’79 Champs Witness Bucs Rise to 5th Place

I was supposed to be in the audience tonight. But a business trip looms tomorrow. Thusly, I witnessed the game courtesy of Fox Sports Ohio. 22 members of the 1979 World Series champs were honored before the game and they got to watch Zach Duke, Ryan Doumit and Garrett Jones pitch and pound the Reds into submission. And into the cellar.

The Pirates took over 5th place with their fifth straight win. Duke allowed two runs on eight hits and no walks in seven innings. The Pirates got on Justin Lehr in the first inning with three runs. Doumit was in the middle of it. With the Pirates already up 1-0, one gone in the first and Jones on third, Doumit hit a high bouncer back to Lehr. The Reds hurler wanted to get two and end the inning, but Doumit hustled down the line and was credited with a fielder’s choice RBI. He then swiped second based and scored on a single from Lastings Milledge.

Doumit hit a two run homer high into the seats in right in the fifth to make it 6-1. Jones added a two run double in next frame and the route was on. The Pirates added four more in the 7th. Steve Pearce had a two run single. Had it not been for an acrobatic stop by Brandon Phillips off the bat of Delwyn Young that Phillips helped turn into a double play, it could’ve been worse.

Lehr allowed six runs on 8 hits in five innings.

The Good

Five straight wins.

Fifth place.

Doumit had three hits, scored three times and drove in three.

Jones also had three hits and three runs knocked home.

Duke picks up win #10.

The Bad

Nothing at all, other than me not being in the Steel City tonight.

The Rest

The 19 players from the 1979 team on hand were:

Matt Alexander, Dale Berra, Bert Blyleven, John Candelaria, Mike Easler, Phil Garner, Grant Jackson, Bruce Kison, Lee Lacy, Bill Madlock, Omar Moreno, Steve Nicosia, Ed Ott, Dave Parker, Don Robinson, Jim Rooker, Manny Sanguillen, Rennie Stennett and Kent Tekulve. Chuck Tanner and coach Al Monchak were there along with trainer Tony Bartirome. Willie Stargell’s wife was also there.

Among the deceased in addition to Stargell are Bill Robinson, John Milner, Dave Roberts and Dock Ellis (not on post-season roster). Living players who did not come back were Jim Bibby, Doe Boyland (not on post-season roster), Joe Coleman (not on post-season roster), Tim Foli, Gary Hargis (not on post-season roster), Alberto Lois (not on post-season roster), Rick Rhoden (disabled most of the season), Enrique Romo, Frank Taveras (traded early on for Foli), Ed Whitson (traded for Madlock in June)

This was Doumit’s fifth career game with three runs scored. It was the third time he reached three RBI and three runs scored in one contest.

Jones has six RBI in the last two games.

Duke reached double figures in wins for the second time in his career.

Each of the starting 8 had a hit and scored a run.

Last five game winning streak was May 15 to 20th against Colorado and Washington. Each of the starters were the winning pitcher during the current winning streak.The bullpen picked up three wins during the earlier winning streak.

Luis Cruz got his third start of the year in place of Ronny Cedeno who has a fractured finger.

Welcome back Phil Dumatrait who pitched a scoreless inning, his first game since July 7, 2008.


Dock Ellis Dead at Age 63

Woke up to this news this morning: Dock Ellis has passed away from a liver ailment. How sad.

Amid all the hype about his no-hitter on LSD, people will overlook that Ellis was a very good pitcher. But at the same time more than a bit of an enigma. What could he have done had he actually applied himself? If you haven’t yet, you should read his autobiography. It is called Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball. It was co-written by future poet-laureate Donald Hall. The prose wirtten by Hall in the first chapter stands all by itself as a great piece. The balance of the book reads at times like a conversation. Sometimes it is Hall and Ellis speaking. Other times it is Hall and a friend of Dock’s or a childhood buddy of Dock’s.

