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Steve Blass deserves the kind of season the Pirates are providing these days
Pittsburgh sports author and Valley Mirror columnist Jim O’Brien
This has been the best of summers and the best of seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steve Blass.
During last Saturday’s game, Blass said to his sidekick Greg Brown during the telecast, “This is great. This is even gooder than good.”
I had to smile. I knew Blass knew there is no such word as “gooder,” but he simply wanted to emphasize his joy over the way the Pirates were playing and winning games. I felt good for Steve Blass. His vocabulary is full of positive words.
We share some bonds. We are both 71, and we live a mile apart in Upper St. Clair, and we both love to talk about our two kids – David and Chris in his case – and our grandkids. He frequently refers to his wife, Karen Lamb, whom he married in 1964, and I am guilty of the same with my wife Kathie.
I visited with Blass in the press box before last Sunday afternoon’s game with the Chicago Cubs, which the Pirates would win 2-1 to remain tied with the St. Louis Cardinals and 3 1/2 games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central race. As always, he was easy and casual company. He wore a baseball cap so I was tipped off that this would be his day on the radio and he didn’t have to wear a tie to the ballpark.
They would be playing the San Diego Padres and the Reds in the remaining games on their home schedule, and then go to Chicago and Cincinnati to close out this season of all seasons.
This is the 30th season Blass has been in the broadcast booth for the Bucs. He’s been there for 20 consecutive losing seasons prior to this one, a record in futility for major pro sports teams in North America.
They showed a fan in the stands with a sign that read: “LET’S GO, BUCKS!” I told my wife that this was not a Pirates’ fan, but somebody who was jumping on the bandwagon and wanted to be seen on television. You had to live in a cave the past 60 years to think they were the BUCKS and not the BUCS.
This is Pittsburgh and not Milwaukee, where the pro basketball team is called the Bucks. There are a lot of people at PNC Park these days who just want to be part of the crowd, but it’s a great scene and great atmosphere anyhow.
Blass never complained about the 20 years of losing. I knew he would say he enjoyed those 20 seasons, and that’s exactly what he said on Sunday. “Hey, you’re still coming to the ballpark,” he said in the way of a Blass understatement.
“I love to drive here from my home, knowing I’m coming to the ballpark, knowing I’m going to be watching a baseball game. I’m still living the dream.”
He also likes to say, “I’ve had a good life: one wife, one house and one team.”
He signed on with the Pirates out of high school in Connecticut in 1960, when the Pirates won the World Series thanks to Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in the seventh game at Forbes Field.
Maz and Blass are both familiar figures in the Steel Valley as they frequently are celebrity participants in the Homestead Lions Club Golf Outing at Westwood and Blass has been a regular at the annual Sports Night dinner at the Thompson Club in West Mifflin.
Blass was the recipient of the Bob Prince Award for media excellence along the way and he will be one of the winners of that award who will be honored at the club on Tuesday, October 8. I was similarly honored years ago and plan to attend the dinner coordinated by fellow Valley Mirror columnist Darrell Hess.
Blass has known the best and the worst of Pirates seasons on a personal level. He had a 10-year career as a pitcher for the Pirates and pitched two complete games in the 1971 World Series, giving up only seven hits and two runs in 18 innings while posting two victories. Think about the enormity of that feat. No one pitches complete games these days, let alone in a World Series.
Back in 2009, at a golf outing featuring former Pirates, Blass had two holes-in-one over 18 holes at the Greensburg Country Club. The odds against doing that are infinitesimal. And he didn’t do it playing with a cousin somewhere out in the Poconos.
Blass is a friend of professional golfer Jim Furyk and when he heard that Furyk had scored a 59 in the second round of the BMW Championship at Lake Forest, Illinois, Blass called Furyk and left a message congratulating him for being only the sixth golfer in PGA history to score that low.
Blass also mentioned that it was almost as terrific a feat as his two holes-in-one in the same round.
Furyk left a message for Blass that night saying while he never had two holes-in-one the same day he didn’t want to hear from Blass again until he had a 59 in a golf outing.
Blass enjoyed the exchange. On Saturday, Blass was mentioned in similar byplay by Ken Dryden, a Hall of Fame goalie with the Montreal Canadiens, who was in the stands at PNC Park.
During a televised interview with Robby Incmikoski, Dryden mentioned how he beat out Steve Blass by one vote for the Lifesaver Award in 1971. Dryden won an expensive foreign sports car and Blass said he ended up with a record player. “But it was a nice record player,” said Blass, “and I couldn’t pronounce the name of the car anyway.”
