This article was originally published in the Oct. 30, 1971, issue of The Sporting News.
BALTIMORE, Md. — To many critics, there was a hollow ring in Roberto Clemente’s assurance to his teammates: “Don’t worry, I’ll pick you up when we get to Pittsburgh.”
And there were rows of arched eyebrows when Danny Murtaugh insisted: “We’re an underrated ball club. We’re better than most people give us credit for being and ourpitiching is plenty strong enough to win this thing.”
The “thing” happened to be the 1971 World Series, and preliminary indications were that the Orioles would sweep the Pirates into the Allegheny-Monongahela waterways just they had brushed them into Chesapeake Bay in the first two game of the Series.
Convincing victories by 5-3 and 11-3 scores in the first two games promised little for the Pirates except a long winter of licking their wounds and finding the most lucrative spots to invest their losers’ shares of approximately $14,000.
Between Baltimore and Pittsburgh on Oct. 11-12 a dramatic transformation occurred. The forensics of star outfielder Clemente and Manager Murtaugh grew suddenly meaningful and, just as quickly, the Pirates gained stature as a solid Series competitor.
As Clemente predicted, he spearheaded a batting revival. As Murtaugh forecast, the Pirate pitching gained fresh respect.
From a record-tying total of 14 runners left on base in the second game, the Pirates turned economical. Hits were converted into runs and, behind the glittering efforts of Steve Blass, Bruce Kison and Nelson Briles, the whole complexion of the 68th fall classic was turned from blue to rosy red in Buc land.
Blass scattered three hits, Kison, relieving the first inning, allowed one hit, out a total of four, and Briles yielded only two harmless singles. Inadequate pitching, indeed.
After five games, there was talk of the Pirates becoming the first team to win four consecutive games after losing the first two.
Puerto Rican Pulverizer
Jim Palmer and the Robinsons, Frank and Brooks, quashed such chatter in Game No. 6. And, just as it seemed that the Series would follow a home-club-take-all pattern, Blass came back with a four-hit spectacular in the deciding contest to account for the Pirates’ fourth world championship.
Pirate clubs also won in 1909, ’25, and ’60, and lost in 1903 and ’27.
Clemente, true to his promise, maintained a withering attack on Oriole pitching that featured four 20-game winners. The Puerto Rican Pulverizer batted .414 and barely failed to equal the seven-game Series record of 13 hits, set by Bobby Richardson of the 1964 Yankees and tied by Lou Brock of the 1968 Cardinals.
Clemente did, however, equal one record. By hitting safely in each of the seven games, matching his performance in the 1960 Series, Roberto equalled a mark set by Hank Bauer of the Yankees of the late 1950s.
For his two appearances in the Series, Clemente boasts a .360 bat mark. He was 9-for-29 in the Bucs’ seven-game victory over the Yankees 11 years ago.
As a result of his incandescent performance, Roberto was acclaimed the outstanding player of the Series and was awarded the sports car presented annually by a magazine.
‘A coal hole’
Clemente’s on-the-field activities vied with his oratory proclivities for Series headlines.
At one point, while the teams were playing on the velvety artificial turf at Three Rivers Stadium, Robert proclaimed Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium as “the worst field I’ve played on in the major leagues. It’s tough picking up the ball coming off the bat,” he moaned. “And the holes and ditches make it impossible to charge hits in the outfield.”
Frank Robinson, resident right fielder for the Orioles, agreed. “It’s tough playing right field sometimes, yes, but I don’t go around crying about it. Why does he? He’s supposed to be so great. He should be able to adjust.
“He played in a coal hole (Forbes Field, former home of the Bucs) all his career until he got into Three Rivers and now he’s going around putting down other parks. If worse comes to worse, maybe he can watch where I play and take it from there.”
The barrage ceased as quickly as it commenced and Clemente spent the last two days assaulting Baltimore pitching rather than real estate.
While the Orioles were sweeping the Athletics in the Championship Series, Earl Weaver labeled his three-time pennant winners “the greatest club in the history of baseball.”
Those who recalled Yankee five-time winners of 1949-53 and (four-time winners of 1961)-64 took a dim view of Earl’s generous evaluation. When the final out was registered at 4:10 p.m. (EDT), Weaver was asked how come his defending champions reigned so briefly.
“Clemente was great, Kison turned the Series around, but Blass was Mr. World Series,” replied the apt phrase-maker.
It was a fitting tribute from the winner of 318 games in three seasons to a 29-year-old righthander who allowed only seven hits and one run in 18 innings.
Winner of 15 games in regular-season play, but hammered cruelly in the playoffs, Blass kept Baltimore off stride constantly with his change-ups.
One more hit
Oracles who predicted that the old pro Orioles would get to Blass the second time around found no need to apologize. The Birds solved him for one more hit, four.
When the Series returned to this city for the windup games, Weaver took every step to shake the Bird bat lethargy.
On the afternoon of October 15, after supervising an Oriole workout, Earl shrugged his worries and visited the Laurel race track.
He strongly resisted a temptation to plunk a bob or two on a perfect hunch, Floperoo, in the second race. It would have him $8.40.
“I didn’t play any of the races,” he reported. “But if I had, I’d have won about $110 or $120.
Because Bird broadcaster Bill O’Donnell had fetcher the Pirate lineup to Weaver in all three Pittsburgh gams — each a loss — Earl switched his strategy for the Baltimore windup.
“Where’s Hatter?” he inquired in the dugout before Game No. 6.
Baltimore Sun baseball writer Lou Hatter appeared shortly, reading off the Bucco lineup.
“We we win the last two games,” Weaver explained, “Hatter gets any suit he want from my tailor.”
Thanks to Blass, Clemente and fellow conspirators, Mr. Hatter will have to make his old tweeds do a while longer.
On the morning of October 18, however, Earl Weaver went shopping. He bought a piece of luggage to start packing for the the Orioles’ 28-day tour of Japan, beginning October 20.
He hardly appreciated the reminder that the Orioles, in losing, merely conformed to tradition. No world champion has ever toured Japan.