1979 World Series
The 1979 World Series matched the National League's Pittsburgh Pirates (98–64) against the American League's Baltimore Orioles (102–57), with the Pirates coming back from a three games to one deficit to win the Series in seven games.
The Pirates were famous for adopting Sister Sledge's hit anthem "We Are Family" as their theme song.
Willie Stargell, pitcher Bruce Kison, and catcher Manny Sanguillen were the only players left over from the Pirates team that last faced the Orioles in 1971, and Orioles' pitcher Jim Palmer, Mark Belanger, and manager Earl Weaver were the only ones who were still with the team that faced the Pirates in that same previous meeting.
In this Series, it was the American League team's "turn" to play by National League rules, meaning no designated hitter and the Orioles' pitchers would have to bat. While this resulted in Tim Stoddard getting his first major league hit and RBI in Game 4, overall, it hurt the Orioles because Lee May, their designated hitter for much of the season and a key part of their offense, was only able to bat three times in the whole series.
Willie Stargell, the series MVP, hit .400 with a record seven extra-base hits and matched Reggie Jackson's record of 25 total bases, set in 1977.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were the last team to win Game 7 of the World Series on the road. They were also the last road team to win Game 7 of the championship round, in any major league sport, until the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 at Joe Louis Arena to win the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.
As the 1970's came to a close, "Pops" and his "Family" reunited for the Fall Classic and brought fun back to baseball. Willie Stargell had labored long and hard throughout the decade trying to restore a sense of enjoyment and pride that had been missing in the Pittsburgh clubhouse since the untimely death on Roberto Clemente in 1972. The fun-loving, Team Captain / first baseman had built a close relationship with his fellow teammates and the new Bucco philosophy was noticeable both on and off the field. Stargell had taken a few pointers from college football coaches (who were known as great motivators) and instituted his "Gold Star" program that awarded players with a prestigious star on their hats after a particularly good outing. At the time, the Pirates wore Cuban-style caps with gold bans around them and the players raced each other on the field and at the plate to see who could fill up more rows. It was a simple, almost child-like incentive, but it seemed to work as Pittsburgh captured the National League East Championship on the final day of the season.
Stargell had certainly owned his own stars as the thirty-eight year-old veteran slugged thirty-two home runs for "Family" patron and manager Chuck Tanner and almost single-handedly swept the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series with a .455 average, two homers, and six runs batted in. In a classic rematch of the '71 Classic, Pittsburgh and Baltimore found themselves facing each other for baseball's most prestigious title. The Orioles came out strong in Game 1 with five runs in the first inning including a two run blast courtesy of Doug DeCinces. Pitcher Mike Flanagan made the numbers stand despite the best efforts of the Bucco's line-up. Phil Garner and Stargell (a two time National League home run champion with four-hundred sixty-one total) each collecting two RBIs and Dave "The Cobra" Parker finishing with four hits. Pops accounted for the game's final run with a clutch eighth inning homer, but the Blackbirds held on for a 5-4 opening victory.
Longtime teammate Manny Sanguillen gave Stargell and the Pirates a lift in Game 2, delivering a ninth-inning single that broke a 2-2 tie and enabled Pittsburgh to beat ace reliever Don Stanhouse. As the Series moved on to the Steel City, home field advantage proved not to be a factor. As both teams took the field at Three Rivers Stadium, Baltimore's Kiko Garcia embarrassed the Pirates rotation in front of the home crowd. The shortstop tallied two singles, a double and a triple for a total of four runs batted in. Teammate Benny Ayala shined as well and hammered a two run homer deep into the cheap seats as the visiting American League champions prevailed, 8-4.
Game 4 first appeared to put the Pirate's ship back on course, but pinch-hitters John Lowenstein and Terry Crowley both knocked two run doubles in the eighth for a miraculous 9-6 comeback. Now down three-games-to-one, Stargell had to rally his fellow players as they prepared to go against the 1-0 Flanagan in Game 5. Newly adopted "Family" members Bill Madlock and Tim Foli both stepped up as the third baseman went four-for-four and the former Mets shortstop drove in three runs for a 7-1 Baltimore setback. Bert Blyleven, arguably the greatest curveball thrower in the league, worked four scoreless innings of relief to seal the deal. Jim Rooker, who had won only four games during the regular season, was given the controversial start for Game 5 and performed beautifully with an unfamiliar three hitter over five innings. On the heels of Rooker's turnaround outing, "The Candy Man" became the obvious choice for Game 6. Despite his modest victory total (tenth on Pittsburgh's rotation) John Candelaria combined with side-armed reliever Kent Tekulve to hold the Orioles to seven meaningless hits for a 4-0 shutout. All three pitchers had risen to the occasion and evened the contest while earning their strips and their "stars".
