50 years later, 1971 Bucs' impact resonates

July 17th, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates turned back the clock Saturday evening as they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1971 World Series title-winning team at PNC Park.

Eleven members of the championship team were honored in an on-field ceremony before the first pitch of the Pirates’ game against the Mets.

“Any time we can celebrate former Pirates -- especially former Pirates who have reached the pinnacle and won World Series championships -- I think it’s really cool to honor them,” manager Derek Shelton said. “I’m excited to see them in the ballpark. I love having former players around.”

One crucial member is missing from the reunion this year, though. Rennie Stennett, whose MLB debut came in 1971 with the Pirates, died May 18 at the age of 72.

Stennett didn’t have an at-bat in the World Series, but he contributed to one of the biggest moments the 1971 team produced: He was one of the nine names written on the card of the first all-Black lineup in MLB history, when the Pirates faced the Phillies on Sept. 1, 1971.

Manny Sanguillen, the catcher for the 1971 Pirates and part of that historic all-Black lineup, said it’s been tough for him to even watch games after Stennett -- who he said was born in the same hospital as him in Panama -- passed away.

“Rennie was one of the most talented baseball players I’ve seen,” said Sanguillen, who said Stennett was a superstar in Panama by the age of 14.

Shelton said the Pirates planned to wear 1971 World Series championship shirts for pregame drills and batting practice, but rain scratched that possibility.

However, he said it’s still special for the current Bucs squad to be in the company of a team that won it all. It’s not the first time this has been the case; members of the 1971 team have visited Spring Training in the past, including Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski’s trip last year.

The current Pirates team hasn’t forgotten what the moments were like.

“To have Maz in camp and talk about hitting a home run that walks off the World Series, there’s nobody else that can have that conversation, except for Joe Carter,” Shelton said. “We should be able to embrace that and continue to talk about that, so it’s very important.”

It’s just as important for the 1971 team, though, to meet up with one another, especially after the way the pandemic has affected gatherings over the past year and a half.

As former Pirates pitcher and broadcaster Steve Blass said with a laugh, he’s glad this year is the 50th anniversary, not last year. Blass came in hand with newspaper clippings and photos of the players' wives to share and reminisce on an incredible year in franchise history.

Blass, who is the last National League pitcher to throw a complete game in Game 7 of the World Series, also fired the ceremonial first pitch to Milt May. It was a ball outside, but he jumped up and down as if he’d just won the title once again.

“It’s not closure, because we hope it goes on forever,” Blass said. “It’s fun catching up with the guys that you went through a fabulous year with.”