How has Pitt Football fared against the Big 10 Conference?

In 1939, the University of Chicago discontinued its football program as it had not won a Big 10 Conference game since 1936, and the university decided to de-emphasize athletics, and in 1946, the University of Chicago withdrew from the Big 10 Conference.

With nine members, schools such as Iowa State, Marquette, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Pitt, yes, Pitt were hoping to become the conference’s 10th member.

Pitt coveted joining the Big 10 and began playing Big 10 schools in earnest. In the 1940’s and early ‘50s, Big 10 schools were frequent Pitt opponents on the gridiron. In 1941, 1946, 1949, 1950, and 1951, Pitt football played four Big 10 teams each season. In 1945, Pitt played five Big 10 schools, and in 1947, Pitt played six Big 10 teams, and just like the University of Chicago, Pitt fared poorly against Big 10 teams. From 1940 through mid-way through the 1947 season, Pitt lost 24 consecutive games against Big 10 teams. In 1950, Michigan State was added to replace the University of Chicago as a conference member.

Pitt football fans often deride the Big 10 as being overrated in part to not give any credit to their hated rival Penn State for playing in a more difficult football conference, but how has Pitt fared against each team from the Big 10 Conference since 1972 as well as all-time?  I selected 1972 as that year the Panthers under Head Coach Johnny Majors became relevant and respectable and would go on to have the Panthers greatest years since the 1930’s.

ILLINOIS – Pitt is 2-6 all-time against the Illini, but since 1972, Pitt has a 2-0 record against Illinois with the last meeting taking place in 1982. Pitt won the last two games in 1981 and 1982, but in the prior five meetings from 1944-1967, all Pitt losses, Pitt never managed to score more than seven points against the Illini.

INDIANA – Another one of the weak sisters of the Big 10 yet Pitt all-time is only 2-7 against the Hoosiers – in football! Go figure. The last time Pitt faced Indiana was in 1952 with Pitt winning 28-7 at Pitt Stadium.

IOWA – Against the Iowa Hawkeyes, Pitt all-time is 3-4 and only 1-3 since 1972. Iowa has won the last three meetings between the two schools with the last game taking place in 2015.

MARYLAND – The Maryland Terrapins joined the Big 10 Conference in 2014 and have not played Pitt since 1992. Pitt is 2-3 all-time against Maryland and lost their last meeting to Maryland 47-34 at Pitt. For a school that’s relatively close for fans of both schools to make this road trip, it’s surprising Pitt hasn’t faced Maryland in over 25 years and only six times total all-time.

MICHIGAN – It’s only 283 miles from the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Heinz Field. With Pitt often clamoring for help with attendance, it would seem having Michigan Wolverine fans come visit Pittsburgh would happen occasionally. That is not the case whatsoever. Pitt has played Michigan only twice all-time, both times in Ann Arbor, with the scores being 40-0 in 1941 and 69-0 in 1947 in Michigan’s favor. Apparently, being defeated 109-0 taught the Panthers not to play the Wolverines ever again.

MICHIGAN STATE – Who doesn’t love a former assistant coach going up against his former boss and head coach?  Michigan State would certainly spark that intrigue in having Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi going up against his former boss and Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio. Current Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was Dantonio’s defensive coordinator before taking the head coaching job at Pitt. Pitt has a 0-6-1 all-time record against Michigan State with the last meeting taking place in 2007. Since 1972, Pitt is 0-2 against the Spartans.

MINNESOTA – The Minnesota Golden Gophers could well be Pitt Panthers midwestern sibling. Both play in a city of comparable size that has a long-established NFL team. Minnesota had great success before World War II as did Pitt. The University of Minnesota stopped playing in their on-campus stadium in 1982 and began playing in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and demolished their on-campus football stadium in 1992 and came to regret having to play in an off-campus professional football stadium. Minnesota learned the error of their ways and returned the football program back to campus where it belongs and built a beautiful on-campus stadium in 2009. Pitt has a 3-9 record all-time against Minnesota and is 2-0 since 1972 with the last meeting in 1992.

NEBRASKA – Nebraska is 15-6-3 all-time against Pitt but only joined the Big 10 Conference in 2011 and has not played Pitt as a Big 10 member. The Cornhuskers have visited Heinz Field and won both of their recent two meetings against Pitt in 2004 and 2005. Prior to that, Pitt last faced Nebraska in 1958.

NORTHWESTERN – A perennial doormat from the early ‘70s to the mid ‘90s until Gary Barnett took over at Northwestern in 1995, the Wildcats have defeated Pitt in four of the seven meetings between the two schools all-time. Since 1972, Pitt is 1-2 having against Northwestern losing in 1972 and again in their most recent meeting most recently, in the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl 31-24. Pitt defeated Northwestern 21-14 in 1973.

OHIO STATE – Along with Michigan, Ohio State was the other half of the big two little eight for so many years in the Big 10. Pitt is 5-19-1 all-time against the Buckeyes, but only 1-6 since 1972 with the last game between the two schools in 1996 in which Ohio State won 72-0. Much like the blowout losses against Michigan, Pitt has wanted no part of Ohio State since 1996. It’s a shame because Buckeye Nation would certainly bring a lot of fans to Heinz Field.

PENN STATE – Even before the four-game series with Penn State took place, I predicted and wrote in: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/the-pitt-penn-state-rivalry-vastly-overrated/ that the Nittany Lions would lose the first game of the four-game series and then win the next three as Penn State head coach James Franklin improved Penn State’s recruiting and that Pitt’s recruiting was not keeping pace and it became evident on the field in three consecutive losses.

Pitt is 43-53-4 all-time against Penn State but only 2-6 since 1997 when Penn State started playing a Big 10 schedule. Pitt has lost 10 of the past 12 games against Penn State and Pitt’s last win at Beaver Stadium was seven games and 31 years ago.

PURDUE – Pitt has a 3-4 record all-time against the Boilermakers and has a 2-0 record against Purdue since 1972 winning in 1985 and 1986.

RUTGERS – Pitt is 22-8 all-time against its former Big East foe Rutgers but since Rutgers has joined the Big 10 in 2014, the Scarlet Knights have not faced Pitt on the gridiron. The last time these two schools met was in 2012 and Pitt was victorious 27-6.

WISCONSIN –  Pitt’s next scheduled taste of Big 10 football will be when the Panthers visit Camp Randall in 2026 and the Badgers come to Heinz Field in 2027.  No need to remind Pitt fans that the Badgers are coached by former Pitt Head Coach Paul Chryst and what an interesting storyline that presents provided Chryst is still head coach at Wisconsin. The Panthers are 3-0 all-time versus Wisconsin all-time and last faced the Badgers in 1967 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Pitt’s overall record against the Big 10 since 1972 is 11-19 for a winning percentage of .367. To recap Pitt versus the Big 10 since 1972: Illinois 2-0, Iowa 1-3, Michigan State 0-2, Minnesota 2-0, Northwestern 1-2, Ohio State, 1-6, Penn State 2-6 and Purdue 2-0.

Pitt, while playing in the Big East Conference, often called the Big Least Conference, only managed to win one conference title in 22 seasons (1991-2012) and that was in a four-way tie for first place in 2004.  If that’s all the success Pitt could manage against the likes of West Virginia, Connecticut, Syracuse and Boston College, imagine how would Pitt fare against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State every year?

If Pitt were in the Big 10 Conference, Pitt would obviously be in the Big 10 East division and instead of playing Georgia Tech, Miami and Virginia Tech as they do every year in the ACC, in addition to facing Penn State, the Panthers would play Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State annually. Pitt’s record against those three schools since 1972 is 1-8 and 5-27-2 all-time. The winning percentage for that is .111 since 1972 and .176 all-time. If you include the games against Penn State, another Big 10 East team that Pitt would certainly play annually instead of Duke, since 1972 Pitt is 3-14 against those four Big 10 East schools for a winning percentage of .176. Pitt fans should be very thankful they’re in the ACC Coastal division and not in the Big 10 East.

When Pitt fans discredit the Big 10 Conference, they look like the 98-lb. weakling saying they could beat a professional wrestler. Talk is cheap and if Pitt fans are going to talk-the-talk, they should at least be able to back it up and walk-the-walk and past and recent history has shown that they have not done that against Big 10 teams recently or for that matter, ever.

 John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Photo credit: pennstatenews on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

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The Flaw in Claiming the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are the Greatest College Football Team Ever

When the discussion comes up about which is the greatest college football team of all-time, some college football fans will say it was the 2001 Miami Hurricanes team. If you ask them why, invariably you will hear, “Look at all those players that went on to play in the NF….” Stop right there!

What does that have to do with how the 2001 Miami Hurricanes performed on the field in 2001? Absolutely nothing. You judge a team on what it did on the field THAT year and THAT year alone. Period. Future performance does not influence or change any game results that took place in the past.

Some of those players on that team may have become farmers, plumbers, accountants, janitors, or 400-pound slobs. That doesn’t detract what happened on the field in 2001. Nor should what any players from that team accomplished after 2001 aid in judging that team.

All that matters when you’re judging a team from a particular year is what they accomplished THAT YEAR and nothing else. Nothing else. Why is that such a hard concept to understand? Yet so many use that argument in trying to claim the 2001 Miami Hurricanes were the greatest college football team of all-time.

Using that same argument, if some little league team had Mike Trout and Bryce Harper on it, then that team had to the be the greatest little league team ever having two future major league baseball stars on it, right? Or in the Hurricanes’ case, how does what some of their players did in 2010 make what they did in 2001 better?

Florida State University quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward opted to play in the National Basketball Association rather than the National Football League. Does that in any way diminish what he accomplished in college?

Then how and why does what someone did after their college career, in this case the Miami Hurricanes football team in 2001, affect the results of what occurred and how those performances and results are evaluated? It shouldn’t and to those that think it does, that is a fallacy and a misperception. What occurred after 2001 should not influence how the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are judged.

Spare me the “look at all those players they had that went on to play in the NFL” argument like Willis McGahee who only rushed for 314 yards for the Hurricanes in 2001 or tight end Kellen Winslow who had only two receptions in 2001. Those future NFL players were non-factors on that 2001 Miami squad.

If you want to say they were the most-talented college football team ever, I have no qualms about that. Perhaps they were. They were a great football team but they struggled against 14th-ranked Virginia Tech barely winning 26-24 with Ed Reed making a game-saving interception erasing Virginia Tech’s last threat.

The Hurricanes also struggled against an unranked Boston College team winning 18-7 in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated. Miami failed to score an offensive touchdown in the entire game against Boston College and the Golden Eagles played without William Green, the nation’s leading rusher, and gave “the greatest college football team of all time” all they could handle.