“Or spell it,” added Dryden, with a final dig.
Dryden had come from Toronto with his wife and had caught a baseball game in Cleveland, then Pittsburgh and would be going to Detroit. “I’m a big baseball fan, and it’s a chance to see three contenders in one swoop,” said Dryden, whom I remembered as always being a cerebral and thoughtful interview when I covered the National Hockey League back in the ‘70s. He’s like Blass in that regard, and was a reminder of how good some guys are in the business.
Blass has been with the Pirates for 54 years. “I’ve run my race,” he said when we spoke last Sunday. “I can stand back and be happy for these guys.
“I am happy for the fans —especially that core of 8,000 to 10,000 fans who stuck with the Pirates through the toughest of times – and I’m happy for the city.
“This was a baseball town before it was a football town or a hockey town. Hey, I’m a fan of the Steelers and I’m a fan of the Penguins. I pull for them, too. People are up on the Pirates now and down on the Steelers.
“I see people in the super market and I tell them, ‘Stick with the Steelers; they are still our Pittsburgh Steelers. You have to stay loyal.”
Blass has been loyal to the Pirates and they have been loyal to him. “I’m a lifer,” he says proudly. He has not traveled on the road with the team for the past nine seasons, but he attends many functions and luncheons and dinners and golf outings on behalf of the Bucs to promote the team while the Pirates are on the road.
Anyone who gets to play golf with Blass has a blast. He is a funny guy. And a good contributor to the score for any foursome.
“My bucket list includes wanting to play golf with Jim Furyk in Jacksonville, where he lives, on the way to spring training this year.” Blass goes to Bradenton, Florida at the beginning of each year and spends the winter there.
Turning to baseball, Blass said, “I’ve experienced the best and the worst seasons, I survived 1973 and that was no fun.”
That was the next to the last season for Blass as a pitcher for the Pirates. He could no longer control his pitches and couldn’t find the plate. His ratio of walks to strikeouts is the worst in the game since 1901. His sudden loss of his ability to command his pitches became known in baseball as “the Steve Blass disease.”
That’s well behind him now. “I love good pitching and we have some good pitchers,” said Blass. “Our bullpen has been lights out most of the season. I think Mark Melancon could give Andrew McCutcheon a run for MVP on this team.”
Melancon would go on that Sunday to pitch a perfect ninth inning and, for the second day in a row, preserve a one-run lead for his 16th save of the season. “I think Neal Huntington, our general manager, should be the executive of the year,” said Blass. “That was a gutsy move in trading Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox; he’d been so great as a closer for us, and going with Jason Grilli and now Melancon in that role. He got us the players we need for the stretch run.”
Blass believed that the Pirates would not be overmatched or overwhelmed if they met either the Cardinals or the Reds in the playoffs. “They have shown they can play with these guys during the season,” he said.
“I tell these guys to make sure they don’t try to be better than they have been during the season. I made that mistake in 1971. I thought I had to be better. You just have to be yourself and play the way you have played all year.
“I love seeing the young kids in the stands. We’re going to make baseball fans out of these kids, and this is the first time in a long time we can say that. I’m happy about that. I’m happy just to be able to come to the ballpark.
“I’m happy to be reminded of how great a game baseball is.”
During Saturday’s game, Blass quoted Roger Angell, one of the best authors ever on the subject of baseball. It goes like this:
“Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly, keep hitting, keep the rally alive and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.”
I asked Blass if he kept a note on that quote in the broadcast booth to pull out when he needed it. He pointed to a mural on the wall nearby that contained the Angell quote. “No, I memorized that.” To prove it, Blass repeated the quote just for my sake. And smiled like a student who knew the answer to the test question.
Angell had written a lengthy piece on Blass for The New Yorker when Blass was experiencing his control problems in 1973.
Blass said he had a good feeling that they could stay the course as far back as July 21 when the Pirates pulled out a victory on a Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati. That feeling was reinforced when the Bucs bounced back from being swept in St. Louis to sweeping the Rangers in Texas that they could do it.
“Just be yourself. That’s good enough,” he said. “Clint Hurdle has done a fine job of keeping everyone involved and giving everyone a chance to contribute. That’s a real juggling act. This is an exciting time to be a Bucs fan. I’m enjoying the ride.”
