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:

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 / 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:







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:

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:


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:

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:


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:

Michigan Football – Elite or Overrated?

ESPN and SEC Network personality Paul Finebaum is on record a few years ago as calling Michigan fans “some of the most unrealistic people that I’ve ever encountered,” and said, “When you win a championship, call me back. I have never met a Michigan fan that had an ounce of humility or didn’t think his team was the greatest of all time regardless of the record.”

When asked what is the most arrogant college fanbase in America, Finebaum responded that Michigan has won half a national championship in about 60 years and “they talk like they’re Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Penn State wrapped into one.”

Is the arrogance by Michigan’s football fans justified? Does Michigan football walk the walk and their fans just talk the talk? I thought I’d dig a little deeper into Finebaum’s assessment and look how Michigan compares to other schools.

Yes, Michigan is recognized as the all-time leader in wins, and has a higher winning percentage than any other program. No doubt helped by 62 wins by 1929 against powerhouses Albion (17), Case (26), Mt. Union (7), Oberlin (9) and Ohio Northern (3). Those five schools compiled a 1-62-1 record against the Wolverines. That certainly boosts Michigan’s all-time winning percentage.

Credit certainly must be given to the Wolverines for beating the likes of Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin to the tune of a 357-101-8 record and a winning percentage of .775.

Michigan’s won one-half share of one national championship (’97) in the last 69 years of college football. Since 1950, and we’re not talking a small sampling size of data, we’re talking since the Korean War,  that’s 69 seasons of data. Does anyone dispute the fact that 69 years is not a small data range? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

Michigan’s last outright national championship was 1948. In 1997, Michigan was co-national champions along with Nebraska. That’s one-half of a national championship since 1950. According to, the list of schools that have won at least a share of a national championship* since 1950 looks like this:

12- Alabama (‘61*, ‘64*, ‘65*, ‘73*, ‘78*, ’79, ’92, ’09, ’11, ’12, ’15, ’17)

7 – Ohio State (‘54*, ‘57*, ‘61*, ’68, ‘70*, ’02, ’14)

7 – Oklahoma (’50, ’55, 56’, 74*, ’75, ’85, ’00)

7 – USC (’62, ’67, ’72, ‘74*, ‘78*, ‘03*, ’04)

6 – Notre Dame (’49, ‘64*, ‘66*, ‘73*, ’77, ’88)

5 – Miami (’83, ’87, ’89, ‘91*, ’01)

5 – Nebraska (‘70*, ’71, ’94, ’95, ‘97*)

4 – Texas (’63, ’69, ‘70*, ’05)

3 – Clemson (’81, ’16, ’18)

3 – Florida (’96, ’06, ’08)

3 – Florida State (’93, ’99, ’13)

3 – LSU (‘58*, ‘03*, ’07)

3 – Michigan State (’52, ‘65*, 66*)

2 – Auburn (‘57*, ’10)

2 – Penn State (’82, ’86)

2 – Tennessee (’51, ’98)

1 – Brigham Young (’84)

1 – Maryland (’53)

1 – Pitt (’76)

1 – Georgia (’80)

1 – Syracuse (’59)

1 – Arkansas (‘64*)

1 – Colorado (‘90*)

1 – Georgia Tech (’90*)

1 – Iowa (‘58*)

1 – Michigan (‘97*)

1 – Minnesota (‘60*)

1 – Mississippi (’60*)

1 – UCLA (‘54*)

1 – Washington (’91*)

Sixteen schools have won multiple national championships since 1950, and another five have won a single undisputed national championship before getting to schools such as Michigan that have won a share of a national championship in the past 69 seasons. If Michigan fans think of Michigan as elite or upper echelon, shouldn’t the Wolverines have won more than just a half-share of one national championship in the past 69 years? Does that sound elite to you?

How about we compare Michigan to the rest of college football another way? Let’s look at a list of schools and how many seasons since 1950, that they had one loss or less (we’ll allow for ties even Michigan’s three in 1992), and won a major bowl game (Cotton, Fiesta since 1987, Orange, Peach since 2014, Rose and Sugar) or a playoff game that season. For this discussion, let’s call that a “very good year.”

Which schools had the most very good years (1 loss or less & a major bowl game or playoff win) since 1950?

16 – Alabama (’61, ’62, ’65, ’66, ’75, ’77, ’78, ’79, ’92, ’09, ’11, ’12, ’15, ’16, ’17, ’18)

12 – Oklahoma (’53, ’55, ’57, ’58, ’67, ’71, ’75, ’78, ’79, ’83, ’86, ’00)

(’54 and ’56 could not make consecutive bowl appearance as conference champion.)

