Blass to step away from mic after 2019

World Series hero, longtime voice entering 60th season with Pirates

January 15th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- Steve Blass sat in the press conference room at PNC Park on Tuesday morning with a piece of paper in front of him. He tried to condense his 60 years with the Pirates into a form that would fit on that one sheet, but there were too many people to acknowledge and far too many stories to tell. Toward the end of his 30-minute speech, Blass recounted his top 10 moments in chronological order -- from signing as an 18-year-old in 1960 to his World Series heroics in 1971 to receiving the "Pride of the Pirates" award in 2002.

"It doesn't get much better," Blass said. "It really doesn't get much better."

In his second act, Blass became the longest-tenured broadcaster in franchise history. This will be his 34th year behind the microphone as a color commentator and, as he revealed on Tuesday, his last season in the booth.

Steve Blass: A Pirate for life

"It feels right. This is my 60th year," he said in front of a crowd of local media and Pirates employees. "You look at an overview of life, kind of rounding third and heading for home, and I want to find out what the last 90 feet's like. I want to enjoy that. I want to take it at my own pace. I've been running with track shoes on my whole life."

The Pirates will celebrate Blass' legacy all season, culminating on Sept. 28 with a player/broadcaster bobblehead giveaway and an on-field ceremony at PNC Park. Blass framed his step back as a "semi"-retirement, however. While he'll get to spend more time with his wife, Karen, and the rest of his family, he will remain involved with the Pirates as an alumni ambassador and spend plenty of time at the ballpark.

"I just can't pull the plug on not being a part of the Pirates," Blass said.

On Tuesday, Blass remembered the start of their relationship. He signed with the Pirates in 1960 for $4,000 and earned $250 per month pitching in Kingsport, Tenn. He made his Major League debut as a 22-year-old in 1964 and made it back for good in '66.

Blass was one of the National League's best pitchers from 1968-72, and he was a hero of the Pirates' 1971 World Series victory. Blass threw two complete games and allowed only two runs in Pittsburgh's seven-game triumph over Baltimore. Unsurprisingly, Games 3 and 7 made his personal top 10 list. So did the ensuing celebration back home in Falls Village, Conn.

"Steve is as synonymous with Pirates baseball as anyone in the history of our organization. Steve leaping up into the air following the final out in his second complete-game victory of the 1971 World Series is one of the most iconic moments in Pirates history," Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said. "For 60 seasons, Steve has represented the Pirates with humility, grace, pride and passion. Words cannot express how appreciative we at the Pirates organization are for his dedication or how beloved he is and always will be."

Blass' command disappeared after his All-Star campaign in 1972, and he spent the next three years unsuccessfully trying to get it back. The Pirates never quit on him during that time, he said, and he's never quit on them since.

"I will never turn my back on the Pirates," Blass said. "It's limitless. It's there forever."

Blass spent 10 years in the Majors, going 103-76 with a 3.63 ERA, 57 complete games and 16 shutouts in 282 appearances. He ranks 17th on the Pirates' all-time wins list, seventh in strikeouts (896) and 16th in shutouts. He takes pride in what he accomplished on the field, but he doesn't count himself among the all-time Pirates greats like Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski.

"What I'm really proud of is I'm 74-2. I'm 76 years old. I've had 74 great years. I've had two of them that were quite bad," Blass said. "But 74-2 ain't bad. I'm proud of that."

Blass went out of his way to list a few regrets -- that he didn't pitch another seven or eight years chief among them -- and a couple of embarrassing moments. He laughed as he recalled wetting his pants at second base in Little League and, more recently, Karen pointing out the irony of him criticizing his grandson for not throwing strikes.

After retiring as a player, Blass remained in Pittsburgh and continued to perform community service for the Pirates. He moved to the broadcast booth in 1983, working alongside Frick Award winner Bob Prince on cable telecasts, then joined the Bucs' radio broadcast team in '86.

Blass called Pirates games from '86 until 2004, then decided to take a partial step back and only broadcast home games on TV and radio beginning in '05. Blass has continued in that role, working home games and occasionally taking road trips with the team.

In his current role, Blass has become beloved by fans and his contemporaries. Broadcasters Greg Brown, Joe Block, Bob Walk and John Wehner were among those in attendance on Tuesday. Brown, who shares Blass' unabashed passion for the Pirates, said he will miss their off-the-mic time together more than anything else.

"Working with this group is a joy," Blass said. "Whenever I walk up that line, through the hallways, I feel like this is where I should be. So I'm still going to be spending a good bit of time here. The commitment that I have after this season will involve a lot of time at this ballpark with these people. That can never change."