Jim O’Brien has a new book “Chuck Noll – A Winning Way” available at his website. www:jimobriensportsauthor.com or by Googling Pittsburgh sports author Jim O’Brien.
Jim O’Brien: Attorney Garry Nelson still a formidable court figure
Jim O’Brien’s column on Garry Nelson For The Valley Mirror
Garry Nelson stood tall, and patiently, at a doorway in the lobby of the Allegheny County Jail, waiting to be admitted to confer with one of his clients earlier this month.
Nelson, at age 63 and 6-feet 10-inches tall, may be the tallest defense attorney in town. A guard recognized him and asked, “You’re one of the twins, aren’t you?
Nelson nodded and said, “You’re too young to remember us.” And the guard said, “No, I saw you guys play. You were good.”
Garry and his brother Barry joined 6-10 Gary Majors to form a fearsome frontline for Duquesne at the outset of the ‘70s. “We had the tallest team in NCAA Division I,” recalled Nelson. They were a tough threesome under the boards.
During the Nelsons’ three varsity seasons, the Dukes were 21-5, 17-7 and 21-4, nationally ranked and played in the NIT and NCAA tournaments.
The Nelson Twins both credit their coach at Duquesne University, John “Red” Manning for much of their success as collegiate basketball players.
Manning was a smart guard on Chick Davies’ teams at Homestead High before he moved on to play ball at Duquesne University. Under Davies, the Homestead Steelers won a WPIAL and PIAA basketball championship in 1950. He had been a successful basketball coach before he came to Homestead when he served at DuquesneUniversity.
Manning would be an important figure in DuquesneUniversity basketball for 33 years. His record from 1958 to 1974 was 247-138. He was a no-nonsense kind of coach, sometimes too grim for his own good.
He was furious when he found out that Barry Nelson had wrestled a bear at the West Penn Sportsmen’s Show at the Civic Arena, That was in late February, 1970, in the middle of a basketball season. It was an Alaskan Brown Bear named Gentlemen Ben. It stood 7-feet 10-inches on its hind legs and weight 675 pounds.
Barry used some of the same moves he called upon to defend against Big Bob Lanier, a brawny 6-11 center from St. Bonaventure University. Roy McHugh, a sports columnist at The Pittsburgh Press at the time, was disappointed that Barry did not use a full-Nelson or a half-Nelson to subdue Gentleman Ben, but he did wear the bear out before he jumped on its back and pinned the bear, and picked up perhaps $50 in prize money.
Manning put the Dukes through a demanding practice at their next session to show them his unhappiness with their off-the-court shenanigans.
But Garry Nelson also remembers that the Dukes were the most popular sports team in town during his days on The Bluff.
“In our senior season (1970-71), we were upset by Pitt in the Steel Bowl, and then won 15 straight games,” Nelson said. “That loss to Pitt still haunts me.”
When knowledgeable Duquesne fans reflect on the team’s storied history, they think of Chuck Cooper, Dick and Dave Ricketts, Sihugo Green, Willie Somerset, Norm Nixon, Billy Zopf and Mickey Davis, who all played pro ball.
And they remember the Nelson Twins. They came from FoxChapelHigh School, but that was a bit misleading. They grew up in Blawnox, a blue-collar community along the Allegheny River, that just happened to be in the FoxChapelSchool District. Fox Chapel was a cut above Blawnox on the society scene.
They grew up in the shadow of The Workhouse, which was a penal institution where men who committed lesser crimes were locked up. “Those short-term inmates worked farm fields on a hill above the Workhouse,” recalled Garry Nelson. “We’d get chased when we played ball in those fields.”
The workhouse was closed in 1971 when the Nelsons were seniors at Duquesne, and was developed into the RIDCIndustrial Park. “I definitely think there should still be a place like the Workhouse for petty criminals,” Nelson said.
He’s among the Duquesne alumni who think that building a jail below The Bluff and the DuquesneUniversity campus and the Eastern entryway to downtown was some kind of cruel joke perpetrated by the City Fathers, probably Pitt grads. Of course, the old jail building still stands at the base of the other side of the campus.
He reported that his brother Barry is now living in Plano, Tex., “still working on his hand speed, foot speed and his flexibility to improve his squash game.” Barry is in sales division of Hewlett-Packard.
Both had brief flings at playing pro ball, but were among the late cuts. Garry had tryouts with the Dallas Chaparrals of the ABA and the Buffalo Braves of the NBA, and ended up playing in the Eastern Basketball League and in Italy for a few years. Barry played a year for Milwaukee Bucks and played three years in Paris.
