I'm pleased to welcome a guest blogger to Lead and Gold. This blog needed more baseball blogging and our new blogger brings an unparalleled perspective to the sport. How many other bloggers saw Bill Mazeroski play IN THE MINORS?
The Last Hollywood Star was born in Los Angeles in the mid-1940s, when the Dodgers and the Giants were still in Brooklyn and New York. He grew up rooting for the Pacific Coast League Hollywood Stars, a Pirate affiliate that produced among others Bill Mazeroski and Dale Long.
In his youth, the Last Hollywood Star lived in Puerto Rico and watched Clemente play winter baseball for the Santurce Cangrejeros. During the early 1960s, when he attended the University of Pittsburgh, he spent many more days and nights at Forbes Field than he did at the library. He has recently returned to Pittsburgh after living in California for over twenty years.
Former Pittsburgh Pirates Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Adam LaRoche, John Grabow, Tom Gorzelanny and Nate McClouth have to feel an enormous sense of relief. The endless speculation about whether they will remain Pirates is over. The trades were made. The players are now continuing their new careers as productive hitters and pitchers with pennant contenders.
In the wild card race, the Giants, Braves and Cubs, the new homes for Sanchez, LaRoche, McClouth, Gorzelanny and Grabow, are within one, three and three and a half games respectively.
Even Wilson’s American League Seattle Mariners are still in the hunt. As of Sunday, the team is only 6.5 behind the Boston Red Sox. With six long weeks left in the season, that’s plenty of time for the Mariners to get hot and the struggling Red Sox to further cool off and drop out of contention.
As for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett, they’ve achieved more as Washington Nationals than they did as Pirates. They may yet have the supreme satisfaction of playing on a Nationals team that will end the season with a higher winning percentage than the Bucs.
Morgan and Burnett were also important cogs in the Nationals’ recent eight-game winning streak! Can Bucco fans even imagine winning three in a row?
Pirate management explained the trades in straightforward and logical terms. The thirty-ish ex-Pirates were all playing at their career peaks and would never have higher value on the trade market. The philosophy: strike now while the iron is hot!
On its face, adding youth seems indisputable. But historically, it does not stand up to analysis.
I studied the lineups of four major league World Series success stories, three from our Buccos and one from the New York Yankees.
Here’s what I found.
The 1960 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates used the following players in their seventh game victory over the Yankees. Their ages are in parentheses.
Bill Virdon, CF, (29);Dick Groat, SS, (30); Bob Skinner, LF, (30); Rocky Nelson, 1B, (36); Roberto Clemente, RF, (26), Smokey Burgess, C, (33), Joe Christopher, PR (25); Hal Smith, C, (29); Don Hoak, 3B, (32), Bill Mazeroski, 2B (24); Vern Law, SP, (30); Elroy Face, RP, (32); Gino Cimoli, PH, (31); Bob Friend, RP, (30), Harvey Haddix, RP, (35). Average age: 30
In 1971, the champion Pirates were slightly younger.
Here’s the seventh game World Series line up: Dave Cash, 2B, (23); Gene Clines, CF, (25); Roberto Clemente, RF, (37); Bob Robertson, 1B, (25); Manny Sanguillen, C, (27), Willie Stargell, LF, (31); Jose Pagan, 3B, (36), Jackie Hernandez, SS, (31); Steve Blass, P, (30) Average age: 29.5
The 1979 Pirates, also World Series winners, were the oldest---or should I say most experienced?
Omar Moreno, CF, (27); Tim Foli, SS, (29); Dave Parker, RF, (28); Bill Robinson, LF, (36); Willie Stargell, 1B, (39); Bill Madlock, 3B, (28); Steve Nicosia, C, (24); Phil Garner, 2B, (32), Jim Bibby, P, (35); Don Robinson, (32); Manny Sanguillen, (35); Grant Jackson, RP, (37); Kent Tekulve, P, (32) Average: 31.6
Even more compelling is an analysis of the New York Yankees’ World Championship teams that had a never-to-be-matched five consecutive titles from 1949 to 1953.
Twelve players from those Yankees were on all five World Series rosters. Their ages in 1953, the last year of the Yankee string, follow their names.
Hank Bauer, RF, (31); Yogi Berra, C, (30); Bobby Brown, 3B, (30); Jerry Coleman, 2B, (30); Joe Collins, (31); Eddie Lopat, P, (35); Johnny Mize, 1B, (40); Vic Raschi, P, (34); Allie Reynolds, P, (38); Phil Rizzuto, SS, (36); Charlie Silvera, C, (30); Gene Woodling, RF, (31) Average: 33
An important footnote to the Yankees is that the most touted, can’t miss bonus-baby player the team signed during their championship reign was 18-year-old first baseman Frank Leja who was supposed to make fans forget about Lou Gehrig. In parts of three seasons, Leja came to bat sixteen times and got one hit.
The Leja experiment abruptly ended the Yankees’ youth movement!
As the examples listed above prove, the key to winning baseball is not the players’ ages but their talent. When teams trade away their best players without equally skilled replacements ready to call up, as the Pirates continue to do, they’re left to hope for the best.
As of today, hope is the only thing on the Pirates’ horizon.