yankees scored twice in the ninth to tie the game. Jerpe, meanwhile, had made his way down on the ramps and walked partway around the stadium when Maz came up. He heard the crack, saw the ball and picked it up. Before he knew it, he was standing face to face with Maz and his heroes at the epicenter of an earthquake that shook the baseball world.
"It was a dream," he said.