Their dad was a teamster and Garry got into the trucking business with Eazor Express, and driving a truck and then as a manager for McClean Trucking Co. at their terminal in Winston-Salem, N.C., and returned to Pittsburgh with Roadway Express.
He decided he wanted to do something different with his life, and entered Duquesne LawS chool. “I started with three children under three and ended with four under five-years old in my third semester,” he said. Garry graduated from Duquesne’s Law School in 1982.
He began by trying cases as a prosecutor in Robert Colville’s district attorney’s office, trying 62 juries-to-verdict in two years. He then joined Grogan, Graffam, McGinley and Lucchino, a law firm at Gateway Three, and continued trying cases. Now he’s on his own.
“It’s a competitive business,” he said. “There’s a scoreboard. You want to win for you and your client. You have to be well prepared when you go to court, just like when you went onto a basketball court.
“I think that athletics in general helps with teamwork and competition which prepares one for business,” he continued. “Our coaches at Duquesne, Red Manning, Al Bailey and John Cinicola, made sure that we were prepared for the season.
“Our father was a hard-working Dane from South Dakota, and he instilled a great work ethic in us, and a consideration for other people and honesty. Our mother was Pittsburgh Irish with a great sense of humor and the ability to work through tough times.”
Asked what he does best to be successful these days, he said, “I return my phone calls and I do not procrastinate.”
Jim O’Brien: Former Pittsburgh Steeler Larry Brown builds winning teams at Applebee’s
Pittsburgh sports author and Valley Mirror columnist Jim O’Brien
Larry Brown was checking out Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar in West Mifflin late last month. It’s one of 13 Applebee’s restaurants he’s responsible for as an owner and officer in a chain linked with Apple American which has over 60 restaurants nationally, based out of San Francisco.
He had called me on the telephone a week earlier while visiting Applebee’s in Monaca, which was closed at the time for renovations. Brown makes the rounds, making sure all is going well and that Applebee’s is at its best.
Brown is a good example of a former Steeler or Pittsburgh pro athlete who went to work – in the real world – as soon as he retired as a player and has made a successful transition to what Chuck Noll always called “your life’s work.”
This was the morning of Friday, June 21, the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. “All days are long if you don’t love what you’re doing,” said Brown. “I love what I’m doing.”
Brown has been in the operations end of the restaurant business since 1984, his last season with the Steelers, when he and former teammate J.T. Thomas hooked up with a Burger King outlet and then eventually got involved as owners of several Applebee’s throughout Western Pennsylvania.
He works out of an office in Penn Center East, Wilkins Township. J.T. Thomas is no longer associated with the company. He last owned a restaurant – Red Hot & Blue Southern Grill — on The Waterfront in Homestead, but closed it last June..
“The restaurant business is a demanding, highly-competitive business,” said Brown. “People have a lot of options. We want to treat our customers the right way, and make it compelling for them to come back to our restaurants.
“Chuck Noll had a saying I am sure you are familiar with: Whatever It Takes. That’s what I tell our people over and over. We have to do whatever it takes to do it right, and offer the best dining experience possible. It also takes teamwork. I know how valuable it is to create an environment — a culture — that our employees and our customers enjoy. Some people just endure in the restaurant business. It’s better if you have a true passion for it. We are in the service business. We want to have a winning team.”
Like many of his former teammates, Brown draws upon those experiences to make points with his employees.
“I use the philosophy and mindset every day in business,” continued. “The sports analogies are always good. They are a simple way to convey complex perspectives that aren’t always clear otherwise. People get them.
“It’s also highly competitive, like athletics. You have to overcome adversity. It teaches you to deal with those kinds of things. To have the attitude to do whatever it takes to get things done. You can’t make excuses, just like in the NFL. If you do, you lose your job. You can’t find reasons to fail. You can’t accept failure – you’ve got to make your own success to keep your job.”
Brown said he has tried to create the same kind of environment that breeds success in sports in his restaurant ventures.
“You want to provide an opportunity for people to be working for a good purpose, for them and for us. You’re looking for good people. Some people just don’t get it and they’re never going to get it. It takes a special person to handle the rigors of running a restaurant.”
Greg Kiniry, the general manager at Applebee’s Lebanon Church Road location, said, “I’ve worked with Larry Brown for 15 years and I love working for him. I’m proud to say our restaurant is the most successful one in the chain. We want to keep it that way.”