A quick scan of the various articles on his death reveals an error in the article by Jerry Crasnick at ESPN.com. Regarding that no-no, Crasnick states that Ellis revealed in his autobiography that he threw the game while high on LSD. (The article at the NY Daily News makes the same mistake.) Not at all true. In the book he claims to have been drunk. It wasn’t until an appearance on “60 Minutes” in the 1980s that Ellis revealed he was high on LSD. In a later edition of the book, co-author Donald Hall explains, “When I described Dock pitching a no-hitter after a night spent drinking screwdrivers, I lied…Dock was high not on vodka, but on acid.” Hall describes the scene of he and Ellis going over a final draft of the manuscript in the winter of 1976, after Ellis had been traded to the Bombers. Hall’s epliogue states, “When we came to the pages about his acid no-hitter, Dock shook his head sadly: ‘I am working,’ he said, ‘for Mr. Steinbrenner.'”

The Crasnick article does speak about his start on May 1, 1974 in which he purposefully hit Pete Rose and Joe Morgan, walked Tony Perez (only because Perez kept moving out of the way of pitches aimed for him) and then hit Johnny Bench before being pulled by Danny Murtaugh in favor of John Morlan. Ellis felt the Pirates were intimidated by the Big Red Machine and wanted to prove that he, at least, was not.

I have yet to read any obituaries where it mentions Dock wearing curlers in his hair on the field or applying velvet to the barrell of his bats because it felt cool.



Ken Brett

Continuing with a look back on some forgotten or semi-forgotten Buccos…
This time, the topic is Ken Brett. It was four years ago last week than Kemer succumbed to brain cancer. I heard his name mentioned in conversation the previous month when I dined with some new co-workers. The spouse of my boss’ boss is an artist and when he found out I was a baseball fan, he mentioned that he used to be friends with Ken Brett. It seemed that Brett was an art buff (for the record, the 1974 Pirates media guide says that Brett’s hobby was photography) and had been involved with this fellow. He was supposed to meet Ken at the Dodger’s Spring Training site in 1980. He was called the day after he arrived and informed that Ken had been released and had left town. The person who placed the call was former Pirate hurler Jerry Reuss. The big lefty informed the artist, that like Brett, he was interested in art. So, the artist and Reuss became buddies and the artist was on hand at the 1981 World Series.
MLB debut – entered a 9/27/67 contest in relief and pitched two innings for the Red Sox against the Indians
How acquired – was sent to the Pirates from Philadelphia even up for Dave Cash on October 18, 1973.
Bucco debut – received a no decision on 4/10/74 against Montreal. He went 4-1/3 and gave up five earned runs.
First win – 9/12/69. He allowed three runs in 7-2/3 innings against the Bombers. He also went 3-3 (collecting his first ML hit) with a homer and three RBI, foreshadowing his success with the bat.
Last win – got one out on 8/24/81 against Detroit. He whiffed Richie Hebner to end the top of the 7th and Amos Otis doubled home George Brett with the winning run in the bottom of the frame.
Final ML game – 10/3/81. Gave up a run in two innings of work for KC against Oakland.
Final game as a Bucco – Game 2 of the 1975 NLCS against the Big Red Machine. Kemer was the third of four Bucco pitchers as the Pirates lost to Fred Norman. Tony Perez drove in three including a homer off of starter Jim Rooker.
How he got away – Following the 1975 season, Brett, Dock Ellis and Willie Randolph were traded to the Bombers for Doc Medich and nothing else. Terrible, terrible trade. Brett even up for Medich would’ve been bad. Throw in Ellis, who had a couple good years left, and Randolph, who would become an All-Star, and you have a disaster.
1967 World Series – because of an injury to Sparky Lyle, Brett was on the 1967 World Series roster for the BoSox. He appeared in two games, becoming the youngest World Series ball chucker ever. Not only that, but he had appeared in just one regular season game in 1967. So, he played in more post-season games than he did regular season games, which I’m certain has to be rare.
Brush with greatness – is the older brother of HOFer George Brett
Brush with greatness, part 2 – gave up #700 to Hank Aaron
Who says pitchers can’t hit – Brett owns a 94 OPS+ for his career in 347 at bats. In four straight starts in June of 1973, Brett homered. The dingers came off of Bill Greif, Charlie Hough, Ray Sadecki and Tom Walker.
All-Star Winner – Brett was the Pirates lone representative at the 1974 All-Star game. The contest took place in Three Rivers and Brett was the winning pitcher. Steve Garvey was named MVP. That was Brett’s lone appearance in an All-Star game. He was 12-6 with a 2.60 ERA at the break. For reasons I’m unaware of, Brett pitched just 8 times in the second half of 1974, winning just once.
Flakey – I have the Pirates team issued photo of Ken Brett from 1974. (You can see a cropped version here.) As you can tell, Brett’s hair is teased out to a ridiculous width and, by the grin on his face, I’d say he’s well aware of it.
Flakey, part 2 – when Ken passed away, I remember reading this quote from George:

