By Jarrod Harris
Times West Virginian
Since 1971, there have been many changes in the United States.
From the 1972 Watergate Break that led to the resignation of President Nixon, to 1980, when Ronald Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter. We now have an infamous multi-billion dollar debt that we as Americans face as a nation.
Possibly no more social security for the younger generation and no more prayer in public schools.
Though our nation is failing to find a way to escape the treacherous debt and chaos that is surrounding it, a team that is bringing the ’70s back in style is the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Over the past four decades, the Pirates have been deflating as much as our nation. In 1992, as we all know, the bottom dropped out and it’s been a spiral downward for the past 20 years.
But this year is different. Why? Because the Pirates are doing something that they haven’t accomplished since 1971, which is a 56-37 record — a mere 19 games over .500.
The best part about that record? In 1971, the Pirates brought a World Series title back to Pittsburgh.
The championship run began at good ole’ Three Rivers Stadium, where the famous saying from former Pirates announcer Bob Prince — “Spread some chicken on the hill with Will.”
Of course, Prince was referring to Wilver Dornell Stargell, a 31-year-old beast at the time, who would hit homeruns that airplanes had to dodge.
But their lineup didn’t end there. They featured a team that tallied a team average of .274 that was led by leadoff batter Manny Sanguillen and Bob Robertson, who batted second.
Everyone hit in the lineup.
Remember Gene Alley, Richie Hebner, Al Oliver and Roberto Clemente? All of those guys were a solid core that could score runs in bunches.
But the hitting didn’t stop there — they had role players on the bench that would have been starters on other squads. Names like Vic Davalillo, Gene Clines and the immaculate game seven homerun king that pushed the Pirates to its third world championship in 1960 in Bill Mazeroski.
Though the hitting was dominant, their pitching was as efficient as a heat pump. Dock Ellis tallied 19 wins, and No. 2 starter, Steve Blass tallied 15 wins.
Everything worked for the ’71 Pirates. They had solid hitting, a good dose of power on the offensive side of the ball, and they had a good bullpen. Most of all, they had team comradery that was second to none.
Now, the Pirates are on the brink to not only pushpast the .500 barrier, but they have a legitimate shot of making a run for the World Series.
Yes, the Pirates have one of the top bullpens in the Bigs including their shark-tank and all but one man has taken over the role as a leader while trying to push the Pirates into the playoffs.
Andrew McCutchen, better known as “Cutch.” Cutch is the Pirate’s new Willie Stargell. Though his type of play is different, he bleeds black and gold, and this reflects in a positive way onto his teammates.
His journey with the Buccos began in Fort Meade, Fla. During his senior season, he batted .474 with eight home runs, 40 runs batted in (RBIs), 45 stolen bases, and only four strikeouts.
Because of his world class speed and ability to smash a baseball, he was drawing attention from every owner/scout in the Majors. Names like George Steinbrenner, William DeWitt Jr., David Montgomery and Peter Angelos were all calling and visiting McCutchen on a first name basis.
That’s the Yankees, St.Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and the Baltimore Orioles. All franchises that have won, all franchises that promote excellence.
But the team he had his eyes set on? Robert Nutting and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I knew the Pirates had their eyes on me and it was almost a want to be drafted by the Pirates,” McCutchen said in an interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons on Baseball Tonight. “I wanted to be drafted. It was everything about the Pirates that made me feel at home.”
When he graduated high school, McCutchen had to make a tough decision. To play for his beloved Florida Gators or go play with the Pittsburgh Pirates – a team that made him the 11th pick in the 2005 MLB Draft?
It was a no brainer for him. Though he was a huge Gator fan — he idolized the Pirates even more.
Since then, in his five seasons with the Pirates, McCutchen has excelled. He’s been named to the All-Star game three times. He’s won a Gold Glove Award and has won a Silver Slugger Award.
In the spring of 2012, it was time for McCutchen to do what all other Pirates have been prone to do, which is cash in and leave Pittsburgh.
Why? Because the Pirates don’t have the budget that the big named organizations have.
Barry Bonds did it. So did Aramis Ramirez and Bobby Bonilla. So why not “Cutch”?
“I owed them with signing this contract,” McCutchen said. “I told them when signing the contract extension, ‘Why would I waste it going somewhere else when I could get three more million dollars?’ Then, I would be contradicting myself. I would be asking myself, ‘Am I doing it for the money or (am I) doing it because you love the game?’ I’m doing it because I love the game.”
McCutchen signed a six year deal worth $51-million to stay in Pittsburgh.
“The fact that this young man wants to buy into Pittsburgh and wants to buy into what we’re doing, it means a lot to our organization,” Pirates’ head coach Clint Hurdle said following the signing of McCutchen. “He’s a crown jewel for the Pirates.”
Because of McCutchen staying with the Pirates, it’s opened the flood gates for other prominant players to come to Pittsburgh.
From names like Russell Martin and A.J. Burnett. They’re all winners from big market organizations, but they all want to buy into the Pirates.
“It’s been 20 years of a lot of pain,” McCutchen said. “We’re just trying to get up that hill. It drives me. It pushes me to be a part of that team of all the naysayers and all of the people that say it’s not going to happen. It would be nice to show them that it is going to happen.”
That’s exactly what McCutchen is doing this season with the Buccos. He’s been able to garner a .302 batting average in the first half of the season, while drilling 10 homeruns and 49 RBIs.
His passion for the game has set precedence to everyone including the hitters to the pitchers and even manager Clint Hurdle.
“This is the guy who I’d let hit third and then date my daughter,” Hurdle jokingly said on Baseball Tonight. “There may have been two of those in my 39 years in the game that could even come to mind. It doesn’t even work – it’s an oxymoron. But, he’s one of those guys.”
Now that the Pirates are on the brink of history, it’s not just a matter of can they do it, it’s a matter of when they do it.
“This is the year, absolutely,” ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk said. “I think for a couple of reasons. They’re pitching is better, but we see that. I think they’re more equipped in the second half and I think Russell Martin is also going to play a big role in this team.
“I don’t think they had anyone in that club house that would jump you when things were going bad or say something positive when things we going bad. Martin’s been in the postseason and he knows what it takes to get there and how to win. He’s going to be a huge influence.”
The Pirates lead the league in shutouts, they lead the league in ERA and they can pitch their way all the way through. Plus, Hurdle talked about the team having to be a little crazy.
They have what’s called a leadership council on the team. Five veteran players, twice a month, go into Hurdles office and say, ‘Alright, here’s what’s bothering us,’ or, ‘here’s what’s great.’
“They have this thing between the manager and the players and it seems to be working in Pittsburgh,” Kruk said.
Though everyone is jumping on the Pirates’ “bandwagon” it’s time for the young Bucco team to buckle down in the second half of the season and make a run for the title.
The “Zoltan” and the “Shark Tank” are back and it’s easing the tension like when Willie “Pops” Stargell and “We Are Family” Pirates did during their great 10-year run from 1971-79.
Email Jarrod Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JarrodHarrisTWV.