My wife Kathie and I stopped at Applebee’s Restaurant on Lebanon Church Road in West Mifflin on the way home from KennywoodPark last month. We had our granddaughters, Margaret, 9, and Susannah, 5, with us. The place was packed.
I like the atmosphere at Applebee’s because there’s always lots to look at on the walls. They are filled with nostalgic stuff, artwork, photos and all sorts of interesting artifacts from the entertainment and sports world, with pictures and pennants of the local teams, right down to the local high schools.
They have a new menu and some new features and it’s not hard to find something to like, no matter your age.
Larry Brown says the people who are employed in those restaurants must add their skills and smiles to create an even more appealing atmosphere and dining experience.
“You’re never off duty,” said Brown. “You be the change you want to see. You be the one who sets the example. When you’re a leader everyone is watching you to see what you’re doing. It’s more important what you do than what you tell them to do.
“You can take a manager from one store and send him or her to another store. If he or she is mediocre at one store he or she will be mediocre at another store. If he and she is outstanding at one store he or she will be outstanding at another store. It matters who is managing the store.
“Everyone in our organization has read the book Winning With Accountability: The Secret Language of High-Performing Organizations, by Henry J. Evans. It is must reading.”
“It’s hard to understand the phenomenon of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the ‘70s. What I’m doing today – and in life – is better because I was surrounded by so many good people and we learned from each other. We benefited from the company we were keeping.”
Brown participated as one of the alumni at the Steelers’ Fantasy Camp that was conducted at Chuck Noll Field at St. Vincent College in Latrobe a few weeks earlier, the last weekend in May, 2013.
“I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in with that,” said Brown, “but it worked out fine. I wasn’t sure how to intellectually examine what was going on there, but there were people from all over the world who came to be with us. Mature people. Why would they want to do this? They wanted to go through real football drills.
“They wanted to experience something similar to what we experienced. They just wanted to tap in on what we did, and to be with us again. The fans were so much a part of what we accomplished. It was great to see some of them again. I admire them for that.”
Click here to listen: http://bit.ly/11fVCPi
By Jim O’Brien From Pittsburgh Business Times
Vince Scorsone came out of McKeesport to be a big success in sports and business
The Vince Scorsone story is a classic tale of how someone transformed early success in football into greater success in the business world.
Scorsone first gained notice as an outstanding lineman at McKeesport High School and then the University of Pittsburgh in the early ‘50s. He went to work at Alcoa in 1960 after a two-year stint in the military service as a first lieutenant in Korea and a year of pro football with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League, and began a 34-year career at Alcoa. He held many management positions as he climbed the corporate ladder at the Fortune 500 aluminum company.
He was the executive vice president when he retired in 1994, and served as chairman’s counsel from 1991 to 1994. He and his wife Jan lived on Grandview Avenue on Mt. Washington, but moved to the San Diego area in 2006.
At Alcoa, Scorsone served as the right hand man to the president and CEO, C. Fred Fetterolf, small in stature next to the powerfully-built Scorsone, but someone who had lettered in three sports – football, basketball and as the No. 1 golfer on the links team – at Grove City College (’52) and could appreciate a true student-athlete in his administration.
Scorsone credited his high school football coach, the legendary “Duke” Weigle, for setting him on the right course. “I ran into Coach Weigle the summer (1953) before I started at Pitt, and he asked me what I was going to major in at Pitt. I told him physical education. ‘I want to be a coach like you,’ I said. And he wagged his head and said, ‘No, you don’t. You major in business and you’ll do much better in life.’ In those days, you listened to your high school coach and I went out to Pitt the next day and changed my major.
“My story is more a story about Duke Weigle than Vince Scorsone,” continued Scorsone. His son, Grant Scorsone, says his dad, whom he regards as his personal hero, is a humble man.
There is an annual dinner held in McKeesport to pay tribute to the late Coach Weigle, and Scorsone attended many of these dinners. “Duke was a larger than life figure to his players,” said Scorsone in a letter he sent me on April 30, 2013, “and, as you know, he tried to steer his players in the right direction to have the best possible future for them. I am sure most of his players were as awestruck as I was about him.”
Scorsone first shared that story with me over 30 years ago, when he had an office in Alcoa’s headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh, and it has stayed with me. We reconnected a month ago over the telephone at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, a gated community just north of San Diego.
