The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 21, 2013

BILL EGGERT | Underdog Pirates prevailed in their last 3 Series


JOHNSTOWN — As we inch closer to the season’s end, we think of young fans who have never seen a World Champion Pirate team. Twenty losing seasons, and 34 since the last championship team.

However, for my dad’s generation, they had to wait 35 years (1925-1960) before they won another World Series. Hopefully the drought ends this year.

The Boomer Generation has been very fortunate, however, witnessing three World Series championships in the space of 19 years, 1960-1979. And in each of those Fall Classics the Bucs were underdogs, facing apparently superior teams, and yet the Bucs emerged victorious in each Series.

The most celebrated of these, and justly so, was the 1960 World Series, where the Bucs faced a Yankee team almost as good as the 1927 “Murderers Row,” with players like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Yogi Berra, with pitchers Whitey Ford, Art Ditmar and Ralph Terry.

And yet the Yanks had only one legitimate .300 hitter: Bill Skowron (.309). The Pirates, on the other hand, had a scrappy squad consisting of respectable hitters (Bill Virdon, Bob Skinner, Hal Smith, Bill Mazeroski), legitimate hitters: Dick Groat (.325). Roberto Clemente (.314), Smokey Burgess (.294), Don Hoak (.280), Hal Smith (.295), and pitchers Vernon Law, Bob Friend and Roy Face.

The Series went seven games, with the Yanks winning by scores of 10-0, 12-0 and 16-3. The Bucs scratched out wins like 6-4, 5-2, 3-2 and 10-9.

The Yanks were led by legendary manager Casey Stengel; the Bucs by the roguish Irishman Danny Murtaugh.

The Series was an exciting one, with Game 7 the heart-stopping finale. The lead changed several times during the game, with the Bucs going ahead in the eighth inning, scoring five runs (including Hal Smith’s three-run homer) to take back the lead for the Pirates, 9-7.

Unfortunately, the Yanks tied it up in the ninth.

Mazeroski was the first man up. If you are looking for a case for numerology, this is it. It was the ninth inning, the score was 9-9. Mazeroski’s jersey number is 9. There are nine letters in Mazeroski. Maz took a 1-0 pitch from Ralph Terry and put it over the left field wall. Bedlam had broken out at Forbes Field. The Bucs had avenged their loss to the 1927 Yankees.

In 1971, the Bucs again made it to the World Series, with only Clemente and Mazeroski from the 1960 team. Murtaugh was back as manager, and former Buc Bill Virdon was now a coach.

The Bucs had a nice mix of veterans (Willie Stargell, Jose Pagan, Manny Sanguillen) and young guns (Richie Hebner, Bob Roberston, Milt May) and noted pitchers Steve Blass, Dock Ellis, Nellie Briles and Dave Guisti.

The Orioles, led by manager Earl Weaver, were a formidable team. Their sluggers included Brooks and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Don Baylor and Merv Rettenmund. The Orioles also boasted a pitching staff of four (Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson) 20-game winners.

After leading the Series 2-0, sportswriters pretty much declared the Orioles the winners. But a 37-year-old Clemente led the Bucs back to victory with his bat and glove, and was accorded the Series MVP award.

In 1979 it was déjà vu all over again for Weaver, as his Orioles once again faced the Pirates.

The Orioles had only one 20-game winner (Mike Flanagan) and noteworthy hurlers Dennis Martinez, Scott McGregor and the aging ace Jim Palmer.

While no .300 hitters, they did have Ken Singleton (.295), Eddie Murray (.295) and Al Bumbry (.284).

The Pirate pitching staff, while not spectacular, was respectable, with John Candelaria (14-9), Bruce Kison (13-7), Jim Bibby (12-4), Bert Blyleven (12-5) and reliever Kent Tekulve (10-8). The Bucs had a half-dozen sluggers, led by Bill Madlock (.328), Phil Garner(.293) and Tim Foli (.291).

But of course, the biggest Pirate offensive weapon was their team leader: “Pops,” Willie Stargell, at age 39.

Like Clemente in 1971, Stargell carried this team through the playoffs and was the Series MVP. Down three games to one, the Bucs staged a miraculous comeback for manager Chuck Tanner.

It was an impressive run for the Pirates in that 19-year span. Despite the overwhelming odds, the Battlin’ Bucs came out on top in these three recent World Series.

Many fans and historians argue the better teams lost. I respectfully disagree. All things being equal, the better teams won. Maybe our Bucs didn’t have angels in the outfield, like the 1951 film classic shot at Forbes Field. But we did have some earthbound help with guys like Murtaugh, Tanner, Clemente, Mazeroski, Stargell, Blass,  Groat and several others.

Raise the Jolly Roger.

Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident. He writes an occasional column.