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The day Blass recalled his time with Bucs

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article appeared in The Post-Journal on April 29, 2014, the day after former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steve Blass spoke at the Conewango Club in Warren.

Former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steve Blass had a “homecoming” on Monday when he was the speaker at the Jamestown Jammers luncheon at the Conewango Club in Warren.

Blass had a 10-year career with the Pirates in which he recorded two complete-game wins in the 1971 World Series and was a member of the National League All-Star Team in 1972. And that all got started nearby in the New York-Penn League.

Blass said his thoughts when driving to Warren on Monday morning were, “I was going to revisit a special time — 1961 with the Batavia Pirates.”

He signed with the Pirates in 1960 and played 12 games in Kingsport, Tennessee and Dubuque, Iowa. But 1961 was his first full season of minor league baseball playing for the Batavia Pirates. And one of Batavia’s opponents was the Jamestown Tigers, so Blass played plenty of games at then-Municipal Stadium. And he pitched against a Jamestown outfielder, Jim Rooker, who later became a pitcher.

File photo In this April 2014 file photo, former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steve Blass signs an autograph at the Conewango Club in Warren.

Blass and Rooker eventually became teammates on the Pirates’ pitching staff, and after their careers were over, they became teammates in the broadcast booth. Rooker was already part of the Pirates’ radio broadcasting team when they were seeking another announcer. While interviews were being held, Blass recalled Rooker told the interviewers, “Stop messing around, hire Blass.”

Blass is still grateful as he is now in his 31st season behind the microphone.

Blass hasn’t forgotten his time in the minor leagues, and as he watches baseball today, he believes players are moved into the major leagues too quickly.

“Minor league baseball is critically important,” Blass said. “The more time you spend in the minor leagues, the better pre pared you are for the majors.”

He noted that he was one of 42 players the Pirates signed in 1960 and only seven lasted.

“I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Blass said. “We were living our dream.”

Blass could have signed with other teams, but he signed with the Pirates and appreciated them giving him a chance to play pro baseball. As a player and broadcaster, he has been with the team for 54 years.

“I will never quit on them,” he said.

Blass reached the major leagues in 1964 and he started off with a bang with a complete-game win against Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers in his first start.

Blass ended up with five wins that season and noted he wasn’t as successful agains the Dodgers’ other ace — Sandy Koufax.

He recalled being in the bullpen warming up in his first game against Koufax, who was throwing BBs in the other bullpen. Hall-of-Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski told Blass, “Pitch a shutout, kid, and we’ll play for a tie.”

Teammates such as Mazeroski were important to the success of Blass, who noted he didn’t go to college.

“I went to the university of professional baseball,” he said. “My professors were Roberto Clemente, Bob Friend, Dick Groat, Bill Mazeroski.”

And the list went on.

“Those guys helped me tremendously,” Blass said.

The highlight of his career was pitching in the 1971 World Series.

“Outside of my family, it’s one of the huge things in my life,” Blass said.

And making it better was he pitched a complete-game, three-hitter in Game 3 and a complete-game four-hitter in Game 7 to lock up the Pirates’ win over the Baltimore Orioles.

In 1972, Blass had his best season when he was 19-8 with a 2.48 ERA and was named to the NL All-star Team. But in 1973, Blass suddenly couldn’t find the plate and won only two more games. After spending most of the 1974 season in the minor leagues, Blass retired in March of 1975.

His situation became known as “Steve Blass disease.” He never did figure out what caused it.

“I went through two years of personal hell,” Blass said. “I didn’t want to quit.”

But he pointed out that his major-league career lasted 10 years and the average is 3.7 years.

“I got the bonus round,” he said.

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