A Look to the Past: 1979 World Series


Every week, I look through the weekly match-ups and find one that is a postseason rematch. Interleague play continues this week which takes me back to 1979.

1979 World Series
Pittsburgh Pirates 4 Baltimore Orioles 3

It may be hard to imagine now, but the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles were two of the top franchises in baseball in the 1970’s. The Orioles went to three straight World Series from 1969-1971 and dominated the American League East with five titles in six years. The Pittsburgh Pirates won four National League East titles in the 1970’s. 1979 marked a rematch of the 1971 World Series which Roberto Clemente dominated in a seven game series win for the Pirates.

The teams may have been the same in 1979 as 1971, but the series looked much different. For one thing, the Pirates employed a very unique set of uniforms in 1979. They could wear all yellow, all black or some variation of the two. They also mixed it up with a pinstripe variation that they wore at home. It was all topped off with a black stovepipe hat that the players placed Stargell Stars on. As opposed to the Swingin’ A’s of early 70’s and the Bronx Zoo Yankees of the late 70’s, the Pirates got along as a family led by their MVP Willie “Pops” Stargell. Stargell helped unite the team by giving out “Stargell Stars” for good plays.

The Orioles were in a bit of a transition period. Their stars of the early 70’s were mostly gone. Hall of Famer Eddie Murray was still a youngster and Cal Ripken Jr. wasn’t quick on the scene yet. What they did have was exceptional starting pitching which helped them to 102 victories.

The series was initially delayed due to weather meaning that the first five games would be played on five consecutive days. Game One opened to a cold and soggy Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and the play on the field reflected that. The Orioles jumped on Pirates’ starter Bruce Kison for five runs in the very first inning. Two runs scored on a Phil Garner throwing error and Doug DeCinces drove in the rest with a three run homer. The Pirates slowly bu surely fought their way back but Mike Flanagan stopped them at four in complete game win. The Pirates won Game Two in a battle of Hall of Famers. Jim Palmer and Bert Blyleven each allowed two runs. Don Stanhouse gave up the game winner to Pirates’ pinch-hitter Manny Sanguillen in the ninth inning.

The weather wasn’t much better when the series shifted to Pittsburgh. Rain delayed the game in the bottom of the third, so the two teams played deep into the night. The Orioles won it 8-4 with the help of a five run fourth inning. The Orioles took a three games to one lead in Game Four which was played less than 12 hours after Game Three ended. The Pirates had a 6-3 lead going into the eighth inning when their relief ace Kent Tekulve was torched for six runs.

Everything was going right for the Orioles. They were one win away from a World Series title. They had just beaten the strength of the Pirates, their bullpen and most importantly, they had their three ace pitchers Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer and Scott McGregor going in the remaining three games if necessary. They were necessary as the Pirates came roaring back. Pirates’ manager Chuck Tanner took some chances with his pitchers and they all paid off. First, Tanner used Blyleven for four innings to close out Game Five and allow the Pirate offense to come back. Then he used starters John Candaleria and Jim Bibby on short rest in Games Six and Seven and maybe most important of all, he continued to trust his ace reliever Kent Tekulve. Everyone came through for him as the Orioles managed to score only one run in the final three games. Willie Stargell gave the Pirates the lead in Game Seven with a two run homer in the sixth inning. The Pirates added two more in the ninth off of five Oriole relievers to help seal the World Series victory.

The 1979 Pirates are commonly known now as “The Family” (they even had that written on the top of their dugout at Three Rivers Stadium). The Sister Sledge song “We Are Family” is commonly linked to that team as it was played at their home games. Because of that they are one of the more famous teams of the past forty years, but I have to wonder how history would treat them had the Orioles managed to win this one. Earl Weaver considered the loss to be the biggest disappointment of his career. He felt he had three aces, normally an unbeatable hand, ready to close out the Pirates.

MVP: Willie Stargell

Fun Facts:

Willie Stargell took home the trifecta of MVP awards sharing the league MVP with Keith Hernandez and then winning both the LCS and World Series MVP. Another Pirate, Dave Parker, won the All-Star Game MVP.

The Pirates had some team speed as well as a lot of power. Their centerfielder Omar Moreno led the league in steals in 1978 and 1979. However, Orioles’ catchers threw out four runners trying to steal while allowing no thefts against him.