1973 Pittsburgh Pirates - 80-82 - 3rd Pl NL East - 2.5 GB
At the conclusion of play on Aug. 1, 1973 the Pittsburgh Pirates, despite their 51-53 record, were in third place, six games behind the first place St. Louis Cardinals and two and one-half games behind the second place Chicago Cubs. The loss of the great Clemente was inestimable, but the inexplicable collapse of Steve Blass hurt almost as much. Right-handed hitting Richie Zisk who was in his first full season at the age of 24 and left-handed hitting Dave Parker, who at 22 years of age was in his first major league season, hit well, but no player or combination of players could replace Clemente.
Blass, who along with Clemente was instrumental in the 1971 World Championship and who blossomed into a 19-game winner in 1972, had as much difficulty finding home in 1973 as the kid who is away at college and discovers that his parents have moved without telling him.
The Pirates blanked the Cubs, 1-0 on Sept. 1. They were now one game above .500, tied for first place with the Cardinals. The teams were bunched so closely that the last place Philadelphia Phillies were a mere six games out of first. The Pirates played the Mets five critical games starting on Sept. 17. The teams split the first two at Three Rivers Stadium, but the Pirates lost all three in New York. They were now one game under .500, but what was worse, they trailed the first place Mets by one-half game. The key game that probably cost the Pirates the division title was the middle game of the three at Shea Stadium. Going into the game, the Pirates led the Mets by one and one-half games. They needed a win badly. When it was over, the Pirates lead was a slim one-half game.
The Pirates held the lead three times. Each time, the Mets tied them. Then came the play of the season, a play in which fate seemingly stepped in on the side of the Mets. Richie Zisk, a slow runner, was on first with one out in the top of the 13th inning. Dave Augustine hit a deep drive to left field that appeared to be headed over the wall, but it landed on top of the wall and took a weird bounce right to Cleon Jones. Zisk, who never stopped running, rounded third as Jones relayed into Wayne Garret, who fired to catcher Jerry Grote (it was actually Ron Hodges #42). Zisk was out at the plate. It's not fair to Zisk, but no one would have thrown out Clemente.
The starch was taken out of the Pirates, who sent the no longer effective Steve Blass to the mound against Tom Seaver the next day. It was no contest as the Mets pounded the Pirates, 10-2 to oust them from first. But it wasn't quite over. On the morning of Oct. 1, the Pirates and Cardinals had each lost 81 games. The Mets had lost 80. The season was supposed to have ended the day before, but rain-outs had to be played. The Pirates lost at home to the San Diego Padres while the Mets won the first of two games at Chicago. Now it was over. The Mets won only 82 games but were division champions. The Pirates finished at 80-82, which was good enough for only third place behind the 81-81 Cardinals.
The above synopsis came from an online article called "The Great Pittsburgh Pirates Disaster of the 1973 Season", by Harold Friend (9/29/2011). I would just like to add a few comments of my own in regards to the '73 Bucs:
- Only a die hard Met fan or a baseball neophyte could underestimate the loss of Clemente to this team. IMO, with Clemente in the lineup the Bucs win a minimum of 86 games, more than like 90. In either case they win the division.
- Moving Sanguillen to RF was an unmitigated disaster and thankfully he wound up back behind the dish. Still you can't discount how many losses that they were saddled with by weakening two positions.
- Blass going from the penthouse to the poorhouse (3-9, 9.85) has to be one of the strangest unsolved mysteries in sport. This man was a true ace and now he couldn't even find the plate. He walked 84 in 88 innings.
- The lowpoint of the season was July 8th. The team was 8 games under .500 (37-45) and 10 1/2 back.
- With 24 games to go the Bucs fired manager Bill Virdon and brought back for a 4th time the man who had won 2 World Championship for them, Danny Murtaugh, in hopes of a miracle. The team took over first place on September 12th for 9 days, before succumbing to the hard charging Mets.
- Pittsburgh would recover nicely and win the NL East the next 2 seasons ('74-'75).
"Scoops" was one of my all time favorite players. He could hit for average and power and he could run. Its a travesty that he was never given much consideration for the HOF. 2,743 lifetime hits and a .303 lifetime average make his case. Add in 7 ASG appearances, 3 Silver Slugger awards and the runner up to the 1969 ROY and you got yourself some fine ballplayer.
This was a great yearbook photo that I scanned to create the new card.
22 year old Dave Parker flew through the Pirates system. Tabbed to be Clemente's "heir apparent", he was rushed to the big leagues in '73 after just 84 games in AAA, to fill the gaping hole left by #21's untimely passing. Let it be said that no one could ever replace Clemente, but once Parker hit his stride he became a league MVP. A youngster in '73 he hit a rock solid .288 in 139 AB's for a Pirate team that rallied back toward contention. In 11 seasons in Pittsburgh he hit .305 with 166 home runs to go along with 4 All-Star appearances, 3 Gold Gloves, 2 batting tittles and 1 MVP award in 1978. The Cobra played 19 seasons and finished up with a .290 career average with 339 homers and 2,712 hits.
The owner and operator of Manny's BBQ, which is located in the left field concession area in PNC Park was at one time an All-Star catcher on two Pirate championship teams. That's right, that affable fun loving beloved guy with the glowing smile used to be a fearsome competitor wearing the tools of ignorance. After attempting to play RF and replace his good friend Roberto Clemente Sanguillen was moved back behind the plate in mind June and responded with another great season. A career .296 lifetime average is the 4th highest by a catcher since 1945. Sanguillen was an All-Star 3 times and missed out on earning a gold glove thanks to some guy named Bench playing in the Queen City.
I made this card using a great action shot from the '73 yearbook.
What more can I say about the great Roberto Clemente, who is arguably the greatest player in the history of the Pirate franchise. Clemente was a gift to the Pirates from the Dodgers, who failed to protect him on their 40 man roster back in 1955, so the astute Branch Rickey, who used to run the Dodgers, paid back the evil O'Malley who pushed him out of Brooklyn, by swiping the future mega-star. His accomplishments on the field are too great to list. His accomplishments as a team leader can not be understated. His accomplishments as a humanitarian are second to none. Some give of their time...some give of their money...some give of their heart...Mr. Clemente gave his life. His presence in 1973 was sorely missed.