June 6, 2020

Remembering Pittsburgh from the “We Are Family” Era

September 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Back when Fisher Bodies were made of steelPNC Park 007 that was cooked in blast furnaces in Pittsburgh, there was a great baseball team that played along the Allegheny River called the Pittsburgh Pirates. Despite the fact that cars are made of plastic now and the city of Pittsburgh is a high-tech center supported by three top-of-the-line universities, baseball is back in the Steel City. Seeing the Pirates in the playoffs again would be almost like seeing Archie Bunker back on TV.

But weep no more Roberto Clemente. The Pirates are not going to fold this September. They held up well in Texas these past two days when it would have been easy to fold. The Rangers are in a tough race with Oakland and they were playing in Arlington. But Gerrit Cole’s clutch seven innings of shutout ball helped to staunch the bleeding. Pittsburgh had lost four in a row and it looked like deja vu all over again. But the Pirates held steady. They won a tight 1-0 game against Texas and came back to win game two against the Rangers as well.  So there is a small amount of breathing room between themselves and the Reds and the Cardinals are only a game ahead in the NL Central.

It would be good to see the blue collar guys from Steel Town, USA win their division. Pittsburgh deserves more than just a one-game playoff for a chance at the whole bag of marbles. The Cardinals have a great franchise, but the script writers have to like the Pirates.

I remember in 1981 when thousands of steel workers from Pittsburgh and the Rust Belt flooded DC to protest the lock out of the PATCO workers by Reagan.  They were riding Metro that September Day by the thousands as they went down to the Mall to protest what was being done to their brothers. In 1981 the Pirates could still remember being one of the better teams in the National League, having won the World Series in 1979 behind Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and Bill Madlock. But the Candy Man and Bert Blyleven were gone by 1981 and the whole “We Are Family” ethos died almost overnight. They started cooking coke not in blast furnaces but on street corners.

PATCO lost the war against Reagan and steel workers from Pittsburgh became a relic of a lost time. Corporate America shipped all the jobs overseas and Pittsburgh fell on bad times like all the Rust Belt cities. Steel City incomes plummeted between 1979 and 1989 and Pittsburgh became a “Small Market” in the baseball world. They stitched together a pretty good team behind Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla, but as soon as those guys could leave for where money was growing on trees–Wall Street, the Big Apple–they did. And that marked the last winning season for the Pirates.

There have been almost as many winning teams in Pittsburgh as there have been in Washington. So there is a natural affinity between the two teams. One plays where the Allegheny and Monongahela meet and the other where the Anacostia “dumps” into the Potomac. I went to see the Nationals tee it up against the Pirates earlier this season at PNC Park. It was a great pleasure and the people filing in next to the Clemente statue were wonderful. There was a camaraderie between the Nationals fans and the locals that made the trip quite memorable. It helped that Nats fans have learned the hard way how NOT to act when visiting.

Washington won that game and it seemed like the natural order of things. Back then we all believed the Nationals were headed toward another NL East crown. A lot has changed since then and that is whey I like the Pirates for the stretch run. Andrew McCutcheon is the best player in the National League and there isn’t really much competition. He needs some help, maybe a little Bill Mazeroski magic. Perhaps it will come from Maybe Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau. If there is enough mojo in the Pirate bats to make the playoffs, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole could be a very formidable three-man rotation in the playoffs. Mark Melancon may be nastier than even Craig Kimbrel.

What would be ideal is a match up between the Nationals and the Pirates. Such a competition s a very long shot bet for 2013, but both teams have enough to contend for a few years to come. It’s a beautiful drive from Pittsburgh to DC. The leaves would be changing up and down the Allegheny Mountains and fans could not have a better trip back and forth for a seven-game NL Championship Series, hopefully this season. The last time it happened was 1925, the year Archie Bunker was born.


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