Saturday, November 27

Remembering the ’71 Pirates, ‘the team that changed baseball’

Editor’s note: Sporting News senior writer and proud Pittsburgh native Mike DeCourcy was 11 years old in October 1971. The Sporting News was 85 years old. The Pirates hadn’t been to a World Series in 10 years, and it would be nearly 40 more before author Bruce Markusen called Roberto Clemente and the ’71 Pittsburgh Pirates “the team that changed baseball.” With a predominantly black and Latino lineup, that Pirates team beat the Orioles in seven games, winning the World Series 50 years ago this weekend.

Do we know when we are witnessing history? Often yes, but not always. Sometimes years go by before, in hindsight, we can definitely say, “That was historic.”

It may take time to assert with authority, as Bruce Markusen did in his 2009 book “The Team That Changed Baseball, Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates,” that this team was unique in its impact on the Major Leagues in the United States. years. even decades, that went on.

And yet, how could an 11-year-old in Pittsburgh have any idea of ​​that, let alone worry about it? His favorite team was on the brink of a world championship.


DeCourcy: “I remember the day the Pirates started a completely black lineup. They made a big fuss on the television news. He hadn’t lived long enough to appreciate the meaning. Roberto Clemente was my hero. He loved Manny Sanguillen and Willie Stargell. I didn’t understand why race would be a problem for anyone. “

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The story tiptoed into MLB “in the middle of the week in the middle of a pennant race,” Associated Press noted 50 years after the fact:

“The best nine players available took the field at Three Rivers Stadium for the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 1, 1971.

“The fact that all nine (Rennie Stennett, Gene Clines, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Cash, Al Oliver, Jackie Hernandez, and Dock Ellis) were black or of Latino descent didn’t even occur to them until later. “


“Not from the top of the Negro Leagues,” Markusen wrote in your book, “He had a team like this taken to the field.”


The Sporting News, dated September 18, 1971, noted in a short story that Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh’s Black and Latino lineup had 13 hits. In history, slugger Willie Stargell remembered Pittsburgh lining an eight-player colored lineup for position in 1967 in Philadelphia, but the starting pitcher in that game was white, he said.


“We didn’t go out on the field, you know, to make history,” Al Oliver said last month as he honored the 50th anniversary of Wednesday’s 10-7 win over the Phillies in September 1971. “But it turned out it was history.”

For years, seven-time All-Star Oliver found it curious that the Pirates’ September 1 lineup wasn’t celebrated the way Jackie Robinson did for breaking the color barrier in 1947.

In recent years, he said, he has come to take it as a nod, a kind of compliment, to Murtaugh’s colorblind approach to his work.


A local journalist asked Murtaugh after that game on Sept. 1, 1971, if he realized that all nine headlines were black or Latino, according to Markusen’s book.

“Did he have nine blacks there?” Murtaugh said, feigning surprise. “I thought I had nine Pirates on the field. Once a man puts on a pirate uniform, I don’t notice the color of his skin. “


The Pirates would win the NL East Division and defeat NL West champion Giants in the NL. They would face the defending champions Orioles, who swept the Athletics in the American League Championship Series. It was the Pirates’ first appearance in the World Series since 1961, a year after the birth of Mike DeCourcy.


DeCourcy: I was in sixth grade in 1971, my first year at Greenock School after I was finally allowed to drop out of Catholic school and go to public school with all the children in my neighborhood. That was a great victory for me. We only had a month when Mrs. Bunson put a TV in the room a little after lunch on Monday. We were going to watch Game 2 of the World Series at school! I remember wondering if the St. Denis kids could watch the game. I don’t recall seeing a television on the premises in five years there.

What I remember from that afternoon is that the television was black and white, that Richie Hebner hit a home run that didn’t really matter, the Pirates lost to go down 0-2 and we watched it a lot on television before the final. The bell rang and we got on the school bus to go home. I really didn’t care that they were in such a hole. Both games had been in Baltimore. I figured there was a chance the Pirates would come home and win three games in a row.