12 – USC (’52, ’62, ’67, ’69, ’72, ’74, ’76, ’78, ’79, ’03, ’04, ’08)

10 – Texas (’61, ’63, ’64, ’68, ’69, ’72, ’81, ’04, ’05, ’08)

10 – Ohio State (’54, ’57, ’68, ’73, ’96, ’98, ’02, ’14, ’15, ’18)

(’61 opted not to go to Rose Bowl and in ’10 wins were vacated)

8 – Florida State (’87, ’88, ’92, ’93, ’94, ’97, ’99, ’13)

8 –  Nebraska (’63, ’70, ’71, ’82, ’94, ’95, ’97, ’99)

8 –  Penn State (’68, ’69, ’71, ’73, ’82, ’86, ’94, ’05)

8 – Washington (’59, ’60, ’77, ’81, ’84, ’90, ’91, ’00)

7 –  Miami (’83, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’91, ’00, ’01)

7-   Notre Dame (’70, ’73, ’77, ’88, ’89, ’92, ’93)

(’53 and ’66 Notre Dame chose to not go to a bowl game)

5 –  Clemson (’50, ’81, ’15, ’16, ’18)

5 –  Georgia (’59, ’66, ’80, ’83, ’02)

5 – Tennessee (’50, ’70, ’85, ’89, ’98)

4 – Auburn (’83, ’87* tie in Sugar Bowl, ’04, ’10)

4 – Florida (’96, ’06, ’08, ’09)

4 –  LSU (’58, ’61, ’62, ’03)

3 –  Arkansas (’64, ’68, ’77)

3 –  Michigan (’64, ’92, ’97)

3 – Michigan State (’53, ’55, ’13)

(’66 could not go to the Rose Bowl consecutive years as conference champion.)

3 – Wisconsin (’93, ’98, ’17)

Look how far down the list one must go to find Michigan. Since 1950, 17 schools have more 1-loss or less seasons with a major bowl victory and/or won a playoff game that year than Michigan. 17 schools! In only three of the past 69 seasons has Michigan had one loss or less and won a major bowl game that same season. Three out of 69, and I’m including 1992 in which Michigan had three ties that season.

As you can see, some schools have done it many, many more times than Michigan. Ohio State, Michigan’s rival, has done it three times as many as Michigan’s three times, accomplishing the feat 10 times. Arkansas, Michigan State and Wisconsin also match Michigan with three one-loss or less seasons with a major bowl victory over the past 69 years. Does that strike you as being elite?

We’ve looked at national championships and very good years since 1950. I’ll even lessen the criteria on this next comparison. Since 1950, how many 10-win seasons with a bowl victory, any bowl victory, it could have been the Poulan Weedeater Bowl, it doesn’t matter, just so it’s a bowl victory has Michigan had compared to other schools.

For this discussion, let’s call a 10-win season with a bowl win, any bowl win, a “good year.” I think most schools would consider that a good year, although granted, a 10-win season at Alabama isn’t looked upon the same as a 10-win season at UCLA, but one would think a 10-win season and a bowl win shouldn’t get a coach fired. Although winning nine games is not always good enough, just ask Les Miles at LSU or Frank Solich at Nebraska.

We know Michigan seemingly can’t beat Ohio State to win a conference title, but they still could and should win 10 games in a season and then go on to a bowl game and meet an opponent that had an equivalent amount of success that season. You’re no longer playing against the likes of Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, etc.  Which schools had the most good years (10 wins & a bowl game win or playoff win) since 1950?

22 – Alabama (’52, ’61, ’62, ’66, ’75, ’77, ’78, ’79, ’80, ’86, ’91, ’92, 94, ’96, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12, ’15, ’15, ’17,  ’18) not including ’93 and ’05 both vacated.

18 – Oklahoma (’55, ’57, ’58, ’67, ’71, ’75, ’78, ’79, ’80, ’85, ’86, ’00, ’01, ’02, ’10, ’11, ’13, 16)              (’54 & ’56 consecutive bowl appearances prohibited by conference.)

18 – Penn State (’68, ’69, ’71, ’73, ’74, ’77, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’86, ’91, ’93, ’94, ’96, ’99, ’05, ’09, ’17)

17 – USC (’52, ’62, ’67, ’69, ’72, ’74, ’76, ’78, ’79, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’13, ’16)

16 – Florida State (’77, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’92, ’93, ’94, ’95, ’97, ’99, ’10, ’12, ’13, ’16)

16 – Georgia (’59, ’66, ’71, ’80, ’83, ’92, ’97, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’07, ’08, ’12, ’14, ’15, ’17)

15 – Nebraska (’63, ’70, ’71, ’80, ’82, ’84, ’86, ’94, ’95, ’96, ’97, ’99, ’00, ’03, ’09)

15 – Texas (’61, ’63, ’64, ’69, ’72, ’75, ’81, ’01, ’02, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’18)

14 – Ohio State (’54, ’68, ’73, ’86, ’93, ’96, ’98, ’02, ’03, ’05, ’14, ’15, ’17, 18)

12 – Clemson (’78, ’81, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16, ’18)

12 – Tennessee (’50, ’70, ’71, ’72, ’87, ’89, ’95, ’96, ’98, ’01, ’04, ’07)

11 – LSU (’58, ’61, ’87, ’96, ’01, ’03, ’05, ’06, ’10, ’13, ’18)

11 – Notre Dame (’70, ’73, ’74, ’77, ’88, ’89, ’91, ’92, ’93, ’15, ’17)

10 – Washington (’59, ’60, ’77, ’79, ’81, ’82, ’84, ’90, ’91, ’00)

10 – Wisconsin (’93, ’98, ’99, ’05, ’06, ’09, ’14, ’15, ’16, ’17)

9 – Auburn (’72, ’74, ’83, ’86, ’89, ’97, ’04, ’06, ’10)

9 – Florida (’93, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’01, ’06, ’08, ’09, ’18)

9 – Miami (’83, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’00, ’01, ’03)

8 – Michigan (’80, ’85, ’97, ’98, ’99, ’02, ’11, ’15)

7 – Oregon (’00, ’01, ’08, ’11, ’12, ’13, ’14)

7 –  UCLA (’82, ’87, ’88, ’97, ’05, ’13, ’14)

As you can see, 18 schools, count them, 18 schools since 1950, have more 10-win seasons with a bowl victory than the University of Michigan. Alabama, Oklahoma, Penn State, USC, Florida State and Georgia have at least twice as many 10-win seasons with a bowl victory since 1950 than Michigan. Still think Michigan is elite? Leaders and Best? For as beloved as Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler was, he never won a national championship and his bowl record was 5-12.  His major bowl record was even worse at 2-10.