“I’ll never forget the first time he came on in relief for the Royals,” George recalled. “The bullpen was out in right field and they opened up the gate, and he came running in like an airplane — arms spread out like wings, banking left, banking right, banking left and banking right. I’m on the mound with Jim Frey, our manager, and Jamie Quirk, who I’d played with for years and was Ken’s dear friend. And I looked at Jamie and he looked at me, and I said, ‘Now I know why he’s been traded 10 times.’ “

Those were the days – back when I was an adolescent, Miller Lite used to have ads with athletes and former athletes that were pretty humorous. There was one with former Oakland Raiders in which they cheated at pool. Ken Brett was in one in which he mocked how frequently he changed teams during his career, ending with him surprised to find out that he was currently in Utica.

Downfall of the Fam-A-Lee – Part 14

Continuing with a look at post-1979 trades. Last time out I examined the trades that happened after the 1979 post-season and up through the end of the 1980 season.
This time, let’s look at trades that happened after 1980 and up through the end of the 1981 season.
Gary Alexander, Victor Cruz, Bob Owchinko and Rafael Vasquez
On December 9, 1980 the Pirates traded Bert Blyleven and Manny Sanguillen to the Tribe for Alexander, Cruz, Owchinko and Vasquez in what was clearly the organization’s worst trade since they gave up Willie Randolph, Dock Ellis and Ken Brett to the Bombers for Doc Medich. Where to start on this one? It is wicked painful. How about alphabetically?
Way, perhaps too much, more after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

Downfall of the Fam-A-Lee – Part 14

Continuing with a look at post-1979 trades. Last time out I examined the trades that happened after the 1979 post-season and up through the end of the 1980 season.
This time, let’s look at trades that happened after 1980 and up through the end of the 1981 season.
Gary Alexander, Victor Cruz, Bob Owchinko and Rafael Vasquez
On December 9, 1980 the Pirates traded Bert Blyleven and Manny Sanguillen to the Tribe for Alexander, Cruz, Owchinko and Vasquez in what was clearly the organization’s worst trade since they gave up Willie Randolph, Dock Ellis and Ken Brett to the Bombers for Doc Medich. Where to start on this one? It is wicked painful. How about alphabetically?
Way, perhaps too much, more after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