The Pirates did exactly that, including Game 4, obviously historic at the time as the first night game in World Series history. Clemente, hitting .417 in Games 3-5, made good on his assurances to his teammates after Game 2, noted in The Sporting News: “Don’t worry, I’ll pick him up when we get to Pittsburgh.” The series returned to Baltimore, with the Pirates leading, three games to two and a chance to win it in Game 6.

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DeCourcy: I was only 11 years old during the 1971 World Series, but my priorities were clear. Game six was on a Saturday afternoon in Baltimore. Elizabeth Forward High School was playing a home football game that afternoon; We were one of the few schools that didn’t have lights for our field, so all of our games at home were on Saturday afternoons at 1:30.

The game was against our rival Thomas Jefferson, and neither team had lost yet. He hated losing it, but there was no way he was going to play. All the other kids in our neighborhood chose to attend the soccer game, including my brother Pat. My dad took a lot of them.

But did you miss the sixth game of a high school football game? No way. The Pirates could win the World Series that day and I would miss it. He wasn’t going to let that happen. So I stayed home with my mother and watched more or less alone as the Pirates filled the bases in the top of the 10th inning of a 2-2 game. They failed to bring leadership home. The Orioles won it in the bottom of the inning. Although it was agonizing, I do not regret my choice.

I think EF lost 48-6, something like that.


The Pirates’ Game 7 lineup in Baltimore: Dave Cash, 2B; Gene Clines, CF; Roberto Clemente, RF; Bob Robertson, 1B; Manny Sanguillén, C; Willie Stargell, LF; José Pagán, 3B; Jackie Hernandez, SS; Steve Blass, P.

Final score: Pirates 2, Orioles 1.


DeCourcy: There was a knock on my door shortly after Pirates first baseman Bob Robertson caught the throw at first base to officially register the series finale. Having visitors at the time was no surprise, because why wouldn’t the entire Old Hills Road neighborhood be celebrating this championship together?

And yet it was, because my friend Dave Plum announced that his father was offering to drive us downtown to join the festivities there. It wasn’t a long drive home from Baltimore, so the Pirates were expected to arrive at Pittsburgh International Airport in the early afternoon and then greet their fans as the team’s caravan made a slow route through the streets of downtown. .

Arnie Plum was an attorney with offices in the Oliver Building. There was a church a block away from Sixth Street that had a small area of ​​grass in front of what I’m pretty sure was a cemetery. We all settled there: me, Dave, my brother Pat, Dave’s sister, Linda, and Mr. Plum.

We were there for hours and the atmosphere was festive. People lined up on Sixth Avenue and shared the joy and probably had a few beers. And we all wait. The Pirates were supposed to show up, and what a show it would be! Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen – all of our favorites would be there on the most important night of their professional lives.

Every now and then a car would turn the corner and start driving towards us and the crowd would get excited. That is all! They’re here! But it was never them, just some guys hanging out of a convertible. In the end, I have no idea what time we gave up, we went home.

The parade that we were promised never happened. But we still had that championship. And that night, even if it didn’t go as planned. It was a night that I have remembered for 50 years and plan to treasure for the rest of my life.

MORE: Why wasn’t the ’71 Pirates Welcome Parade held?

History? From The Sporting News summary immediately after Game 7: “In the Orioles’ quiet locker room, Brooks and Frank Robinson were patiently answering questions. They did everything a little better than us. That’s it, ‘said Brooks Robinson.


Some four decades later, Markusen, noting that the success of the ’71 Pirates moved other future champions to be more color blind, closed his retrospective account of the season and Series:

“(T) he 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates demonstrated conclusively, and truly for the first time, that a group of athletes, representing a variety of backgrounds and nationalities, could work together effectively and win a World Series championship. . For that reason, they deserve to be called The Team That Changed Baseball. “

Senior Editorial Consultant Bob Hille has worked for or with Sporting News for more than 25 years.

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