With Miami clinging to a 12-7 lead in the game’s final minute, BC drove to Miami’s nine-yard line but quarterback Brian St. Pierre’s pass was intercepted by defensive tackle Matt Walters. Reed took the ball from Walters and ran it back for Miami’s only touchdown with only 13 seconds left in the game.

A team laden with that kind of talent shouldn’t have struggled against any team they faced. The highest-ranked team Miami faced was fourth-ranked Nebraska which had a largely one-dimensional offense. The Cornhuskers were the only top-ten team the Hurricanes faced that season. That’s not Miami’s fault but that’s just how their schedule played out.

You judge a team solely on what it did that year on the field of play and by that criteria, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes were great, but by no means were they the best college football team of all-time.  

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Photo credit: jcsizmadi on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

 

Big Mo, Little Mo and Cookie

On Sunday, September 8th, the Valley News Dispatch published a letter to the editor I had submitted regarding the Highlands School District not recognizing Cookie Gilchrist, Dick Modzelewski and Ed Modzelewski and the 1953 Har-Brack Tigers football team.  The Valley News Dispatch has a 250-word limit for publication which limits additional description and greater detail.

As a side note, I sent the letter to each member of the Highland School Board and never received a response from anyone. Below is the letter in its entirety as originally written:

It is a fairly common practice that school districts recognize outstanding achievements by their students and sports teams often in trophy cases, with photos, signs and/or on the high school gymnasium wall, etc. Some communities display signs as well welcoming visitors and displaying, “Welcome to (town name), Home of (the individuals name or their school district’s team’s accomplishment.)

There are three individuals that grew up within the Highlands School District in the small towns of Natrona and Brackenridge, that reached the highest level of their sport, and to my knowledge there is no displayed recognition of their accomplishments within the Highlands School District. Those individuals are: Cookie Gilchrist, Dick Modzelewski and Ed Modzelewski.

The list of their accomplishments are as follows:

Cookie Gilchrist

Five-time Canadian Football League All-Star

Four-time American Football League All-Star

First 1,000-yard rusher in AFL history

Led the AFL in Rushing in 1962 and 1964

1962 American Football League Most Valuable Player

Set AFL single-game rushing record with 243 yards against the NY Jets

Member of the All-Time American Football League Team.

Member of the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame

 

Dick Modzelewski – “Little Mo”

Two-time Football All-American at the University of Maryland

1952 Outland Trophy winner as the nation’s premier college lineman

Named to the National Football League Pro Bowl 1964

Set NFL record playing for 180 consecutive games

Coached in the NFL for 12 years

Elected to the College Football Hall of Fame 1993

Member of the National Polish Sports Hall of Fame

 

Ed Modzelewski – “Big Mo”

Football All-American University of Maryland 1951

1952 Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player

1952 First Round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers and sixth pick overall in the draft

The Highlands School District is remiss in not recognizing these individuals for their outstanding athletic achievement. I’m unaware of any visible recognition within the football stadium or on school district grounds recognizing their achievements.

If one counters that was then as Har-Brack and it is now Highlands, let me point out that the Pittsburgh Pirates recognize outstanding players from the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords as well as former Pirates that never set foot in PNC Park. These three gentlemen were born, raised and attended school within the school district.

How many outstanding Division One collegiate and professional athletes has a larger and incorporated Highlands School District produced? I’m unaware of any, yet here are three from Natrona and Brackenridge that go unrecognized that could serve as inspiration to our current and future student- athletes that the highest levels of achievement are indeed attainable.

This is not just an opportunity to honor these former residents of the community but also an opportunity to inform, educate and inspire the young people of the district that they too can reach the highest level of their chosen profession, and isn’t that what school districts are supposed to do?

That also applies for the 1953 Har-Brack football team, a team that was Co-WPIAL Class AAA champion in 1953. How many WPIAL championship football teams has Highlands produced?  None.  Perhaps if the players knew it has been done by their predecessors it might serve to inspire them that it can be done again.

Perhaps a sign could be displayed on the football stadium press box or beneath the electronic scoreboard, paid for by sponsors and/or donors so that the school district bears no cost, that recognizes these three individuals and the 1953 Har-Brack football team for their outstanding athletic achievements.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.

Sincerely,

John Baranowski

Highlands Class of ‘80

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

 

 

Penn State Football’s Home Games of the Decades

With the last year of this decade upon us and another football season rapidly approaching (although to college football fans, not rapidly enough), this gives us an opportunity to consider which Penn State home game at Beaver Stadium is the reigning game of the decade going into 2019. While we’re at it, what home games were the game of the decade for the past four decades as well?

Working in chronological order, we’ll begin with the ‘70s. The choice goes to: 1978 Penn State 17 Pitt 10. In the midst of the zenith of this Eastern-football rivalry, 15th-ranked Pitt came in looking to knock off #1-ranked Penn State that had national championship aspirations and a date with #2 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day.

In a cold, swirling wind Penn State would come back from a 10-7 deficit and score 10 points in the fourth quarter breaking a 10-10 tie with Mike Guman scoring on a two-yard run on fourth and two and the Nittany Lions would remain ranked number one in the country and undefeated with an 11-0 record. Penn State’s defense held Pitt to 181 yards of total offense on the day. It was the first time the Nittany Lions finished the regular season ranked number one.

Honorable Mention: 1973 Penn State 35 North Carolina State 29. The sixth-ranked Nittany Lions trailed 14-9 at halftime, but Penn State would hold off the upset-minded Wolfpack and hang on for a 35-29 victory largely on the legs of John Cappelletti who carried the ball 41 times for 220 yards.  Cappelletti’s third rushing touchdown of the day midway in the fourth quarter broke a 29-29 tie to keep the Nittany Lions undefeated.

The ‘80s: 1982 Penn State 27 Nebraska 24: In one of the most memorable games in Beaver Stadium history, this game had everything: two outstanding top 10 teams with back and forth action, a last- minute comeback and controversy.

Nebraska came into Happy Valley ranked number two in the country with Penn State ranked eighth and portable lights were brought in for the game could be televised nationally. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 14-0 lead on two second-quarter drives. Nebraska’s high-powered offense couldn’t be denied with stars such as Turner Gill, Mike Rozier, Roger Craig and Irving Fryar and Gill scored on a one-yard run to give the Cornhuskers a 24-21 lead with only 1:18 left in the game.

Quarterback Todd Blackledge led the Nittany Lions with a 65-yard scoring drive in the final minute of play. With only 13 seconds left Blackledge hit tight end Mike McCluskey with a pass to the two-yard line that appeared to be out of bounds. On the following play, Blackledge hit tight end Kirk “Stonehands” Bowman in the end zone with four seconds left to give Penn State a dramatic come-from-behind victory.

Honorable Mention: 1982 Penn State 19 Pitt 10: Curt Warner rushes for 118 yards on 22 carries in a come from behind win for the second-ranked Nittany Lions against fifth-ranked Pitt and ensured themselves a shot at the national championship against number-one ranked Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

The ‘90s: 1997 Penn State 31 Ohio State 27. In a heavyweight battle of two top 10 teams, it was number two Penn State against seventh-ranked Ohio State and the game lived up to its billing. In a game of big plays where neither team ever led by more than 10 points, none was bigger than Curtis Enis’ 27-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the Lions ahead to stay. Enis would run for 211 yards on 23 carries against the Buckeyes.

Honorable Mention: 1995 Ohio State 28 Penn State 25. This game made ESPN Classic as 12th-ranked Penn State jumped out to a 10-0 first quarter lead over the fifth-ranked Buckeyes. Ohio State would respond with 21 unanswered points to lead 21-10 in the third quarter.

Penn State quarterback Wally Richardson would bring the Nittany Lions back putting them in front 25-21 in the fourth quarter. Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George would provide the winning margin on a six-yard run with only 1:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. George would rush for 105 yards on 24 carries but was bested by Penn State’s Curtis Enis’ 146 yards on 25 carries in a losing effort.

The ‘00s: 2005 Penn State 17 Ohio State 10: Led by a Whiteout Student Section and Zombie Nation over the loudspeakers and with 109,839 in attendance, Beaver Stadium rocked like it never did before. With GameDay on hand, this game showed that Penn State was back with an upset victory over sixth-ranked Ohio State.

With only 1:21 left in the game and Ohio State on Penn State’s 45-yard line, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was sacked by Tamba Hali, and fumbled that was recovered by Scott Paxson that ended the last hope for Ohio State. The image of Tamba Hali sacking Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith is one of Penn State-Ohio State lore. Linebacker Paul Posluszny was a heat-seeking missile registering 14 tackles on the night.

Honorable Mention: 2001 Penn State 29 Ohio State 27: Down 18-0 in the third quarter, Penn State freshman quarterback Zach Mills took off bouncing off Ohio State defenders on his way to a 68-yard touchdown run. Mills’ run ignited a comeback as he would throw for two touchdown passes as well.

Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy blocked Ohio State’s 32-yard field goal attempt with under three minutes remaining in the game and the victory was Joe Paterno’s 324th making him the all-time winningest head coach in Division I football history surpassing Bear Bryant.

The ’10s: 2016 Ohio State @ Penn State. In front of a night-White Out crowd of 107,280 fans, this game propelled Penn State towards a Big 10 championship in defeating number two-ranked Ohio State. The Buckeyes came into the game as 20-point favorites.

Penn State battled back from a 21-7 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter and with less than five minutes to play, Marcus Allen blocked an Ohio State field goal attempt and Grant Haley picked up the football and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Nittany Lions a 24-21 lead that they never relinquished. As time expired, the white out in the stands descended upon the playing surface as thousands of fans celebrated the upset victory.

Honorable Mention: 2013 Michigan @ Penn State 43-40 In one of the most thrilling games in Beaver Stadium history and the longest game, a four-overtime affair in which saw the Nittany Lions come back from a 34-24 deficit in the fourth quarter in front of 107,884 fans.

In a game known for Penn State’s version of “The Catch,” a leaping grab by Allen Robinson on a 36-yard pass from freshman Christian Hackenberg to the one-yard line with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Hackenberg’s subsequent one-yard touchdown run and Sam Ficken’s extra point tied the game at 34-all with only 17 seconds left on the game clock.

Finally, in the fourth overtime and trailing 40-37, Coach Bill O’Brien eschewed kicking a field goal to tie the game gambling on fourth-and-one and Bill Belton ran for three yards and a game-extending first down. Two plays later, Belton scored from two yards out to give the Nittany Lions a dramatic win. The teams were so evenly matched that Penn State gained 390 yards of total offense to Michigan’s 389.