In the past 69 seasons, Michigan had one more 10-win season with a bowl victory than Oregon or UCLA. No one thinks of Oregon and UCLA as elite. No one. I ask you, how could a school and its fanbase rationalize that there are 18 schools with more 10-win seasons with a bowl victory than its school and consider itself elite? Is that not the definition of overrated? The very definition of overrated is having a higher opinion of (someone or something) than is deserved. They should put a picture of Michigan football and its fans next to the definition in the dictionary.

Well, what about recently? Michigan hasn’t won a Big 10 conference title in football since 2004. That’s 14 seasons ago.  Which teams have won Big 10 conference titles since 2005?

6 – Ohio State

3 – Penn State

3 – Wisconsin

2 – Michigan State

0 – Michigan

Does that strike you as Michigan being elite? Leaders and Best?

Michigan has also lost 14 of their last 15 games against their rival Ohio State. That’s hardly a rivalry, that’s more like Navy versus Notre Dame and Kentucky versus Florida. In fact, Navy has beaten Notre Dame and Kentucky has defeated Florida since the last time Michigan beat Ohio State.

In his four years at Michigan, the Wolverines’ ballyhooed head coach Jim Harbaugh has a record 1-9 vs. top 10 teams, 1-3 in bowl games, and 0-4 vs Ohio State. In each of the past three seasons, the Wolverines continued their tradition of ending the year poorly with a season-ending loss against Ohio State and then a bowl-game loss. In 2016, it was a 1-3 finish over the last four games, in 2017, an 0-3 finish, and in 2018 an 0-2 finish to the season.

For all the hubris that Michigan fans have, it’s hardly warranted compared to other schools. Michigan is the most overrated blue-blood football program. Their supporters always point to their past, but it’s been longer than 70 years ago since Michigan truly was elite. No one under the age of 75 remembers Michigan winning two national championships in their lifetime. Those that attended Michigan and experienced the 1948 national championship would now be in their 90s.

By comparison, Clemson and Alabama students still in school have experienced two national championships. If you want to watch highlights when Michigan was truly amongst college football’s elite, you will not find it on ESPN Classic. You might have to watch the History Channel because Michigan hasn’t been truly elite for a long, long time.

Photo credit:  larrysphatpage on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

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:


Sorry Pitt fans, Pitt is not Running Back U. Not even close.

Living in Southwest Pennsylvania, I often hear Pitt fans boast about how they are Running Back U based upon the success of Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy, and James Conner in the NFL. They have been successful yes, but well, that’s about it as far as Pitt goes – for the past 50 years.

Certainly, credit goes to Pitt for two of the NFL’s greatest running backs in Dorsett and Martin, but I believe that speaks to the quality of football players from Southwest Pennsylvania as much as anything else.

For those that believe that it is what a college player does in the NFL that makes up a so-called position U, I get that, but when I ask the following questions no one who follows that notion answers them:  If a college produced 10 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks in a 15-year time period, but they all amounted to squat in the NFL, that school wouldn’t be considered Quarterback U?  That’s ridiculous, of course it should. One shouldn’t dismiss what a player accomplished in college if he didn’t do well in the NFL. Charlie Ward won the Heisman Trophy at Florida State and he opted to play in the NBA instead of the NFL, but since he didn’t choose to play in the NFL, doesn’t his winning the Heisman Trophy have any meaning to Florida State and Florida State’s quarterback history?

The other question I pose to which I never get a response from those that feel it’s what a player does in the NFL that matters is: What about players that play a different position in the NFL than in college?

For example, should Terrelle Pryor count as a wide receiver for Ohio State? It’s what a player does in the NFL that matters they’ll say, but Pryor never played wide receiver at Ohio State, so why does what he accomplishes as a wide receiver count towards Ohio State being Wide Receiver U?

What about Antwaan Randle El? Does he count towards Indiana as Wide Receiver U? He played quarterback at Indiana. What about Derrick Ramsey, the tight end from Oakland? He played quarterback at Kentucky. Should he count towards Kentucky being Tight End U?  Julian Edelman, the Patriots wide receiver played quarterback at Kent State University. Does Kent State get credit towards Wide Receiver U based on Edelman’s pro career when he played quarterback in college?

What about Matt Cassell?  Does he count towards USC being Quarterback U?  He never started a game at USC and had only 33 pass attempts and had 20 completions in his collegiate career.

That’s why to me, it’s what the players produce at that position while they’re in college that should count towards that school being deemed a position U.