“That exchange with Coach Weigle probably took all of 20 seconds,” said Scorsone, “but it changed my life. I have always been grateful to him.”
When I mentioned Vince Scorsone’s name to George Smith, who is coming back to coach the football team at McKeesport High School, he nodded that he knew him well. “I met him a few times at those dinners that are held in Coach Weigle’s honor,” said Smith. “Duke Weigle was my coach, too, and I thought the world of him. He set the bar high for all of us high school coaches.”
I have always been impressed with Smith when I heard him speak about his kids and his program at McKeesport High. After a three-year hiatus, he is back to coach the team this coming fall. McKeesport is lucky to have him.
I heard Smith say something else that has stayed with me when he was honored recently at two different functions on a Saturday at the start of this month. “I don’t have a lot of confidence,” he said, “and I rely on my wife (Michelle) and my coaching staff to support me, and keep me on course.
Smith is the kind of high school football coach who makes a difference in young lives, on and off the field.
Scorsone listened to his superiors along the way at Alcoa, as well, and never said “no” when asked to take on a new assignment, no matter where it sent him and his family.
“I did the job, wherever I went,” he said. “I had respect for management people and they were great molders of my ability. I was willing to transfer and that resulted in us moving 13 times in my first 22 years with the company. I never told the company ‘no’ when they asked me to go somewhere else. I knew it would pay off.
“I knew what was going on in the plants. I was well served by my business background. My wife said to me one day, ‘Please don’t come home and ask me to move to Brazil.’ But I did exactly that a year or so later. I took on a billion dollar project in the Amazon. We lived in Sao Paolo, and had it nice, and she was happy there as well.”
There was hesitation in his voice as Scorsone spoke on the telephone. I’d just spoken on the phone with an old friend from Long Island who had the same hitch in his voice. My buddy told me he had suffered a stroke four months earlier. That wasn’t the case with Scorsone. He said he had been dealing with Parkinson’s Disease, thus the quiver in his voice. It hurt to hear such proud men struggling in their speech in both cases.
“I have all the money and free time, but I can’t play golf or do much else,” said Scorsone. “I’ll be in a wheel chair before long.”
His son Grant, who lives in Bethel Park, sent me an e-mail on Monday, May 13, telling me that he had spoken to his mother and she expected her husband to die that evening. Vince Scorsone died Wednesday morning, May 15, a week before he turned 78. That’s why this is personal; this never happened before with someone I was interviewing.
“The Lord has called for another angel,” wrote Grant Scorsone in his e-mail message. “Today looks like No. 64 is starting his final game on earth. You actually gave Dad an honor by reaching out to him regarding the PBT article. He was delighted by your request.”
In between those two e-mails from Scorsone’s son, I attended the viewing of Munhall’s Hall of Fame football star Jack Butler at the Freyvogel Funeral Home in Oakland.
It was all a little too much in the way of mortality reminders in one three-day stretch.
I attended Scorone’s funeral service, a celebration of his life, at the Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home. I saw many of his former teammates from the Pitt teams that played in the Sugar Bowl and the Gator Bowl in the ‘50s, including Dick Bowen, who grew up and starred in football at Duquesne High, but has lived most of his adult life in McKeesport’s White Oak community.
I had a chance to connect once again with Scorsone’s teammates from that era. There was Ambrose “Bugs” Bagamery, who was on Bowen’s coaching staff with the Pittsburgh Valley Ironmen, Charles L. “Corky” Cost of Cost Construction in Wilkinsburg, Dr. Darrell Lewis, also from Wilkinsburg, Bob Rosborough from Donora.
There were pictures of Scorsone with his Pitt team, and there were Western Union wires that had been sent to him back in 1957 from the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers asking if was interested in playing pro football.
He was drafted by the Washington Redskins, but entered the military service upon graduation. He later played one season with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League in 1959.
The Pitt teammates told good stories about Scorsone and talked of what a tremendous leader and friend he had been, how generous he was with so many good causes. He made good money at Alcoa, and he shared it with Pitt where he endowed scholarships, and with worthy causes here as well.
His four grandsons all spoke of the special relationship they enjoyed with their “Papa,” and that was good to hear. There was an American flag in his coffin, and there was a military observance at his service where the flag was folded by two honor guards and presented to his wife Janet. That is always a moving ceremony.