Will this year’s Michigan White Out game provide another thriller? It would take quite a game to be considered one of the best games of this decade at Beaver Stadium.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Pitt Football’s Home Games of the Decades

With the last year of this decade upon us and another football season rapidly approaching (although to college football fans, not rapidly enough), this gives us an opportunity to consider which Pitt home game at Heinz Field is the reigning home game of the decade going into 2019. While we’re at it, what home games were the game of the decade for the past four decades as well? Working in chronological order, we’ll begin with the ‘70s.

1975 Pitt 34 Notre Dame 20. Those in the sellout crowd of 56,480 that hoped to see Pitt finally snap an 11-year losing streak to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame not only had their wish granted but they got to see history made as well.

It was 6-3 Pitt versus ninth-ranked Notre Dame with a 7-2 record. On Pitt’s first drive, Tony Dorsett broke off a 57-yard run foreshadowing what the Fighting Irish defense would face all afternoon. Later with Pitt trailing 10-7 in the first quarter, Dorsett sprinted 71 yards to the end zone to give the Panthers a 14-10 lead. At this point, Dorsett had rushed for 151 yards – in four carries!

The teams exchanged field goals and Dorsett took a pass from quarterback Matt Cavanaugh and went 49 yards for another Panther touchdown to go up 24-13 at the half. Dorsett would have three receptions for 74 yards on the day. After a Carson Long field goal in third quarter, Notre Dame’s Rusty Slager would hit Ken McAfee with a touchdown pass to cut Pitt’s lead to seven, 27-20. Pitt would add a final touchdown in the fourth quarter to close out the scoring.

Dorsett’s 303 yards rushing against Notre Dame (on just 23 carries) is still the most rushing yards gained by an opponent against Notre Dame 43 seasons later. This was not just the game of the decade. Like Johnny Miller’s 63 at the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1973 and Secretariat at the Belmont that same year, this was a performance of a lifetime.

Honorable Mention: 1970 Pitt 36 West Virginia 35. This is one game you may hear Pitt fans say, “I was there,” which should be followed up with, “but did you stay till the end?” In one of the legendary games of the Backyard Brawl, Pitt trailed at halftime 35-8. In what was truly a tale of two halves, Pitt ran 67 plays in the second half and did not punt in the third or fourth quarter and Pitt’s defense shut out the Mountaineers allowing for the legendary comeback. Pitt quarterback Dave Halvern threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Leslie Block with just 27 seconds left in the game.

Many fans had left the Pitt-West Virginia game as it was so one-sided in the first half that many left early and did not see the comeback with some fans scrambling back to Pitt Stadium when they heard Pitt was coming back. It taught Mountaineers head coach Bobby Bowden to never sit on a lead again.

The ‘80s: 1982 Pitt 16 West Virginia 13. In front of a crowd of 57,251, number one-ranked Pitt came back from a 13-0 fourth-quarter deficit to defeat fourteenth-ranked West Virginia 16-13. Early in the fourth quarter, West Virginia linebacker Darryl Talley blocked a Pitt punt and recovered it in the end zone to extend West Virginia’s lead to 13-0 in what was a defensive slugfest to that point. Pitt running back Bryan Thomas would get Pitt on the board with a three-yard touchdown run and with 6:04 to play Dan Short recovered a missed snap by Mountaineer quarterback Jeff Hostetler. With under four minutes to play, Pitt quarterback Dan Marino threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Julius Dawkins and the extra point gave Pitt a 14-13 lead. A subsequent safety by Bill Maas of Mountaineers quarterback Jeff Hostetler increased the lead to 16-13.  With seven seconds left in the contest and a chance to tie the game, West Virginia kicker Paul Woodside was just short on a 52-yard field goal attempt. It was Woodside’s first miss after converting on 15 consecutive field goal attempts.

Honorable mention: 1989 Pitt 30 Syracuse 23. This could be Pitt’s version of the Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns fight with each team trading bombs right from the start. On Syracuse’s first play of the game, wide receiver Rob Carpenter hit a wide-open Rob Moore for a 69-yard touchdown pass off a reverse. On Pitt’s first play from scrimmage, quarterback Alex Van Pelt hit Henry Tuten for a 61-yard touchdown pass and the score was 6-6 just 32 seconds into the game!

Syracuse came into the game ranked 13th and Pitt was ranked 14th and the first quarter would end Pitt leading 16-13. Pitt led 23-13 at the half and opened the second half with a 70-yard drive capped by one of Derrick Lewis’ three touchdown runs on the day. Syracuse would answer back scoring the next 10 points and on their final possession, the game ended on a Louis Riddick interception inside Pitt’s 10-yard line as time ran out. It was only the third loss for the Orangemen in their last 27 games and snapped Pitt’s five-game losing streak to Syracuse.

The ‘90s: 1999 Pitt 37 Notre Dame 27: Could it be anything other than the final game ever at Pitt Stadium on November 13, 1999, in which Pitt defeated Notre Dame 37-27 before 60,190 fans? Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bob Smizik wrote, “It was an epic encounter between Pitt and Notre Dame and it was merely one of the greatest games played in the 74-year-old facility.”

Pitt quarterback John Turman threw the first of his two touchdowns on the day to Antonio Bryant in the first quarter to give Pitt a 7-0 lead. The Fighting Irish would battle back after each Pitt score and saw the game tied at 10 and 17-all in the third quarter. Following a Pitt field goal, Turman hit Bryant for a 28-yard touchdown pass to give Pitt a 10-point lead. Notre Dame would answer with a touchdown to make it 27-24 at the end of the third quarter. Both teams traded field goals with the score 30-27 midway in the fourth quarter.

On Notre Dame’s next possession Pitt’s safety Ramon Walker struck Notre Dame wideout Joey Getherall so hard the ball popped into the air and linebacker Scott McCurley made the interception. Pitt running back Kevin Barlow would then carry the ball nine times in a 10-play drive and score his second touchdown of the game on a two-yard touchdown run to make it 37-27 with 1:41 left in the game.  Notre Dame had won the previous eight games against the Panthers but not on this day. This was Pitt’s day.

Honorable mention: 1997 Pitt 21 Miami 17. On a Thursday night in front of an ESPN audience, Miami opened the scoring just 1:05 into the game on a swing pass to Carlo Joseph that turned into a 57-yard touchdown pass. Pitt quarterback Pete Gonzalez would bring Pitt back throwing two touchdown passes in the game and accounting for 250 yards of offense, 63 of those on the ground. With Pitt clinging to a four-point lead, the Hurricanes got to Pitt’s 34-yard line with 1:25 left and on fourth-and-five, Ryan Clement’s pass was intercepted by John Jenkins. It was the second interception for Pitt’s defense that night to go with four sacks, three turnovers and holding Miami to 76 yards rushing. This game made a lot of Pitt fans believers of first-year head coach Walt Harris as it was Pitt’s first win over Miami since 1976 ending an eight-game losing streak. Anytime goalposts are torn down, it must have been quite a game.

The ‘00s: 2009 Cincinnati. 45-44. That’s all you need to see and you know which game I’m referring to. The game was for the Big East Conference crown and a trip to the Sugar Bowl. No game at Heinz Field before or since had as much at stake as this one. A light, steady snowfall fell upon a packed Heinz Field as 63,387 in attendance witnessed what turned out to be a game for the ages.

Pitt led comfortably 31-10 late in the second quarter but made the mistake of kicking it to Cincinnati’s Mardy Gilyard. Gilyard would go 99 yards to bring Cincinnati within 14 points going into halftime and the game’s momentum now belonged to the Bearcats. In a brilliant individual performance, Gilyard had 256 return yards on the day to go along with 118 yards receiving. Pitt running back Dion Lewis did all he could in a losing-effort carrying the football 47 times for 194 and three touchdowns.

Lewis’ third touchdown of the game gave Pitt a 44-38 lead against the fifth-ranked Bearcats but the ensuing extra point hold was dropped which gave Cincinnati a chance. Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike needed only 64 seconds to tie the game and the Bearcats made the extra point and were Big East Conference champions.

Honorable mention: 2003 Pitt 31 Virginia Tech 28. In front of 66,207 fans, Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford completed 24 of 31 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns as Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught eight of those passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. With 54 seconds remaining in the game, Pitt running back Lousaka Polite scored from the two-yard line for the game-winning score over the fifth-ranked Hokies. It was Pitt’s first win over a top-five team at home since beating fourth-ranked Notre Dame in 1987.

A second honorable mention: 2007 Navy 48 Pitt 45 2OT. This one was the longest game ever played at Heinz Field with both teams combining for 915 yards in total offense in which no team led by more than seven points throughout the contest. Navy led by a field goal in the second overtime and rather than kick a chip-shot field goal to tie the game and force another overtime, Pitt Head Coach Dave Wannstedt elected to go for the win. Instead of giving the ball to LeSean McCoy who led all rushers with 165 yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns, freshman quarterback Pat Bostick overthrew tight end Darrell Strong in the end zone.

The ’10s: 2016: Pitt 42 Penn State 39. It was a long-awaited renewal of an old rivalry and a game that was highly anticipated for years that lived up to its hype with Pitt hanging on to beat Penn State 42-39 in front of 69,983 fans, the largest crowd to ever watch a Pitt home game.

Pitt’s offensive line bludgeoned Penn State’s defense rushing for 341 yards with James Conner gaining 117 of those yards. Pitt led 28-7 in the second quarter and held on as Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 332 yards and Saquon Barkley would score five touchdowns.

A dropped McSorley pass for a touchdown off the fingertips of Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton was followed by a Ryan Lewis interception with just over a minute to play in the game to preserve Pitt’s lead for good.

Honorable mention: 2016: Pitt 76 Syracuse 61. This one must be listed as it was the highest scoring regulation game in FBS history with a score often greater than when these two schools meet on the hardwood, Pitt outscored 76-61 in a defensively-challenged contest in 2016. The two teams combined to score 47 points in the fourth quarter and 1,312 yards of offense in the game. That was with opposing defenses on the field. Seriously.

The 2019 season will open with a key Coastal Division match-up with Virginia and will be the first of seven Pitt home games in 2019. Will this season provide this decade’s game of the decade?

Photo courtesy of: University of Pittsburgh Athletic Department

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Do you remember low Tide, the most recent losing year for Alabama Football?

Do you remember low Tide, the most recent losing year for Alabama Football? For the University of Alabama and other top college football programs, their most recent losing season occurred within the past 15 years. Many, in the last 10 years.

