Pittsburgh Pirates 1964, 66-74
The recent struggles of Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel have once again
thrust Steve Blass' name into the national conscience. In fact, anytime a pitcher
mysteriously loses control, Blass' name is mentioned. The inability to find the
strike zone has become known as "Steve Blass disease". It has happened to Ankiel,
Mark Wohlers, former Twins prospect Steve Gasser, and still others. It's true
that Steve Blass will never be forgotten, but sadly, the fact that he was once one of baseball best clutch pitchers has been.
During the 1971 World Series,
the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles raced out to a 2-0 series lead and looked headed toward a championship. They had a pitching trio of Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, and Mike Cuellar - the best 1-2-3 punch in baseball. Not to mention future Hall of Famers Brooks and Frank Robinson. Sure, the underdog Pirates had Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, undoubtedly all time greats, but their
pitching could simply not measure up to the mighty Orioles.
Enter Steve Blass. When the Pirates headed home for Game 3, in a must win situation, Steve Blass was the
man whom Pittsburgh's hopes rode on. The emotional hurler was up to the challenge. All Steve Blass did was shut down the potent Baltimore lineup, giving up just three
hits in a 5-1 Pirate win. The victory propelled the Pirates to three straight
wins before Baltimore won Game 6 and forced a deciding Game 7. In that
deciding game, the ball was once again given to Blass. He silenced the Baltimore bats, as well as their rabid fans,
giving up just four hits in a complete game, 3-1 victory. The Pittsburgh
Pirates were world champions and Steve Blass stood on top of the baseball world.
Blass rode the momentum into
the 1972 season, winning a career high 19 games with a 2.49 ERA. He finished
second in the Cy Young Award voting. The Pirates lost to Cincinnati in the NLCS,
but Blass pitched well going 1-0 with a 1.72 ERA. Soon after, however, the heart
and soul of the Pirates, Roberto Clemente, was tragically killed in a plane crash. The
eloquent Blass gave Clemete's eulogy in Puerto Rico.
In 1973, suddenly, Steve
Blass completely lost it. His once pinpoint control vanished. He would pitch fine in warm-ups, but would turn completely wild once the game started. His arm felt fine, it was examined several times and nothing was found.
He went just 3-9 with a 9.85 ERA and had 84 walks in 88 innings. His career
was effectively over.
Blass tried everything in an
attempt to regain his form. He tried psychotherapy, transcendental meditation,
optometherapy, and just about anything else that was suggested to him. Nothing
worked. Even today, what happened to Steve Blass remains a mystery.
Unfortunately, when Blass'
name is mentioned today it usually is associate with his control problems and is sometimes the butt of jokes. It should be remembered, however, that Steve Blass was once one of baseballs best. He was a true clutch pitcher that brought a championship to the city of Pittsburgh.
-David Zingler, April 2002
Blass @ Baseball-Reference.com
Simply Baseball Notebook
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