My father has been a Pittsburgh Pirate fan ever since the 1960 World Series. The Pirates battled the New York Yankees for seven games between Oct. 5 and Oct. 13. Bill Mazeroski hit a ninth-inning home run in game 7 to give the Pirates the victory. It was the first time a winner-take-all World Series game was decided in such fashion.
I have been a Pirate fan since 1979. Forty years ago this month, the Pirates found themselves down three games to one in the ‘fall classic’ against a slugging Baltimore Orioles team. The Bucs’ defeated the Orioles and became one of only a handful of teams to come back and win the. It rarely happens. One can count the teams who have done it on their hands.
Dad already had a sense of what it was like to pull for the underdog. After all, the Pirates had come from behind in 1971 against the same team. Then too, the Orioles had three chances to close out the series but failed. In the 1979 series, the Orioles ended up having two chances at home to close the Pirates out, but failed again.
Willie Stargell, the Pirate captain in 1979 had witnessed the ’71 series as a member of the team. His leadership and his bat propelled the Pirates past their league and division opponents in ’79. Teammates called him “Pops.” Famous for his “Stargell Stars” placed on the front of each individual player’s caps when they did something well, the Pirates forged a family atmosphere throughout the season and into the playoffs. Reflecting on the team 40 years later, outfielder Dave Parker talked about how the players knew the game and accepted their roles on the team. The Pirates were also helped by disco. During the season, the Bucs’ jammed to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” Parker credits the idea of family and the music for keeping teammates loose and ready before each game. Even down 3-1 in the World Series, they never panicked. Stargell did become the father figure on the team leading with his bat. His homer in the seventh game helped to seal the series win. At the time, he set the series record for extra base hits and was named World Series MVP.
Dad and I watched just about every inning of every game. We used to have a brown ottoman in the living room and I think he turned it over a few times as the drama unfolded. The Oriole pitchers were tough in the early games. Jim Palmer was formidable. I remember seeing him pitch years later in person and he still had good stuff. Earl Weaver was one of the best managers in baseball and Eddie Murray was a clutch hitter one did not want to see come to the plate, even on TV. Yet, the Pirates battled back. They won Game 4 in Pittsburgh and returned to Baltimore.
Simply put, the Pirates outhit and outpitched the Orioles in the last two games. They Orioles scored two total runs in those games. Pirate Kent Tekulve sidearmed his way to two saves. Pirate hitters pounded the Orioles with extra-base hits. Everybody played their hearts out and the unimaginable happened, again, the third time since 1960. At the end of Game 7, my dad picked the ottoman up and threw it in joyous exultation, but not before dancing on the top of it like a little kid. Mother didn’t approve, but I think she understood. I remember being happy too and have appreciated the moment more and more over the years.
Next to later being present at his ordination to the Christian ministry, the ’79 World Series remains the best memory I have of being with my dad. This is not to say there have not been many others. He turns 74 this year, but not before I will turn 50.
Several of the members of Bucs team which won the series 40 years ago have passed away. The Pirates have not returned to the World Series since. This past summer, the team was recognized at one of Pittsburgh’s home games. Stargell, the team’s leader, left this earth too soon a few years back but not before being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.
Baseball is a game about time and power and presence. One of the greatest gifts my father has given me over these 40 years is simply being willing to be present in my life and the lives of all his children and grandchildren. He loves reading and sees the power in words. He has a gift for stories, and humor, and is keen on relationships.
He has a recording of the moment Mazeroski hit his home run in 1960. He listens and still chokes up.