2018 –  Florida State, Nebraska, Tennessee, USC

2017 – Florida

2016 – Notre Dame, Texas

2014 – Miami, Michigan

2012 –  Auburn

2011 – Ohio State

2010 – Clemson, Georgia

2009 – Texas A&M

2006 – Alabama

2004 – Penn State

2001 – Wisconsin

1999 – LSU

1998 – Oklahoma

Here is a look back on low Tide and the most recent losing year and consecutive losing years for college football’s winningest programs:

Alabama (2006)

Do you recall low Tide?  The down years for the Alabama Crimson Tide football program? That occurred BCNS. That’s Before Coach Nick Saban. Under Mike Shula, it wasn’t Roll Tide, it was more like low Tide. Shula took over for Dennis Franchione and from a 10-win season in 2002, Shula went 4-9 in his first year at Alabama.

In 2004, there was some improvement to a 6-6 record but losing to Minnesota in the Music City Bowl wasn’t what Alabama fans were accustomed to. A 10-win season and a Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech followed in 2005, but in 2006, Alabama finished under .500 with a 6-7 record. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. Unlike the Mike DuBose hiring, this time Alabama got it right. Did they ever.

When was the last time the Crimson Tide had back-to-back losing seasons?  1956 and 1957 with Jennings Whitworth as head coach. The Crimson Tide went 2-7-1 each year. That was truly low Tide and then mama called out to Bear Bryant. The rest as they say is history.

Auburn (2012)

As a head coach, how much leeway does winning a national championship give you?  Apparently, two years at Auburn. After winning the national championship in 2010, after going 3-9 in 2012, head coach Gene Chizik was fired by Auburn.

The last two-year stretch of losing seasons at Auburn was in 1998 and 1999. Head coaches at Auburn are on a short leash and should be renters not house buyers. After going 10-3 in 1997 with a Peach Bowl victory over Clemson, head coach Terry Bowden’s Auburn Tigers got off to a 1-4 start in 1998. Never mind that those four straight losses came to three teams ranked in the top seven in the country! A loss to #7-ranked LSU, then #3-ranked Tennessee, a loss at Mississippi State followed by a loss at fifth-ranked Florida.

Bowden was fired and Bill Oliver was named interim head coach for the rest of the season and the Tigers went 3-8 on the year. Tommy Tuberville was hired and in his first season at Auburn went 5-6 before setting Auburn back on their winning ways.

Clemson (2010)

In 2009, his first full season as head coach, Dabo Swinney had a 9-5 record. The following season, Clemson went 6-7 with a loss in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. His predecessor Tommy Bowden never had a losing season. Swinney replaced Bowden after six games in 2008. 2010 was the first losing season at Clemson since Tommy West was head coach and the Tigers went 3-8 in 1998. Cause for concern?

2010 proved to be but a pothole in the road for Swinney and Clemson. Since 2011, Clemson has won 10, 11, 11, 10, 14, 14, 12 and 15 games respectively with two national championships in the past three years. The last time Clemson had two losing seasons in a row was 1975 and 1976 going 2-9 and 3-6-2 under head coach Red Parker.

Florida (2017)

The 2017 season is one Gator fans would like to forget. With a 3-1 record under head coach Jim McElwain, Florida then lost five straight games. After going 19-8 in his first two seasons at Gainesville, the Gators finished 2017 with a 4-7 record. There would not be a fourth season in Gainesville for McElwain.

Only four years earlier, in 2013, Will Muschamp won only four games against eight defeats. Before that one would have to go all the way back to 1979 to find a losing season. For the Gators, that year, Charley Pell and Florida suffered the most defeats in their football history. Pell’s first season as head coach resulted in a 0-10-1 disaster. Not many coaches today would get a second year after that kind of season. That made Doug Dickey’s 4-7 season in 1978 look good by comparison.

Florida State (2018)

A great college football trivia question is: Who was the head coach of the Florida State Seminoles before Bobby Bowden? That’s how far back you have to go to find a season as bad for the Seminoles as the 5-7 record in 2018 under Florida State’s first-year head coach Willie Taggert. The answer by the way is Darrell Mudra and Mudra went 3-8 in 1975 and that was an improvement over his 1-10 record in 1974 which was an improvement over Larry Jones’ 0-11 season in 1973. Bowden took over for Mudra and went 5-6 in 1976 and after that would build a dynasty in Tallahassee.

Georgia (2010)

For the past 17 seasons, the Georgia Bulldogs have averaged 10 wins a season. That’s why it’s so surprising that Georgia’s most recent losing season wasn’t that long ago under long-time head coach Mark Richt. In 2010, the Bulldogs went 6-7. One would have to go back to 1996 to find another losing season and that was head coach Jim Donnan’s first year as Georgia head coach and Georgia had a 5-6 record.

Current head coach Kirby Smart has a 32-10 overall record and an 18-6 conference record after his first three seasons at Georgia. Richt had a 32-8 overall record and an 18-6 conference record after his first three seasons at Georgia. The more things change the more things stay the same?

Who is the only head coach at the University of Georgia in the past 100 years to have a losing record at Georgia? The answer is Johnny Griffith. Griffith had three consecutive losing seasons in from 1961 to 1963 going 3-7, 3-4-3 and 4-5-1. If you knew that answer, you are indeed a Georgia football fan. That was the last time Georgia had consecutive losing seasons.

LSU (1998-1999)

If the LSU administration and fans got tired of the Les Miles years, imagine what they must have been going through in 1998 and 1999 under head coach Gerry DiNardo. After three straight bowl-winning seasons finishing with wins over Michigan State, Clemson and Notre Dame, the wheels began to fall off for DiNardo at Baton Rouge in 1998.

A 4-7 season in 1998 was followed by a 3-8 season in 1999 in which DiNardo was fired after eight consecutive losses before the season finale against Arkansas in 1999. Eight consecutive losses during the 1999 season. It can’t get much darker than that.

In 2000, LSU hired Nick Saban who won a national championship in 2003. When Saban left for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Les Miles was named head coach and Miles won a national championship in 2007. Miles was replaced by current head coach Ed Orgeron in 2016. As you can see, Saban and Miles set the bar high at LSU.

Miami (2014)

A 6-7 year in 2014 was the last time the University of Miami was under .500 in a season and that came under head coach Al Golden.  Randy Shannon had a five-win season, going 5-7, in 2007 when he was the head coach at Miami.

The last time Miami had consecutive losing seasons you have to go back to 1975 through 1977. In 1975, head coach Carl Selmer had a 2-8 record and went 3-8 the following season. Selmer was replaced by former Buffalo Bills head coach Lou Saban and produced another 3-8 season in 1977 before going 6-5 in 1978.

Michigan (2014)

Even the winningest program in college football history has some down years, and they weren’t all that long ago. In 2014, Michigan went 5-7 under Brady Hoke and that wasn’t simply going to cut it in Ann Arbor. Especially not with the recent memory of the 3-8 record in 2008 and 5-7 record in 2009 under head coach Rich Rodriquez.

Prior to that, Michigan’s last losing season was in 1967 under Bump Elliott when the Wolverines went 4-6. Elliott turned that around in 1968 winning eight games against two losses and then Bo Schembechler took over the program.  Schembechler coached for 21 seasons without a losing season. Gary Moeller followed that with five more, and then Lloyd Carr had 13 straight seasons without a losing record. You can imagine the dismay Wolverines fans felt in 2008 and 2009.

Nebraska (2017-2018)

It was all sunshine and rainbows in the state of Nebraska under head coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. From 1969 through 2001, the Cornhuskers never won fewer than nine games in a season. Like a combine harvester in a Nebraska cornfield, the Huskers rolled through the Big 8 Conference and then Big 12 Conference year after year.

In 1998, Frank Solich replaced Osborne and won 59 games in six seasons. Averaging 10 wins a season wasn’t good enough for Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson. Pederson got greedy and wanted to make his mark on the Nebraska football program and he certainly did. Pederson hired Bill Callahan and the Cornhuskers produced their first losing season since Bill Jennings went 3-6-1 in 1961. Talk about culture shock. Callahan went 5-6 in 2004, 8-4 in 2005 and 9-5 in 2006, and then had another losing season in 2007 going 5-7.

Pederson was fired and Osborne was hired as Interim Athletic Director. The Cornhuskers hired Bo Pelini and winning nine games a year wasn’t good enough. In Pelini’s seven years at Nebraska, he never won less than nine games but that also meant he was losing four games a year. So instead of seeing the glass as nine-thirteenths full, Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst, saw it as four-thirteenths empty. Eichorst stated that Pelini had never won a conference title or won the games that mattered.

Mike Riley was then hired and in 2015 Nebraska won only six games finishing with a losing 6-7 record. After winning nine games in 2016, Riley took Nebraska to new depths with a 4-8 record in 2017. Former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost inherited the mess that Riley left and produced a 4-8 record in 2018 but the Huskers were far more competitive than under Riley. A third-consecutive losing season is unlikely as Cornhusker fans are talking about and seemingly expecting at least an 8-win season in 2019.

Notre Dame (2016)

In 2016, The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame had a staggering 4-8 season under Brian Kelly. This after a 10-3 record from the previous year and six straight seasons with no less than eight wins a year. Kelly and the Fighting Irish bounced back with 10 and 12-win seasons since that disaster of a season.

From Ara Parseghian through the Dan Devine years (1964-1980), Notre Dame did not have a losing season. That changed in Gerry Faust’s first year when Notre Dame went 5-6 in 1981. Another 5-6 season in 1985 brought about enough pressure to get Faust to resign. Faust went 30-26-1 in his five seasons and the fall was so great that even the turnaround was slow for Lou Holtz as he had a 5-6 season in his first year at Notre Dame in 1986.

Since Devine left South Bend, every Notre Dame head coach had at least one losing season. Faust in ’81 and ’85, Holtz in ’86, Bob Davie in ’99 and ’01, Tyrone Willingham in ’03, Charlie Weis in ’07 and Kelly in ’16. Those aren’t the echoes to be awakened in Notre Dame’s fight song.

Ohio State (2011)

The last losing season Ohio State had was surprisingly, not all that long ago. In 2011, with Luke Fickell as head coach, the Buckeyes went 6-7. What made that season so surprising was the year before under Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes went 12-1, and the year after Fickell, Urban Meyer went 12-0 leading the Buckeyes.

How consistently good is Ohio State’s football program?  The last time Ohio State had two consecutive losing seasons was 1922 (3-4) and 1923 (3-4-1) under head coach John Wilce. Wrap your head around that one.

The closest thing to a post-World War II two-year dark period for Ohio State was in 1987 and 1988 when the Buckeyes finished fifth in the Big 10 with an overall 6-4-1 record in Earle Bruce’s last year and then 4-6-1 finishing seventh in the Big 10 under then first-year head coach John Cooper. Cooper can take some solace knowing that even Woody Hayes had losing seasons in Columbus in 1959 going 3-5-1 and in 1966 with a 4-5 record.

