Steve Blass has lived, what he calls, "an incredibly blessed life".
Blass told stories of his life to local fans at a Jammers Luncheon held on Monday at the Conewango Club in Warren.
Blass won two games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1971 World Series, including the decisive 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. He's still with the organization, currently serving as an analyst for the team's television and radio broadcasts. This year is his 54th with the team.
Times Observer photo by Andrew Morrison
Longtime Pirate visits Warren
Pittsburgh Pirates legend, as a player and broadcaster, Steve Blass, middle, was the guest speaker at the Jammers Luncheon Monday at the Conewango Club in Warren.
Times Observer photo by Andrew Morrison
Young fan Jared Bupp waits for an autograph from Pirates legend Steve Blass during the Jammers Luncheon Monday at the Conewango Club in Warren. 2014 marks Steve Blass' 54th year of involvement with the Pirates organization, having been associated with the club since signing his first professional contract on June 27th, 1960.
He began by telling stories of his minor league career. His first full season of professional baseball was spent in Class D (Now Single-A Short Season) with the Batavia Pirates. He lived in a single-room apartment in Batavia for, "Believe it or not, $1 per night," he said, and his time as a minor leaguer was imperative to his Major League success.
"Minor League Baseball is critically, critically important to a player's development," Blass said. "I would have never have had any of the success I had if I hadn't played in the Minor Leagues."
Blass also said that, while he enjoyed his time as a Minor Leaguer, it wasn't for everyone.
"I signed my professional contract in 1960 with 42 other rookies." he said. "Only seven of us ever made it to the Major Leagues. I'm still living my dream thanks to the Pirates. They will have my loyalty forever."
He then captivated the crowd with a story from his rookie year in the Major Leagues.
"In one of my first starts of my rookie year, I pitched against Sandy Koufax," Blass recalled. "I was so nervous that I showed up to the ballpark at noon for a 7 p.m. start time. I warmed up more thoroughly than I ever had before, and threw every warm-up pitch as fast as I could. I was ready, until Koufax came out and threw the first pitch faster than I've ever seen anything move. After that pitch, Bill Mazeroski tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Pitch a shutout kid. We'll play for a tie.'"
Blass also was very appreciative of his Pirates teammates.
"I went to the University of Baseball," he said. "I was lucky enough to play with Dick Groat, Bob Friend, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Stargell, and Roberto Clemente. Not many people can say that."
Blass was especially fond of Clemente.
"Roberto Clemente was magic," he explained. "He was my hero, teammate, and friend. I saw him do things on the baseball field that will never be duplicated. I finished second to him in the 1971 World Series MVP voting, which is one of my most gratifying accomplishments."
After telling stories of his career, Blass turned his attention to the current state of the Pirates and Major League Baseball as a whole.
"I know a lot of people here are wondering why the Pirates are struggling this year," Blass said. "The reason is really quite simple. They need to hit better. The pitching is fine. The blame should not fall on one player. I believe the Pirates will start hitting better, and that will result in more wins."
Blass then addressed the new instant replay system in the Major Leagues.
"I hate it," Blass admitted. "I'm old school. Baseball is an imperfect game played by imperfect people. That's why it's the best sport in the world. I have an enormous amount of respect for the umpires in our game, and I think instant replay is hurting the game."
Blass personally thanked Northwest Savings Bank's Greg Lyle, Jammers General Manager Matthew Drayer, and Russell Diethrick, namesake of the Jammers' Diethrick Park, for making the event possible.
Blass also thanked the fans who attended and wished them well.
"I sincerely thank everyone here for coming out today, but I should stop talking so everyone can go back to work," he said. "I've never had a job. All I've ever done is play and watch baseball."