The Way It Was

There I was  whining and moaning in the last piece about how MLBtv should be showing old games  and then bang! It appeared! Not directly from MLB but I was directed by same to YouTube, a division of Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet, the worldwide  masters of everything that Amazon and Microsoft don’t own, where they are now showing–for free!–one re-broadcast  per each of the 30 major league teams classic games from the past. Not really a hurrah moment but, at least, a good start.

Now I had a reason to get out of bed during my who knows how long this is going to last quarantine! I was afraid I was going to have to revert to reading books and learning about things and stuff. Whew! My first selection was the Pittsburgh Pirates entry, the seventh game of the 1971 World Series versus the Baltimore Orioles. You youngsters out there—you are out there, aren’t you?—may find it hard to believe, but once there was a time when both the Baltimore and Pittsburgh franchises were proud, top notch baseball outfits. Needing to have something to feel good about other than how well I washed my hands and how diligent I have been about not exposing myself to all of those disease carrying  low grade semi-zombies out there, this was an easy choice.

Baltimore was the defending World Champion team and the favored team no doubt with their glittering array of pitchers, strong defensive players, and power hitters. The team earned run average was 2.99 and Dave McNally, Pat Dobson, Jim Palmer and seventh game starter Mike Cuellar were all 20 game winners, something we may never see again even after Covid-19. In addition, they had Eddie Watt, Pete Richert, and Grant Jackson in the bullpen and each capable of saving a game. Shortstop Mark Belanger and Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson were the impenetrable left side of the infield and Paul Blair was a brilliant center fielder.  Boog Powell, Frank Robinson, Merv RettenmundDave Johnson, Don Buford, and Brooks Robinson powered an offense that led the American League in runs scored. How could they lose?

The Pirates’ best pitcher, Dock Ellis, had won 19 games in the regular season but was looking shaky in recent outings. He was knocked out of the first game in the third inning as Baltimore took an early lead to win, 5-3. The Orioles had also won the second game at home but the Pirates, behind right hander Steve Blass, turned the tables in their home park by winning all three games to take the series lead before Baltimore won the sixth game in ten innings back at home. The Pirates did not look, on paper, to be as strong as the Orioles but they definitely had some weapons. Chief among their weapons was right fielder Roberto Clemente, the future Hall of Fame player who, at 36 years of age, had batted .341, was still playing at a legendary level in the outfield, and, after not appearing in a World Series since 1960, was on a personal mission to win another championship. They also had 31 year old Willie Stargell, who had a peak season with 48 home runs and 125 runs batted in, and young first baseman Bob Robertson, who added 26 homers. The Pirates  had a strong bench, as did the Orioles, and a varied offense that scored even more runs than the Orioles had in the regular season. So it was a fun match.

The first big impression I got watching this game after nearly a half century was–my goodness–everyone seemed so calm, relatively speaking, of course. Curt Gowdy of NBC and Chuck Thompson, the regular Baltimore announcer, were calling the game with occasional comments from Tony Kubek in the stands and the tone was serious but relaxed. There was not a cluster of on air voices full of hype and hyperbole. There was a noticeable absence of irrelevant interviewing and, best of all, commercials were limited to between half innings. There were a few NBC network promotional announcements but by and large the emphasis was on the game being played. I was reminded of my respect for the way NBC did things in those days and , funny thing, Gowdy and Thompson didn’t seem nearly as over the hill and out of it as they did live to a mid-twenties aged university  student.

Another large difference was, bless my soul, it was a day game! On a Sunday afternoon! While NFL football games were being played! Unbelievable! I saw trees! Yes, from home plate in the pre-Camden Yards days, the batter saw a background of actual trees, not the kind Disney  used in Anaheim. That was just wonderful.

Here’s another thing you youngsters won’t believe: the first five innings took an hour and five minutes to play and the whole game lasted two hours and ten minutes. Plus there was only one brief camera shot of either team’s bullpen before the eighth inning.

Beyond all that, it was also a well played exciting game. Steve Blass, more recently a provider of amusing and informative color commentary on Pirates broadcasts, was the hero of the day along with Clemente, who broke a 0-0 tie in the fourth with a home run, as Blass pitched the whole game. Jose Pagan, starting at third base instead of Richie Hebner because manager Danny Murtaugh liked the way he batted against Mike Cuellar, drove in the winning run in the eighth. In Bruce Markusen’s book, The Team That Changed Baseball, the Pirates manager is quoted as having explained, “Jose has been around,and he has faced Cuellar a lot of times in the Caribbean during the winter. I think Pagan might do well against him.”  Irish analytics.

It also was great to see both of those great managers, Murtaugh and  Earl Weaver, in action. Weaver tried to get Blass and the Pirates riled in the first inning by making an agitated complaint to the umpires about something Blass was or was not doing in relation to the pitchers’ mound or the rubber. One could only imagine the field day FOX sports would have had with that. As it was, it was all handled calmly and intelligently by Thompson, Gowdy, and Kubek.  All in all, it was great fun. Let’s have some more.

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