Oklahoma (1996-1998)

1996 through 1998, better known as the John Blake years, were the darkest days in Oklahoma football since the early ‘20s. That was the last time Oklahoma had three consecutive losing seasons. During Blake’s three years Oklahoma had 3-8, 4-8 and a 5-6 record respectively. From 1922-1924, Bennie Owen’s Sooners went 2-3-3, 3-5 and 2-5-1.

1998 was the last time Oklahoma had a losing record, and only four times in the past 20 seasons under Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley have the Sooners failed to win 10 games or more in a season.

Penn State (2003-2004)

After two consecutive losing seasons in 2000 (5-7) and 2001 (5-6), Penn State rebounded with a 9-4 record in 2002. That was followed by the worst two-year stretch (3-9 in 2003 and 4-7 in 2004) at Penn State since 1931 and 1932 when the Nittany Lions went 2-8 and 2-5.

Head coach Joe Paterno brought the Lions back to their winning ways winning Big 10 titles in 2005 and 2008 and winning 51 games from 2005-2009 with 11-win seasons in 2005, 2008 and 2009.

Penn State still holds the NCAA record for the most consecutive non-losing seasons with 49 that began in 1939 and ended in 1988 when the Nittany Lions were 5-6 that season.

Tennessee (2017-2018)

The once-proud Tennessee Volunteers football program hasn’t won 10 games in a season since 2007. In the 11 seasons since that time, the Volunteers had a losing record in seven of those 11 seasons. Tennessee fans were singing, “Where have you gone Phillip Fulmer, Vol Nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo woo woo,” and Fulmer was brought back as athletic director in December of 2017.

If you were asked, which of Tennessee’s past five coaches did not have a losing season, one might be surprised to know the answer is Lane Kiffin. Kiffin went 7-6 in 2009 in his only year as head coach of the Volunteers.

Fulmer was 5-7 in 2008 in his final year at the head coaching helm. Be careful what you wish for when calling for a head-coaching change. After Kiffin, Derek Dooley went four straight years without a winning season. Butch Jones had a losing record in 2013 and 2017 as did his replacement Jeremy Pruitt in 2018. The last two seasons the Vols are 9-17.

Texas (2014-2016)

When Darrell Royal took over as head coach of the Texas Longhorns in 1957, little did Longhorn fans know that it would turn out better than hitting oil in an old oil well. For the next 20 seasons, the Longhorns never had a losing season. Royal built such a strong foundation that his successor, Fred Akers, wouldn’t have a losing season until his final season as the Longhorns head coach in 1986 with a 5-6 record.

David McWilliams succeeded Akers and would have a losing season in three of the next five years. John Mackovic would last six seasons and in his sixth season had a 4-7 record as the Longhorns head coach. Enter Mack Brown and a Longhorn resurgence. Brown would win nine games or more for the next 12 years. After a 13-1 season in 2009 that ended with a loss in the BCS National Championship Game to Alabama, the Longhorns went 5-7 the following season.

2013 was Brown’s last season as Longhorns head coach and then the Longhorns sunk to new depths with three straight losing years under Charlie Strong. Strong’s record in those three seasons (2014-2106) was an uninspiring 16-21. Tom Herman enters his fourth season at Longhorns head coach in 2019 and the Eyes of Texas are upon him to restore the Longhorns to the elite of college football.

Texas A&M (2008-2009)

With Jimbo Fisher now the head coach at Texas A&M and with the resources available to him, it may be a while before another losing season happens in Aggie Land. The last losing seasons the Aggies had were in 2008 and 2009 under Mike Sherman. In 2008, Texas A&M went 4-8 and in 2009, they were 6-7.

USC (2018)

One might think that after winning the 2017 Rose Bowl and appearing in the 2018 Cotton Bowl, USC fans might be a bit forgiving of head coach Clay Helton’s 5-7 season in 2018, but that was hardly the case. The last losing season before 2018 was a 5-7 record in 2000 under head coach Paul Hackett.

In case you’re wondering when was the last time USC had consecutive losing seasons, you must go back to 1960 (4-6) and 1961 (4-5-1) and the head coach was some guy by the name of John McKay. I guess USC fans had more patience back then, and McKay richly rewarded them for their patience.

Wisconsin (2001)

Older college football fans know the amazing rebuilding job Barry Alvarez did at the University of Wisconsin. How big of a rebuilding job was it? From 1985 through 1992 Wisconsin never had a winning season. In 1985 in his final season at Badgers head coach, Dave McClain went 5-6. Jim Hilles was 3-9 in 1986. Don Morton went 3-8, 1-10 and 2-9 over the next three seasons.

Enter Barry Alvarez and in 1990, Alvarez went 1-10 in his first year as the Badgers head coach and then two consecutive 5-6 seasons. It wasn’t until 1993 did he and the Badgers have a breakthrough winning season going 10-1-1 with a Rose Bowl victory over UCLA.

After five consecutive winning seasons beginning in 1996, Wisconsin dipped below .500 in 2001 with a 5-7 record. However, since that time, it’s been On Wisconsin as Alvarez, Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen and Paul Chryst had nothing but winning seasons.

A losing season for any school can be as close as losing your starting quarterback to injury. The experienced back-up quarterback you thought you’d have was lost to the transfer portal and went elsewhere to improve his chances of starting and now a head coach is forced to play an unexperienced freshman or sophomore at the most important position in football.

Other recipes for losing seasons include a coaching change with a new head coach coming in with a radically different style of offense but the players he inherits aren’t the type of players he needs to run his offense. A rash of injuries to the offensive line can also wreak havoc to an offense as well and ruin a season.

Will we continue to see long-time successful power five programs struggle with losing seasons?  Time will tell, but it’s certainly a possibility.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Photo credit:  Diamondduste on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

 

The All-Time Post-Pittsburgh Pirates Team

After witnessing the success ex-Pirates Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole had in 2017 and 2018 with the Houston Astros, I wondered about what other former Pirates played well after their playing days in Pittsburgh.

My intention is not to evaluate the Pirates trades over the years, as there are articles already written about that, but to field an all-time team of ex-Pirates for their accomplishments after their playing days for the Pirates. Presenting the All-Time Post Pittsburgh Pirates team (all statistics listed are from a player’s post-Pirates career):

P – Bert Blyleven – Traded in 1980 with Manny Sanguillen to the Cleveland Indians for Gary Alexander, Victor Cruz, Bob Owchinko and Rafael Vasquez. Blyleven spent three years in Pittsburgh and in his post-Pirate days, finished in the top five of Cy Young balloting three times, made the All-Star Game once, and amassed 131 wins to close out his Hall-of-Fame career.

P – Burleigh Grimes – Traded by the Pirates with Al Mamaux and Chuck Ward to the Brooklyn Robins for George Cutshaw and Casey Stengel in 1918. After going 5-19 in his first two years as a Pirate, Grimes went on to post four 20-win seasons with Brooklyn with six seasons of 19-wins or better. Grimes won 158 games in nine seasons before returning to the Pirates for a second stint with the Buccos in his Hall-of-Fame career.

P – Preacher Roe – Traded with Billy Cox and Gene Mauch to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Hal Gregg, Vic Lombardi and Dixie Walker in 1947. In Roe’s seven seasons with Brooklyn, he would go on to become a four-time All-Star and have a 93-37 record with Brooklyn with a 3.26 ERA.

P – Jason Schmidt – Traded in 2001 with John Vander Wal to the San Francisco Giants for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong. Schmidt played six of his 14 seasons with the Pirates and as a non-Pirate, Schmidt made the All-Star Game three times and had an 81-43 won-loss record.

P – John Tudor – Traded in 1984 with Brian Harper to the St. Louis Cardinals for Steve Barnard and George Hendrick. In his first year with the Cardinals, all Tudor did was win 21 games, pitch 10  shutouts, have a 1.93 ERA and finished second in the Cy Young Award balloting. After his Pirate playing days, Tudor went 66-29 with a 2.52 ERA, but we did get George Hendrick.

P – Dazzy Vance – Purchased by the New York Yankees from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1915. Vance appeared in one game for the Pirates in 1915 pitching two and two-thirds innings and giving up three earned runs before heading first to the Yankees and then to Brooklyn. Vance would go on to have three seasons of 20 wins or more with Brooklyn, winning 197 games against 139 losses in a Hall-of-Fame career.

P – Rube Waddell – Purchased by the Chicago Orphans from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900. In his post-Pirates years, Waddell won 178 games with a 2.09 ERA and had four 20-win seasons and six seasons of 19 wins or better on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career. Waddell also led the league in strikeouts six times.

P – Tim Wakefield – Released by the Pirates in April of 1995 after just two seasons, Wakefield would play for 17 more years in the major leagues winning 186 more games with 11 10-win seasons, four seasons of 16-wins or more and made an All-Star Game with the Boston Red Sox.

P – Wilbur Wood – Traded in 1966 to the Chicago White Sox for ultimately, Juan Pizzaro. Wood spent two of his 17 seasons as a Pirate and would go on to win 20 games four times, be a three-time All-Star and win 163 games after his Pirate playing days.

CL – Rich Gossage – Free Agent after the 1977 season. The Goose spent one season as a Pirate and then became a free agent. After his Pirate days, he was a 6-time All-Star, compiled an 84-62 record and had 254 saves on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

C – Tony Pena – Traded in 1987 to the St. Louis Cardinals for Mike Dunne, Mike LaValliere and Andy Van Slyke. Pena gets the call as a Pirate catcher that went on to do well after he was a Bucco. Pena spent his first seven of his 18-years in the major leagues in Pittsburgh. The trade truly was a good one for the Buccos as Pena would only have one more All-Star season and win just one more Gold Glove in St. Louis.

1B – Jake Beckley – Beckley was traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates to the New York Giants for Harry Davis and $1,000. Even back then the Pirates were cutting payroll by trading established stars. Beckley would bat over .300 seven times collecting 1,627 hits and batting .312 in his final 12 seasons away from the Pirates and be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

2B – Willie Randolph – Traded in 1975 with Ken Brett and Dock Ellis to the New York Yankees for Doc Medich. Randolph was traded after one season as a Pirate and would spend 17 more in the major leagues. Randolph would go on to be a six-time All-Star, amass over 2,200 hits, steal 270 bases and hit .276 as a non-Pirate.

SS – Joe Cronin – Purchased by Kansas City from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1928. After two seasons and only 50 game appearances with the Pirates, Cronin wound up playing 18 more years and had a Hall-of-Fame career. Cronin drove in 90 or more runs in 11 times, drove in 1,410 runs, and had 2,258 hits and batted .302.

