Steve Blass’ Legacy: Under-Appreciated and Unforgettable

The broadcaster who is retiring on Sunday seemingly never got his proper due for what he did as a pitcher. But what he did on the mound for the Pirates in 1971 is on the short list of the best Pittsburgh has ever seen in any sport.

It’s a moment that has and will continue to live on in Pittsburgh sports lore, long after Steve Blass calls it a career on Sunday.

Shortstop Jackie Hernandez ranging to his left, fielding a ground ball just past and behind second base, and firing to first.

Hernandez’ throw beating the Orioles’ Merv Rettenmund by a step.

And the winning pitcher of Game 7 leaping into first baseman Bob Robertson’s upraised arms, soon to be joined by catcher Manny Sanguillen, second baseman Dave Cash and the rest of the 1971 World Champion Pirates.

That’s up there with anything this city has ever witnessed and instantly christened as unforgettable.

It’s up there with Franco Harris snatching the Immaculate Reception inches from the ground and  exorcising the Steelers from their history of ineptitude.

It’s up there with Mario Lemieux splitting a pair of helpless North Stars defensemen on the way to delivering for the Penguins a once-unfathomable Stanley Cup championship.

It’s up there with Maz windmilling his batting helmet between second and third after blasting the home run that somehow pushed the Pirates past the Yankees.

Even if Blass has seemingly, somehow unjustly been relegated over the years to a relative back seat in the professional immortality department.

Maybe that’s because those other guys are all Hall-of-Famers; Blass is not.

Maybe that’s because those other guys don’t have a disease named after them reflecting a suddenly inability to perform the most basic of tasks that once vaulted them to the very top of their professions.

Maybe that’s because Blass subsequently reinvented himself as a broadcaster and achieved a status behind a microphone and/or in front of a camera previously reserved only for the iconic likes of Bob Prince, Myron Cope and Mike Lange.

Somehow, Blass has been at worst shortchanged and at best under-appreciated all these years.

Game 3: Nine innings pitched, three hits allowed, one run (earned), two walks, eight strikeouts _ Bucs win, 5-1.

Game 7: Nine innings pitched, four hits allowed, one run (earned), two walks, five strikeouts _ Bucs win, 2-1, Bucs Win it All.

Why isn’t there a statue of Blass somewhere on the North Shore, near where the mound used to be at Three Rivers Stadium?

At the very least the Pirates should keep the “Blass 60” logo on the outfield wall, for the next 60 seasons if not in perpetuity.

Then again, it’s difficult to envision an appropriate tribute to a man who helped deliver a championship (Roberto Clemente was pretty good in the ’71 series, too) and became even more identifiable over the years by his humanity.

Funny, self-deprecating, authentic; all of that trumps one day forgetting how to throw a strike.

So does that unforgettable, almost indescribable feeling of leaping into Robertson’s arms after the Orioles had been conquered.

“At that moment, you become a 10-year-old kid again,” Blass has recalled.

I was 9 at the time; I’ll never forget the feeling, either.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section