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

Editor’s Note: Sporting News editor-in-chief and proud Pittsburgh native Mike DeCourcy was 11 in October 1971. The Sporting News was 85 years old. The Pirates hadn’t been in a World Series for 11 years, and it would take almost 40 more before author Bruce Markusen called Roberto. Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates “The Team That Changed Baseball”. With a predominantly black and Latino daily roster, this Pirates team beat the Orioles in seven games, winning the World Series 50 years ago this weekend.

Do we know when we are witnessing the story? Often, yes, but not always. Sometimes it takes years before, in retrospect, we can say, definitely, “It was historic.”

It may take a long time to authoritatively state, 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 their own right. impact on Major League Baseball over the years, if not decades, this has ensued.

And yet, how would an 11-year-old in Pittsburgh have any idea, let alone care? His favorite team was on the verge of winning a world championship.


DeCourcy: “I remember the day the Pirates started an all-black formation. They made a lot of talk about it on the TV news. I hadn’t been there long enough to appreciate the significance of it. Roberto Clemente was my hero. I loved Manny Sanguillen and Willie Stargell. I didn’t understand why the 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,” the Associated Press noted 50 years after the fact:

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

“It didn’t even occur to them 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 Latin descent. ‘mind until after. “


“Not since the heyday of the Black Leagues,” Markusen writes in his book, “a team like this had not been taken to the field.”


The Sporting News, dated September 18, 1971, noted in a short story that Pirate manager Danny Murtaugh’s Black and Latino lineup beat 13 hits. In the story, slugger Willie Stargell recalled that Pittsburgh fielded an eight-colored team in 1967 in Philadelphia, but the starting pitcher in that game was white, he said.


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

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

In recent years, he said, he’s come to take this as a nod, a compliment of sorts, to Murtaugh’s color-blind approach to his work.


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

“Did I have nine blacks in there?” Murtaugh said, feigning surprise. “I thought I had nine Pirates in 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 and beat the champions NL West Giants in the NLCS. They would face defending champion Orioles, who swept the A’s into the ALCS. It was the Pirates’ first World Series appearance since 1960, the year after Mike DeCourcy was born.


DeCourcy: I was in sixth grade in 1971, my first year at Greenock School after I was finally allowed to leave Catholic school and go to public school with all the kids in my neighborhood. It was a big victory for me. We were only a month old when Mrs. Bunson brought a television into the room shortly after lunchtime on Monday. We were going to watch World Series Game 2 at school! I remember wondering if the children of Saint-Denis could watch the game. I don’t remember seeing a television on the premises in five years there.

What I remember this afternoon is that the TV was black and white, Richie Hebner hit a home run that didn’t really matter, the Pirates lost 0-2 and we watched it a lot on tv before the final the bell rang and we hopped on the school bus to go home. I wasn’t really worried that they were in such a hole. Both of those games took place in Baltimore. I thought there was a chance the Pirates would come home and win three games in a row.


The Pirates did just that, including Game 4, obviously historic at the time as the first night game in World Series history. Clemente, hitting 0.417 in Games 3-5, kept his promises to his teammates after Game 2, noted in The Sporting News: “Don’t worry, I’ll pick you up when we get to Pittsburgh. The series returned to Baltimore, with the Pirates rising, three games to two, and a chance to win it in Game six.

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DeCourcy: I was only 11 at the 1971 World Series, but my priorities were well defined. Game 6 took place on a Saturday afternoon in Baltimore. Elizabeth Forward High School was playing a home football game that afternoon; we were one of the only schools that didn’t have lighting for our field, so all of our home games were on Saturday afternoons at 1:30 p.m.

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

But miss Game 6 for a high school football game? No chance. The Pirates could win the World Series that day, and I would miss it. I was not going to allow that to happen. So I stayed at home with my mom and watched more or less alone as the Pirates load the goals early in the 10th inning of a 2-2 game. They failed to get their heads home. The Orioles won at the end of the round. Even though it was scary, I did not regret my choice.

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


The lineup of Pirate Game 7 in Baltimore: Dave Cash, 2B; Gene Clines, CF; Roberto Clemente, RF; Bob Robertson, 1B; Manny Sanguillen, C; Willie Stargell, LF; José Pagan, 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 pitch on first base to officially register the series final. Having visitors at that point was no surprise, because why wouldn’t the entire Old Hills Road neighborhood celebrate this championship together?

And yet, it was because my friend Dave Plum announced that his father was offering to take us into town to join in the festivities there. It wasn’t a long trip back from Baltimore, so the Pirates were to arrive at the Grand Pittsburgh International Airport in the early evening and then greet their fans as the team’s trailer slowly roamed the streets of downtown. city.

Arnie Plum was a lawyer with offices in the Oliver building. There was a church a block away on Sixth Street that had a little grassy area in front of what I’m pretty sure was a graveyard. 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 Sixth Avenue and shared the joy and probably drank beers. And we all waited. The Pirates were supposed to show up, and what a show that would be! Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen – all of our favorites would be there on the biggest night of their professional lives.

Every once in a while a car would turn around the corner and start driving towards us and the crowd would get excited. That’s it …! They are there ! But it was never them, just guys hanging out in a convertible. Eventually – I have no idea what time we lost – we got home.

The parade we were promised never took place. But we still had this championship. And that night, even if it wasn’t as planned. It was a night that I remember for 50 years and intend to cherish for the rest of my life.

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Story? From The Sporting News recap the day after Game 7: “In the silent Orioles 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 “71 Pirates” caused other future champions to be more color blind – closed his retrospective review of the season and series:

“(T) The 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates proved 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. For this reason, they deserve to be called the team that changed baseball.

Senior editorial consultant Bob Hille has worked for or with Sporting News for over 25 years.


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