3B – Aramis Ramirez – Traded in 2003 with Kenny Lofton and cash to the Chicago Cubs for Matt Bruback and Jose Hernandez. Ramirez was 25 years of age at the time of the trade and then went on to have one of the best careers a third baseman ever had in major league baseball history. Ramirez spent seven of his 18 seasons as a Pirate and as a non-Pirate, he was a three-time All-Star, hit 30 or more home runs in four times, drove in 100 runs or more in a season seven times, hit 304 home runs, had 1,068 runs batted in and hit .291 as a non-Pirate.

OF – Moises Alou – Traded in 1990 with Willie Greene and Scott Ruskin to the Montreal Expos for Zane Smith. After Alou’s first season with the Pirates, Alou would go on and become a six-time All- Star, score 1,109 runs, have 2,133 hits, 421 doubles, 332 home runs, 1,287 runs batted in and hit .303.

OF – Barry Bonds – Free Agent after the 1992 season. Bonds spent his first seven of his 22 years in major league baseball as a Pirate. In his years as a non-Pirate, he was an 11-time All-Star, won four MVP awards, won nine Silver Slugger awards, five Gold Gloves, drove in 100 or more runs nine times, score 100 or more runs nine times, have a 40/40 season in 1996 and led the National League in walks 11 times. That all worked out to be 1,555 runs, 381 doubles, 586 home runs, 1,400 runs batted in, 1,947 walks and hit .312 after being a Pirate.

OF – Joe Kelley – Traded with cash to the Baltimore Orioles for George Van Haltren in 1892. After just one season as a Pirate at the age of 20, Kelly went to Baltimore and blossomed into a star. In his Hall-of-Fame career, Kelly would score over 100 runs in a season six times and drive in over 100 runs in a year five times and would hit .300 or better 11 consecutive seasons and hit .322.

The Post-Pirates All-Time Bench:

1B – High Pockets Kelly – Kelly was selected off waivers by the New York Giants from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1917. After batting only .087 with two hits in 23 at-bats in 1917 at the age of 21, two years later Kelly matured and his Hall-of-Fame career took off. Kelly had five seasons of 100 runs batted in or more, seven seasons of 90 runs batted in or more and hit .302 over his final 13 seasons.

1B – Al Oliver – Traded in 1977 along with Nelson Norman to the Texas Rangers as part of a four-team trade. The Pirates ended up receiving Bert Blyleven from the Rangers and John Milner from the New York Mets. Oliver played his first 10 of his 18 seasons in Pittsburgh and continued doing what he did best, and that’s hit. Oliver hit over .300 for seven straight seasons and overall hit .311 as a non-Pirate winning a batting title in 1982 with Montreal with a .331 batting average. Oliver was a four-time All-Star as a non-Pirate.

2B – Dave Cash – Traded in 1973 to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Ken Brett. Cash spent his first five seasons as a Pirate and 12 altogether in major league baseball.  Cash would make the All-Star Game three times with the Philadelphia Phillies and had 180 hits or more four times with the Phils. Cash would hit .282 in his non-Pirate career.

OF – Jose Bautista – Drafted by the Baltimore Orioles from the Pirates in the 2003 Rule 5 Draft. In 2004, the Pirates re-acquired Bautista in a trade with the Mets and in 2008, traded Bautista to the Toronto Blue Jays for Robinzon Diaz. In all, Bautista played five of his 15 seasons with the Bucs, and as a non-Pirate, Bautista would hit 40 home runs in three times, hit 54 home runs in 2010, hit 301 home runs and be a six-time All-Star.

OF – Jay Buhner – Traded in 1984 with Dale Berra and Alfonso Pulido to the New York Yankees for Tim Foli, Steve Kemp and cash. In his 15 seasons after being in the Pirates organization, Buhner would hit 20 or more home runs in eight times, hit 40 or more home runs in a season three times, and hit 310 home runs in his career.

OF – Kiki Cuyler – Traded in 1927 to the Cubs for Sparky Adams and Pete Scott. Cuyler spent his first seven of his 18 seasons with the Pirates and in those his years away from Pittsburgh he would hit .315, amass 1,619 hits, steal 198 bases and lead the league in steals three times on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career.

OF – Dave Parker – Free Agent after the 1983 season. The Cobra spent the first 11 of his 19-major league seasons patrolling right field for the Pirates and in the years after he opted for free agency, Parker hit 173 home runs, made the All-Star Game three times and hit .276.

Those making honorable mention:

P – Jon Lieber – Traded in 1988 to the Chicago Cubs for Brant Brown. Lieber spent five of his 14 seasons with the Buccos, and in his post-Pirate playing days, would become a 20-game winner, make the All-Star Game and win 93 games.

P – Woodie Fryman – Traded in 1967 with Harold Clem, Bill Laxton and Don Money to the Phillies for Jim Bunning. Fryman played two years with the Buccos and then would play 16 more in the major leagues. Fryman would make two All-Star Games and win 126 wins in his post-Pirates career.

P – Rick Reuschel – Traded in 1987 to the San Francisco Giants for Scott Medvin and Jeff Robinson. Reuschel would spend three of his 19 seasons in the major leagues in Pittsburgh and in his first two seasons after being traded, went on to win 19 and 17 games respectively for the San Francisco Giants and make the All-Star Game once.

SS – Dick Groat – Traded with Diomedes Olivo to the St. Louis Cardinals for Don Cardwell and Julio Gotay in 1962. The Swissvale, PA, native spent nine of his 14 years as a Pirate, and was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals where he had an immediate impact for them. In 1963, Groat finished second in the National League’s MVP balloting collecting 201 hits, 43 doubles and hitting .319. Groat would make the All-Star Game twice for the Cardinals.

3B – Bob Elliott – Traded with Hank Camelli to the Boston Braves for Billy Herman, Elmer Singleton, Stan Wentzel and Whitey Wietelmann in 1946. In his five seasons with the Braves, Elliott would score 90 or more runs three times, drive in 100 runs three times, and was named an All-Star three times. Elliott hit .285 in his post-Pirate days.

3B – Don Money – Traded in 1967 with Harold Clem, Woodie Fryman and Bill Laxton to the Philadelphia Phillies for Jim Bunning. Money would be a four-time All-Star in a 16-year career in the major leagues.

OF – Bobby Bonilla – Free Agent after the 1991 season. Bobby Bo spent six of his 16 years in the major leagues as a Pirate and in his years after he left Pittsburgh, he hit 171 home runs, was named an All-Star twice and had a .275 batting average.

OF – Manny Mota – Drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 1968 expansion draft. Mota spent six of his 20 major league seasons as a Pirate and in those 14 years away from Pittsburgh, Mota would hit .315 and be named an All-Star once.

There you have it, the All-Time Post-Pittsburgh Pirates team. Pirates fans hope there will be no new additions to ever make that team.

Barry Bonds Photo credit: subtle_devices on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Tim Wakefield Photo credit: Waldo Jaquith on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

Moises Alou Photo credit:  shgmom56, Barbara Moore on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pittsburgh Pirates Battle of 98-win teams: 1991 vs. 2015

It is going on 40 years since the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates won a World Series and that number doesn’t look to end anytime soon under current owner Bob Nutting. Since the Pirates last won the World Series, professional franchises with even longer championship droughts came to an end such as: the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Houston Astros, the New Orleans Saints, the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Pirates last World Series championship was in 1979. The years 1990-1992 and 2013-2015 were the only seasons the Pirates made the playoffs since 1979, only to come up agonizingly short each time. Within each of those three consecutive playoff years, the team’s high point was a 98-win season. Those two 98-win teams were the best Pirate teams in the past 40 years. In a seven-game series, which would prevail: The Pittsburgh Pirates of 1991 or the Pittsburgh Pirates of 2015?

How did both teams get there?  The 1991 Pirates were the National League Eastern Division champs but lost to the Atlanta Braves four games to three in the NL Championship Game Series. The Braves starting pitchers of Steve Avery, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine silenced the Pirates bats in the series.  The 2015 Pirates finished second to the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central Division and lost the Wild Card Playoff Game to the 97-win Chicago Cubs and that year’s National League’s Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta.

The Pirates from 1990-92 won the NL Eastern Division each year with 95, 98 and 96 wins respectively. The Pirates from 2013-15 finished as a Wild Card each season, finishing second each year in the NL Central Division with 94, 88, and 98 wins respectively. How do the teams compare position by position? 1991 as compared to 2015:

Catcher –  Mike LaValliere vs. Francisco Cervelli

LaValliere hit .289 in 108 games behind the plate for the ’91 Buccos. Cervelli had taken over the catching position in 2015 as Russell Martin left via free agency and turned out to be more than an adequate replacement for the departed Martin. Cervelli hit .295 and provided a little more pop in his bat than LaValliere. Slight Edge: ‘15

First Base –  Orlando Merced vs. Pedro Alvarez

Merced hit .275 with 10 home runs and 50 runs batted in to Alvarez’s .243 and even though Alvarez struck out 131 times in 2015, his 27 home runs led the Pirates in that category and he drove in 77 runs that year. Edge: ‘15

Second Base – Jose Lind vs. Neil Walker

Lind had superior range defensively than Walker did at second base, but the analytics worked so well positioning Walker that he wasn’t a liability in the field. At the plate, Lind hit .265 and Walker .269 but the edge in power numbers belong to Walker, 16 home runs to three, and 71 runs batted in to Lind’s 54.  Edge: ‘15

Shortstop – Jay Bell vs. Jordy Mercer

If one didn’t look at their respective season’s statistics, one would think this one is even, but Bell scored 96 runs, hit 16 home runs and drove in 67 runs hitting .270 in 1991. Mercer scored 34 runs, hit three home runs, drove in 34 runs and hit .244 in 2015. Edge: ‘91

Third Base – Jeff King vs. Jung Ho Kang

Bonilla played the most games at third base for the ’91 Pirates with 67 and while King only played 33, Bonilla saw action in right field in 104 games. That is why for this comparison, Bonilla is listed in right field and King at third base. In 2015, in the 126 games that Kang played, Kang showed the Pirates flashes of what he might one day be capable of. Kang had 24 doubles and 15 home runs driving in 58 runs and hitting a solid .287. King’s batting average was .239 in 1991.  Edge: ‘15

Left Field –  Barry Bonds vs Starling Marte

1991 was another great year for Bonds. He scored 95 runs, hit 25 home runs, drove in a team high 116 runs, stole 43 bases and hit .292 on the year. Marte was no sloth for the 2015 Pirates. Marte stole 30 bases, hit 19 home runs and drove in 81 runs and hit .287. However, one can’t deny the edge here goes to Bonds. Edge: ‘91

Center Field – Andy Van Slyke vs Andrew McCutchen

In 1991, fan favorite Andy Van Slyke hit 17 home runs, drove in 83 runs and hit .265, but he wasn’t Andrew McCutchen.  2015 was another year the Pirates came to expect from Cutch. He scored 91 runs, hit 23 home runs, drove in 96 runs and hit .292 while patrolling spacious center field at PNC Park. Edge: ‘15

Right Field – Bobby Bonilla vs Gregory Polanco

Bonilla led the Pirates with 44 doubles and 102 runs scored, and he also hit 18 home runs, drove in 100 runs and hit .302 on the year.  Right Field at PNC Park belonged to Gregory Polanco in 2015 and he hit nine home runs, driving in 52 runs and stole 27 bases with a .256 batting average. Edge: ’91

Bench:  Gary Redus, Don Slaught, Gary Varsho, Curt Wilkerson, Lloyd McClendon, Steve Buechele and John Wehner vs. Josh Harrison, Sean Rodriquez, Aramis Ramirez, Chris Stewart, Mike Morse and Travis Ishikawa.

