1979 Pirate baseball was all about "Fam-A-Lee," gold stars, day-glo double-knit uniforms, Fidel Castro caps, and Pops.
Willie Stargell awarded a gold star to any Bucco that did something above and beyond the call of duty, much like the nuns that taught the old blogster at St. Wendelin's did when GW spelled something right or parsed a sentence to their satisfaction. The only difference was Pops stuck it on their hat, not their forehead.
It was hokey, but it worked. The players fought and hustled for their stars, and Pittsburgh wrested the NL East Championship from Montreal on the final day of the season. In 1978, they had roared from 15-1/2 games back to lose the crown on the last day of the season, so this title was especially sweet.
Stargell earned his own stars as the 38 year-old veteran slugged thirty-two home runs and almost single-handedly swept the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS with a .455 average, two homers, and six RBI. It set up a rematch of the 1971 World Series. Pittsburgh and Baltimore would again battle it out for baseball's ultimate bragging rights.
The Orioles sprinted out of the gate at home in Game 1, scoring five times in the first inning off Bruce Kison, keyed by a two run blast from Doug DeCinces. Mike Flanagan made the runs stand up as the Pirates tried to nickel and dime their way back into the game.
Phil "Scrap Iron" Garner and Stargell each collected two RBIs and Dave "The Cobra" Parker added four hits. Pops made it close with an eighth inning homer, but the Birds held on for a 5-4 victory.
The Roadrunner, Manny Sanguillen, nearing the end of his baseball days (he was a season away from hangin' his spikes up for good), was the hero of Game 2, delivering a clutch two-out, ninth-inning single off Don Stanhouse that scored Ed Ott, breaking a 2-2 deadlock and enabling Pittsburgh to even the Series with a 3-2 win.
Captain Hook, Bert Blyleven, started and pitched 6 strong innings, Don Robinson tossed the seventh and eighth for the win, and Teke struck out two in a perfect ninth for the save.
The Series went to TRS, but home field advantage didn't mean much to the Candy Man, big lefty John Candelaria, even with the Bucco wives and sweeties dancing on the dugout to Sister Sledge's jam.
Kiko Garcia embarrassed him and the Pirates staff in front of the home crowd. The shortstop ripped two singles, a double and a triple with four RBI and Benny Ayala hammered a two run shot into the cheap seats as Baltimore romped, 8-4.
In game four, the Bucs clubbed a homer and five doubles and had 4-0 and 6-3 leads, but let them both slip away. John Lowenstein and Terry Crowley both mashed two run doubles during a six-run eighth for a crushing 9-6 comeback win.
Jim Bibby and Grant Jackson combined for seven stellar innings, but Robinson and Kent Tekulve had a nightmare eighth to give up the ghost and put the Bucs nine innings away from the outhouse.
Down 3-1 in the Series, the Pirates not only had to deal with Mike Flanagan, but also the tragic death of manager Chuck Tanner's mother prior to the game.
Just in time, Bill Madlock and Tim Foli donned their Superman capes and carried the squad on their backs. Mad Dog went 4-4 and Foli drove in three runs to deliver a do-or-die 7-1 victory. Blyleven worked four scoreless innings of relief to close the deal and earn the W.
Jim Rooker, who had won only four games during the regular season but pitched well in the opener of the Series, got Tanner's nod for the start and performed brilliantly. He gave up just three hits and a run in five innings, and the Pirates stayed alive, 7-1.
The Series shifted back to Memorial Stadium and a snowstorm. The Candy Man, rocked in his last outing against the O's, combined with Teke to hold the Orioles to seven hits for a 4-0 shutout. The Bucs scored a pair in the seventh to break up the goose eggs, and iced it with two more runs in the eighth.
Pittsburgh's Jim Bibby and Baltimore's Scott McGregor went head-to-head in a winner-take-all battle royale to decide the last world champion of the 1970's.
Rich Dauer drew first blood when he homered in the third. The score remained 1-0 until the sixth. After striking out Parker, McGregor surrendered a single to Bill Robinson and Stargell followed with a tape-measure drive over the right field fence.
After going through five Oriole pitchers for two more runs in the ninth, the Pirates claimed a hard-fought 4-1 victory and the 1979 World Series title. Pittsburgh became the fourth team in history to come back from a three-games-to-one hole to take the crown, and ruined Baltimore's premature plans for a downtown victory parade, hehe.
Grant Jackson got the win, and Teke notched his third save. The "Fam-a-lee" pitching staff had held the Orioles to a pair of runs over the final twenty-eight innings of the Series. Phil Garner had 12 hits, Omar Moreno had 11 knocks, and the Cobra and Foli had 10 hits each to prime the attack.
But no one could top Pops. Captain Willie hit .400, with twelve hits, three home runs, seven extra-base hits, and seven RBI. He was the Major League Player of the Year, NL MVP, NLCS MVP, and of course, the World Series MVP. Nice season, hey?
A few months later, the equally dominant Pittsburgh Steelers went on to win the Superbowl. Stargell and QB Terry Bradshaw were selected as the first dual Sportsmen of the Year by Sports Illustrated magazine. Who could argue?
In 1979, Pittsburgh was truly the City of Champions. Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?