John Steigerwald: Remember the 1979 Pirates? You must be old
So, how old would you have to be to remember the last time the Pirates were in the World Series?
I remember it well.
I was 30 years old and had been working at WTAE for four months when they opened the 1979 season at Three Rivers Stadium on April 5th with a 3-2 loss in 10 innings to the Montreal Expos. I covered the game.
The Pirates had two future Hall of Famers in their starting lineup -first baseman Willie Stargell, who had just turned 39 a month earlier, and starting pitcher Bert Blyleven.
Forty-nine year old Chuck Tanner was the manager.
The Pirates open this season in Cincinnati on Thursday, and it’s been 40 years since their last appearance in a World Series.
It’s also been that long since they won a postseason series.
So, would you need to have been at least 10 years old in 1979 to have a decent appreciation for that season? By my calculations, that would make you at least 50 today.
Want some perspective on how long it’s been?
PNC Park is twice as old as Three Rivers Stadium was in April 1979.
McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal, and ESPN was launched in 1979.
The day the Pirates open against the Reds will be the 40th anniversary of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster.
A few months before the Pirates opened the season 40 years ago, the Steelers, who had just won their third Super Bowl, drafted Greg Hawthorne in the first round. How old would you have to be to remember him? It was a terrible draft and the beginning of what would be a bad decade.
The San Francisco 49ers drafted Joe Montana in the third round, which was the beginning of a pretty good decade for them.
It’s been a long time.
If you’re old enough to remember the last time the Pirates won a championship it might not seem like ancient history to you, but it is.
If you run into someone who wasn’t alive for the “We Are Fami-Lee” Pirates and you catch yourself telling them about that season, here’s some more perspective: You telling someone about Willie Stargell and the ’79 Pirates today is the same as someone telling you about Paul and Lloyd Waner and the 1939 Pirates back in 1979.
Remember when you were young, how old you thought someone had to be to have seen the Waner brothers play?
We are as far removed from Willie Stargell as Stargell was from Big Poison and Little Poison.
Picture yourself sitting next to an old-timer at the home opener in 1979 and he starts telling you about Joe DiMaggio. If you remember Stargell, you’ve become that old-timer.
DiMaggio’s rookie year (1936) is only a little further away from the 1979 opener as that game is away from this year’s opener.
If you remember Chuck Tanner managing the Pirates that day and you tell your kids or grandchildren about it, you will be doing the equivalent of an old-timer in 1979 telling you about Pie Traynor managing the Pirates in 1939.
Now that’s ancient history.
If you’re ancient enough to recall 1979 and you go to the Pirates’ home opener next week, chances are you’ll be sitting next to someone who doesn’t. Just remember that he/she will look at you the same way you looked at the old guy telling you about the great DiMaggio if you decide to tell a story about the great Willie Stargell.
The scary thing is, 40 years from now, there’s a good chance just about everyone who has an appreciation for the last time the Pirates won a World Series, will be dead.
But, hey, Play Ball!
John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.