Redus hit .246 for the ’91 Bucs, and Don Slaught gave Leyland a right-handed bat when spelling   LaValliere and hit a solid .295 that year. Varsho hit .273, Wilkerson only .188, McClendon .288 and Buechele .246 and Pittsburgh-native Wehner hit .340 in 106 at-bats.

Harrison was a catalyst for Hurdle’s club filling in all over the field hitting .287. Rodriquez gave Hurdle a tremendous amount of flexibility as well. Rodriquez could also play a lot of positions but he hit only .246. Ramirez’ fine career was coming to a close as he hit only .245. Stewart’s hitting was a pleasant surprise as his batting average was .289 in 2015. Morse saw playing time at first base and hit .275 and Ishikawa hit .224.  Edge: ‘91

Starting Pitching –  John Smiley, Doug Drabek, Zane Smith, Randy Tomlin and Bob Walk vs. Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton and A.J. Happ.

Smiley was the ace of the staff winning 20 games and losing only eight with a 3.08 ERA, Smith went 16-10 with a 3.20 ERA and Drabek was 15-14 with a 3.07 ERA. Walk won nine while losing only two with a 3.60 ERA and Tomlin was 8-7 with a 2.98 ERA to round out the starting pitching for the ’91 Bucs. Having your fifth starter with an ERA under three says a good bit about  the depth of the 1991 Pirates starters.

Cole was the ace of the 2015 Pirates pitching staff with a 19-8 record, and a 2.60 ERA. At times, Liriano looked like an ace and had a 12-7 record and 3.38 ERA. Burnett was 9-7 with a 3.18 ERA, Happ was outstanding with 7-2 and a 1.85 ERA, Locke was 8-11 with a 4.49 ERA, and Morton was 9-9 on the year with a 4.81 ERA.  As their records would indicate, Locke and Morton were inconsistent and if needed to be called upon in this series, could be a liability for the 2015 Pirates.  Edge: ’91

Bullpen – Neal Heaton, Bob Patterson, Bob Kipper, Stan Belinda and Vicente Palacios vs. Tony Watson, Arquimedes Caminero, Jared Hughes, Vance Worley and Astonio Bastardo.

Belinda was 7-5 with 16 saves for the ’91 Bucs with a 3.45 ERA. Heaton was 3-3 with a  4.33 ERA, Patterson 4-3 with a 4.11 ERA, Kipper 2-2 with a 4.65 ERA and Palacios was 6-3 with a 3.75 ERA for the ’91 Bucs.

Watson was exceptional out of the bullpen with a 4-1 record and 1.91 ERA in 77 appearances. Caminero was 5-1 with a 3.62 ERA, Hughes was 3-1 with a 2.28 ERA and Bastardo had a 4-1 record with a 2.98 ERA. Worley was 4-6 and had eight starts in 2015 with a 4.02 ERA. Significant Edge for the ’15 Bucs.

Closer – Bill Landrum vs Mark Melancon

Landrum was 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA with 17 saves. Melancon appeared in 78 games for the Bucs in 2015, with a 2.23 ERA and 51 saves. Big Edge: ‘15

Manager – Jim Leyland vs. Clint Hurdle

Leyland would go on to win a World Series with Florida and was named Manager of the Year three times. Hurdle has not won a World Series and likely never will while managing for Pirates owner Bob Nutting.  Edge: ‘91

The edge clearly belongs to the 2015 Pirates if they can get the lead to their bullpen of Watson and Melancon. Could Leyland get enough offense from Bonds, Bonilla and Van Slyke against the 2015 Pirates starters?

So how does this series play out?  This would be a tight, low-scoring seven-game affair with the seventh game tied at two and the 2015 Pirates batting in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs and no one on base, Neil Walker battles Bill Landrum fouling off four two-strike pitches before doubling into right center. With the potential series-winning run at second base, Leyland plays a hunch and decides to bring in Stan Belinda. The raucous, blackout-clad crowd at PNC Park greet Belinda with chants of, “Stan-ley, Stan-ley, Stan-ley.”

With only one left-handed batter on the bench, Hurdle chooses to send up Ishikawa to pinch hit for a struggling Polanco in this series. Trying to pull the ball, Ishikawa fouls off a couple of fastball offerings from Belinda. After laying off two outside pitches, Ishikawa is just trying to make contact and keep the inning going. Ishikawa reaches on another outside offering from Belinda and connects getting the ball gets past Pirates shortstop Jay Bell into left field!

Inexplicably, LaValliere lines up a few steps up the first-base line rather than in front of home plate or on the third base side to force Walker to go through or around him. With Sid Bream-like speed, Walker lumbers around third! Bonds charges the ball and looks and throws to where LaValliere has positioned himself up the first base line. The throw is just a step offline to the right of where LaValliere had positioned himself. LaValliere reaches right, catches the throw, dives back, the hometown-kid slides……

What do you think would be the result of a 7-game series between the 1991 Pirates and the 2015 Pirates?

Barry Bonds Photo credit: Oldmaison on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

Andrew McCutchen Photo credit: Keith Allison on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Read about the match-up of Pittsburgh Pirates World Series Champions 1971 versus 1979 that can be found at: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/2019/04/27/pittsburgh-pirates-battle-of-world-series-champions-1971-vs-1979/

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

 

Pittsburgh Pirates Battle of World Series Champions: 1971 vs. 1979

It is going on 40 years since the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates won a World Series and that number doesn’t look to end anytime soon under current owner Bob Nutting. Since the Pirates last won the 1979 World Series, other professional sports franchises with even longer championship droughts have come to an end. Teams such as: the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New Orleans Saints, the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Eagles all won their sports championship after even longer playoff droughts than the Pirates current one.

The Pirates last two World Series championships were in 1971 and 1979.  To conjure up those pleasant memories, how would those two teams have fared against one another in a seven-game series, in a battle of World Series Champions 1971 versus 1979?

How did both teams get there?  The 1971 Pirates won the National League Eastern Division with a 97-65 record. They then went on to defeat the 90-win San Francisco Giants in the NL Championship Series three games to one. That Giants club had four future Hall of Famers on it in Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry. The Pirates then went on to defeat a Baltimore Orioles squad that repeated as American League Champions in the World Series four games to three. That Orioles squad had one of the greatest starting pitching staffs of all time with four 20-game winners on their pitching staff.

The 1979 Pirates won the National League Eastern Division with a 98-64 record. They went on to sweep the 90-win Cincinnati Reds in the NL Championship Series. That Reds team had three future Hall of Famers on it in Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tom Seaver. The Pirates once again faced Baltimore in the 1979 World Series and defeated the Orioles four games to three.

How do the two Pirates championship teams of the ‘70s compare position by position? 1971 as compared to 1979:

Catcher – Manny Sanguillen vs. Ed Ott & Steve Nicosia

Sanguillen was in his prime in 1971 and hit .319 and drove in 81 runs. Sanguillen was an All-Star in 1971 and finished 8th in the National League’s MVP balloting. Ott appeared in 117 games and hit .273. Nicosia appeared in 70 games and hit .288. Edge: ‘71

First Base – Bob Robertson vs. Willie Stargell

Obviously, an edge to Stargell on this one but Robertson was no slouch. Big Bob had 26 home runs, driving in 72 runs and hit .271. The Captain was National League co-MVP in 1979 sharing the honors with Keith Hernandez. It seemed like Stargell came through whenever a big hit was needed in 1979. Stargell hit 32 home runs with 82 runs batted in and hit .281 on the year. Edge: ‘79

Second Base – Dave Cash vs Phil Garner

Cash took over the position from long-time Pirate second baseman Bill Mazeroski and hit a solid .289 in 1971, scoring 79 runs and stealing 13 bases. Cash’s fielding percentage was .983 compared to Garner’s .966. Garner was a spark plug for the ’79 Pirates scoring 76 runs, hitting 32 doubles, stealing 17 bases and hitting .293 on the year. Garner had more power than Cash hitting 11 home runs to four and Scrap Iron drove in 59 runs to Cash’s 34. Edge: ‘79

Shortstop – Gene Alley & Jackie Hernandez vs Tim Foli

Even though Hernandez is remembered in the ’71 World Series, Alley played in 114 games compared to Hernandez’ 88 during the 1971 season. Alley hit .227 and Hernandez .206. Foli was very steady in the field and hit .291 for the Pirates in 1979. Edge: ‘79

Third Base – Richie Hebner vs Bill Madlock

Hebner appeared in 112 games in 1971 hitting 17 home runs, driving in 67 runs and hit .271 on the year. The Mad Dog was a key addition to the ’79 club coming over from the San Francisco Giants and played in 85 games with the Bucs, Madlock hit .328 and stole 21 bases while playing a solid third base. Edge: ‘79

Left Field – Willie Stargell vs. Bill Robinson

Stargell had a tremendous year in 1971 finishing second in the NL MVP vote to Joe Torre. Stargell led the league with 48 home runs, drove in 125 runs and hit .295. Stargell did strike out 154 times in 511 at-bats. Robinson was a solid performer and in 1979 hit 24 home runs, drove in 75 runs and even stole 13 bases but the edge here definitely goes to Stargell. Edge: ‘71

Center Field – Al Oliver vs. Omar Moreno

Oliver had 31 doubles and hit .282 with 14 home runs and 64 runs batted in for the ’71 Pirates. In addition to playing center field, Oliver also played 25 games at first base in 1971. The Antelope had a terrific year in 1979, often getting on base and setting the table for Tim Foli to bunt him over and then get singled home to give Manager Chuck Tanner an early lead. Moreno scored 110 runs with 196 hits, hitting .282 and led the National League with 77 stolen bases while driving in 69 runs. Moreno’s speed enabled him to cover a lot of ground in the outfield defensively and finished 15th in the National League’s MVP balloting. Edge: ’79

Right Field – Roberto Clemente vs Dave Parker

At age 36, the Great One still hit .341 with 178 hits and drove in 86 runs playing in only 132 games and Clemente finished fifth in the National League MVP voting. Parker was in his prime in 1979 and was one of the best players in all of major league baseball. The Cobra scored 109 runs, had 193 hits, 45 doubles, 25 home runs, drove in 94 runs, stole 20 bases and hit .310 while playing in 158 games. Parker had a terrific arm defensively but few, if any in major league baseball history, equaled Clemente’s. Parker finished 10th in MVP balloting in 1979. Edge: ‘71

Bench:  Gene Clines, Vic Davalillo, Bill Mazeroski, Milt May, and Jose Pagan vs Rennie Stennett, John Milner, Lee Lacy, Manny Sanguillen, Mike Easler and Matt Alexander.

