Tuesday, June 28, 2011

PTWSW #76: The 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates

Manager: Chuck Tanner
Record: 98-64
Ballpark: Three Rivers Stadium
Owner: John W. Galbreath
GM: Pete Peterson
Coaches: Harvey Haddix, Joe Lonnett, Al Monchak, Bob Skinner

Future Hall of Famers: Bert Blyleven, Willie Stargell

All-Stars: Dave Parker

Team Leaders, Batting

BA: Dave Parker, .310
OBP: Dave Parker, .380
SLG: Willie Stargell, .552
OPS: Dave Parker, .906
2B: Dave Parker, 45
3B: Omar Moreno, 12
HR: Willie Stargell, 32
RBI: Dave Parker, 94
BB: Dave Parker, 67
SB: Omar Moreno, 77 (NL leader)

Team Leaders, Pitching

W: John Candelaria, 14
SO: Bert Blyleven, 172
ERA: Bruce Kison, 3.19
IP: Bert Blyleven, 237.1
CG: John Candelaria, 8
SHO: Jim Bibby, Bruce Kison, 1
K/BB: John Candelaria, 2.47
SV: Kent Tekulve, 31


Oldest Player: Willie Stargell (b. March 6, 1940)

Youngest Player: Don Robinson (b. June 8, 1957)

First to Leave Us: John Milner (d. January 4, 2000)

Last Survivor: Most are still living as of the date of this post.

First in Majors: Willie Stargell (debut September 16, 1962)

Last in Majors: John Candelaria (final game July 7, 1993)

First to Play For the Franchise: Willie Stargell (September 16, 1962)

Last to Play For the Franchise: John Candelaria (July 7, 1993)

Pre-union Team: The 1977 Oakland A's had four: Matt Alexander, Joe Coleman, Dock Ellis and Manny Sanguillen.

Reunion Team: The 1985-86 New York Yankees each had three: Dale Berra, Mike Easler (1986), Omar Moreno (1985) and Ed Whitson.


Willie Stargell, NL Co-MVP
Dave Parker, NL Outfield Gold Glove

Season Summary

If you've ever wondered which World Series champion was the tightest-knit group of guys, the 1979 Pirates might very well be your answer. Their team slogan was "We Are Family," and the Sister Sledge disco hit of the same name became the team's theme song. The patriarch of the "family" was first baseman Willie Stargell, the club's senior player, affectionately known to his teammates as "Pops." Between his veteran leadership and timely hitting, there was no better role model in the clubhouse.

As much fun as the season ended up being, things weren't rosy from the start. Less than two weeks into the season the Pirates traded starting shortstop Frank Taveras to the Mets for Tim Foli, a former starting shortstop who'd mostly ridden the bench at that point. Taveras was the better offensive player, but in the early going he'd shown inconsistent effort on defense and a temperamental attitude. In Foli the Pirates got a steadier defender, but there were questions about his bat. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, Foli rewarded them with the best year of his career, setting personal highs in batting and on-base average.

It took the Pirates until the end of May to get to .500, and even then, they were stuck hovering just above the break-even point for the next month. At the end of June they made a trade which bolstered their chances: They acquired third baseman Bill Madlock, a two-time batting champ, from the Giants in a six-player deal. The trade eventually allowed them to move usual third baseman Phil Garner to second, replacing weak-hitting second baseman Rennie Stennett.

On July 8 the Bucs won the second game of a doubleheader in Cincinnati, and it would prove to be the beginning of a stretch where they won 13 of 14. When the first-place Expos started struggling in early August, Pittsburgh jumped ahead of them, and they'd remain there for the next month. Montreal wasn't done yet, though. They went on a tear of their own and by late September they'd retaken first. On September 24, with Montreal leading by half a game, the Pirates and Expos began a four-game showdown at Three Rivers Stadium. The first two games were part of a doubleheader which the two teams split, but the Pirates won the next two to regain the top spot. Going into the last day of the season both teams were tied in the loss column, but the Pirates were ahead by two wins due to the Expos' having lost two games to rainouts. The Pirates won their final game, and fortunately for Pittsburgh, Phillie ace Steve Carlton shut out the Expos, clinching the division for the Steel City.

It was onward to the NLCS. The Pirates' opponent would be the Cincinnati Reds, who'd swept them out of the playoffs four years earlier in Pittsburgh's last postseason appearance. The Reds had home-field advantage, but that meant nothing to the Family; the Pirates pulled out extra-inning wins in the first two games, with Stargell's three-run homer cinching Game 1 and Dave Parker's RBI single deciding Game 2. Back home for Game 3 the pressure was off, and the Pirates rolled to an easy 7-1 victory, wrapping up their first NL pennant in eight years.

The World Series offered another rematch: Eight years earlier the Pirates had faced the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, and once again, Earl Weaver's birds were the last team standing in the Bucs' way. The favored Orioles got things off to a quick start in Game 1, with five first-inning runs proving to be all that they needed for victory. Pirate veteran Manny Sanguillen's ninth-inning single knotted the Series in Game 2, but Baltimore answered with victories in the next two games, the second of which included an eighth-inning comeback.

On the morning of Game 5, Pirate manager Chuck Tanner received some painful news: his mother had passed away. Despite his personal heartache, Tanner did everything he could to keep his team focused on the game, and the Pirates responded with a 7-1 win. Though they'd kept their hopes alive, Pittsburgh was still in the unenviable position of needing to win the last two games on the road. Game 6 was a pitcher's duel until the seventh inning, when the Pirates finally put two runs on the board, and they'd go on to win 4-0, leaving the entire season's fate riding on one game. The Orioles got an early 1-0 lead in Game 7, but in the sixth inning "Pops" Stargell showed he had one more heroic moment left in him, belting a two-run homer that put his team on top. The Pirates added two more insurance runs in the ninth, and Kent Tekulve retired all three batters he faced in the bottom half of the frame for a Series-clinching save.

The Pirates had beaten the odds: They'd dug their way out of a 3-1 hole, they'd done it against a team that looked better on paper, and they'd won the final two games in enemy territory. It seemed only fitting when the World Series MVP was given to Stargell, who hit three home runs and batted .400 in the seven games. From top to bottom though, the championship had been a family effort.


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