Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training: 45 Years Ago, Today.

Last week I took a look back exactly 90 years ago to Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training on March 17, 1922. The week prior on March 10th, I went back exactly 75 years ago. Today, I’m going back to a more recent era to see what was going on with the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 24, 1967, exactly 45 years ago to the day.

The 1966 Pirates went 92-70, finishing in third place, three games back of the first place Los Angeles Dodgers. The Pirates big acquisition that off-season just happened to be from those first place Dodgers. On December 1, 1966 they traded Bob Bailey and Gene Michaels in exchange for Maury Wills. At age 33 in 1966, Wills had a tough season stealing bases, finishing with 38 swipes and a league leading 24 times caught stealing. It was the first time since 1959 that he didn’t lead the league in stolen bases and it was down 56 from his 94 steals in 1965.

On March 24, 1967 the Pirates took on the defending World Series champions, the Baltimore Orioles. Pittsburgh, the road team, went with this lineup for the game:

1. Maury Wills, 3B
2. Manny Mota, CF
3. Roberto Clemente, RF
4. Willie Stargell, LF
5. Donn Clendenon, 1B
6. Gene Alley, SS
7. Bill Mazeroski, 2B
8. Jim Pagliaroni, C
9. Tommie Sisk, P

The Orioles lineup that day included three future Hall of Famers, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Luis Aparicio. Jim Palmer also pitched in relief.

Pittsburgh ended up winning the game, which turned out to be a pitchers duel, despite a quick start by the Pirates. Willis led off the game with a single then stole second base. Mota then hit a single which scored Wills, making it 1-0 before an out was recorded. Nine innings later, that one run held up and gave the Pirates a 1-0 shutout victory. It was the fourth straight win for the Pirates and their second shutout over the Orioles that Spring. With their overall record of 9-4, the Pirates had the best Spring Training record up to that point.

On the mound, Sisk threw four innings, allowing one hit (a double to Brooks Robinson), and he walked one batter. He was followed by Steve Blass, who went four innings as well, giving up a single, a walk and he struck out five Orioles batters. Sisk had allowed just one run in seven innings prior to this game so he was pitching well all Spring, but Blass, coming into the game, had allowed six runs in his first six innings of work. Lefty reliever Bill Short finished out the game for the Bucs. It was suggested that Short would likely make the Opening Day roster. He would, although he lasted just six games and 2.1 innings before being sent to the minors. It was the first time he made a team out of Spring Training since 1962 with the Orioles.

At the plate, Wills collected two hits and stole three bases. Clemente went 1-for-3 with a single before leaving the game when he was replaced by Manny Jimenez. Stargell, Alley and Pagliaroni each collected one hit, all singles, and Matty Alou got the only pinch-hit appearance of the game when he batted for Sisk in the fifth inning. All the starters except Clemente played the entire game. Alou was in a slump at the plate and was given some time off to rest. The two teams were scheduled to meet the next day as well.

A few new pitchers were impressing the Pirates, both off-season trade acquisitions. Juan Pizzaro and Dennis Ribant were both pitching well and that would translate into plenty of mound time during the 1967 season. Ribant ended up pitching 172 innings, while Pizzaro made 50 appearances, occasionally as a starter. George Spriggs was a 30-year-old outfielder, who had made two September appearances on the Pirates roster, 1965 and 1966. He was hitting great during Spring Training but it was already decided that Manny Jimenez was going to make the team as the backup outfielder/pinch hitter. At least that is what was assumed with 18 days left in Spring Training. Spriggs did make the Opening Day roster and got into 38 games that season, nine as a starter.

One of the other stories that spring was Willie Stargell coming into camp much heavier. By March 24th though, he was hitting over .400 and had lost 13 pounds (so far) so the concern over his weight was all but gone at that point. Finally, a 20-year-old minor leaguer named Bob Robertson was still in camp with the team. He would make his major league debut that September, but it wasn’t until 1970 that he would play his first full season in the majors and hit 27 homers with 82 RBIs. Robertson was playing third base in spring, a position he would play just 16 times in the majors.

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