Blass presents one of baseball's great unsolved mysteries. Why did one of the NL's most consistent winners from 1968 through 1972 suddenly collapse? The slender, intelligent pattern pitcher with the jerky, unorthodox motion went 18-6 with a 2.12 ERA in 1968. He posted three-hit and four-hit victories in Games Three and Seven of the 1971 World Series, and his 1972 season was his best: 19-8, 2.49 ERA.
Suddenly, in 1973, he couldn't cut his fastball loose and he was so wild he often threw behind batters. Yet there was no pain or stiffness in his arm. The once ebullient winner became emotionless on the mound. Teammates said he "looked relieved" when taken from a game. He struggled, going 3-9 with a 9.81 ERA. He pitched one game for the Pirates in 1974, walked seven and gave up five earned runs in five innings, and was sent to Charleston.
Everyone had a theory: "too nice a guy, afraid he'd hit a batter"; "his jittery motion finally let him down"; "he was afraid he couldn't duplicate his '72 record." Some said he was devastated by the tragic death of Roberto Clemente, whose eulogy he gave in Puerto Rico. He tried psychotherapy, transcendental meditation, optometherapy, and various mechanical experiments. Nothing helped. Blass later became a Pirate broadcaster. (JCA)
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FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»August 31, 1968: Steve Blass gets the first out against the Braves, and then moves to LF as Roy Face relieves. Face retires Felix Millan and ties Walter Johnson's major-league record of 802 pitching appearances with one club. Blass comes back to pitch and the Pirates go on to win 8–0. Blass will not get credit for the shutout but will still lead the National League in shutouts with 7. Late in the game, the Pirates announce the sale of Elroy Face to the Detroit Tigers.
»September 24, 1968:
Steve Blass records his 3rd shutout in a row, defeating the Reds, 2–0, and beating Gary Nolan. For Nolan, it is his first defeat after seven straight wins, while Blass wins his 9th straight for the Pirates.
»August 17, 1969: After the Pirates open with five runs in the first inning, the Reds answer with four tallies as Pete Rose and Bobby Tolan, the first two Reds hitters in the game, belt homers off Pittsburgh's Steve Blass. It's a record-setting 2nd time this year that the duo has led off a game this way: Don Drysdale was greeted on April 7th with double dingers. It's Pittsburgh day, however, as they win, 8–5.
»September 5, 1969: Billy Williams has all four of Chicago's hits, as the Cubs lose a 9–2 decision to Steve Blass and the Pirates. There's nothing cheap about Billy's hits -- two doubles and two homers -- as he sets an National League record for most hits in a game with no other hits, tying the major-league record of Norm Elberfeld (August 1, 1903). Blass helps his own cause with his only ML homer, a 3-run blast, off Ken Holtzman, and three singles. The win is Pittsburgh's first at Wrigley since July 5, 1968, a string of 13 losses. They'll win the next two to sweep the series and drop the Cubs lead to two 1/2 games.
»October 12, 1971: As the Series moves to Pittsburgh, Steve Blass 3-hits the Orioles 5–1 to give the Pirates their first win.
»October 17, 1971: Steve Blass hurls a 4-hitter and Roberto Clemente homers as the Pirates win game seven of the World Series 2–1, becoming World Champions for the first time since 1960. After the game, 40,000 people riot in downtown Pittsburgh; at least 100 are injured, some seriously.