Since 1969, Penn State has produced 10 All-American running backs (Charlie Pittman ’69, Lydell Mitchell ’71, John Cappeletti ’73, Curt Warner ’81 & ‘82, D.J.Dozier ’86, Blair Thomas ’89, Ki-Jana Carter ’94, Curtis Enis ’97, Larry Johnson ’02 and Saquon Barkley ’16 & ’17). In that same time frame, Pitt has produced only five (Tony Dorsett ’73-’76, Craig Heyward ’87, LeSean McCoy ’08, Dion Lewis ’09 and James Conner ’14).

Pitt’s number of five All-American running backs would not even be in the top 14 of schools with All-American running backs since 1968.

The schools that have produced the most All-America running backs since 1968:

10 – Alabama, Penn State, Stanford

9 – USC, Wisconsin

8 – Ohio State, Texas, UCLA

6 – Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State

For the sake of discussion, we’ll consider that it’s what a school’s players accomplish in the NFL that matters and see if Pitt fans boasting they are Running Back U and especially so over Penn State has any validity.

I think we would all agree that 14,813 yards rushing is a lot of yards rushing. That would be good for fourth place all-time in NFL history and only 458 yards short of the career rushing total of the great Barry Sanders. Well, that 14,813 yards represents the difference between the rushing yards gained by Penn State’s running backs in the NFL and those from the University of Pittsburgh all-time.

I used both schools list of players that played in the NFL from their respective media guides. Then I entered that player’s name in If there’s anyone I missed, please by all means point them out to me as a comment and their rushing yards.

The breakdown for Penn State and Pitt’s running backs yards gained in the NFL is as follows:

Penn State                          74757            Pitt                                        59944
Richie Anderson                 3149            Kevan Barlow                       3984
Saquon Barkley                   1307           Tom Brown                                29
Gary Brown                         4300            Dick Cassiano                            84
John Cappelletti                  2951            Bob Clemens                                9
Ki-Jana Carter                      1144           James Conner                        1117
D.J. Dozer                                691           Jim Cunningham                     337
Chuck Drazenovich              330           Tony Dorsett                         12739
Jeff Durkota                              66           Bill Dutton                                169
Omar Easy                                  4           Bobby Epps                               771
Curtis Enis                            1497           Carles Gladman                         29
Sam Gash                                327           Nick Goings                            1470
Mike Guman                       1286            Marshall Goldberg                1644
Franco Harris                   12120            Craig Heyward                       4301
Dick Hoak                            3965            Jack Itzel                                      11
Tony Hunt                                25            Ben Kish                                    344
Larry Joe                                  18            George Kracum                        169
Larry Johnson                     6223           Dion Lewis                               2101
Roger Kochman                    232           Curtis Martin                         14101
Tim Manoa                            938            LeSean McCoy                      10606
Eric McCoo                              54            Randy McMillen                     3876
Sean McHugh                        301           Brandon Miree                           57
Mike Meade                           261           Mike Nixon                                    5
Brian Milne                           126            Larry Peace                                   2
Lydell Mitchell                   6534            Lousaka Polite                          296
Booker Moore                       420            Billy Reynolds                          585
Lenny Moore                      5174            Curvin Richards                       181
Michael Robinson                422            Mike Sebastan                            83
Fran Rogel                           3271            LaRod Stephens-Howling      670
Evan Royster                         416            Adam Walker                           115
Matt Suhey                          2946            Heinie Weisenbaugh                59
Steve Smith                         1627
Blair Thomas                      2236
Leroy Thompson               1390
Bob Torrey                              61
Wally Triplett                       321
Curt Warner                       6844
Kenny Watson                   1651
Jon Witman                          129

Penn State running backs have rushed for 74,751 yards and Pitt’s running backs have rushed for 59,944 yards in NFL history and Penn State has produced twice as many All-American running backs. Whether you go by what players do while in college, or what they accomplished in the NFL, sorry Pitt fans, Pitt is not Running Back U by either method. Penn State is a far greater Running Back U than Pitt.

Saquon Barkley photo courtesy of: pennstatenews on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Darrin Hall photo courtesy of:  SGSFilms on Visual Hunt / CC BY

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:

Pitt Football’s 10 most ignominious and memorable defeats

With Pitt’s return to the Sun Bowl to face Stanford to close out Pitt’s 2018 football season, the infamous 3-0 loss in the Sun Bowl 10 years earlier was revisited by the press and Pitt fans as a game Pitt fans would like to forget about. That got me to thinking, what were Pitt football’s 10 most ignominious and memorable defeats?

Which is the greater defeat and embarrassment?  Losing in record fashion with an incredible amount of talent to a good opponent at home or losing at home to a large underdog with far-lesser talent?  Or let a game that seems well in hand get away in record fashion? Pitt’s been there and done that.

Before we get to the 10 most ignominious and memorable defeats in modern Pitt football history, those Pitt losses that earn the distinction of dishonorable mention:

November 23, 1968 – at Pitt Stadium, it was third-ranked Penn State 65 Pitt 9. In what would be the third-loss in a row amidst a 10-game losing streak to Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, Penn State scored the first nine times they had the football and had a 45-9 lead at halftime. The Nittany Lions rushed for 456 yards and 618 yards of total offense. Penn State held Pitt to negative 17 yards rushing on 27 attempts.

November 6, 1971 – Notre Dame 56 @ Pitt 7 – How dominant was Notre Dame against Pitt this day? Notre Dame rushed for 464 yards and had 534 yards of total offense. Pitt would make only seven first downs on the afternoon and gained only two yards of offense in the second half.

