Starkey: McClendon's steal was legendary

| Monday, Dec. 21, 2009

This column is part of the Trib's series on the Decade in Pittsburgh Sports.

We could talk, in summing up the past 10 years of Pirates baseball, about how this was the worst decade in the franchise's 12-decade history.

We could talk about how ownership's betrayal of a passionate fan base was the predominant storyline.

But I'm going to keep it light.

To me, the most memorable in-game occurrence was Lloyd McClendon losing his mind and stealing first base on June 26, 2001, at PNC Park.

As then-Pirates outfielder Brian Giles said afterward, "That was one of the great snaps of all-time." later confirmed as much, ranking it the fourth-best coaching snap ever, behind Woody Hayes punching an opposing player, Bob Knight throwing a chair and Chicago Cubs manager Lee Elia telling his team's fans to "Go and get a (expletive) job!"

That's some serious company.

"I have to say, it's probably not my proudest moment," McClendon said from his home in Chesterton, Indiana. "But it's probably the most comical."

To recount, umpire Rick Reed had just called Jason Kendall out at first in the seventh inning of the Pirates' 7-6 victory over the Brewers. It was the second such play where McClendon felt his team was robbed.

McClendon bolted from the dugout, briefly argued with Reed and threw his cap. Then he really lost it: He yanked the first-base bag out of the ground and carried it all the way into the dugout, as the crowd of 24,120 went nuts.

Finally, somebody in a Pirates uniform was acting the way most of them felt!

"Rick said, 'You're not taking that bag,' " McClendon recalled. "I said, 'Yes I am.' "

The umpires didn't dare enter the dugout to retrieve the bag — that would have been akin to entering a pit bull's lair to retrieve a beef patty — but used a new one, instead.

After the ejection, a Pirates coach poked his head into McClendon's office to check on him.

"I didn't realize I'd ripped the skin off all my knuckles trying to get that damn thing out of the ground," McClendon said. "I said, 'Damn, that hurts.' "

The bag was on display in the Pirates' clubhouse the next day (McClendon doesn't know what became of it). McClendon, hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers, keeps a framed photograph of the incident in his home office.

I wondered if people ask him more about that or about the time, as a 12-year-old in the Little League World Series, he hit five home runs on five swings.

"About 50/50," he said.

His Little League heroics earned him the nickname "Legendary Lloyd," but let's be real: Hitting five home runs is nothing compared to stealing first base.

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