Pittsburgh-- Where the boys are
Words on Sport/
The first time I stayed up past 11 pm on a school night was in the fall of 1979. It was October. School had just begun. The Pirates were in the Series. And I was in front of the tube every night -- whether my parents approved or not.
The '79 World Series flashed back at me in detail as crisp as autumn leaves on Friday, as I perused the sports section in The Boston Globe. "The Pirates, nearing their first National League East title in 11 years. . . ."
Eleven years, could it be that long?
Yes and no. For a fan, someone whose earliest memories contain mostly Steelers and Pirates, years without titles are years unspent. Whether a season ends early with only a handful of wins, or whether it remains alive until school begins, the simple truth remains: If there is no postseason, there was no season, and there will be no winter off -- there will only be next season.
Thus, for me -- indeed, for anyone whose day could be made by traveling to Pittsburgh and merely passing by Three Rivers Stadium -- time has stood still. And memories of past Pirate glory remain fresh.
Yesterday. October, 1979. The Family: Willie "Pops" Stargell, Dave "Cobra" Parker, Phil "Scrap Iron" Garner, Ed Ott, Omar Moreno, Kent "Teke" Tekulve, Bert Blyleven, Tim Foli. Aside from Stargell -- now a Hall of Famer -- and Parker, people probably won't remember many of those names. But that's OK; basking in obscurity is nothing new for the Pirates.
Back a little further, to the
day before yesterday. 1971. (I
was only two, but I was already
a fan.) Roberto Clemente (yes, you've heard of him), Pops (ya, ya, but I already mentioned him), Manny Sanguillen, Bruce Kison, Al Oliver, Steve Blass, Richie Hebner. Actually, this is a pretty famous bunch, so I'll go back a little further. . . .
Two days ago. 1960. (I wasn't born yet, but I was already a fan.) Bill Mazeroski. Who? To be honest, he probably doesn't need to be remembered any more than he is already. His is a heroism limited to the last remnants of the brick wall of old Forbes Field.
Mazeroski wasn't the greatest player; he was a better-than-average second baseman with a lifetime batting average of .260. What elevated him to deity status was a twist of the wrist that translated into the greatest upset in baseball history. In a series that was won by the Yankees, but actually lost by the Yankees (blessed be the ever-so-humble New York press), Mazeroski belted the immortal home run over the brick and ivy in Forbes Field. Bottom of the ninth. Seventh game. Score tied. . . .
That '60 Series, for all its great memories (even for someone who wasn't born yet), bore witness
to one particularly outstanding event: It remains the only Series where the Most Valuable Player award was given to a member of the losing team -- Bobby Richardson of the Yankees. Not because someone from the Pirates didn't deserve it, but because no one paid any attention to the Pirates during the Series.
In today's world of saturation journalism and multi-million-dollar player contracts, it's hard to believe that one team -- and a darn good one at that -- can still go out every day and just play ball. (They used to call them
the Boys of Summer.) But that's what the Pirates -- the last true Boys of Summer -- have been doing for over 100 years.
And this year has been no different. At $15 million, the Pirate payroll is one of the lowest in the league. And currently, the Bucs' day-to-day media coverage consists of two beat reporters. Most Pirate players still get their egos satisfied by doing No. 1 Cochran used car commercials. Not too mediagenic, the Boys of Summer.
I might be exaggerating the relative obscurity of the hometown team somewhat. After all, there are the Cleveland Indians. (The who?) But just ask yourself this: Before the self-professed pundits out here in the Northeast woke up and took notice of the best outfield in baseball -- Barry "US" Bonds (left), Andy Van Slyke (center), Bobby Bonilla (right). And 22-6 pitcher Doug Drabek, ace reliever Bill Landrum (2.19 ERA), and wiry second-baseman Jose "Chico" Lind, how many of you had paid much attention to them?
After the Pirates -- who clinched the division on Sunday -- host the Mets this week to wrap up the season, maybe even New Yorkers will take notice. Well, maybe they won't.
But, then again, who cares?