November 16, 1996 – @ #14 Notre Dame 60 Pitt 6 – Pitt did its part in waking up the echoes for Notre Dame. The 60 points scored by the Fighting Irish were the most points they had scored in a game in 10 years and their 54-point margin of victory, the largest margin of victory in nearly 20 years. Notre Dame scored 40 points in the second quarter and led 40-0 at halftime and at one point in the game led 53-0 before Pitt would score a 4th quarter touchdown.

December 5, 2009 – Cincinnati 45 Pitt 44 @ Heinz Field.  Pitt had a three-touchdown lead in a game with just 1:26 on the clock before halftime in a game that was for the Big East championship and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.  The ensuing kickoff to Mardy Gilyard and his 99-yard touchdown return changed everything.

November 9, 2017 – UNC beats Pitt 34-31 with a third-string quarterback at Heinz Field making his first collegiate start. It would be North Carolina’s first win over a Power 5 conference foe in 369 days and the Tarheels only one in 2017. If any play typified Pitt’s night was when Quadree Henderson was heading for the pylon on a jet sweep, got stripped of the ball just before the goal line and a North Carolina linebacker picked it up and raced 64 yards before being tackled.

I started out by talking about the memorable 3-0 Pitt loss in the 2008 Sun Bowl to Oregon State, but once you go through this list, quite honestly, it only rates a dishonorable mention.

December 31, 2008 – Oregon State 3 Pitt 0 in the Sun Bowl. It was the lowest-scoring bowl game since Air Force and TCU tied at 0-0 in the 1959 Cotton Bowl. Oregon State played without their two star offensive players, Jacquizz and James Rodgers. As Paul Zeise, who covered the game for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote, “Players and coaches all would love to forget this Sun Bowl….there haven’t been many worse football games ever played, and certainly not in modern day football. The 2008 Sun Bowl was easily the most dreadful football game I ever attended.”

Which brings us to the 10 most ignominious losses in modern Pitt football history:

10. September 21, 2003 – Toledo upsets #9 Pitt 35-31. To that point Pitt was the highest-ranked team to ever play in the Glass Bowl in Toledo and the Panthers let a 10-point lead mid-way in the fourth quarter get away. Pittsburgh-native sophomore quarterback Bruce Gradkowski led the Rockets on their two final drives of 98 and 83 yards to beat the highly-ranked Panthers. Gradkowski completed 49 of his 62 passes and threw for 461 yards against the ninth-ranked Panthers.

9. August 30, 2008 – Bowling Green upsets #25 Pitt 27-17 at Heinz Field. In the 2008 season opener at Heinz Field, the Panthers were a 13-point favorite and had a 14-0 lead, outgaining the Falcons 137 to 6 in the first quarter. Going into this game, Pitt had never lost to a MAC team at home, winning all 24 of their previous games against MAC schools. It was Pitt’s worst upset home loss since losing to South Florida in 2001.

8. September 21, 1996 – Ohio State 72 Pitt 0. It was the worst defeat in school history. Thankfully, it didn’t happen in front of a home crowd but rather in Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes had a 52-0 halftime lead and the game wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The Panthers would amass four first downs, total, and only 120 yards of offense for the game. How bad was Pitt that day? David Boston returned a punt for a touchdown for Ohio State late in the fourth quarter with Ohio State having only eight players on the field.

7. September 8, 2018 – Penn State 51 @ Pitt 6 – in what would be Pitt’s worst-loss ever at Heinz Field, and it would come against their bitter rival Penn State. Pitt was still in the ballgame at halftime, trailing 14-6. The 45-point loss would be Pitt’s worst defeat since a 60-6 loss to Notre Dame in 1996. It was the worst-home loss since Notre Dame beat Pitt 56-7 in 1971. The 45-point margin was the worst loss to Penn State since a 65-9 loss to Penn State in 1968.

6. September 1, 2012 – Youngstown State 31 Pitt 17. Division 1-AA Youngstown State beats Pitt at Heinz Field. This was the season opener and the start of the Paul Chryst era and it also turned out to be Pitt’s first-ever loss to a lower-division team. It’s one thing to lose to Penn State or Ohio State. It’s entirely another matter to lose to Youngstown State.

5. September 8, 2001 – USF 35 Pitt 26 – USF was in their first year as a full FBS member and a 22-point underdog against Pitt when they visited Heinz Field back in 2001. USF led at halftime 14-7 and would score touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half to take a 28-7 lead. The Bulls would gain 443 yards of offense on the day and sacked Pitt quarterback David Priestly six times and held Pitt’s running attack to 12 yards on the afternoon. At the time, it was arguably the most stunning loss in Pitt football history.

4. January 2, 2015 – Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl – Leave it to Pitt to lose in historic fashion. With less than 11 minutes left in the game, Houston trailed Pitt by 25 points, 31-6. The game should be over, right? But no, Pitt happens. The Cougars would end up winning 35-34 as Pitt blew the largest fourth-quarter lead ever in the history of college football bowl games and it happened in less than 11 minutes of game time! The Cougars had 292 yards of offense …. in the fourth quarter. The term Pitting grows in lexicon stature as a result as Pitt takes Pitting to new depths.

