There is something about the Pirates. I'm not picking them to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy, but I'm just saying.
You had the 1969 Mets sprinting from August obscurity to October immortality courtesy of a World Series championship. A decade later, you had the forefathers of these Bucs dancing and singing their way to baseball glory with help from four sisters with the last name of Sledge. You had the Miracle Braves of 1914, and, goodness knows, the Red Sox remained Boston Strong last season while overcoming so many things to win it all.
There also were others. Still, when you sift through history, the 1969 Mets and the 1979 Pirates were the game's best magic teams.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it, especially since this is the 35th anniversary of those Pirates shocking the world. No way they were supposed to keep rising after falling during the regular season to reach the playoffs. They prospered in the National League Championship Series against what remained of the Big Red Machine. Then in the World Series, they shocked an Orioles bunch that had captured three of the first four games.
Since those Pirates were into surviving and advancing long before Jim Valvano invented the term for college basketball's March Madness, and since the current Bucs are underdogs like their legendary predecessors, and since this year commemorates that 35-year-old miracle ...
Who is to say these Bucs aren't a team of destiny?
"It's possible. Certainly it's possible," said Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker, whose team hosts the Giants in the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday night.
If the Pirates win, they will face the Nationals in the NL Division Series, and I already said the Nats are no joke. The same goes for whichever powerhouse wins the AL pennant. So it isn't an easy path to the World Series for a franchise that hasn't made it that far since -- well, since that '79 Bucs team kept doing its wonderful thing.
Walker nodded, and he added, "It's kind of hard to tell if you can be a special team [like the 1979 Pirates] when you're in the midst of things during the course of the season. You're just trying to win games. You're trying to get to the World Series to do those things that those Pirates did back then. We know that the talent in this clubhouse is very special, but to compare us to that 1979 team or to teams like that, in my opinion, it's kind of hard."
Yes and no.
As for the "yes" part, the 1979 Pirates were DOA at one point during their season, and so were these Pirates. While those Bucs were nine games out of first place in their division in the middle of May, these Pirates were nine games out of first place by the end of June. They both rallied primarily with bruising offenses. The '79 club led the NL in runs scored and slugging percentage, and it was second in home runs and batting average. These Bucs are third in the league in batting average, slugging percentage and home runs, and they are fourth in runs scored.
Pitching? Well, the '79 Pirates finished with the third-best ERA in the league at 3.41, and these Bucs finished with the NL's fifth-best ERA at 3.47. They also both were faster than most of their peers. The '79 club was second in the NL in stolen bases, and these Pirates were fourth. Not only that, they both had somebody who either captured the NL MVP Award after their regular season (Willie Stargell, in a tie with Keith Hernandez in 1979) or was high in the running to do so (Andrew McCutchen, the Bucs' current star, who is threatening to become a back-to-back winner).
As for the "no" part, the '79 Pirates were inspired by Stargell's powerful tongue, and there also were those four sisters, otherwise known around R&B circles as Sister Sledge. Actually, Stargell and Sister Sledge became one regarding those '79 Bucs. That's because the man they called "Pops" had a revelation while sitting in the home clubhouse during a rain delay and listening to a recording of Sister Sledge singing its then-new song called "We Are Family." Moments later, Stargell dialed the press box, and he told the Pirates' publicity man to announce over the public address system that "We Are Family" would be the Bucs' theme song for the rest of the season.
Such was the case. Emphatically. The Pirates blasted the song in their clubhouse before and after games -- whether they won or lost -- and team executives kept it echoing around Three Rivers Stadium.
So do these Bucs have a song, a gimmick, a something?
"Yeah, we have Bucco Fever. They call it Bucco Fever in Pittsburgh, and they also talk about Buctober," said Walker, 29, who is an accomplished Pirates historian as a Pittsburgh native. Plus, his father, Tom, pitched for the Pirates during the mid-1970s. "It's been a long time since people have really been on board with the whole Pirates organization, so it's fun to be a part of."
But back to Bucco Fever and Buctober. Not bad. Even so, if I'm in charge of these Pirates, I'm calling those Sledge sisters. They're still around. Maybe they can whip something up in a hurry.