Thursday, January 31, 2008

mad dog, scrap iron & crazy horse

Pirate from Walt Disney.

We are fam-a-lee...who can forget that 1979 team, as brash a bunch to ever represent the Pirates, talkin' trash while their ladies danced on the dugout roof and eventually raising the Jolly Roger over the stunned Orioles?

Everyone remembers Pops. Wilver Dornel Stargell outdid himself as the maestro of those swaggering 1979 Bucs. The Hall of Fame first sacker was named the ML Player of the Year, NL MVP, and World Series MVP. But he had to share the infield with a crazy quilt collection of baseball misfits - Mad Dog, Scrap Iron, and Crazy Horse.

Scrap Iron Phil Garner was the old man of the trio in team seniority, following Chuck Tanner to Pittsburgh from Oakland in 1977. The Pirates sent half their team (Dave Guisti, Doc Medich, Doug Bair, Rick Langford, Tony Armas and Mitchell Paige) to the coast to get him and a couple of guys named Joe. He hit .293 for the Bucs in 1979, over 30 points higher than his career average, and moved over from the hot corner to play second base when Mad Dog arrived. Garner combined with Crazy Horse for 97 DPs and the pair generated an intensity level seldom seen in the middle of an infield. Garner's karmic twin, Yosemite Sam, would be proud of his doppelganger.

Crazy Horse Tim Foli came to Pittsburgh with Greg Field from the Mets for Frank Taveras on April 9, 1979 with the rep as a steady glove and a hot head. He was slow, seldom took a walk, had no power, wore owl-like specs and hardly ever struck out. In spite of that, he was the first player selected in the 1968 player draft. Tanner immediately plugged him into the two hole behind Omar Moreno, and though he only hit .264, his ability to put the ball in play was enough juice to start the Antelope blazing his way around the bases.

Mad Dog Bill Madlock was the final piece of the infield puzzle. He came over in late June 1979 with Dave Roberts and Lenny Randle from the Giants for Ed Whitson, Fred Breining and Al Holland in one of Brown's better deals. Madlock was the player that took Ron Santo's spot in Chicago as a rookie, but he had problems meshing with the G-Men. They had switched him from his familiar position of third base to second, and he was not a happy camper over the move. But his bat wasn't complaining - he would be a 4-time NL batting champion (twice with Pittsburgh) before his career ended, and he hit at a .323 clip for the Pirates in 1979. His arrival allowed Tanner to move Garner off third and to second, solidifying the infield.

Joe Brown wasn't a GM afraid to take a chance, and these moves paid off in spades in 1979. Other teams may not have been able to take a chance on three guys that had reputations as difficult players, but with Chuck Tanner at the helm and Pops and the Cobra in the locker room, Brown knew he wouldn't have any cancerous clubhouse meltdowns. And as much as their gloves and bats helped carry the Pirates to the 1979 NL East title after a heart thumping pennant race with the Expos (the Pirates won by a slim two game margin), they would really shine in the post season.

The Bucs swept the Reds in the NLCS, but it wasn't easy. The first pair of games went extra innings. Garner homered in the first game while Foli's 11th inning single led to the go ahead run. Foli was the man in the second game. He scored the first run, drove in the second with a double, and his sacrifice bunt in the 10th set up the game winning third run. They all contributed in the 7-1 NLCS clincher.

In the series, the Pirates split the first pair of games. Madlock drove in the first run in the Buc's victory and Foli started a tremendous DP to bail the Bucs out of a jam. But Pittsburgh lost the next two at TRS and when things looked darkest (not only were the Bucs down 3 games to 1, but Tanner's mom died that morning), our intrepid trio took over. Pittsburgh won 7-1 as Madlock, Foli and Garner went 8-12, scoring twice and driving in 5 runs as an ensemble. The Bucs needed a sweep in Baltmore, and Foli and Garner each scored a run in the 4-0 sixth game win, giving the Candy Man all the support he needed. Game 7 was the Pops show. He went 4-5 with 2-2Bs and a homer, and they rode on his broad shoulders to the Promised Land.

As a group, Mad Dog, Scrap Iron, and Crazy Horse went 31-78 (.397) during the fall classic. They drove in 11 runs, scored 12, and drew 10 walks, striking out only twice. Not too shabby a job for a cast of misfits.

Like so many others, their stop in Pittsburgh didn't last very long. Foli went to California in 1981 for Brian Harper and Garner was dealt to the Astros the same year for Johnny Ray and a couple of minor leaguers. Madlock was a mainstay until 1985 when he went back to the coast, this time to LA, for RJ Reynolds, Cecil Espy, and Sid Bream. But in Pittsburgh they'll always be fam-a-lee.


Big Snack said...

Those definitely sound like quite the bunch of misfits...

Makes me sad we didn't go after old Scrap Iron Garner to be our manager this season instead of what's his name?

Benny Benack's Ghost said...

That was kind of an oddity, Snack. The new Pirate hierarchy seemed to have little interest in the old Buccos tossed around as potential candidates for Tracy's job - Art Howe, Ken Macha, Tony Pena and Scrap Iron. Maybe they're trying for a clean break, maybe those guys didn't have much interest in the job, who knows? Russell does have some Pittsburgh ties, having been McClendon's third base coach, although Lloyd wouldn't say anything more than "no comment" when asked about his hiring. Maybe there was a little tension between them, but I'll leave that up to you and the other Bucco bloggers to chew on.