Pittsburgh's Jim Bibby and Baltimore's Scott McGregor went head-to-head for the grand finale that would crown the last world champion of the 1970's. Rich Dauer was the first to score with a three inning homer and the numbers remained unchanged until the sixth. After striking out Parker, McGregor surrendered a single to Bill Robinson and Stargell brought them home with a spectacular tape-measure homer over the right-field fence. After going through five Orioles' pitchers for two more runs in the ninth, the Pirates cruised to a 4-1 victory and another World Series title. Pittsburgh became the fourth team in history to comeback from a three-games-to-one deficit to win a best-of-seven Classic and their final statistics told the tale.
The "Family's" pitching staff had held the Orioles to an embarrassing two runs in the final twenty-eight innings of the contest. Five Pirates totaled ten or more hits with Garner (who finished with a .500 average) and Stargell getting twelve each, Omar Moreno (eleven) and Parker and Foli (ten). It was no surprise to Pittsburgh fans that Pops had led the way with a .400 average, three home runs and seven runs batted in. A few months later, the equally dominant Pittsburgh Steelers went on to win another Superbowl crowning Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as The City of Champions. As a result, Stargell and quarterback Terry Bradshaw were both selected as the first duel Sportsmen of the Year in the Sports Illustrated annual.
With the Sister Sledge disco chestnut "We Are Fam-i-ly!" as their anthem, the never-say-die '79 Pirates battled through a grueling season, and a tough World Series, to reign as World Champions once again.
Following 1978's come-from-15-1/2-games-behind, only-to-lose-the-pennant-on-the-last-Saturday-of-the-season thriller, Manager Chuck Tanner's prescription was for everyone to have a career year at the same time. In 1979, that's what happened.
Hall-of-Famer and season co-MVP Willie Stargell smacked 32 homers, many of them game-winners. Rightfielder Dave parker hit .310 with 25 homers, second-baseman Phil Garner .293, shortstop Tim Foli .291, third-baseman (and four-time batting champ) Bill Madlock .328, centerfielder (and two-time steals champ) Omar Moreno .292 and stole a league-leading 77 bases.
Relief ace Kent Tekulve led the team -- and the league -- with 94 appearances. With Tanner making full use of his pitching staff, the '79 club was the only team in baseball history to take a World Series without boasting a 15-game winner.
The National League playoff, against the Reds, was a sweep: Stargell won the first game with a three-run homer in the 11th, and the Pirates never looked back. Another homer and a .455 average earned Stargell MVP honors.
Then it was on to Baltimore to face the Orioles, a repeat of the '71 Classic. The Birds boasted sluggers Eddie Murray and Ken Singleton as well as three 20-game winners, including Hall-of-Famer Jim Palmer.
Game One was played in rain-soaked Memorial Stadium. "The ball was like a bar of soap," groused Phil Garner, whose first-inning error opened the Oriole floodgates. A Stargell blast was too little, too late. Orioles 5-4; Series 1-0 Baltimore.
With Game Two tied at 2-2 in the ninth, Tanner called on notoriously bad-ball-hitting backup catcher Manny Sanguillen to pinch hit. Sanguillen delivered -- and Ed Ott scored the winning run. Pirates 3-2. Series tied one apiece.
The Pirates came home for Game Three: a frigid Friday night, a 67-minute rain delay, a relentless Oriole attack. Orioles 8-4. Series 2-1 Baltimore.
The next day wasn't much better. In Game Four, Stargell hit another home run, and the Bucs scored a six-pack, which should have been fine, but the Orioles hit and hit and hit, tallying nine runs. Series 3-1 Baltimore.
With his club facing elimination, Tanner gave the ball to Jim Rooker, who pitched what could safely be called the game of his life. With the Series on the line, he stopped the Orioles cold, throwing four hitless innings before surrendering the Birds' lone tally in the fifth. As curvemeister Bert Blyleven added four shutout innings in relief, the Pirates scored seven times to ice the game. Series 3-2 Baltimore.
Game Six, back in Baltimore, saw John Candelaria pitch what the Bucs desperately needed -- a shut out. Tekulve notched his second save and the Pirates won 4-0. Series tied 3-3.
In Game Seven, Baltimore took a one-run lead in the third, but the Pirates answered with two in the sixth on another Stargell homer. By the bottom of the ninth, it was 4-1 Bucs. When Pat Kelly flew out to Omar Moreno, Tekulve -- and 24 other Pirates -- leaped in the air. The World Championship flag -- the fifth in team history -- returned to Pittsburgh.
For the book, Willie Stargell hit ,400, three home runs, seven extra-bat hits, and collected his third '79 MVP. Phil Garner had 12 hits -- for an even .500. And Kent Tekulve notched a record three saves. "I wish I had a chance to go back," he says. "Then I would have known how big it was."