When Matt Alexander thinks back to that October night in Baltimore when the Pirates beat the Orioles in Game 7 of the 1979 World Series, one thing stands out in his mind.
“The smiles,” Alexander said, of course, with a smile. “A lot of things happened that season and in that World Series, but the one thing I’ll always remember is all the smiles in the clubhouse that night. We had just won the World Series, and there is no better feeling in the world than that.”
Alexander, the pinch-running specialist, and almost all of the remaining living players from the ’79 World Series championship team were honored in a pre-game ceremony Saturday night at PNC Park, before the Pirates played the Phillies. Bert Blyleven and Enrique Romo were the only two who couldn’t make it.
Yes, there were plenty of smiles 40 years later. It was a time to reminisce and renew old friendships.
“This is great,” Manny Sanguillen said. “Everyone is happy when we get all the guys back together.”
However, there is also a tinge of sadness when the ’79 team reunites every five years to be honored. The Pirates not only haven’t won a World Series title since then but haven’t even made it back to the Fall Classic in four decades.
“It is sad,” Dave Parker said. “Who would have thought they’d go 40 years without a World Series? It’s hard to believe.”
I asked Lee Lacy if he would believe that the Pirates would go four decades without playing in the World Series. He shook his head.
“Never,” Lacy said. “This was one of the best organizations in baseball in the 1970s. The Pirates were right at the top with all the best teams.”
Jim Rooker concurred.
“Every year when we went to spring training, we felt that we had a chance to get to the World Series and maybe win it,” Rooker said. “We knew we were going to contend each year. There was never any talk of rebuilding. We showed up ready to win.”
The 1979 title capped a decade when the Pirates won six division titles and two world championships. The Pirates have done precious little winning since those glory days.
Their last division title came in 1992 when they won the National League East for a third straight year. Their 20 straight losing seasons, from 1993-2012, still stands as the record for major North American professional team sports.
This year’s version of the Pirates has started to fade from contention over the last week, losing six of their first seven game after the All-Star break and falling 7 ½ games behind the division-leading Cubs in the NL Central.
Most of the ’79 Pirates don’t follow the current club close enough to pinpoint why the Pirates have done so much losing since their playing days. Thus, there were no anti-Bob Nutting rants from the old-timers.
All they know is the Pirates haven’t won since their heyday, and that puts a bit of a hole in many of those players’ hearts.
“Pittsburgh is a great city, one of the world’s hidden gems,” Lacy said. “The people here are great people; very hard-working people who love their sports teams. That hasn’t changed in 40 years.
“It’s why I feel a little sad that they haven’t won in so long. So many of the fans are at an age where they’ve never experienced the Pirates playing in the World Series. I hope for their sake that it happens soon.”
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