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Jim O’Brien: Blass blessed to be still living the dream

September 1, 2012

Blass blessed to be still living the dream

By Jim O’Brien, Columnnist, Pittsburgh Business Times

Steve Blass says he is blessed by the gods of baseball.  He fell in love with the game as a kid in Caanan, Conn., and found a way to make it his life’s work.

“Of course, it’s not really work,” said Blass before a recent Pirates’ game at PNC Park.  “Willie Stargell used to say the umpire says ‘Play ball.’  He doesn’t say ‘Work ball.’ ”

Blass counts playing ball with Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente, Bob Friend, Bill Mazeroski and his neighbor and buddy Dave Giusti among those blessings.  He said Maz once told him not to make excuses: “They care why you could and not why you can’t.”

Blass can’t believe he’s 70 and nearing his 20th year as a color commentator for Bucs’ baseball.  He was an outstanding right-handed pitcher for the Pirates for ten years (1964-1974).  His career record was 103-76).

He was a World Series hero in 1971 against the Baltimore Orioles when he pitched two complete game victories, giving up only seven hits and two runs in 18 innings, winning the seventh game 2-1.  He finished second in the World Series MVP voting to Clemente.  His career was cut short in his prime when he could no longer control his pitches.  That condition is now called “the Steve Blass Disease.”

He never lost his sense of humor and it has served him well working with Greg Brown on the Bucs’ broadcasting team.

Former Pirates’ broadcaster Lanny Frattare says Blass has become one of the most popular Pirates ever.  Blass, in turn, says he learned his craft from all the announcers he worked with, beginning with Bob Prince, Frattare, Mike Lange, Brown and John Sanders. “I paid attention and they brought me along.

“One of my friends told me I am getting paid for something I did 40 years ago.  I’ve been through 19 straight losing seasons, but I didn’t let that get me down.  It was still a privilege to live my life with the Pirates.”

He teamed up with writer Erik Sherman for a memoir this past May called “A Pirate For Life.”  Blass shares stories about the ups and downs of his career, and the book is a delightful read.

“It’s my love letter to Pirates’ fans,” said Blass.  “I’m so happy for the fans that we’ve had the kind of season we have enjoyed most of this summer.  The fans deserve this.”

Blass bought a home in Upper St. Clair early in his career and he still lives there, just around the corner from Dave Giusti, one of the great relief pitchers in Pirates’ history.

“I’ve had a good life,” said Blass.  “I’ve been with one team, one wife and one house.  Not many people can say that.”

Blass was spotted at a Washington Wild Things ball game during the Major League All-Star break.

His wife Karen accompanied him.  “He gets a few days off,” she said, “and what’s he do?  He takes me to a baseball game.”

In 2005, Blass did make the decision to serve as color commentator for only home games so he could spend more time with his family. He serves as a goodwill ambassador, speaking at luncheons and playing in charity golf outings.

Blass is a pretty good golfer.  He had two holes-in-one in 2009 in one 18-hole outing.  “He’s great to play with,” said one fan.  “He has a funny line about something for every hole.”

He does the same as the jester at Fantasy Camp each January, and his presence alone is worth the price of admission.

Blass credits Prince for his popularity.  “Bob Prince said don’t ever say ‘no’ to anything in your own community.”

Anyone who wants the full story on Blass will have to buy his book, but his attitude is to be admired.  “I’ve had the two best jobs in baseball,” said Blass.  “I was a starting pitcher and only had to work every five days.  And then being a baseball broadcaster.  There’s no pressure; this is a lark.  Everyone is more fun to be around when you’re winning, but it’s just not in me to get down about the team.  Hey, I’m still living the dream.”

Jim O’Brien has written 20 books, including “Fantasy Camp: Living the Dream With Maz and the ’60 Bucs.”  His website is

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