3. October 28, 2014 – Georgia Tech 56 Pitt 28 – Pitt lost four fumbles in their first six plays, and lost five fumbles on their first five possessions. I kid you not, on Homecoming no less, and Georgia Tech took advantage and scored 28 first-quarter points. Georgia Tech set a record for most points scored by an opponent at Heinz Field with 56 and set a Heinz Field rushing record rushing with 465 yards. The following was written in an article about the game, “Outstanding ineptitude, thy name is Pitt.”

Even chimed in and when the title of the article is: “The Pitt Panthers Are Desecrating The Game Of Football.” That’s not good.

2. September 16, 2017 – Oklahoma State 59 @ Pitt 21 – The Cowboys scored on each of their first seven possessions and had 516 yards of offense…by halftime and led Pitt 49-14. Oklahoma State would finish with 676 yards of total offense, 572 of that through the air and the Cowboys had four 100-yard receivers in the game.

In a game that was televised by ESPN and during the second half non-game action shots would become the lasting images of this debacle. Images of fans sleeping in the stands at Heinz Field with no one around them for rows in each direction and then displayed on the Heinz Field scoreboard: Those students that stay throughout the game will get a free beverage. It wasn’t worth it. It was Pitt’s worst loss ever at Heinz Field, till the following season against Penn State.

Why is this game number two on the list instead of Penn State’s drubbing of Pitt in 2018? Unlike the Pitt-Penn State game of 2018 this game was no longer competitive well before halftime. Everyone knew it was over and all that was left was for the television cameras to show fans asleep in the stands during the second half of the game.

Drum roll please. The most ignominious and memorable defeat in Pitt football history is:

1. November 29, 1981 – Penn State 48 #1 Pitt 14 – Just say the score and Pitt fans know it all too well. The 34-point defeat is still, to this day, nearly 38 years later, the largest margin of defeat for a number one-ranked team ever home or away, and it happened at Pitt Stadium. What made it even harder to take was that Pitt led 14-0 and was driving for another touchdown and Pitt’s all-time greatest quarterback Dan Marino was intercepted in the end zone and that changed the momentum of the game and Pitt’s national championship hopes would begin to slip away. Talk about a momentum swing. It unleashed a Penn State tsunami scoring 48 straight unanswered points against the top-ranked Panthers.

Why is this the choice as the most ignominious loss in Pitt history? Even though it was against a quality opponent, Pitt’s 1981 team was ranked number one in the nation and had far too much talent to lose at home – to their arch-rival – on the final game of the regular season – with a national championship on the line – by five touchdowns. This game had so much riding on it and how it turned out, the score is forever remembered by Pitt fans in infamy.

Interestingly, a Pitt loss has made this list in four of the past five seasons. One never knows what the 2019 football season might bring.

Photo credit: SGSFilms on / CC BY

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:




How many NCAA titles would Joe Paterno have won if he had the college football playoff?

Is it easier or harder for a head coach to win a national championship in college football now than it was years ago? College football analyst Kirk Herbstreit stated he believe it was easier today for a head coach to win a national championship because of the college football playoff which gives more teams an opportunity to win the national championship.

If we were still using the old poll system, Alabama would not have played for the national championship this past January and Nick Saban would not had the opportunity to win his sixth national title. Think about that. Alabama would have been on the outside looking in on the national championship picture and would not have played for a national championship but instead just played in a bowl game.

A school that didn’t even win its division, let alone play for a conference championship, won the national championship. That would have never happened in the pre-BCS, pre-playoff era. National championships were harder to come by because of reduced opportunities, poll politics and bowl affiliations.

In today’s current format, all you need to do is finish in the top four and you have a shot at a national championship. In the past, before the playoff system and the BCS, a team could be ranked #2 and not had a shot at a national title if the #1-ranked team had a conference-affiliated tie to a bowl game or for that matter, if the #2-ranked team did as well. The #2-ranked team had to hope the #1-ranked team lost as they seldom met in a bowl game to decide the national championship.

For example, years ago, if Alabama was #2 and USC was #1, USC would have faced the Big 10 Conference representative in the Rose Bowl as the Rose Bowl had automatic tie-ins to the PAC-8, 10 or 12 and the Big 10 conferences. Therefore, if USC won, Alabama could not prove on the field head-to-head versus USC who the real national champion was.

A counter argument is teams now play more games and therefore have additional opportunity to lose those games, but you can win a national championship today without winning your division or even playing in your conference championship game. Alabama did it in 2017. Ohio State made the four-team playoff in 2016 without winning the Eastern division of the Big 10 conference.

It makes one wonder, how many final fours would Penn State been in under Joe Paterno? Let’s look back at the polls during Paterno’s years when he had an outstanding team, and when Penn State would have been in the college football playoff conversation.

At the end of the 1968 regular season, the top four ranked teams in the country were: Ohio State, USC, Penn State and Georgia. Penn State was 10-0 and Ohio State had a 9-0 record. The Buckeyes defeated number two-ranked USC 27-16 in the Rose Bowl and Penn State beat 6th-ranked Kansas 15-14 in the Orange Bowl. Penn State would finish the season ranked second, undefeated and uncrowned. It was the consensus that Ohio State was the best team in the country in 1968. A Penn State-Ohio State game would have been a titanic battle of two strong running attacks against two outstanding run defenses.

