Led by a man called "Pops," the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates danced to the disco hit "We Are Family" all the way to a World Series championship. But that Pirates squad's family tree had its roots in the team's history-making predecessors of 1971.
Although Willie Stargell led both the 1971 and '79 Pirates in home runs -- knocking 48 and 32, respectively -- he wouldn't become the team's spiritual leader until after Roberto Clemente's untimely death in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972.
"The 'Family' originated in the early '70s, we just didn't have a song," said former All-Star Al Oliver, who played with the Pirates from 1968-77. "But 'family' is something we always talked about, starting with our general manager Joe Brown.
Clemente, an iconic figure revered by his teammates during their playing days, is held in increasingly high esteem with each passing year.
"Robby [Clemente] led by example. On and off the field, he exemplified how a player should be and carry himself," said Oliver. "He hustled on the field and was a great example for the young players we had on that team. Will [Stargell] was more hands-on than Roberto, they had a different way.
"Stargell was more of a leader off the field. If we had a losing streak, he knew when and how to have a team party. He was a socialite, and that helped our team to stay together, including our wives and children."
This year, the Pirates are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the team's 1971 World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles, as well as another historic milestone achieved along the way.
On Sept. 1, 1971, twenty four seasons after Jackie Robinson officially broke baseball's color barrier, the Pirates became the first Major League franchise to field an all-minority starting nine. Witnessed by just 11,278 fans in attendance, the game did not receive a great deal of recognition at the time.
"I don't think I've been asked to talk about that team as much in the last 40 years as I have been this year," said Oliver, who was honored recently at a gala event in Pittsburgh, along with other members of the 1971 Pirates, by the Josh Gibson Foundation in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the great Negro Leagues slugger's birth.
"In the '30s [Gibson's time], it would have been totally impossible in most people's minds to believe what happened in 1971. If you were living in the '40s, you wouldn't have believed it," said Oliver.
The 1971 Pirates team boasted three future Hall of Famers in Stargell, Clemente and Bill Mazeroski, as well as All-Stars in catcher Manny Sanguillen and pitcher Dock Ellis.
|1.||Rennie Stennett, 2B|
|2.||Gene Clines, CF|
|3.||Roberto Clemente, RF|
|4.||Willie Stargell, LF|
|5.||Manny Sanguillen, C|
|6.||Dave Cash, 3B|
|7.||Al Oliver, 1B|
|8.||Jackie Hernandez, SS|
|9.||Dock Ellis, P|
The Pirates' regular starting lineup in 1971 would have Sanguillen behind the plate, Bob Robertson at first, Dave Cash at second, Richie Hebner at third, Gene Alley at short, Stargell in left field, Oliver in center and Clemente in right.
But on this day, playing at home against the Philadelphia Phillies, Hebner and Alley were both nursing injuries, and -- for reasons obscured by time -- Robertson, who played first base during each of the 126 games he appeared in that season, was also on the bench.
"The key to that whole night is that Woody Fryman was pitching for Philadelphia," said Oliver. "He was a left-hander. At that time, on occasions, [manager] Danny Murtaugh would platoon a player like me. But on that night, for whatever reason, I played first base and Bob Robertson, who usually played against all left-handers, did not play.
"It really wasn't a major thing, until around the third or fourth inning, and Dave Cash was sitting next to me and one of us said: 'You know, we got all brothers out there, man,' and we kind of chuckled because it was no big deal to us. We really had no idea that history was being made."
Sanguillen was also on hand for the Josh Gibson Centennial and Negro Leagues Gala, and enthusiastically recalled the events of Sept. 1, 1971.
"We were like the Bingo Long All-Stars that day against Philadelphia," said Sanguillen in reference to the 1976 movie about life in the Negro Leagues.
"Woody Fryman was pitching for them and Dock Ellis was pitching for us," added Sanguillen, who hit a home run and single in four at-bats with two RBIs and two runs scored in the Pirates' 10-7 victory. "They scored [two] runs [in the top of the first], we scored five [in the bottom], then they scored [four] more [in the top of the second] and we scored five more and won the game."
Ellis was tagged for five runs (three of them earned), giving up two hits and four walks. He was removed from the game with one out in the top of the second inning.
Although next-day game stories mentioning the Pirates' historic first are hard to come by -- workers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were on strike from May 15 to September 19 -- The Sporting News did include this brief account of the game in its September 18th edition:
What is believed to be the first all-Negro starting lineup in major league history turned back the Phillies on September 1. Manager Danny Murtaugh's combination of American and Latin Negroes pounded out 13 hits en route to a 10-7 victory.
Center fielder Gene Clines thought Pittsburgh had started nine Negroes before.
"This is the first time," slugger Willie Stargell said. "Back in 1967, in Philadelphia, Harry Walker started eight of us, but the pitcher, Denny Ribant, was white."
Ironically, it took six innings of strong relief by Luke Walker, a Caucasian from Texas, to quiet the Phillies, Walker followed starter Dock Ellis, Bob Moose and Bob Veale to the mound.
Stargell was correct in noting that it was the first time the Pirates had fielded and all-minority nine, but it was not actually the first time Murtaugh had written such a lineup.
Former Philadelphia Phillies slugger Dick Allen recalled a barnstorming Spring Training game scheduled to be played between the same two teams in Asheville, N.C., in 1963. Murtaugh had a heated argument with a representative of the local Chamber of Commerce who told him he could not put nine black players on the field.
"I can still see the tobacco juice flyin' out of Danny's mouth and going all over this guy's shirt," said Allen, to author Cal Fussman for his oral history book "After Jackie." "At first, Danny said that he didn't know it was an all-black lineup till they told him. But he didn't want to change it, and that's when the tobacco juice started flyin'"
Eight years later, when Murtaugh wrote his historic lineup against the Phillies, the next day's Philadelphia Evening Bulletin ran the headline "Pirates Starters All Black" and quoted Murtaugh as saying, "When it comes to making out the lineup, I'm color blind and my athletes know it. They don't know it because I told them, but they know it because they are familiar with the way I operate."
"With our team, you could put all the names into a hat, draw out nine and still be all right," said Cash.
Murtaugh's color blindness in writing the Pirates' lineup every day was a natural progression and part of Major League Baseball's evolution, reflective in a team whose roster at the time was comprised of 14 whites, six African-Americans and seven Latinos.
"It was a good thing to hear what Danny Murtaugh said after the game, and there's no doubt in my mind that he meant that," said Oliver.
"He could play hunches as well as any manager that I played for. He might start a guy that hadn't played in two or three weeks. He may have had a hunch that a guy may do well against a certain pitcher. Whether it was a hunch that night or whatever you want to call it, it was baseball history."
Charlie Vascellaro is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.