Tuesday, May 29, 2012

1979 World Series: Stargell's Family

The Teams
National League: Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64) - Seventh World Series (Won in 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971)
American League: Baltimore Orioles (102-57) - Fifth World Series (Won in 1966, 1970)

What Happened
It is impossible to talk about the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates without talking about Willie Stargell. One of the only holdovers left from the 1971 World Champion team, Stargell was in the autumn of his career in 1979, but there was no mistaking that these Pirates were his team. He was the undisputed clubhouse leader, taking a team of disparate personalities and turning them into a cohesive unit better than any field manager could have dreamed of. Stargell started molding his team in spring training, convincing them that they were destined for greatness, and continued throughout the season, doing things like handing out gold stars to players who made big plays and adopting the song "We Are Family" as the team's unofficial anthem. Everything he did worked, and in October, the Pirates were back playing in the World Series for the first since 1971.

Like in 1971, the Pirates' opponents in the World Series were the Baltimore Orioles. Though the names on the front of the jersey were the same, the ones on the backs were largely different, as only two Orioles remained from the 1971 team. And though the players changed, the team's philosophy - pitching, defense, and power - stayed the same.

Pittsburgh didn't show any of the first two things on that list in Game 1, as the Orioles scored five first-inning runs; Baltimore scored two runs on an error on a double play ball, a third on a wild pitch, and two more on a home run. Having dug themselves a huge hole, the Pirates couldn't make it back, losing 5-4.

The Pirates won Game 2 thanks to a ninth-inning pinch-hit single by backup catcher Manny Sanguillen - like Stargell, a holdover from the 1971 club. Having stolen a road win right before the series headed back to Pittsburgh, the Pirates gave the momentum right back, blowing three-run leads in both games 3 and 4 as Baltimore took a 3-1 series lead.

The majority of the press coverage of the series to that point was telling the story of how Pittsburgh was blowing the series, rather than how Baltimore was winning it. Stargell saw all this press, and he made sure his teammates saw it too. The message had been sent, but the Pirates still needed a spark on the field to go with the one they got off the field. They got it in the sixth inning of Game 5 when, trailing 1-0, Stargell hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game. It may have seemed inconsequential at the time, but it woke up the Pirates. They scored six more runs to force the series back to Baltimore.

In Baltimore, Stargell and the Pirates kept it up. Game 6 was scoreless entering the seventh when Dave Parker and Stargell drove in runs to put Pittsburgh ahead. Baltimore was leading Game 7 1-0 entering the sixth before Stargell hit a 2-run home run to give Pittsburgh the lead. Stargell's family held on from there, bringing the World Championship back to Pittsburgh. It hasn't been back since.

Defining Game
Despite Stargell's heroics, there wasn't much that was memorable in this World Series. With late start times causing games to be played in bad weather, there was bad fielding galore in the seven games. Game 7 sort of redeemed things, as Baltimore took a 1-0 lead into the fifth despite two hits from Stargell and two errors by Baltimore fielders. Then, with one out in the sixth and a man on, Stargell put the cap on his fantastic season by hitting the first pitch for a home run to give Pittsburgh the lead. Baltimore challenged in the 8th, loading the bases with three walks before Eddie Murray flew out to right. Given a reprieve, the Pirates added two runs in the top of the ninth - for once, Stargell wasn't involved in the rally - then got the last three outs to win.

Stargell's selection was one of the easiest of all time. 

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Pittsburgh 434 6744
Baltimore 528 9101

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

58. 1979 - Pittsburgh (N) def. Baltimore (A) 4-3
59. 1987 - Minnesota (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-3
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis 4, Philadelphia 2
29. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0 
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0

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