“Trying to condense 60 years into a yellow legal tablet page is not the easiest,” remarked Steve Blass at his January 15 press conference, announcing that the 2019 season will be his final season as a full-time employee with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Starting in 1960, Blass pitched for 14 years with the Bucs, including 10 seasons at the Major League level.
A Cleveland Indians fan from Falls Village, Connecticut that beat the odds and became a World Series legend, Blass’s career long surpasses his accolades on the field. This fact is especially true in the Steel City. So yes Steve, condensing 60 years into a yellow legal tablet page definitely was not the easiest, because a life lived like yours is hard to put into words, no matter the length of the page.
BREAKING NEWS: Steve Blass announces 2019 will be his last behind the microphone for the Bucs. https://t.co/IQikQpuW9U
— 93.7 The Fan (@937theFan) January 15, 2019
Pittsburgh Pirates Legend Steve Blass to Retire Following 2019
Steve Blass joined the Pirates organization on June 27, 1960 when he was 18 years old. He was given a tryout with the team, and as he puts it, he didn’t have a great tryout, but the Pirates saw something in him. They offered Blass a $4,000 contract that allowed him to immediately begin play in the minor leagues in Kingsport, Tennessee. His childhood team, the Indians, also offered him a beginning contract but wanted him to wait until the following spring to join the team. He decided on the Pirates, and the rest is history.
Blass played in the minors for four seasons between 1960 and 1964, his best year coming in 1962. He was playing for the Kingston Eagles of the Class-B Carolina League and posted a 17-3 record, 1.97 ERA, and 209 strikeouts in his 23 appearances. During this time, he married his high school sweetheart Karen in the fall of ’63. A few months later, he moved to the Dominican Republic to work on his slider. He would go on to post a 9-3 record with the Cibaenas Eagles.
He was invited to spring training in 1964 but inevitably was sent back to the Triple-A Columbus Jets. This stint in the minors lasted all of three weeks when he was called up to the show for the first time in his career. His first major league appearance was May 10, 1964 in relief with a scoreless five-inning outing against the Milwaukee Braves. Then came his first major league start on May 18, 1964 at Dodgers Stadium against future Hall of Famer Don Drysdale. Blass pitched a complete game, his first of 57 for his career, and the Pirates won 4-2.
In 1965, Blass played in the international league in Columbus before being called up permanently in 1966. The ’66 and ’67 seasons had their ups-and-downs with Blass recording an 11-7 record with a 3.87 ERA followed by a 6-8 record to go with a 3.55 ERA, respectively. Blass made his case to be the team’s ace in 1968 with an 18-6 record, a 2.12 ERA, and a National League best .750 win percentage while finishing 22nd for NL MVP voting.
The 1971 Pirates is where Blass will always be remembered, and this campaign is detailed below. During his final playing season (1972), he was selected to his only All-Star Game with a 19-8 record, a single-season career high, to go along with a 2.49 ERA, and 11 complete games. Before his two final seasons in ’73 and ’74, Blass was 100-67 for his career with a winning percentage of .598, while allowing only 508 walks compared to his 867 strikeouts.
The 1971 Pirates
1971 was the 90th season for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, and it was also the first full year the team played at Three Rivers Stadium. Blass had a better than average year with a 15-8 record and a 2.85 ERA. He also tied for tops in the NL with five shutouts. The area he really made his mark was in the postseason.
The Pirates faced the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS. Blass made two appearances, but faltered in both and ended with an 0-1 record. He pitched a total of seven innings in the series and had an 11.57 ERA after allowing an average of two hits per inning. The team rallied for a victory in his second game pitched, propelling the Pirates into the World Series to face the Baltimore Orioles.
After falling two games behind in Baltimore, the Pirates returned home and hoped to turn things around. Blass got the nod for game three, and any postseason jitters he had from the series against the Giants were nowhere to be found. He pitched a complete game gem, only allowing three hits, one of which gave the Orioles their lone run on a solo shot, and fanned eight batters.
Games four and five went to Pittsburgh as well before an extra-inning walk-off in Baltimore forced a game seven. Blass toed the mound again for the Pirates, this time with a World Series title riding on his arm. One run, four hits, two strikeouts, and a complete game later, Blass was jumping onto the back of catcher Manny Sanguillen as a World Series Champion. Roberto Clemente took home World Series MVP honors, but according to Baltimore manager Earl Weaver in the moments following the game seven loss, “Clemente was great all right, but if it hadn’t been for Mr. Blass, we might be popping corks right now.”
Life After Baseball
After being released by the Pirates on March 27, 1975, Blass stayed and worked odd jobs in Pittsburgh until 1983 when he got his first broadcasting job. He was hired to be Bob Prince‘s color commentator on cable TV and worked for Home Sports Entertainment. He impressed so much that KDKA, the Pirates Flagship Station, hired him in 1986 and he has worked for them, ROOT Sports, and AT&T Sportsnet ever since.
In his press conference in which he announced his retirement, Blass reflected on the broadcasters, mentors, and friends that helped him during his 34 years as a color analyst. Among these were Bob Prince, Lanny Frattare, Mike Lange, Jim Rooker, and all the current analysts, particularly Greg Brown, who Blass complimented, saying “I don’t think there’s a better play-by-play guy in baseball.” According to Pirates.com, this season makes Blass the longest-tenured broadcaster in franchise history.
Blass’s Top 10
Blass ended his press conference discussing his top 10 career highlights, beginning chronologically since he signed with the Pirates organization.
- Getting signed
- Getting called up to the Major Leagues
- First Major League Appearance
- First Major League Start
- Playing a bunch of years with three Hall of Famers: Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, and Roberto Clemente
- Game 3 of the World Series; his father jumped off the dugout and ran out to celebrate with his son
- Game 7 of the 1971 World Series
- Celebration in Falls Village after the World Series Win
- 1972 All-Star Game
- Being Awarded the Pride of the Pirates
An award-worthy life for someone respected and loved, not just in Pittsburgh, but in the fraternity of baseball fans and players everywhere. Blass made it clear that he is not retiring or quitting the team, saying that “I can’t just pull the plug on not being a part of the Pirates.” He will continue with the team as an ambassador and make appearances, saying he will spend a lot of time in PNC park.
“Life is kinda like baseball,” explained Blass. “My life is rounding third for home. I wanna know what the last 90 feet are like. I want to enjoy that and take it at my own pace.”
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