Downfall of the Fam-A-Lee – Part 12

In the previous posts I’ve made the case that the Pirates collapse in the mid-80s was not the result of trades made to acquire the players that appeared on the 1979 post-season roster. Here’s a brief rundown of some other trades in the 1970s in which the Bucs didn’t acquire a member of the 1979 post-season roster. I’m examining trades that resulted in the Pirates losing a player who was active during the 1984 to 1986 time frame. Other trades are inconsequential to this discussion. Players are listed in alphabetical order:
Kurt Bevacqua
Bevacqua was never much more than a bit player, yet he had a long career. In 15 seasons he had more than 250 plate appearances just four times. He never reached double digits in homers and never scored or drove in 50 runs in a single season. It wouldn’t be unfair to call him a journeyman. He played everywhere except pitcher and catcher in his career. I remember him for two reasons. First, he won the bubble blowing contest in 1975 when MLB held the event every year and was immortalized on a 1976 Topps baseball card. Second he got into a verbal spat with Tom Lasorda, causing Lasorda to describe Bevacqua’s lack of ability by saying he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.
The Pirates acquired him in 1973 in a trade that saw Nellie Briles go to KC. In the middle of 1974, KC reacquired Bevacqua for a minor leaguer and cash. He had less than 40 ABs for the Bucs at the time of the trade. After much travel, the Bucs traded Luis Salazar and Rick Lancellotti to San Diego for Kurt and Mark Lee down the stretch in 1980. Between 1980 and 1981, Bevacqua was just 14 for 70 for the Pirates. He was released following the 1981 season and picked up by the Padres.
Bevacqua had his moment in the sun in the 1984 World Series. He had seven hits, including two homers and two doubles in a losing effort for the Friars. He served as DH for San Diego as this was when the use of the DH in the World Series was alternated every year – one year on and one year off. He was free agent following 1985 but never appeared in another ML game.
Quite obviously, the presence of Kurt Bevacqua on the Pirates in the mid-80s would not have prevented the ship from sinking.
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Downfall of the Fam-A-Lee – Part 10

Only two trades left to analyze among the players that were on the post-season roster in 1979. This one is about Jim Rooker
The Trade
On October 25, 1972, the Royals trade Jim Rooker to the Pirates even up for Gene Garber.
The Background
The 1972 Pirates suffered a heartbreaking loss in the NLCS and then a few months later lost their leader Roberto Clemente in a plane crash. The only significant player acquired during the tumultuous time between the end of the 1972 season and the start of the 1973 season was Rooker.
Rooker was originally a signee of the Detroit Tigers in 1960. He spent the next 8 years toiling in the minors, partly because he spent his first four years in the minors as an outfielder. He went 14-8 with a sub 3.00 ERA in 1968 with Toledo and got a brief two game look with the big club that year. After that stint with the Tigers, he was sold to the Yankees that off-season. New York left him unprotected and he was plucked by the Royals in the expansion draft. Early in his career Rooker’s experience as an outfielder came in handy. He clubbed four homers in 1969 for KC On May 2, 1970, Rooker played two innings in left field in a 17 inning game between the Royals and the Tribe. He was a decent hitter for his career, overall, and was also called upon to pinch run with Pittsburgh on several occasions.
Read the rest of this entry »

The Team that Changed Baseball by Bruce Markusen

One of the seven deadly sins is envy. And I have it for Bruce Markusen who gets to live in Cooperstown and write about baseball for a living. Okay, I wouldn’t want to live in Upstate New York during the winter as I don’t enjoy that much snow.
Markusen has previously written a biography of Roberto Clemente that I thought was well done and I rank as the second best Clemente biography behind the recent effort by David Maraniss.
This tome by Markusen looks at the 1971 Pirates and specifically focuses on the diverse racial make up of the club. The Buccos became the first team to start nine minorities in one game during the 1971 season, hence the title of the book. On September 1 skipper Danny Murtaugh filled out the following lineup:
Rennie Stennett – 2B
Gene Clines – CF
Roberto Clemente – RF
Willie Stargell – LF
Manny Sanguillen – C
Dave Cash – 3B
Al Oliver – 1B
Jackie Hernandez – SS
Dock Ellis – P
This book is well thought out but isn’t particularly insightful. The first part of the book details baseball’s slow (especially in the AL) integration of American blacks and darked skin players from Latin America. Markusen jumps into the 1971 season and gives some description from most of the contests before concluding the book with individual chapters on each game of the 1971 World Series.
Not a whole lot of anecdotes or humorous stories. My favorite one was about Dock Ellis wearing a batting practice helment that he had altered so that it was fuzzy. He called it “velvetized”. Also, according to Steve Blass from the middle of his masterful Game 6 performance in the 1971 series to its conclusion Manny Sanguillen refused to call any pitches and had no idea what Blass was going to offer. He and Sangy had a disagreement during a mound conference one inning. Sangy told Blass to throw whatever he wanted and the backstop refused to offer any signs. Blass notes that Sany had amazing athletic ability to be able to pick up the rotation on the ball and not commit any passed balls.