In 1969, at the end of the regular season, the Nittany Lions were ranked second behind Texas and ahead of Arkansas and Ohio State. It has been well documented how Penn State ended up not getting to play Texas in the Cotton Bowl to determine a national champion on the field that year. For those that may not be aware, bowl game invitations were extended by bowl game committees in November before the end of the regular season to get the bowl committee’s desired team locked in as quickly as possible. Ohio State was ranked number one and in the midst of a 22-game winning streak and it looked like they would go undefeated and repeat as national champions.

Ohio State was heavily favored to beat Michigan and they would repeat as national champions.  On November 17th, the top four ranked teams in the country were: Ohio State, Texas, Arkansas and Penn State. Number two-ranked Texas had yet to play third-ranked Arkansas. It seemed highly unlikely that fourth-ranked Penn State would have an opportunity to play for the national championship and Penn State’s players elected to return to the Orange bowl in Miami which they enjoyed a great deal the year before and avoid the existing racial tension in Dallas, Texas.

Michigan under first-year head coach Bo Schembechler pulled off an incredible upset defeating the Buckeyes 24-12. After the Ohio State loss, in a battle of then the top-two teams in the country, #1 Texas defeated #2 Arkansas 15-14, and that’s why Texas was ranked number one with a commitment to the Cotton Bowl and Penn State was ranked number two with their commitment to the Orange Bowl.

James Vautravers does an excellent job discussing whether Texas or Penn State should have been ranked number one in his article found online at: At the time, Texas’ wishbone offense ran roughshod against all their Southwest Conference foes. In the 1972 Cotton Bowl, with time to prepare, Paterno’s defense held Texas’ vaunted wishbone attack without a touchdown for the first time in 80 games going all the way back to 1964 in one of the most lopsided games in Cotton Bowl history, winning by a score of 30-6.

Paterno proved, with time to prepare, that Penn State could stop the wishbone offense and he had a better team in 1969, particularly on defense, than he did in 1972 when Penn State shut down Texas’ offense. Penn State may well have been the best team in the country in 1969, however, Penn State would again finish the season ranked second, again undefeated and uncrowned. Good luck convincing a Nittany Lion fan that Penn State would not have won the 1969 national championship had there been a playoff system.

In 1973 after going through the season undefeated, Penn State found itself ranked sixth before the bowl games took place. That year Alabama, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Michigan were also undefeated and at that time Eastern football was not regarded as highly as in other parts of the country. Oklahoma, however, was on probation and ineligible to play in a bowl game. Bill Connelly breaks down how he thought the 1973 four-team playoff would have been in his article found online at:

With the biases that existed by voters in the Associated Press Poll against Eastern football, I do not believe Penn State would have been one of the four teams chosen to make the playoff and with how the Nittany Lions struggled with 13th-ranked LSU in the Orange Bowl, Penn State may not have fared as well against Alabama or Notre Dame.

Penn State under Paterno had four opportunities to play in the game win the national championship and had a record of 2-2 in them. The first was Penn State’s 1978 team that played in a #1 vs. #2 showdown in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama but the Nittany Lions lost 14-7 to Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide as Alabama’s defense had a goal-line stand for the ages denying Penn State a tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.

At the end of the 1981 season, Penn State was playing perhaps the best football of any team in the country. Penn State defeated Notre Dame 23-21 and you may recall Penn State destroying #1-ranked Pitt on the road 48-14 which still is the worst loss by a number one-ranked team at home in college football history and then the Nittany Lions went on to defeat USC 26-10 in the Fiesta Bowl. However, because of a loss in week seven to Miami 17-14 and a second defeat two weeks later to Alabama 31-16, the Nittany Lions fell to number 14 in the polls and worked their way back up to number six in the final regular season polls and would not have been selected to a four-team college playoff in 1981. Penn State finished the season ranked third in the nation and very much looking forward to 1982.

If you bought golf balls with Joe Paterno’s likeness on them, the joke was they were guaranteed to go up the middle every time, but Penn State’s 1982 team was the first national championship team to have more passing yards than rushing yards on offense, and in addition, the Nittany Lions played the toughest schedule in the country that year.  Penn State’s national championship in 1982 against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl was a national championship game showdown leaving no doubt as to which team deserved the national championship.

Penn State’s 1985 team lost in the Orange Bowl to Oklahoma 25-10 as the Nittany Lions went into that game ranked #1 in the country but lost to the #3 Oklahoma Sooners but many sensed that Penn State’s 1985 team was a year ahead of schedule.

The following season, Penn State won its second national championship in five years defeating Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl, winning the Duel in the Desert in a national championship game format which ultimately led to the BCS format pitting the number one and two teams against each other in a national championship game.

Even though Penn State finished ranked third in the final AP Poll in 1991 with an 11-2 record, they likely would have been left out of the four-team college football playoff. That year Washington and Miami both finished the regular season with 11-0 records and Florida and Michigan were both 10-1 and ranked ahead of 10-2 Penn State in the AP Poll as was a 10-2 Florida State team. In the Coaches Poll, Penn State was ranked fifth behind 10-2 Florida State in the final regular season poll.

Just say 1994 to a Penn State football fan and they know. The undefeated 1994 Penn State team had perhaps the greatest balanced offense in the history of college football. The ’94 team averaged 250.9 yards per game rushing and 269.3 yards per game passing and averaged 47.8 points per game and that’s with the starters out of the lineup for most of the games by the fourth quarter.

