The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

December 13, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Blass: Bucs can become winners again

MORGANTOWN — The line at the PNC Bank in the Suncrest Town Center here wound out the door and down around a part of the building and no, they weren’t giving away money.

Banks don’t do that.

It was the next best thing, though, April in December.

The Pittsburgh Pirates caravan had come to town, and the throng that was there gave evidence that times were getting better for the Pirates, once baseball’s most feared team that has morphed into its biggest losers, 20 consecutive seasons without a .500 record.

Among the group that was on this leg of the journey were two people perhaps best to express the feelings about what the Pirates once were and what they were hoping to become again.

Steve Blass is a longtime Pirates broadcaster, but before that he was one of baseball’s best pitchers with them, winner of the seventh game of the 1971 World Series as team lead by Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell beat a Baltimore Orioles team that included such Hall of Famers as Frank and Brooks Robinson along with Jim Palmer.

Neil Walker is the Pittsburgh Kid, born and raised in the city, now the second baseman and among the most popular of the current players, a kid who would want nothing more than return the glory days to Pittsburgh.

But this week it became obvious why it is so difficult by two events in Major League Baseball, the suddenly money-rich Los Angeles Dodgers tossing $142 million to pitcher Zach Grienke for seven years and the Yankees tossing $12 million to used-up third baseman Kevin Youkilis for this year to fill in as long as it takes for Alex Rodriguez to recover from surgery.

The timing of seeing these things is difficult, for you had the Pirates roaring through the first half of last year, only to fall off in the second half and not be able — or willing — to make moves like that.

“The times have really changed in baseball. We’re trying to build a championship organization the way you should do it,” Walker said. “You piece it together. You get free agents like Russ Martin, who we got to catch this winter. It’s flattering being a full-time resident like I am and seeing where people are in terms of their support.”

He saw it at the lowest points, when there were 100-loss seasons and not pennant races into August.

“I grew up being a fan of the Pirates and seeing Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park, but going there was just something to do,” Walker admitted. “It was fun to go to the ball park but you kind of knew what it was.”

And what it was was a day’s entertainment, not a battle for first place. And if you saw a superstar, he was wearing the other jersey.

Walker says that’s changing.

“We know we’re going to have to do things the right way. We know we’re going to have to play small ball. We know we have to play good defense. We know we’re not going to go get the superstar, but we have guys such as Andrew McCutchen, who can really play baseball,” he said.

“Look at the San Francisco Giants. They didn’t have a lot of superstars, but they had guys who knew how to play baseball, and they played together. That’s where we’re trying to go.”

It wasn’t how Blass’ Pirates did it, because the eras are different. He played on great teams with great players.

“The Pirates of the early ’70s were fabulous. It was a great coming together of the veterans like Willie Stargell and Clemente and the young guys. We had a stocked farm system them, the Hebners, the Ellises, the Sanguillens,” he said.

The question is can the attitude of those days ever come back? At that time the Pirates were upstaging the Steelers, who were just beginning to get it going again under Chuck Noll.

“I would argue that it can happen,” Blass said. “It was great being part of that, but the first half of last year we were reminded of how good a baseball city Pittsburgh really is. Everyone was behind us. When the Steelers opened up camp they were on the third page of the sports section rather than the first page like they always had been because we were smoking.”

A winning team will change a lot.

“We were losing so many years in a row that you had people backing off. But this last year it caught on again. I was driving to work seeing kids playing catch in the front yard and wearing McCutchen, Walker and Alvarez shirts. It can be that way,” Blass said.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

1
Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • Bussie looks forward to WNBA

    On Tuesday, the weather turned cold, the wind blew and amongst the raindrops that fell a few snowflakes fluttered quietly to Earth.
    It was as if it was a celebration of Asya Bussie being drafted on Monday night by the Minnesota Lynx, champions of the WNBA, with the third selection of the second round, the 15th overall pick of the draft.

    April 16, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Jackie Robinson’s impact extends beyond baseball

    It is Jackie Robinson Day as I sit here writing this today, and I feel as though I am doing it in a world gone mad.
    Every player in Major League Baseball wore No. 42 on Tuesday in honor of Jackie Robinson, the man who took racism’s best shot and integrated the game that was known then as the National Pastime even though it was as white a Ku Klux Klan robe.

    April 16, 2014

  • Gyorko, Padres agree to extension

    Jedd Gyorko, who hasn’t hit much of anything with a .178 start on this season, hit the jackpot on Monday, signing a six-year contract extension with the San Diego Padres for $35 million with a one-year club option at $13 million.

    April 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Spring game showed defense has improved

    From Dana Holgorsen’s viewpoint, which was standing right behind the offense, West Virginia’s Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday was a rousing success for it showed very little of what the Mountaineers will be in this coming season, probably not even showcasing the man who will direct the offense in the quarterback position.

    April 15, 2014

  • WVU signs guard; Adrian arrested for DUI

    There was something good and something bad for West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins this past weekend as Kansas junior college player Tarik Phillip committed to play for the Mountaineers but rising sophomore Nathan Adrian was charged with Under 21 DUI after he was stopped at 1:20 a.m. Sunday for an expired registration sticker.

    April 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Garrison still proving he can carry the ball

    The running back raves from the West Virginia coaching this spring have been directly mostly toward Wendell Smallwood, and rest assured he earned every one of them with his versatility, but it was a reborn running back who well may have taken the biggest jump up the depth chart.

    April 14, 2014

  • WVU baseball drops seventh straight game

    One’s athletic skills are tested on a daily basis but every so often other aspects of an athlete’s makeup are tested, often far more important aspects in the game of life.

    April 14, 2014

  • Gold-Blue Game answers few questions at quarterback

    Dana Holgorsen finds himself in a quarterback quandary.
    He’s looking to have one quarterback and has five of them as spring practice ends, and nothing about the spring session has done anything to straighten out the situation.

    April 13, 2014

  • Moore ‘back at home’ under center

    There are a couple of ways to look at what Logan Moore did this spring after being moved back to quarterback and given a chance to compete for what is a wide open job, as wide open at the end of the spring as it was coming in.
    The first is to say that he didn’t wow Dana Holgorsen to the point that he’s willing to say he’s the leader going into summer drills, but that would be shortsighted considering from where Moore came.

    April 13, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU punter turns heads at linebacker

    They call him “Huey the Punter.”
    His real name is Houstin Syvertson. His real position is not punter. Not anymore, anyway.
    To be honest, until Saturday’s spring game, not many people following West Virginia football knew the name or the nickname. They know it now.

    April 13, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads