I was fourteen years old the first time I saw Steve Blass pitch. He was a young, strapping ballplayer from New England. As was often the case, the Pittsburgh Pirates were in dire need of good pitching. They saw Blass as a part of their hope for the future.
I used to love watching him perform on the mound. He was highly emotional, and he was intense as he was talented. He had a pitch he called a slop drop. I guess it was a curveball, but it was a slow tantalizing breaking pitch that seemed to drop off a table. It used to drive hitters crazy when it was working well.
The thing I remember most, however, was his windup. These days, pitchers don’t have much of one. It seems they reserve all their energy for the follow-through. Not Blass. He had an old-fashioned, full windup that was a thing of beauty. It was like watching a ballet dancer at times. The most memorable thing about it was the way he would bounce his right foot two or three times in the middle of his motion as he was rocking back in preparation to deliver the pitch.
At the height of his playing days with the Buccos, he led the pitching staff to a World Series Championship against the Baltimore Orioles. It was 1971, and I was twenty-one years old. My beloved Corsairs hadn’t been back to the Series since I was ten. It was magical.
Blass pitched two superb, complete games against the daunting Birds. They had big hitters like Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. I once ran into Boog (literally) at Camden Yards after he had retired. I was walking through the crowds by the concession stands and accidentally ran into this mountain of a man. My nose came to the middle of his chest. When I looked up to apologize, I realized it was Boog Powell. I also realized I would never want to face off with him—even from 60 feet away on a pitching mound.
The Slop Drop
Powell went 0 for 8 against Blass in that series with several strikeouts as I recall. What I remember most is Powell’s reaction after one of those strikeouts. He just couldn’t hit the Blass slop drop. After a third strike swing and miss, he broke the bat across his knee as he walked away from the plate. It was a sight to behold.
After sixty years with the Pirate organization, Steve Blass is hanging up the microphone. As an announcer, he’s known for his quick wit and his wealth of baseball knowledge and lore. I’ve never met him personally, but he seems like a guy I would love to get to know.
His retirement is nostalgic for an old fan like me, and it’s good to see a modern-day city give one of its heroes an exultant sendoff. It was hard to hold back the tears as I watched his final TV broadcast. Thanks, Steve. You’ve been a joy!
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]