Pirates Yankees History Exists Despite Separate Leagues

Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports /

Editorial: The Pirates and Yankees history exists despite separate leagues. Read on to learn more about what these teams, who rarely play, could possibly have in common:

This weekend PNC Park will play host to a rare occurrence. The Evil Empire themselves, the New York Yankees, will come to Pittsburgh for a series with the Pirates. How rare of an occurrence is this? Tonight’s game will be only the 10th time the Yankees and Pirates will play in Pittsburgh in the 114 years that both teams have been in existence.

Most of the blame for the infrequency of the teams facing off of course has to do with the two teams belonging to different leagues. Despite this, the Pirates have more of a history with the Yankees than the typical American League team. Two of the Pirates’ seven World Series appearances had them combatting the “Bronx Bombers”. In more modern times, some of the key players for the Pirates in recent years were cast-off by New York.

1927 World Series

Before they became the most successful team in Major League Baseball, and the object of ire from other fanbases, the Yankees entered the American League as the New York Highlanders in 1903. For awhile, the Yankees were something of an afterthought in the American League. They finished in the bottom half of the league in 10 of their first 17 seasons and failed to win the pennant in any of that time. The team’s fortunes, of course, changed when Babe Ruth came to New York in 1920.

The Pirates and Yankees met for the first time in the clubs histories’ in the 1927 World Series. The Yankees’ fortunes had by now turned around. As a result were playing in their 5th World Series in the decade. The Yankees that season boasted their legendary “Murderer’s Row” lineup that included four Hall of Famers. The 1927 New York Yankees went 110-44 and won the American League by 19 games. Many consider them to be the greatest team in baseball history and were heavy favorites to win the World Series.

The Pirates had a great team as well that season, going 94-60 with a team that featured the Waner Brothers (Paul “Big Poison” and Lloyd “Little Poison”) and Pie Traynor. Despite this, they put up little resistance to the Yankees dispatched them in a quick 4 games to none sweep. The Yankees won the first two games at Forbes Field by 5-4 and 6-2 scores. They then took full control of the series by winning Game 3 in New York 8-1. They would clinch the series in Game 4 when Pirate pitcher Johnny Miljus threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth. To date, this remains the only World Series to end on a walk-off wild pitch.

1960 World Series

The Pirates would have to wait 33 years, but they would get their revenge on the Yankees. The Pirates and Yankees clinched the pennant in their respective leagues once again in 1960. For the Pirates, it was their first since that 1927 matchup, while for the Yankees it was their twentieth. Once again, the Yankees came into the World Series as favorites, despite the two clubs having similar records. This assumption of Yankee superiority was likely due to a strong finish to the season (winning each of their last 15 games). Their more recent success and general big market bias likely played a role as well.

Many Pirates fans are likely well aware of the specifics of this series, or at least the memorable Game 7. It’s worth bringing up how bizarre some aspects of this series were. This is in addition to this being the only World Series to, spoiler alert, end with a Game 7 walk-off Home Run. For starters, the Yankees outscored the Pirates by a sizable 55-27 margin over the entire series. This was thanks to the Yankees racking up runs in blowout wins in Games 2, 3, and 6. Perhaps it was in recognition of this that Bobby Richardson of the Yankees was awarded World Series MVP. Richardson went 12 for 32 with 2 Home Runs in the World Series. Additionally, he is the only World Series MVP from a losing team.

The greatest baseball game ever is often considered to be the climactic Game 7. This is due to a combination of the stakes, exciting high-scoring nature of the contest, and the dramatic ending. Of note is that it is also the only postseason game in baseball history without a strikeout. A whole book can be written about this series and Game 7 in particular if it hasn’t already. I encourage anyone to read more into this interesting and dramatic chapter of baseball history.

Briefly, though, the Pirates raced out to a 4-0 lead through the first two innings. They maintained a  4-1 lead going into the 6th inning. In that inning though, the Yankees put 4 on the board, mostly thanks to a Yogi Berra 3-run Home Run, to take a 5-4 lead. Things were looking bad for the Bucs when the Yankees added 2 more in the 8th inning. However, the Pirates rallied and came within 1 run of the Yankees when Hal Smith came to bat with two on and two outs. In an alternate universe, Hal Smith and not Bill Mazeroski is in Pirate lore as the 1960 World Series hero, as he would capitalize and hit a 3-run Home Run to give the Pirates a 9-7 lead.

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The Yankees would not go quietly though. Down to their final 3 outs, the Yankees were able to tie it up and had the go-ahead run on first base with two outs before Harvey Haddix got Bill Skowron to ground into a Fielder’s Choice. However, the Yankees were only able to extend the series for a very short time with their rally. Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the 9th by sending a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall and himself into immortality. This Home Run gave the Pirates a 10-9 win and gave the Pirates their third World Series championship.

Recent History

The Pirates and Yankees have yet to meet in a World Series again. Interleague play was initially limited when MLB instituted it in 1997. The Pirates were mired in 20 years of losing in 2005 when the teams finally met again. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that the Yankees swept the Pirates then and when they met again in 2007.

The Pirates finally got a regular season win against the Yankees when they made they’re first ever trip to PNC Park in 2008. They would even win the series 2 games to 1, though a rainout required the Yankees to come back to Pittsburgh several weeks later (similar to the Pirates recent game in Boston). The Pirates and Yankees would not meet in interleague play again for six years. For the first time in the interleague era, the Pirates and Yankees both fielded competitive teams for a meeting. The Yankees would get the better of the Pirates in this series though taking 2 of 3.

The connections between the two teams seem to extend to the front office as well. Two key members of the 2017 Pirates, Catcher Francisco Cervelli, and Starting Pitcher Ivan Nova were acquired in trades with the Yankees. Backup Catcher Chris Stewart was also acquired from the Yankees in a trade. Former key rotation member and fan favorite A.J. Burnett also originally came over from the Yankees. Just this week the Pirates and Yankees completed another minor trade with the Pirates taking minor league reliever Johnny Barbato for cash and a player to be named later. Additionally, though he was a Free Agent, former Pirates Catcher Russell Martin rejuvenated his career in Pittsburgh after a stint with the Yankees. Overall, the Pirates seem to have a knack for turning Yankee castoffs into key pieces for a winning ballclub.

Final Thoughts

A shared past connects the Yankees and Pirates. This is despite a lack of significant recent history. Luckily interleague play gives us a chance to relive some of these great moments and hopefully build on them. The series this weekend is a rare event. As I mentioned earlier, tonight’s game will only be the Yankees 10th in the city of Pittsburgh.

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Personally, I’m taking advantage of this rare opportunity to see an American League team that isn’t the Detroit Tigers. I’m also looking forward to reliving the historic moments between these storied franchises (moments I admittedly wasn’t alive for). If you’re also taking advantage of this opportunity and see a stocky young man who’s unfortunately stuck with two Yankees fans, stop over and say hi and ask me whatever you want about the 1960 World Series.

*Historical research courtesy of Baseball Reference