Tuesday, September 17, 2013

#595 - Steve Blass

In yet another final card action shot, Steve Blass gives a classic demonstration of his pitching form in Pittsburgh in which at the end of his motion each of his limbs was pointed in a different direction. Normally that flailing worked quite well for Steve but not in ’73 or thereafter and if this photo was taken from that year, there is really no telling where the pitch ended in relationship to the strike zone. Probably nowhere good. Steve famously lost all control that year immediately after his most successful season which sucked even more for him because he was a control pitcher. Really nothing went right for him all year and he would become the poster child for any player who inexplicably lost his ability to deliver a baseball to its intended spot. But Steve had a lot more going on than his fall from grace so let’s get to it.

Steve Blass grew up in Connecticut on the Housatonic River where he was all-state in basketball and by the time he graduated high school had thrown five no-hitters. That attracted attention from both his beloved Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh. He signed with the latter team when it offered him a bigger bonus and the chance to play right away. That summer of 1960 in D ball he had a bi-polar season, going 4-1 with one team and 1-3 with a 6.68 ERA for another. Steve was a power pitcher back then and after averaging a K an inning that year returned to that level in ‘61 to go 13-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 160 innings. In ’62 he had a season not too dissimilar to his first year when he had a huge year in B ball – 17-3 with a 1.97 ERA and 209 K’s in his 178 innings – after a 1-4 start with a 7.20 ERA in A ball. In ’63 he got moved up to Triple A where he met pitching coach Don Osborn – he has a bio on the Pirates coaches card – who was known as “The Wizard of Oz” for his ability to tutor pitchers. Osborn added a bunch of pitches to Steve’s arsenal during spring training. That first year Steve went 11-8 though his ERA was a bit fat at 4.44. The next year he was off to a nice start there before he was pulled up to Pittsburgh in May. In his first start in his second game Steve got a win against Don Drysdale. He went on to have a decent rookie year as a spot guy, recording a shutout, and in ’65 spent the full season back in Triple A, where he went 13-11 with a 3.07 ERA in his last season in the minors for a while.

In ’66 Blass returned to Pittsburgh where he spent the bulk of his time in the rotation and put up a nice sophomore year, improving his record and his ERA. But ’67 was a step back as the whole team fell into a sort of malaise and Steve moved from the rotation to the pen. Then in ’68 he had an excellent bounce as he led the NL in winning percentage, put up seven shutouts, and got some MVP votes. In ’69 his wins stayed up there but his ERA more than doubled and his pen time got him his only two saves up top. In ’70 he got in a hole by opening the season 2-8 before he went on a run that really didn’t stop until ’73. From then on he went 8-4 with a 3.01 ERA as the team’s best pitcher but got shut out of any post-season work. Then came the big Pirates Series year of ’71 in which Steve put up his best stats since ’68, led the NL with five shutouts, and after a tough playoff threw masterful ball in his two complete games wins over the Orioles. The magic continued in ’72 when Steve recorded personal bests in victories and ERA to finish second in Cy Young voting to Steve Carlton’s amazing year. But then up came the wall. ’74 would be even a worse experience than ’73 as after Steve’s first start – five runs on eight hits and seven walks in five innings – he was moved to Triple A for rehab. But it didn’t change things as he went 2-8 with an ERA above 9.00. He was done and he retired with a record essentially the same as the one on the back of his card: 103-76 with a 3.63 ERA, 57 complete games, 16 shutouts, and those two saves. In the post-season he was 3-1 with a 3.10 ERA in his six starts.

After playing Blass did some marketing work, first with a company that made class rings, and then with a beer distributorship, but he returned to baseball before too long. In ’83 he began doing color work for the Pirates on a local cable affiliate before in ’86 moving to the regular spot on KDKA, the broadcast Pittsburgh station. He has been there ever since. After a long dry run he must be pretty happy with how things are going this year.

Two good star bullets are presented here and it’s tough to imagine that career record was all done by 32. On the back of Steve’s ’71 card he is wearing some monster glasses. Maybe that is an indication as to what went wrong in ’73. He has a detailed SABR bio.

Steve’s card represents the initial one for the final ten per-cent of the set. Before we get to the stats so far for the first 90% let’s hook him up:

1. Blass and big Bob Robertson ’67 and ’69 to ’74 Pirates;
2. Robertson and Leroy Stanton ’78 Mariners.

Okay, here we go with a quick review:

Post-Season: Every post-season is represented by a player or coach present in this set from 1957 to 1990. Early outliers are ’51 and ’54 thanks to Willie Mays. Later ones are ’92 and ’95 thanks to Dave Winfield. ’73 continues to be the best-represented season with 89 participants.

Awards: There are now the following past or future award winners in the set to date: 25 MVP winners; 16 Cy Young winners; 25 Comeback Player of the Year winners; 12 Fireman of the Year winners; 22 Manager of the Year winners; 22 Rookie of the Year winners; and eight The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year winners.

Milestones: We are up to 38 members of the Hall of Fame. 62 players are represented by official or unofficial Traded cards. There have been 46 rookie cards in the set so far although that number will bounce significantly. And there are now 61 cards representing managers or players that have since passed away.

Topps Rookie Teams: Here are the representatives by year of each past – and now future – Topps Rookie All-Star teams:

’59 – 3               ’63 – 3              ’67 – 6               ’71 - 9
’60 – 2               ’64 – 4              ’68 – 6               ’72 – 9
’61 – 3               ’65 – 5              ’69 – 7               ’73 – 10
’62 – 1               ’66 – 7              ’70 – 6               ’74 – 1

Miscellaneous: There are 338 players in away jerseys and 186 in home jerseys. There have been 137 action shot cards and 43 with parenthetical names on the card back. We are up to six ugly cards and stalled at five players who served in Viet Nam.

Next up is the set’s final special subset. See ya in a couple days.

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