Along the way, the ’94 team destroyed traditional powerhouses USC 38-14, leading 35-0 at halftime, and Ohio State by a 63-14 score and those scores could have been even more lopsided had Paterno chose to keep his starters in longer. The 1994 season saw Penn State ranked number one in week seven, beat a number 21-ranked Ohio State team by 49 points that had in their starting lineup:  Joey Galloway, Eddie George, Terry Glenn, Bobby Hoying, Orlando Pace, Sean Springs, Korey Stringer and Mike Vrabel, and yet Penn State dropped in the rankings to number two because third-ranked Nebraska beat number two Colorado 24-7 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

1994 was another undefeated season for Joe Paterno and Penn State to finish ranked second in the polls. For a team that never scored fewer than 31 points in a game and for the national championship to not at least be shared was a travesty. 1994’s national championship was viewed as a present to Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne after failing to win it so many times in the past.

In 2005, Penn State finished the regular season ranked third in the BCS rankings behind undefeated USC and Texas. Ohio State, a team Penn State defeated earlier in the season 17-10, was ranked fourth. Texas would go on to defeat USC in perhaps the greatest college football game of all time to win the national championship. As good as Penn State’s defense was that year, it’s doubtful they had the offense to stay with juggernauts Texas or USC. Penn State struggled with #22 Florida State in the Orange Bowl winning in overtime 26-23.

In 2008, a loss in game 10 at Iowa sent undefeated and third-ranked Penn State down to number seven in the polls. At the end of the regular season, 11-1 Penn State could only climb back up to sixth in the AP Poll. Ahead of the Nittany Lions were all one-loss teams:  Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, and USC. USC would go on to beat Penn State 38-24 in the Rose Bowl.

1969 and 1994 were undoubtedly the two most likely years that Penn State would have won a national championship had there been a four-team playoff. One could also state that Paterno’s 24-12-1 record in bowl games makes for an even stronger case for success in the college football playoffs. Penn State certainly would have made the college football playoff in those years and Paterno could have, and most likely would have, won at least two more than the two national titles he did under the old poll system.

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:

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Alabama @ LSU – Alabama’s First Test Towards History?

If there’s been one story that stands out in the 2018 College Football season thus far, it would be the outstanding play of Heisman-Trophy frontrunner Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and how well defending national champion Alabama, particularly their offense, is playing thus far.

Imagine after eight games averaging more than 50 points per game and being touted as perhaps the greatest offense in college football history and defeating your first eight opponents by an average of 38.5 points per game. How could a team that good lose?

For fans and media alike that are ready to coronate Alabama as undefeated national champions and the greatest team ever, as ESPN analyst Lee Corso so aptly puts it, “Not so fast my friend.” That team wasn’t this year’s Alabama squad but rather the 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Cornhuskers went 12-0 and faced the fifth-ranked Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl and lost 31-30 and the national championship on a missed two-point conversion.

After eight games this year, Alabama’s average margin of victory is 38.3 points per game defeating their opponents by 37, 50, 55, 22, 42, 34, 29, and 37 points respectfully, with the best team the Crimson Tide faced being then #22-ranked Texas A&M. On Saturday, November 2nd, Alabama will face its stiffest test of the season thus far when they travel to Baton Rouge to play the fourth-ranked LSU Tigers.

Another team that had a comparable average margin of victory, that being 37.8 points per game, and like Alabama was defending national champion and being touted as perhaps the greatest college football team of all-time were the 1969 Ohio State Buckeyes. In a run-first, lower-scoring era, the Buckeyes defeated their opponents that season by margins of 62, 27, 33, 27, 41, 29, 55 and 28 and then ran into Bo Schembechler and the Michigan Wolverines pulling off one of the greatest and most memorable upsets in college football history beating the Buckeyes 24-12.

Even a team as talented as the 2001 Miami Hurricanes had close calls defeating Boston College by only 11 points, 18-7, and 14th-ranked Virginia Tech by only two points 26-24. You may recall the 2002 Miami Hurricanes were also looking to repeat as national champions and went undefeated during their regular season but lost in a controversial national championship game in overtime 31-24 to Ohio State.

After eight games last year, Alabama was also 8-0 and had defeated their first eight opponents by an average of 33.2 points per game, and that team did not manage to go undefeated on its way to an eventual national championship.

The 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers on their way to a second consecutive national championship defeated their first eight opponents that season by 27, 28, 27, 36, 36, 55, 28 and 24 points respectfully winning by an average of 32.6 points per game. Older Alabama fans remember how good that team was beating number two-ranked Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl.

The one team that this year’s Alabama squad is beginning to be compared to is the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers who are generally acclaimed as the greatest college football team ever. The ’95 Huskers margin of victory over their first eight opponents was 36.5 points per game. That season saw Nebraska defeat their opponents by 43, 40, 49, 42, 14, 57, 24, 23, 59, 38, 37 and 38 points respectfully. The closest game Nebraska had that season was against Washington State winning 35-21.

Will 2018 Alabama be eventually compared to the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers or be like the 1983 Nebraska team? The rest of this season will determine that.

Let’s not coronate Alabama as national champions and the greatest team ever until that crown is earned. There are games to be played before any coronation ceremonies are to take place and Alabama’s first big test is on Saturday in Baton Rouge, but we could indeed be watching perhaps the greatest college football team ever.

Photo credit: shelby wants to be riding on Visualhunt / CC BY-ND

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: