Manager Danny Murtaugh, when looking at the season that was about to commence, felt so confident about his clubs chances to succeed in 1975 that he couldn’t even imagine a scenario on how they could fail.
Murtaugh figured that the real Pirate team was the one that showed up late in the season to play .671 ball the second half of the year, and not the one that fluttered and faltered trying to rid themselves of the black cloud that was 1973.
He further went on to point out that the club was successful in the second half despite the fact they lost the man who was probably was their number one starter the first half of the season in Ken Brett to an elbow injury and what was probably their second best, Dock Ellis, to a broken right hand.
The other thing that had Danny beaming was the fact that the powers that be decided to move in the fences at Three Rivers Stadium to conform more to what the average major league park was like. Down the right field and left field lines were cut down from 340’ to 335’ while center and the power alleys were reduced 10 feet each to 400’ and 375’ respectively. With the shorter fences, the prolific Pirate offense was counted on to be that much more prolific, which it turned out to be, hitting 24 more homers than in ’74, leading the senior circuit with 138 round trippers.
Overall Murtaugh was very content with his team going into 1975. As Danny put it, “…if the team plays up to its ability, I should still be a contented Irishman next October”.
Right as the season was about to begin, Joe L Brown made perhaps one of his greatest steals during his tenure when he dealt former wunderkind and now washed up pitcher Wayne Simpson to the Phillies for a reserve player by the name of Bill Robinson. Robinson had once been a future star with the Yankees where he was being touted as the next Mickey Mantle. That never materialized, and although he had a big season in Philadelphia hitting 25 homers in 1973, finished at .236 the following season.
Bill proved to be a valuable sub in 1975, hitting .280 with 6 homers. His true value to the team would come in the following seasons, helping lead the Bucs to the World Championship four years later.
Danny Murtaugh was certain the Pirates would not repeat their dismal beginning in 1975 and he was proved prophetic as they beat the Cubs in Wrigley Field on opening day 1-0 before opening up at Three Rivers Stadium the following day against New York. They took both from the Mets, standing after 3 games at 3-0, instead of the 0-3 from a year ago. How prophetic was Murtaugh?
Even with their good start, they still finished April only 9-7 and were a .500 team on May 24th, when they stood only 18-18. At that point the club won 9 of the next 11 and took over first place on June 6th, when Bruce Kison, who was 6-1, beat the Giants 7-2. After that game, they never fell to second the rest of the season.
Kison part of a solid starting rotation that brought the Bucs back from the dead, which the staff was in ’73, to the second best ERA in the Senior Circuit with a 3.02 mark in 1975. Kison himself was 12-11, while last years top two Jerry Reuss and Jim Rooker again had solid seasons with 18-11-2.54 and 13-11-2.97 performances respectively.
The two injured stars from last season Brett and Ellis did not enjoy banner years as Brett had more elbow problems as it stiffened up on June 6th, sending him to the DL and Ellis just never returned going 8-9 with a team high 3.79 ERA. Former Indian superstar, Sudden Sam McDowell came to Pittsburgh for a try out and had a solid spring training. McDowell pitched fine out of the pen with a 2.76 ERA in 34 2/3 innings although he walked 20.
There was another member of the squad that contributed some in 1975, but would be the lone hero of the NLCS, a rookie by the name of John Candelaria. Candelaria was brought up on July 6th after going 7-1 with a 1.77 ERA at Charleston. Candy had a fine freshman campaign with an 8-6 mark, a 2.76 ERA and a miniscule .212 opponent batting average. John started the third and final game of the ill fated 1975 NLCS and struck out a record 14 batters in only eight innings, but unfortunately the team lost to the Reds 5-3 and were swept in three straight.
Things were going well for the club, until they hit a 1 for 12 glut in the middle of August that threw them to only 12 games over .500 by the 18th, 2 ½ games in front of the Cards, and tied with their Keystone brethren, the Philadelphia Phillies, who picked up 4 ½ games during the streak.
Fortunately they offense picked things up and the Bucs won 7 of the next 8 to right the ship and increase their lead back up to 4 games. The last contest was an 8-2 victory over the Braves. In the game, the Pirates set a major league record by seeing their first eight batters to come up reach base.
