50 Years Ago- my Pittsburgh Pirates would win the World Series. They have only won one time since then in 1979. I was a ten year old Pirates fanatic in 1971- I followed the season closely and was able to go to I’d guess ten games give or take a few games. I was usually listening to the games on the radio if it was a home game- [home games were never televised then] and watching every time a road game was on television- they had about half the away games on television- the other half I’d have my transistor radio on.
In 1970 the Pirates had made the playoffs for the first time since winning the 1960 World Series by winning the National League Eastern Division title- but they would lose in the playoffs that year 3 games to 0 against the Cincinnati Reds. I was of course optimistic going into the 1971 season. I was also looking back now extremely fortunate. It was great to be a Pittsburgh sports fan in the 1970’s- the Pirates would win 2 World Series- while making the playoffs six times. They were always in contention. The football Steelers would win 4 Super Bowls. All this when I was between the ages of ten and twenty. Good times.
In the off season the Pirates made a few moves-
- October 15, 1970- a minor trade with the New York Yankees- the Pirates acquired catcher Charlie Sands and two other minor league players who never made the major leagues- sending three minor league players to the Yankees- none of those three made it to The Show either. Sands would play a minor role as third string catcher for the Pirates in 1971- he would be used mainly as a pinch-hitter.
- October 26, 1970- the Pirates released veteran relief pitcher Joe Gibbon.
- December 2, 1970- Pirate General Manager Joe L. Brown [son of famous actor Joe E. Brown] swung a trade with the Kansas City Royals. Going to Kansas City was Freddie Patek [the shortest man in the majors at 5’4″ ] pitcher Bruce Dal Canton and catcher Jerry May for pitcher Bob Johnson, shortstop Jackie Hernandez and catcher Jim Campanis. I have to say Kansas City in the long run got the best of the deal- Patek would be a big contributor to the Royals throughout the decade. For the Pirates though the trade was a good trade for 1971 – Johnson a starting pitcher would have a good year for the Pirates starting 27 games and going 9-10 with a 3. 45 ERA. Hernandez a back up shortstop would play a role when the starting shortstop Gene Alley was injured. Campanis the son of Dodger executive Al Campanis wouldn’t appear in a game for the Pirates until 1973- and then only in six games.
- The biggest deal of the off-season- on January 29, 1971- former batting champion and starting center fielder Matty Alou and relief pitcher George Brunet were dealt to division rival the St. Louis Cardinals- for pitcher Nelson Briles and outfielder Vic Davalillo. A great deal for the Pirates- they could afford to deal Alou- because of the wealth of young talent the Pirates farm system had developed in the late 60s-early 70’s- first baseman Al Oliver would go to center field- with Bob Robertson taking over at first base full time. Alou would not be missed at all. Nellie Briles would be a spot starter in 1971 pitching in 37 games total starting 14 and having a record of 8-4 with a fine ERA of 3:04. He would be a key member of the pitching staff. Vic Davalillo was a great pinch-hitter and extra outfielder. He would get a lot of playing time in the outfield filling in when the starters were rested.
- February 10, 1971- in a move that would at the time get no attention which turned into a great move the Pirates traded minor leaguer Danny Rivas to Mexico City Reds in the Mexican League for left handed relief pitcher Ramon Hernandez. Hernandez would appear in only 10 games in 1971 but was outstanding in those ten games -saving 4 with a 0.73 ERA. He would be an outstanding left handed relief pitcher out of the Pirates bullpen until midway though the 1976 season.
The 1971 season was about to get under way- tomorrow- Tuesday April 6, 1971- the Philadelphia Phillies come to Three Rivers Stadium for Opening Day- Dock Ellis pitching for the Pirates and veteran lefty Chris Short for the Phillies.
[pictured at the top- Pirates General Manager Joe L. Brown- the man who built the 1971 Pirates]