Judge Ryan Keefer attempts to explain how a team with players nicknamed Pops, Mad Dog, and the Cobra beat a team with players named Kiko, Tippy, and Al to pull off one of the lesser known but equally historic sports comebacks.
A team that became a family. A family that became champions.
The city of Pittsburgh was on a sports roll in the late '70s, as the Steelers had just won yet another Super Bowl and the city's baseball team (the Pirates) was in the Fall Classic, playing against my beloved Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles had All-Star first baseman Eddie Murray, complemented by Ken Singleton and Doug DeCinces. Their starting pitching was reliable and consistent. Despite the jockey underwear modeling of Jim Palmer, there was also Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor. The Pirates were led by regular season MVP Willie Stargell, along with a young outfielding star in Dave Parker and perennial batting champion Bill Madlock, along with pitchers John Candelaria, Bert Blyleven, and ace reliever Kent Tekulve. The Bucs swept the Cincinnati Reds in the League Championship Series and went on to face the O's, MY O's. The two teams were not unfamiliar with each other, as they had played each other in the 1971 World Series and the Pirates won in seven games, buoyed almost singlehandedly by outfielder Roberto Clemente.
Major League Baseball has been involved in a continued effort to bring digital copies of the more memorable World Series to existence, and dusting off any old videotape copies in the process. Originally broadcast by ABC (with Keith Jackson, Al Michaels, Don Drysdale, and Howard Cosell providing commentary), all of the '70s graphics are back in their full glory, and hearing Cosell promote The Ropers and "a great new adventure series" called Hart to Hart is almost worth the price of this multi-disc set, one for each game of the Series. The overall video quality isn't that good, but considering that these were being shown before videocassette recorders were in any real abundance, it's nice for fans to see this now. And with the continuing efforts by current clubs to keep the past alive with teams wearing historical jerseys, the thoughts after watching this series again is "Why?" The Orioles sported orange jerseys in Game 1 play against the Pirates before returning to more traditional fare. As for the Pirates, they frequently alternated between solid black and solid yellow shirts and solid black and solid yellow pants, along with old-style caps (which yes, also alternated between solid black and solid yellow). When the Pirates would play at home, one would be subjected to a black pinstriped uniform, while the Orioles would occasionally wear black. And yes, one game saw the Pirates wear yellow shirts and pants, designed to blind anyone who would watch the game. It would make one almost yearn for the pastels that the coked-out '80s fashion experts promoted. And there are enough bad moustaches and sideburns to make Reed Rothchild and Todd Parker jealous.
With the outlandish fashion and overly bushy facial hair out of the way (I mean, God, I sound like a sporting Mr. Blackwell or something), the Series was actually pretty good. Game 1 was certainly no indication of that as the Orioles put up five runs in the first inning and held on during the course of the game to win 5-4 in Baltimore, though they appeared to be outplayed in the other eight innings (which included a 4 for 5 outing by Parker and a Stargell homer). Game 2 was a tighter played affair, with Blyleven and Palmer engaged in a pitchers' duel that saw Palmer blink early and Blyleven hold that early lead for a 3-2 win to even the Series. Game 3 saw the Series come back to Pittsburgh (where a then-governor Richard Thornburgh was running things), and the Orioles would prevail 8-4 after being down early 3-0, helped by a 4 for 4, 4 RBI effort by Kiko Garcia, who replaced Belanger as shortshop for the remainder of the series. Game 4 saw the Pirates take another lead on the Orioles, going into the eighth inning 6-3. By the end of the Orioles half of the inning, they had separate two-run doubles by John Lowenstein and Terry Crowley, a 9-6 lead and eventually, a 3 games to 1 lead.
Then the wheels fell off for the O's. Or perhaps they'd heard the Sister Sledge song "We Are Family" (which served as the Pirates theme song and de facto mantra) too many times and caved in. But Stargell and the Pirates found their stroke in Game 5, led by a 4 for 4 effort from Madlock and thumping the Orioles 7-1 to keep the Series alive and forcing a trip back to Baltimore. Game 6 was another pitchers duel featuring Palmer and (this time) Candelaria, each pitching six innings of shutout ball until Parker and Stargell provided key RBIs that eventually led to a 4-0 win and Game 7 at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. The Pirates' pitching staff turned in another impressive outing, limiting the Orioles batters to just four hits and helped by a two-run home run by Stargell, won on enemy ground 4-1 and earned another Series win, perhaps the most memorable in the team's history.
The first time I think I questioned the existence of God in Heaven and on Earth had to be the 1979 World Series. And I damn near choked on my peanut brittle in the country cabin my family and I were in when the Pirates came from behind to take the Series. From that moment on, I started smoking, lost my hair, and became the lovable grouch that I am now—and I was in second grade when that started. The Orioles' core players managed to stick around long enough to win a World Series in 1983 and flirted with postseason success in the mid '90s, and for the Pirates, they had a run of success in the early '90s with solid pitching and a productive offense that included a then waif-like (but moody) outfielder who was extremely gifted. He went by the name of Barry Bonds.
All in all (with the usual interview footage and footage of other Pirate celebrations) this is another solid release, despite the poor video quality, and any Pittsburgh sports fan should welcome Pops, Mad Dog, and the rest of the family into their collection.
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