BY DON SCOTT
READING – Steve Blass, former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher, was one of the featured speakers at the 54th Reading Hotstovers banquet on Thursday, Jan. 15.
Signed by the Pirates in 1960, he won 18 games in 1968, and in 1969 won 16 with a career-high 147 strikeouts. From 1969 to 1972 Blass won 60 games, with a career-high 19 victories in 1972 and made the National League All-Star team.
In the 1971 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, he pitched two complete-game wins, including the seventh-game win to finish behind Roberto Clemente as the MVP.
Besides his Series performance, Blass is best known for his sudden and inexplicable loss of control following the 1972 season, after going five consecutive years with 30-plus starts. He detailed his career-changing dilemma in a 2012 autobiography, “A Pirate For Life”.
“The first chapter was about my demise, because I thought that would make it different than the average baseball book,” Blass said. “Nobody went through what I did in baseball for two years.”
Blass’ move into broadcasting followed a brief time as a sales representative, but its only job he’s had since that time.
“Where I lived, growing up in Connecticut, there was a lot of ‘old money’ and people who worked for the old money, so there weren’t many opportunities for me after baseball to go back there,” said Blass. “Pittsburgh welcomed my family when we got there and I’ve lived in the same house for 42 years, so I know the guys at the grocery store and gas station.”
Blass joined the Pirates’ TV and radio broadcast team in 1983, as a part-time color commentator, earning a full-time post in 1986. Since the 2005 season, he has only worked home games, in order to spend more time with his family.
“I was a voracious reader and loved words, so I figured if I could jump in, make my point and get out without intruding on the play-by-play guy I’d take a shot at a broadcasting job,” Blass said about the move into the booth. “They’ve told me as long as I don’t do anything irreverent or immoral I can keep doing it.
“From my point, I’ve asked the Pirates to be my friend and tell me when it’s time to give it up and they promised they would do that,” Blass added. “I feel good so for now I’ll keep going.I know how hard it is to play the game, but if a guy boots a ball I’ll be the first one to point it out. I won’t make a big thing of it unless it has a bearing on the outcome, because mental and physical errors are part of the game.”
The 73-year old Blass admitted he’s making more money now than when he played, and that the players needed a union, but it’s the TV money that is allowing the huge salaries being paid now.
Recalling his career, Blass said: “I played 10 years with Roberto Clemente, who was my teammate, my friend and my hero. He had such a presence, and to be a major-league player you need to be pretty damn good. He had that presence just kneeling in the on-deck circle.
“I just couldn’t take my eyes off him, so I didn’t miss anything he did,” Blass added. “I told him if I ever had to pitch to him I’d throw him nothing but inside stuff, because he hit .350 on outside pitches. That era from 1955 to 1985, the quality of the talent was unbelievable. I played with Hall of Famers Bill Mazeroski, Willie Stargell and Clemente and pitched against Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Sandy Kouffax and Don Drysdale.
“Things were certainly a lot different back then. We were forbidden, forbidden to touch any weights and were told to rest our body in the off-season. We went to spring training to get in shape but that’s also changed in all the sports. Now the money dictates this but I don’t want to be a hypocrite and say I wouldn’t love to be playing now.”
According to Blass, the baseball environment in Pittsburgh is getting the kids back to the game. But, in his opinion, the next thing needed is to get the World Series played in the daytime, like it should be.
“That’s the way we grew up running home from school to catch the last 2-3 innings,” Blass stated. “There’s something very important when the games end so late at night, when the kids can’t be watching. That’s true of all sports, but baseball has paid a bigger penalty.
“We got a lesson in the World Series, about how a pitcher can come back after what was it, two day’s rest, and I hope the owners paid attention to that,” Blass continued. “The old theory was the more you pitched, the more you built up arm strength, and the more arm strength you built up, the more you resisted injury.”
Blass concluded the chat with: “After I was retired, I threw a little at the Pittsburgh Fantasy Camp, then, 25-30 years after I stopped playing, I talked to a performance coach who worked with me. I picked up a ball and threw eight innings without a problem. I really just wanted to see if I could find the joy of throwing a baseball again. I did and that’s all I needed.”