If there’s one category in Pirate history that’s made for a Top 5 list, it’s a list of the five World Series won by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The franchise has won five Series with five very different teams across a 70 year swath of time. The only problem? Each of the Series winners is a great team with of Hall of Famers and each of the Series wins went seven games. Ranking the teams or the Series is like ranking your kids. Still, let’s see what kind of headway we can make after the jump.
The first thing that occurs to me is that I’m not even sure what I’m ranking here. Am I ranking the five best Pirate teams to win a World Series? Because that list has a clear number one in the 1909 team that went 110-42 and was probably the best team in franchise history but gets more jumbled in the 2-5 slots as the 1925, 1960, 1971, and 1979 teams all had pretty similar winning percentages.
I’m inclined to put the ’25 team second; they scored 912 runs in 153 games with Hall of Famers Pie Traynor, Kiki Cuyler, and Max Carey in the lineup, plus a pitching staff that managed an impressive 116 ERA+ over the course of the year despite featuring a group of guys whose names have been mostly forgotten with time. This World Series is kind of the forgotten one since it didn’t have Wagner or Clemente or Stargell, but they were a great team. If they’re second, the ’71 team is third, I think. That lineup featured Clemente, Stargell in his prime, Al Oliver, Bob Robertson, Richie Hebner, and Manny Sanguillen. The rotation wasn’t terribly impressive behind Steve Blass and Doc Ellis, though.
The 1979 and 1960 teams are harder to separate. The ’79 team didn’t have much behind Pops, Parker, and Madlock at the plate and the rotation wasn’t overwhelming, but they had a phenomenal bullpen with Kent Tekulve, Jim Bibby, Enrique Romo, Grant Jackson, and Dave Roberts. The lineup on the 1960 team was a little more solid from top to bottom (with Clemente and Hoak leading the way), plus they had Friend and Law in the rotation and ElRoy Face in the bullpen.So if we’re ranking the five Pirate teams to have won a World Series, I’m putting them in this order:
I’m also kind of interested in which of the Series was the subjective “best” from more of a neutral observer’s perspective. That one has a clear winner, too. The 1960 World Series has to be one of the most exciting of all-time, ending with an iconic home run. Between Maz’s homer, the opponent (Mickey Mantle’s Yankees) and the David and Goliath storyline that created, and the crazy fashion that the series played out in, the 1960 World Series is an all-time classic. No brainer for #1 on this list.
Again, though, it’s hard to separate out after that. The 1909 series alternated wins and had Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner, the 1971 series didn’t see a road win until the Pirates stole one in Baltimore in Game 7, helped by Clemente’s homer that he called in a cab earlier in the day, and both the 1925 series and 1979 series both had comebacks from 3-1 deficits against great opponents.
I’ll be honest, I’m partial to the ’79 series. The way the team charged back to tie things up, fell behind early in Game 7, then got a huge homer from Stargell is just great baseball drama. The 1925 series, though, is a forgotten classic. After Walter Johnson shut the Pirates out in Game 4 to give the Washington Senators a 3-1 series lead, the Bucs fell behind early in Game 5 before winning 6-3, fell behind early in Game 6 before winning 3-2, and then gave up four runs in the top of the first in Game 7 before they even had a chance to hit against Johnson, who’d allowed just one run in 18 innings against the Pirates in the series. The Pirates cut the lead to 4-3, then gave up two more runs. Then they tied it at six, then gave up another run and went into the bottom of the eighth trailing 7-6. They hung three more runs on the Big Train in the bottom of that inning with seventh and eighth runs two scoring on Kiki Cuyler’s ground-rule double, and they finally shut the Senators down in the ninth to hold on to the win. I suddenly really wish this game was on DVD.
I can’t see any way not to put 1925 second again and 1909 goes last on this list because despite the seven game series, Game 7 lacked drama and most of the games just weren’t that close. So, my list of the five World Series the Pirates won going from most drama to least drama looks like this: