- LF, OF, RF, DH
- February 6, 1949
- 6' 1"
- 200 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-08-1971 with PIT
It may be hard for young fans of the Pirates to imagine, but the ballclub was once so well stocked with outfielders that the best hitter in the International League couldn’t crack the roster for two years. Of course, the time was the early 1970’s when Hofer’s Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente were joined in the outfield by the very dangerous Al Oliver and backed up by .300 hitters Gene Clines and Vic Davalillo. There simply was no room for Richie Zisk, a linedrive powerhitter who led the IL in rbi’s and was second in homeruns with 29 while batting .290 in 1971 and followed up by hitting a league leading 26 homers and boosted his average to .311, winning the league’s MVP award despite missing several weeks when he was called up to the big club due to injuries. The honors were not surprising given that Zisk had won homerun titles in both his first year in pro ball at Salem with 16 in 1967 and 34 at AA Waterbury in 1970.
Although Clemente had died tragically in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve, Zisk was not given a chance to win a regular position in 1973. The Pirates had committed to trying Manny Sanguillen in rightfield and with Clines and Davalillo also available, the prospect saw only limited playing time during the first few months of the season, going only nine for 52 (.173). By July, the Pirates, who had been playing surprisingly poor ball returned Sanguillen to catcher and Clines was hurt and Davalillo not hitting. Zisk was given playing time and he came through in great fashion. He batted .352 with 21 doubles, six triples and eight homeruns in 281 at bats the rest of the season. He also played better than expected in rightfield. Zisk’s season ending average of .324 led the team and he provided much needed protection for Stargell, who was having a monster season.
Not needing to worry about playing time, Zisk got off to a great start in 1974. He was almost singlehandedly responsible for keeping the team from becoming buried in the NL East as his teammates struggled. Zisk was among the NL’s batting and rbi leaders all season long and when the rest of the hitters got hot, the Pirates scorched thethe league to finish in first place. Zisk continued to contribute during the second half of the season. In mid-August, he drove in a run in ten strait games, one short of Mel Ott’s 1929 record. The righthanded swinger drove in seven runs in a Labor Day doubleheader sweep of the Phillies and while slowed by injuries the last two weeks of the season, Zisk contributed a game winning pinch triple for an important win on September 30. His final stats were effected by his late season health problems, but he still hit .313 (fifth in the league) with 17 homers and a team leading 100 rbi’s.
In the playoffs, Zisk hit a quiet .300, singling three times in ten at bats as the Pirates fell to the Dodgers in four games.
Danny Murtaugh revamped his lineup just prior to the start of 1975. Dave Parker who provided a stronger arm and superior speed was placed in rightfield and Zisk, who had held well into spring training, was moved to left with Stargell coming in to play firstbase. Zisk got off to a slow start, but regained his stroke by hitting .368 with 20 extrabase hits and 31 rbi’s over the teams’ final 35 games. His totals of 20-75-.290 were solid contributions to the team that had become known as The Lumber Company. Zisk hit .500 against the Reds during the NLCS, but it might have been one of the outs he made which had the most impact on Pirate fortunes. In the first inning of Game 2, Zisk hit a deep fly to left with men on base against Freddie Norman, but the ball was caught on the warning track to end the inning. A few more feet on Zisk’s drive might have turned the game, and possibly the series around.
Zisk nearly duplicated his homerun and batting average in 1976, adding one more homer while dropping one point in BA. He improved his rbi total to 89, but the Bucs could not catch the Phillies. Following the season, Zisk, who had had contract squabbles with the team previously, secretly made it know to new GM Harding Peterson that he would under no circumstances sign a contract for 1977 as he intended on testing free agency. As Zisk had kept his plans quiet, he enabled Peterson to obtain something of value for him. He was traded to the White Sox for pitchersRich Gossage and Terry Forster. True to his word, Zisk, after helping the Sox surprise all experts by fighting for the AL West flag with a career high 30 homeruns, signed a ten year contract with the Texas Rangers. His success with the Rangers was uneven and he was dealt to the Mariners in 1981. The Kingdome proved friendlier to Zisk’s hitting in 1981 and 1982, but chronic back problems forced him into retirement in 1983.
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- Richie Zisk