Throwback Thursday: Bing Crosby Took a Swing at Baseball in the 1940s
This story first appeared in the July 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Bing Crosby ranked among the wealthiest entertainers of his era and was an early, highly successful multihyphenate.
The singer-actor-entrepreneur sold a half-billion records; did a string of hit movies with Bob Hope; won a best actor Oscar for 1944's Going My Way; and in 1948 invested in a "fast freezing" process that paid off handsomely when it became Minute Maid. By the late 1950s, his wealth was estimated at up to $130 million in today's dollars. But the investment that got the most attention was his 1946 purchase of a 25 percent stake in the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The total price for the team was $2.25 million ($29 million today). Crosby always had been interested in baseball (he'd played semipro ball in his youth), but since 1937 he'd owned part of the Del Mar racetrack in Southern California.
At that time, the baseball commissioner was the formidable Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who prohibited anyone involved in what he considered the shady world of horse racing from becoming involved in Major League Baseball. When Landis died in 1944, the door opened for Crosby.
Arguably the biggest effect the singer had on MLB history was in preserving what's been called The Best Game Ever, the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, in which Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a game-ending home run to beat the Yankees 10-9 after the lead had changed four times. Crosby, who had a passionate interest in videotaping -- Ampex, an early tape-recorder manufacturer, was another of his investments -- believed he'd be a jinx to the Pirates since they'd lost a number of games he'd attended, so he arranged for a kinescope (a pre-videotape recording process) of the last game to be made. Crosby died at 74 in 1977, and in 2010 the pristine copy of the NBC broadcast was found in his wine cellar.
"There's no replays or no nothing except the actual play," says 1960 Cy Young Award winner Vernon Law, now 84, who pitched the game's first seven innings for the Pirates. "I could remember every pitch I threw to every hitter. I remember those things like it was yesterday." Nine years after Crosby's death, the team was sold to a group of Pittsburgh businessmen.