Manager Danny Murtaugh used his bench effectively in 1971. Clines hit .308 playing in 97 games and led the team with 15 stolen bases. Davalillo hit .285 and played in 99 games and stole 10 bases for the Buccos. Clines and Davalillo played all three outfield positions and Davalillo also played first base in 16 games providing Murtaugh with some flexibility with his lineups. May provided another left-handed bat off the bench and hit .278. Pagan provided Murtaugh with a right-handed hitting third baseman and hit .241 while Mazeroski hit .254.

Milner provided some left-handed power for Chuck Tanner’s Bucs in 1979 hitting 16 home runs, driving in 60 runs and hitting .276. Lacy gave Tanner a right-handed hitter and Lacy hit .247 in 1979. Stennett hit .238, Sanguillen hit .230 in 74 at-bats and Easler hit .278 in just 54 at-bats. Alexander gave Tanner a fast pinch-runner and stole 13 bases on the year.

Clines, Davilillo and May gave Murtaugh three players that saw a good bit of playing time and hit better than .278. Only Easler hit .278 for the ’79 Bucs off the bench and that was with only 54 at-bats. The ’79 bench had more power due to Milner’s presence but since you usually use pinch-hitters to get on base as opposed to hitting a home run. Edge: A slight one to the ’71 Bucs.

Starting Pitching – Steve Blass, Dock Ellis, Luke Walker, Bob Johnson, Bob Moose and Bruce Kison vs. John Candelaria, Bert Blyleven, Jim Rooker, Bruce Kison and Don Robinson.

Ellis went 19-9 with a 3.06 ERA for the ’71 Bucs with 11 complete games while Blass went 15-8 with a 2.85 ERA and had 12 complete games and five shutouts. Moose, Walker and Johnson won 11, 10 and nine games respectively with a combined 14 complete games between them. Moose’s ERA was 4.11, Walker’s 3.55 and Johnson’s 3.45. Kison was 6-5 with a 3.40 ERA.

The Candy Man was the ace of the staff with a 14-9 record and a 3.22 ERA with eight complete games for the ’79 Bucs. Blyleven was 12-5 with a 3.60 ERA and Kison was 13-7 with a 3.19 ERA. Robinson was 8-8 with a 3.87 ERA and Rooker was 4-7 with a 4.60 ERA. Edge:  Even

Bullpen – Nellie Briles, Mudcat Grant, Jim Nelson, Bob Miller, and Bob Veale vs. Jim Bibby, Enrique Romo, Dave Roberts, Grant Jackson and Ed Whitson.

Briles would prove to be a key figure for the Bucs pitching staff in 1971 winning eight games with a 3.04 ERA and pitched 136 innings and was a spot starter with 14 starts in his 37 game appearances and four complete games. Grant was 5-3 with a 3.60 ERA, Nelson was 2-2 with a 2.34 ERA, Miller 1-2 with a 1.29 ERA, and Veale was 6-0 with a 6.99 ERA (that’s not a typo).

Bibby provided spot starts, starting 17 of his 34 games he appeared in and went 12-4 for the ’79 Pirates with a 2.81 ERA and had four complete games. Romo appeared in 84 games and had a 10-5 record with a 2.99 ERA, Roberts was 5-2 with a 3.26 ERA and Jackson appeared in 72 games with an 8-5 record and a 2.96 ERA and had 14 saves. Whitson was 2-3 with a 4.37 ERA. Edge: ‘79

Closer – Dave Giusti vs. Kent Tekulve

Giusti finished 14th in the National League’s MVP balloting, the highest of any relief-pitcher and the only pitchers to finish higher in the balloting than Giusti were Ferguson Jenkins and Tom Seaver. Giusti was 5-6 with a 2.93 ERA and saved 30 games in 1971 for the Pirates and won the Fireman of the Year Award in the National League as the league’s top reliever.

Tekulve appeared in 94 games and had 31 saves in 1979 with a record of 10-8 and a 2.75 ERA. Tekulve finished eighth in the National League MVP balloting. The only other pitchers to finish higher were Joe Neikro and Bruce Sutter. Edge: EVEN

Manager – Danny Murtaugh vs. Chuck Tanner

Murtaugh rates a slight edge over Tanner as Murtaugh won two World Series titles, each time as an underdog and with two entirely different clubs in the ’60 Bucs and the ’71 Bucs. Edge: ’71

The 1971 Pirates led the National League in runs scored with 788, home runs with 154 and were second in hitting .274 on the year. Only three Pirates (Clines, Cash and Davalillo) had 10 or more stolen bases on the season.  The 1979 Pirates also led the National League in runs scored with 775, second in home runs with 148 and second in hitting with a .272 team batting average. One big difference is the ’79 Pirates were second in the league with 180 stolen bases, the ’71 Pirates only stole 65 bases.

How does this series play out?  The ’71 Pirates pitching staff will need to keep Omar Moreno off the base paths where he can set the table for the ’79 Pirates. Each manager just wants to get the ball in the hands of their outstanding closer with a lead. It’s hard to imagine Clemente not having another great series showcasing his great ability and almost singlehandedly leading his team to victory. Captain Willie Stargell in ’79 displayed his greatness as well in leading the Bucs to a World Series title. I see this one going the distance and to a seventh game with Clemente being the difference.

If you’re too young to remember these two teams, you may enjoy reading how the Pirates two 98-win Pittsburgh Pirate teams in 1991 and 2015, but didn’t get to the World Series, would have fared against each other. You can find that article at: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/2019/04/27/pittsburgh-pirates-battle-of-98-win-teams-1991-vs-2015/

Roberto Clemente Photo credit: dbking on VisualHunt / CC BY

Willie Stargell Photo credit: podolux on Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

 

My review of John Moody’s Book: Kiss it Goodbye. The Mystery, the Mormon, and the Moral of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates.

I recently finishing reading John Moody’s book entitled, “Kiss It Good-bye. The Mystery, the Mormon, and the Moral of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates” written about Moody’s boyhood-hero Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Vernon Law. Two overriding themes jumped out at me as I read the book.

The first was Mr. Moody’s devotion to Law is such that he suggests the ridiculous notion that if Law would have not been hurt on the bus celebrating the Pirates clinching the National League pennant in 1960 (the Mystery) and that had Law went on to win 20-games for the next seven seasons (1961-1967) that he would be in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. If that were true, he most certainly would be as that would have given Law eight consecutive 20-win seasons including the 1960 season.

Moody wrote on page 227: “Lets assume that Law had been healthy after the 1960 season and that he had won 20 games in each of his seven remaining seasons with the Pirates….Instead of the 60 games that Law won from 1960 through 1967, let’s assume he won 140 more, for a total of 242, and that he lost the same number as he really did 147….Those kinds of numbers would have put him in the realm of Juan Marichal….” Talk about a stretch by Moody!

To put that preposterous notion in perspective, the great Sandy Koufax had only three 20-win seasons in his entire career. Tom Seaver had only five 20-win seasons in his Hall-of-Fame career never having more than two consecutive 20-win seasons. Marichal had six 20-win seasons in his entire career winning 20 games four consecutive times.

Roger Clemens had six 20-win seasons in his career, never more than two consecutively. Randy Johnson had three 20-win seasons in his career. Pedro Martinez had two 20-win seasons in his career. Bob Gibson, a contemporary of Law’s had five 20-win seasons in his career, three of which were in consecutive seasons. Jim Palmer had eight 20-win seasons, four of which were consecutive. One can see how Moody’s devotion to Law impairs his thinking and judgment.

Secondly, what jumped out at me, is Moody’s contempt and dislike for the Pirates Hall-of-Fame right fielder Roberto Clemente. Multiple times Moody goes out of his way to express his disdain for Clemente, in of all places an autobiography of his boyhood hero Law.

Moody wrote things I have never read written about Clemente in any previous book. For example:

On page 289: “The book on Clemente was that he was a coward. Buzz him up by the skull and he had the manner of a pup who’d just been whipped.”Throughout the book, Moody cannot help himself in hiding his dislike for Clemente. On page 253: “Clemente got beneath the drive, gloved it with his infuriatingly casual, palm-up basket catch, and the game was over.” Would Moody call Willie Mays’ same-style of palm-up basket catch infuriating as well? Has anyone else ever done so of either Clemente or Mays? Evidently, it was infuriating only to Moody.

Even when praising Clemente’s undeniable talents and athletic ability, Moody injects his subjective negativity. On page 151: “The club also had a cocky and super-talented new right fielder named Roberto Clemente.” Clemente’s talent was recognized by everyone that ever watched him play, but cocky is strictly Moody’s opinion and he must have felt compelled to interject his negativity towards Clemente. Was it truly necessary?

On page 165 and 166: “When he was fit and motivated, Clemente answered criticism with accomplishment.” When was Clemente non-motivated? I have never encountered any writer ever claiming that Clemente was ever non-motivated.

Moody continued: “He challenged pitchers with an arrogant wave of his head, as if daring them to throw the ball past him.” Again, note Moody’s use of the negative adjective arrogant. I recall no one ever stating Clemente waved his head arrogantly.

On page 241, Moody wrote: “Watching Clemente on tape now – the arrogant way he made himself at home in the batter’s box…..”

On page 283, Moody wrote: “Shantz made Face go to a full count, then lifted a high fly ball to right, which Clemente put away with his arrogant basket catch.”

By my count, Moody used the following negative adjectives and terms regarding Clemente: cowardly, infuriating, arrogant (3x), cocky, and unmotivated, in a book not about Clemente, but he felt it necessary to write those things about Clemente in a book about his idol Vernon Law?

No other player in the book is subjected to as many, if any, negatives in Moody’s book. For me, this detracted a great deal from Kiss It Goodbye.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/