This is the first of a daily feature tracking the 1979 Pirates’ championship season. Before I even start, I want to point out that this isn’t an original idea. One of the admins at Onlybucs.net, Bobster, ran a daily series a number of years ago on the 1960 team. So I’m copying the idea for a different year. I’ll post game accounts starting April 6, together with whatever other information I can dig up and that seems interesting.
The Pirates in 1979 were coming off a solid season. In 1978, they finished in second place in the NL East, a game and a half behind Philadelphia, with a record of 88-73. They featured good offense and pitching, ranking fourth in the NL in scoring runs and seventh in preventing them. Their pitchers were fifth in ERA, but were hampered by a league-leading 167 errors. They were a veteran team, with the fourth-oldest hitters and sixth-oldest pitchers, by weighted average, in the NL.
Chuck Tanner’s offense featured a lot of speed, easily leading the league in both steals and times caught stealing. The hitting was a bit shallow; going into 1979, a number of players weren’t coming off their best seasons. The bulk of the firepower in ’78 came from two players: right fielder Dave Parker and 38-year-old first baseman Willie Stargell, who logged only 390 ABs.
The ’78 rotation had been led by Bert Blyleven, John Candelaria and 21-year-old rookie Don Robinson. It was hampered, though, by weak seasons from Jim Rooker and Jerry Reuss, the latter of whom struggled with injuries. With Goose Gossage gone, submariner Kent Tekulve took over as the relief ace (a better term than “closer” back in the days before Tony LaRussa ruined baseball).
During the 1978-79 off-season, the Pirates didn’t make dramatic changes, but they did make several lower-profile moves that worked out surprisingly well.
In December, they sent right-hander Odell Jones, shortstop Mario Mendoza and a random minor leaguer to Seattle for right-handed reliever Enrique Romo and two players who never appeared in a Pirate uniform. Romo was coming off two good seasons for the Mariners and would make quite an impact with the ’79 Bucs.
In January, the Pirates signed veteran Dodgers outfielder/secondbaseman Lee Lacy as a free agent. Serving mostly as a fourth outfielder in six seasons with the Pirates, Lacy batted .300 four times, although ’79 wasn’t one of his stronger seasons with them.
During spring training, the Pirates sent two random minor leaguers and cash to Boston for outfielder Mike Easler. Oddly, they had just sold Easler’s contract to the Red Sox four and a half months earlier. The 28-year-old Easler had crushed baseballs for years in the minors, but never got more than a few ABs here and there in the majors because he kept finding himself on teams with very good outfields (mainly Houston with guys like Cesar Cedeno, Jimmy Wynn, Bob Watson, Jose Cruz and Greg Gross). Easler made most of his impact with the Pirates in 1980-83, serving almost exclusively as a pinch hitter in 1979.
Tomorrow I’ll take a closer look at the Pirates’ position players as they stood on the eve of the ’79 season, and the next day the pitchers.