50 years later, the pirate color gamut still resonates

Roberto Clemente won two championships with the Pittsburgh Pirates, one when he was young and the other near the end of his brief life. ...


Roberto Clemente won two championships with the Pittsburgh Pirates, one when he was young and the other near the end of his brief life. For the first, in 1960, everyone on the World Series roster was white except for two teammates at the end of the bench. The second list, in 1971, was very different.

Fifty years ago on Wednesday – about a month before the start of the playoffs he would make his own – Clemente found himself in third place in a different lineup than what had come before. For the first time in the history of the National League or the American League, a team has fielded a roster made up entirely of people of color.

“Roberto said to me, ‘Sangy, I never thought I would see this in my life,'” said Manny Sanguillen, 77, the receiver that night. “He was proud to see nine guys play, and he said, ‘I’m happy to be in this for the Pittsburgh Pirates.’ “

The Pirates will honor the legacy of the game on Wednesday by hosting a roundtable discussion at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh with Sanguilen and the other three living members of the squad: third baseman Dave Cash, center fielder Gene Clines and first baseman. Al Oliver. The team will wear commemorative T-shirts ahead of their road game that day and hold a pre-game ceremony before their next home game on September 6.

“It means a lot more to me now than it did back then because at that point we didn’t think much about it,” said Oliver, 74, who played on first base. “The reason we didn’t do it was because the Pirates were always full of black and Latin players, and so it wasn’t something that was really noticeable to us as players. I don’t know how it was for the others, but for us it was almost a routine.

While black participation in Major League Baseball has waned in recent years, the 1971 Pirates are one of the earliest examples of the international game that MLB would become. In the September 1 roster were two players from Panama (Sanguillen and second baseman Rennie Stennett), one from Cuba (shortstop Jackie Hernandez) and Clemente of Puerto Rico.

Five others were black Americans: Cash, Clines, Oliver, outfielder Willie Stargell and pitcher Dock Ellis. They were different in their place of birth but related in spirit.

“Some people have said, ‘Latino is not the same’ – but that’s not true; we are black, ”Sanguillen said with a laugh. “As Willie said to me, ‘Your color is even darker than mine!'”

These fraternal coasts were a hallmark of the Pirates in the 1970s, even as they moved on to other stars of color like Dave Parker, Bill Madlock, Jim Bibby, and Omar Moreno. The September 1, 1971 visual was trite, like the game itself: a Wednesday night affair at Three Rivers Stadium against the outmatched Philadelphia Phillies in front of 11,278 fans.

Standing in the circle on the bridge on the first pitch, Phillies shortstop Larry Bowa had the same reaction as Oliver: the same old Pirates, the league class. Baseball had been integrated since 1947, so diverse programming, in general, was nothing new. Twelve different colored players had won the league’s Most Valuable Player award, including Clemente in 1966.

“You watch each of these guys that night, and they were great players,” Bowa said. “It didn’t even occur to me, ‘Oh, wow, that’s different.’ I just looked at the talent there and I was like ‘Wow, a pretty good baseball team.’ “

Two White Pirates infielders were not in the lineup – first baseman Bob Robertson had a sprained knee and third baseman Richie Hebner was recovering from a viral infection. But the Pirates were so deep that their manager, Danny Murtaugh, had many solid options to replace them.

The top six hitters in Murtaugh’s roster have all hit over .300 at bat – Stennett, Clines, Clemente, Stargell, Sanguillen and Cash. Oliver, who had a career average of 0.303, was seventh. Hernandez, the lightweight hitter shortstop, was next, followed by Ellis, who had started the All-Star Game that summer.

“I’m not saying we were intimidated, but you knew you had better play your A game or it would be a long streak in Pittsburgh,” Bowa said. “They were much better than us. Each of these hitters used the whole court. They hit the balls hard, they could run, they could throw. And all these guys were using big bats. Even the bullets on the ground that they hit you, they came towards you with authority.

Bowa worked two goals on Ellis, helping force the Pirates’ paddock into the game in the second inning. The Pirates would win, 10-7, and the pitching star, as The Sporting News noted, was white.

“Ironically,” the newspaper reported, “it took six innings of great relief for Luke Walker, a Caucasian from Texas, to calm the Phillies down.”

The unique Pirates lineup was treated more as a fun footnote than a watershed moment. The Sporting News story was a brief article tucked away in the corner of a box score page. The Pittsburgh newspapers were not publishing because of a strike, and the Philadelphia Daily News made only a passing reference the next day to the Pirates’ “soulful lineup”. A reporter from United Press International is more interested in it.

“When it comes to doing programming, I’m color blind,” Murtaugh said in this report. “And my athletes know it. They don’t know because I told them, but they know because they know how I operate.

Murtaugh, who died in 1976, insisted he hadn’t even noticed the racial makeup of the lineup. In this way, he was like Red Auerbach, the impresario of the Boston Celtics, who always maintained that he didn’t realize he had used the first all-black roster in NBA history when he did so on December 26, 1964.

“Murtaugh was a man who wanted to win, and no matter what formula he had to come up with, he was just figuring out who was best suited for that particular game,” said Roberto Clemente Jr., who was 6 years old. years at the time. “Obviously it was a historic moment, but I don’t think he really thought about it. He just wanted to have the best training to win this game.

Oliver said the distinction only came to him in the third or fourth round. But Stargell – who would effectively replace Clemente as leader of the Pirates after Clemente’s fatal plane crash on December 31, 1972 – was well aware of this. At the clubhouse later, Clines said he was sure the Pirates had started “Nine Brothers” already. Stargell corrected him.

“This is the first time,” he said in the UPI story. “In 1967, in Philadelphia, Harry Walker started eight of us, but the pitcher, Denny Ribant, was white.

Stargell died in 2001, the same day the Pirates opened PNC Park, which replaced Three Rivers Stadium. Ellis died in 2008, and Oliver praised him at his funeral in California. Most fans remember Ellis for claiming to have thrown a hit while taking LSD, or for wearing rollers in his hair. Oliver said his friend had a more meaningful legacy.

“I don’t think too many people knew that what Dock was really doing in Los Angeles was saving lives,” he said. “Because I remember his funeral, when I was watching the congregation, most of the people there were people he got out of drug addiction and saved their lives.”

Although he only launched briefly that night 50 years ago, Ellis’ presence helped the Pirates do something for the very first time. Before long, Clemente would lead them to a place he had once been: the World Series.

“He was on a mission,” said young Clemente. “He knew he was here for a short time. As he told my mother, he was going to die young, and I think that’s how he lived his life, in a flash. So understanding that he wanted to win these World Series is something that had to happen. “

The Pirates began September by symbolically toppling a league that was once all white. They finished October as champions.

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Newsrust - US Top News: 50 years later, the pirate color gamut still resonates
50 years later, the pirate color gamut still resonates
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