Vince Scorsone was buried on his birthday, May 21. He would have been 78. He missed Memorial Day, a day when he always felt a special sense of pride for serving in the U.S. Army as an officer in Korea after the Korean Conflict. Vince Scorsone was always the good soldier and it, indeed, paid off.
Jim O’Brien has written 21 books on Pittsburgh sports achievement in his series. Check his website at www.jimobriensportsauthor.com for details.
First, can you let readers know about your coaching career – how you got started and what you like most as a coach?
After I retired I spent the first full year as a stay at home dad to let my body heal, and more importantly, spend some much needed quality time with my two year-old twins. After the year was over I knew I needed to start a new career and a good friend of mine ran a hockey academy and asked if I would like to try coaching at it. After spending time on the ice with these kids, I knew this was where I wanted my next career to go towards.
I love helping kids reach their hockey goals whether it be making a higher level team or learning how to raise a puck. It took me back to when I was a kid and hockey was simply a game we played cause we loved it.
How difficult has it for you to transition from the NHL to a second career – and how were you able to do so?
I never really found it difficult as I left the game when I was ready to leave. I had no regrets and knew I was time to move on. I never considered myself solely a hockey player I felt I was just somebody who was fortunate to play a game I loved as a job. So when I retired I didnt see myself as losing my identity as much as I saw myself moving in a different direction
Who are some of the players and coaches that most influenced your coaching style today, and how so?
I think I probably took a little of all the coaches I had. I was fortunate to play for some pretty impressive coaches from Hitchcock to Keenan to Badger Bob etc. so I took what I liked best from all these men and lost the things that turned me off. Then added my own personality that emphasizes fun.
You read today about the struggles many NFL players face in transitioning from football to a post-sports career. How does the NHL help players do so – if at all, and is the issue as big with former NHL players as it is with NFL ones?
The NHLPA has a life after hockey program that helped with the adjustment to “normal” life by giving me the confidence to try something different. I know of a lot of other players who have struggled and for the most part it is the players that identified themselves solely as NHL hockey players, and when the limelight was turned off, they were left in the dark and had a hard time dealing with the fact that they were now just regular folk and were quickly forgotten.
You were drafted by the Penguins in 1986. What were your thoughts on getting drafted by the Penguins?
I do remember my draft, it was Montreal and the excitement of achieving a life long dream of taking that step towards the NHL. I knew they had a superstar in Mario and was both excited and nervous about taking part in training camp with the world;s greater player.
You had a huge season in ’88”90. What do you attribute that to besides being on the line with Lemieux. What about your game improved the most to allow for those 49 goals and +27 plus/minus rating?
’88-’89 was obviously a very special year and of course playing with Mario allowed my the opportunity to achieve huge success. My greatest attribute as a player was my knowledge of the Game and that allowed me to be in the right place at the right time when playing alongside Mario
What do you see as the most under-appreciated part of your game, and why?
I think my tenacity for the game. I had a huge competitive nature. When I played games I would do whatever it took to beat whomever I was playing against. I hated losing.
Who helped you adjust to the NHL – both on and off the ice – and how did they do so? Any examples?
My father was the biggest influence on my game and the person I leaned on most when times were tough.
What was the biggest difference you found to exist between the minors and NHL – and how did you adjust?
The biggest differences between the NHL and the minors were speed and size and the absence of true superstars.
As for adapting between my father and Ken Hitchcock, I was challenged to be the best player in the world not playing in the NHL and that fueled me to have hugely successful minor pro seasons and probably was the reason that I was able to come back for three more NHL seasons.
Who were some of the biggest characters on the Penguins teams you played for and what made them so? Any examples of the hijinks/personalities on that team?
There were a number of guys that would stand out from Johnny Cullen to Mark Recchi to Phil Bourque to Kevin Stevens. Any player will tell you the biggest thing they miss after their careers are over is the camaraderie that they shared with their teammates in the dressing rooms as well as on the ice. That is something that can’t be duplicated in any other walk of life. And it is funny when you get together with these guys there is never any talk of what happened on the ice. It’s all about what happened off.
What are your favorite memories of your time in Pittsburgh?
The teammates I played with. My first game and first goal. Playing in an all-star game. Every time we stepped on the ice at the beginning of a playoff game. And scoring a goal in my sister’s memory after she passed in 1999.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Having spent some of the greatest years of my life in Pittsburgh, I am loving my post hockey career as well spending quality time with my wife of 14 years and my now 11-year-old twins
Life has been good to Robbie brown and it still is today.