The key to this team, as it had been in the recent past, was its potent offense, which had been especially deep this season. Bob Robertson was coming back from off-season knee surgery and continued his ineffectiveness hitting only 6 homers in 124 at bats. Moving to first base full time was Willie Stargell who had another solid season that was interrupted by a fracture of his 9th rib, limiting him to only 122 games. The move allowed Murtaugh to use Dave Parker full time. Parker was moved to right field as Zisk shifted over to left. Putting Cobra into the starting lineup proved to be a master stroke as he became the teams best offensive player hitting 25 homers with 101 RBI’s and a .308 average. Zisk and Oliver also were solid, again giving the club one of the top outfields in the game with 20-75-.290 and 18-84-.280 seasons respectively.
As good as the outfield was, the man behind the plate had one of his best years ever, finishing third in the NL with a .328 average, Manny Sanguillen. Sangy had always been a free wheeling aggressive hitter, but in 1975 he tried to be more selective and it paid off. Manny made the comment in Spring Training that “I told myself that I should wait a little longer on pitches and not commit myself so soon”. He further went on to say that he had a quicker bat than he thought so he was now trying to lay off bad pitches and swinging later. To illustrate the point further, in Sanguillen baseball career at that time, the most walks he ever had in a season, was in the minors at Batavia in 1965 with 35, Sangy walked 48 times in 1975.
With seemingly easily cruising to a title, they took on the Cubs September 16th in a game that was for the ages. Pittsburgh crushed Chicago that day 22-0, the largest shutout in major league history, breaking a record that was originally set in 1901 when the Tigers beat the Indians, and tied in 1939 when the Yanks ripped the A’s. Although the score was memorable, it was a performance by one of the Pirates that will always overshadow everything, second baseman Rennie Stennett. Stennett started off the day with a single and double in the first and repeated the feat in the fifth. It was the fourth time in the history of the game that someone had two hits in two innings. All told, Rennie tied the major league mark held by Wilbert Robinson, by going 7 for 7 in a nine-inning game. His incredible day included 4 singles, 2 doubles and a triple. Stennett also scored 5 runs in the contest.
Overall it was a banner year for the young infielder with a .286 average and 62 RBI’s, which topped his career high, set the year before.
Pittsburgh finished out the season winning the pennant rather easily, 6 ½ games over the Phils. Unfortunately, like in 1927 when the Bucs ran into the greatest team in the history of the game in the ’27 Bronx Bombers and were swept in the World Series, this club took on the 1975 Big Red Machine, a team that seemingly is always included in the short list of greatest all time teams and once again were swept in a championship series.
Their fifth Eastern Division championship team in six years proved to be their last for a few years as all they had to show for their incredible run is one World Series and one world championship. Despite the poor showing in the NLCS, there record was 6-13 in five championship tilts; it was probably the second greatest run in the history of this great franchise. It was also a run that showed the team’s character, picking themselves up from a devastating tragedy, the death of their leader, and a disappointing season, to win two more championships in a row.
The news of the Bucs demise in the NLCS wasn’t the worst information the Pirate fans would get in October of 1975, that would come a few weeks later on October 27th, when the Pirates, KDKA radio, the flagship station for the team, and Iron City Beer, the clubs main sponsor, announced that they were relieving Pirate Broadcasting legend Bob Prince, of his job, along with his partner Nellie King. It was perhaps one of the worst decisions the team ever made and was met with a mass outcry of public disapproval.
It would take 10 seasons to right the wrong, when the team invited Prince back into the booth in 1985, shortly before his death. The move would turn out to end their glorious run on the ultimate of sour notes.By Pirates Encyclopedia
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- Bill Robinson, Bob Robertson, Bruce Kison, Danny Murtaugh, Dave Parker, Dock Ellis, Jerry Reuss, Jim Rooker, Joe Brown, John Candelaria, Ken Brett, Manny Sanguillen, Rennie Stennett, Richie Zisk, Sam McDowell, Three Rivers Stadium, Wayne Simpson, Willie Stargell, Wrigley Field