Pittsburgh Pirates: How 1973 Made Steve Blass Famous
By Jack Connors
A season that ended a playing career, but far from defined it, Steve Blass’ 1973 campaign was one of the most interesting and infamous in Pittsburgh Pirates history.
The yips. It can happen to anyone in any sport. A kicker misses chip shot field goals. A golfer suddenly can’t sink a four-footer. Jon Lester forgets how to throw to first base. In 1973, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steve Blass stopped throwing strikes.
Even though the wheels fell off the wagon for Blass in 1973, that is not what he is defined by. Both during and after his playing career he did a lot of good for the Pittsburgh Pirates. All of that good is what he should be defined and known for.
A Defining Career
To understand just how anomalous the 1973 campaign was for Blass, one must know how solid he was in the years before. From 1966, his first full season in the Majors, to 1972, Blass was a staple in the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation. Famously known for delivering the final pitch of the 1971 World Series.
Over that seven season stretch, Blass was 95-59 with a 3.18 ERA, 3.37 FIP and 1.26 WHIP. He surrendered less than one home run and exactly three walks per nine innings. He pitched in 234 games, starting 200 and threw 53 complete games. In 1972, he was an All-Star and finished second in Cy Young voting, making 1973 all the more remarkable.
Steve Blass Disease
Following his rousing success in 1972, Blass was inexplicably bad in 1973. He appeared in 23 games, started 18 and only amassed 88.2 innings pitched. He walked 84 batters, almost one per inning.
He posted an ERA of 9.85 and an FIP of 6.82, racking up an abysmal -3.9 WAR. If the walks were to be ignored, one might think that Blass was aging, leaving his prime, a natural progression in the life of a professional athlete. However, he was coming off of a career year and was only 31-years-old. Blass would never claim that any kind of injury had hindered him in 1973.
Factor in his sudden inability to throw strikes, and it becomes clear that this was an example of the daunting mental game that baseball can be. So remarkable was his sudden loss of command that the yips were given a new name: Steve Blass Disease. After the 1973 season, he pitched in one game for the Pirates in 1974 and retired in 1975.
Throughout the sports world, Blass is probably best remembered for his infamous and sudden collapse. But in Pittsburgh, that season is a blip on the Blass radar.
Those Pirate fans that lived to see it, and many who did not, will never forget his masterful game seven complete game to clinch the 1971 World Series. They remember him for the seven seasons of longevity and quality he brought to the Pirates. More profoundly, he will be remembered for his 30-plus years of service as a color commentator for the Pirates and as an ambassador for the game of baseball. A true Pirate legend, Blass deserves every bit of the retirement he now enjoys.