Sunday, March 9, 2008

steve blass

steve blass
Steve Blass from Baseball Almanac

The 2008 season marks Steve Blass' 49th year with the Pirates, having been a part of the club in one role or another since signing his first professional contract on June 27, 1960.

Blass made his major league debut in 1964, joining the team permanently in 1966. He won 18 games in 1968. His 2.12 ERA and 7 shut outs were both career standards. From 1969-72, Blass won 60 games, with a personal high 19 victories in 1972, when he made the NL All Star team.

In the 1971 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Blass was a Bucco hero. He pitched two complete game wins, allowing only 7 hits and two runs in 18 innings. O’s manager Earl Weaver said, "Clemente was great all right, but if it hadn't been for Mr. Blass, we might be popping the corks right now!" He finished second in the voting for Series MVP behind Clemente.

The sudden fall of Steve Blass is one of the great baseball enigmas of all time. Somewhere between the 1972 and 1973 seasons, Blass completely lost his command of the strike zone. After a 19-8 record in 1972 and a 2.49 ERA, a season in which he was runner up in the Cy Young voting to Lefty Carlton, Blass slipped to 3-9 with a 9.85 ERA in 1973.

Blass stuck out 117 and walked 84 in 249-2/3 innings in 1972 but in 1973 he stuck out only 27 while walking 84 batters in just 88-2/3 innings. By 1974 Blass was pitching for the Charleston Charlies of the International league. The man that could once pinpoint his heater now couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

He would throw well in warm-ups, but would completely lose it once the game started. Blass did everything he could to regain his form. He took stabs at psychotherapy, transcendental meditation, optometherapy, and various tweaks of his delivery. He tried just about anything that was suggested to him short of leeches.

Nothing worked.

No explanation was ever found for his sudden inability to throw a strike. A million theories were put forward for his loss of control ranging from Freud to the outright bizarre. He never recovered and was out of baseball by 1975 after giving it one last shot in spring camp.

Ever since then, when a star pitcher's talent inexplicably and permanently deserts him it’s called "Steve Blass disease." It’s even got its’ own entry in Wikipedia. He’s not the only victim, though. It has happened to Ricky Ankiel, Mark Wohlers, former Twin’s prospect Steve Gasser, and to non pitchers like Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch.

In a 10-year Pirate career, Blass posted a 103-76 record with 896 strikeouts and a 3.63 ERA in 1,597 innings pitched. He had two Series victories and an All Star trophy as remembrances of the good times.

And give him credit. Blass didn't stick his head in the sand or slink away, but got up from fate's blow and kept on keepin' on.

Following his retirement as a player, Blass held several jobs. He was a sales representative for a class ring manufacturer. Later, Blass became a salesman for Frank Fuhrer Wholesale, a Pittsburgh beer distributor. During that time, he remained part of the Pirate’s community team by doing local PR appearances and as a regular member of the annual caravan.

Blass joined the Pirates' TV and radio broadcast team in 1983 as a part-time color man, earning a full-time post in 1986. Only Lanny Frattare (32 years) and Bob Prince (28) have spent more years behind the mike than Blass. He's a popular figure around town, accepted as an old familiar friend by all, and the Pittsburgh fans still love him.

Before the 2005 season, he announced that he would only announce home games so he could spend more time with his family, a deal that’s still in effect today.

A native of woodsy Canaan, Connecticut, Steve and his wife Karen now live in Upper St. Clair. They have two sons, David and Christopher, and five grandchildren.

In 2002, Blass became the 13th recipient of the "Pride of the Pirates" award, a yearly honor which recognizes a member of the Pirate's organization who has demonstrated the qualities of sportsmanship, dedication and outstanding character during a lifetime of service.

He gave a speech to the players at the start of spring training that knocked their socks off. Blass told them, as related by the Post Gazette's Dejan Kovacevic, "It's a great franchise (the Pirates), and you need to know what your heritage is. I'm still living it. I've got loyalty to this team that I can't even begin to describe to you." Pride goeth before the fall, and Blass was trying to restore some of it to the current Bucs.

He talked about the other old timers like Maz, Sangy, Virdon, Tanner, Teke, etc. who were in camp to help out, too. "That professionalism, that Pirates pride ... it's written all over those guys. Shame on you if you don't go to them. They've been there. They're champions."

Blass closed by sharing with them the credo of a pro. "Don't just be satisfied to be here. Push yourself, and push the guy next to you."

Pride and accountability will take you a long way. Look what it’s done for Steve Blass.

(Our contribution to spring training will be highlighting the careers of the old Bucs in camp who are trying to pass on the torch to today's squad. Up next - Gary Varsho.)

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