By Dave Bulger
As the curtain falls on the Pittsburgh Pirates 2019 season, so, too, does the 60-year affiliation between the Pirates and Steve Blass draw to a close. Prior to this season, Steve announced it would be his last. Not since 1959 has there been a baseball season that Steve was not part of the Pirates’ family in some capacity; first as a minor league player, then major leaguer, broadcaster, and good will ambassador. His career bridges the Roberto Clemente/Forbes Field clubs of the 1960s with the Josh Bell/PNC Park team of today.
Between 1964 and 1974, Steve won 103 games as a starting pitcher, including 16 career shutouts. He pitched two complete games in the 1971 World Series, winning both over the Baltimore Orioles, while giving up only two total runs. One of the most iconic photos in Pittsburgh sports history is of Manny Sanguillen and Steve celebrating and leaping after the final out of game seven.
The 1972 season was, perhaps, Steve’s best. That year he won 19 games, made the All-Star team, and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Hall of Famer Hank Aaron once claimed that Steve had the best slider in the National League, and he was such a well respected teammate that he gave the eulogy at Roberto Clemente’s funeral.
His broadcasting career has been equally impressive. After a few years of part-time announcing on cable, Steve became the full-time color commentator for the Bucs in 1987 on KDKA radio and television and has been announcing their games ever since. In addition to his place in baseball history, Steve also has had a big presence locally in the Upper St. Clair community. He and his wife, Karen, settled here in 1972 on Quigg Drive and raised their two sons, Chris and David. Steve and Karen spent more than 40 years living in USC. Unlike many professional athletes who would rather not be bothered, Steve embraced the role of neighbor and built lifelong friendships to become part of the fabric of his neighborhood. He was approachable, not aloof. He just happened to be the World Series hero living next door. Steve explained in his 2012 autobiography A Pirate for Life that he was simply heeding the advice of another Pirate/Upper St. Clair legend, announcer Bob Prince. The Gunner once told him, “If you’re going to live in a community, be a part of it. Show up for events that are going on in your town.” Steve took that suggestion to heart. “Those were words of wisdom that I still adhere to today,” he said. Steve helped coach his sons’ Little League teams. He led the annual Christmas caroling adventures, often humorously changing the words of the songs, then he and Karen would welcome everyone into their home to celebrate (often with his classic juke box playing his favorite Jethro Tull songs). Halloween was always interesting at the Blass’ house. Some years, Steve would dress in a gorilla suit and sit motionless on his front porch. As the neighborhood kids approached to trick-or-treat, he would jump up and put a scare in them and a smile on their faces. And on Sundays in the fall after Steelers games, he could often be found on the street in front of his house throwing a Nerf football to his sons and the neighborhood kids.
Steve also assumed the role of emcee for the annual neighborhood Horse’s A** Award. As the name suggests, this was an honor bestowed each year to the individual who committed the most embarrassing acts or showed the most outrageous behavior. There was never a shortage of candidates, and Steve would humorously announce the nominees, often recreating or imitating the incidents.
The annual Quigg-Clair neighborhood 4th of July block party could rival Mardi Gras. For 49 years, the neighborhood has celebrated together and for most of those years, Steve was at the heart of the revelry. He wore outrageous outfits, led the Simon Says game, golfed in the scramble and told funny stories. He brought the Pirate Parrot for the children. He also captained the Quigg Drive team in the annual softball game versus Clair Drive and Long Drive (who were captained by another Pirate great and neighbor, Dave Giusti).
Steve and Karen have also been very involved locally in various charitable foundations and organizations, including Family Hospice (where Karen also worked), the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation, Junior Achievement, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Retirement will allow them more time to spend with their five grandchildren (and one great-grandson). Their son, Chris, and his wife, Lisa, have blessed them with three grandchildren (Meghan, Christopher, and Noah) while their son, David, and his wife, Nila, blessed them with two (Nicole and Jacob).
And while they now live on Mt. Washington, Steve and Karen can still often be found at the baseball fields of Upper St. Clair, watching their grandson, Christopher, play ball. The last sentences of A Pirate for Life strongly sum up Steve’s positive views, outlook, and energy. His life advice to anyone who asks is “Be kind. It’ll make your life sweeter and you’ll sleep better. All the rest is details.” Words to live by.
Steve Blass was interviewed this past spring by Lanny Frattare and Jim Render for a 15241.TODAY talk 30-minute broadcast feature. View it on USC Township website’s at www.twpusc.org under “video gallery” or segments posted under “talk” at 15241.TODAY. See article on page 85.