why this team?: the pirates were family in 1979, defeating the baltimore orioles in the world series 4 games to 3. they won 98 games during the regular season, and then swept the cincinnati reds in the nlcs before facing the orioles in the fall classic. they became the only team to recover from a 3-1 deficit in the world series and win the championship.
which players are featured?: bert blyleven, bill madlock, dave parker, and phil garner.
why these players?: let's break it down and find out.
bert blyleven was 12-5 for the 1979 pirates. he made 37 starts, which means he had 20 no-decisions (a record for one season). i believe blyleven blamed chuck tanner for removing him from starts quickly for his lack of wins in pittsburgh, and even quit the team for a short time in 1980 as a result. anyway, blyleven was allowed to pitch a complete game in the third game of the nlcs against the reds. he held cincy to 8 hits and struck out 9 en route to a series clinching 7-1 victory. in his first world series, blyleven started game 2, but left after 6 innings with the score tied at 2. the pirates wound up winning 3-2 on a manny sanguillen single. blyleven returned to the mound in game 5, pitching 4 innings of scoreless relief to earn the win as the pirates began their comeback.
bill madlock, who had won two batting titles with the cubs earlier in the decade, was acquired by the pirates in june of 1979. he took over at the hot corner in pittsburgh and hit .328 over the rest of the season. in his first taste of the postseason, madlock hit .250 against the reds, but then hit .375 in the world series against the orioles. i am guessing that upper deck is referring to one of madlock's four hits in game 5 on the back of his card, as he was held hitless in games 6 and 7 when the pirates were facing elimination.
dave parker had a few memorable moments in 1979, and he gets a card telling us as much. for me, his most memorable moments came in the 1979 all-star game when he threw jim rice out at third and brian downing out at home. in the games that counted, he hit .310 with 25 home runs and 94 rbi. in the postseason, he hit .333 in the nlcs and .345 in the world series.
phil garner split his time between third and second in 1979, and he even played a little bit of shortstop. he hit .293 in 150 regular season games, and then had a postseason for the ages. as the back of his card says, garner hit .500 in the world series (12 for 24). he had 4 doubles and 5 rbi, and an on base percentage of .571. this was after he hit .417 (5 for 12) in the nlcs with a triple and a home run.
the stadium on the back is...?: three rivers stadium, with a photo taken from either the allegheny, monongahela, or the ohio river. it was home to the pirates from july of 1970 through the 2000 season, and so is appropriate for this team.
did upper deck get it right?: they certainly got the stadium and the team right, but i wonder why they didn't include the 1979 orioles in the set. the o's were the only 1979 playoff team not featured, and i will assume that it is because they will show up in 1983. still, it would have been appropriate for another round of jim palmer and al bumbry cards, plus maybe a don stanhouse or even an eddie murray card.
willie stargell passed away in 2001, so his absence is understood. and as for the players upper deck chose for the pirates, i can't complain. some other sensible choices would have been bill robinson (third on the team with 24 homers), lee lacy and rick rhoden (not really, but it would have been cool to see these former dodgers in the set), and kent tekulve who sported some fantastic glasses and saved 31 games for the champs.
as for the photos, the three color images all feature the full yellow unis (or in blyleven's case, at least the yellow jersey) which the team did wear in 1979 and a few seasons prior. they continued to wear the yellow jerseys but not the pants after 1980, and then brought back the full yellow ensemble in 1981 and wore it for a few more seasons. so, blyleven's photo could be from 1978, 79, or 80, and garner's could be shown as he was in any year from 1977 through 1979, or 1981. on the other hand, madlock's is certainly from the 1979 season because, even though the pirates wore that color combination during his later years with the team, the 'stargell stars' on his hat were only given out in late 1978 (when madlock was still a giant) and 1979. i'm sure one of those stars was for his walk-off home run he hit against the dodgers in late september. as for dave parker, his photo is from 1980 at the earliest, thanks to the v-neck, solid white jersey that the team debuted in 1980 and continued to wear throughout the remainder of parker's time in pittsburgh.
is this team timeless?: this team is family, it is the last pirates team to win a title, and it helped the city of pittsburgh attain its 'city of champions' moniker. yes, i believe that it is timeless.