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Category:    Home > Reviews > Baseball > Sports > The Pittsburgh Pirates 1979 World Series Collector's Edition (A&E)

The Pittsburgh Pirates 1979 World Series Collector's Edition (A&E)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B+     Program: A



A&E Home Video and Major League Baseball have joined forces for something that's been long overdue -- releasing complete and unedited DVD versions of classic sporting events.  In this particular case, it's the 76th World Series in 1979 between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles.  Rewatching every moment of these old games has been one of the highlights of the year for me, bringing back a rush of childhood memories.  There's no doubt that fans everywhere will want to relive the championships of their favorite teams.  But the key words here are "complete and unedited versions" of the games.  Part of the fun was going back and seeing how everything looked during the 1979 fall classic, from what the stadiums looked like to what the fans looked like to what the team uniforms looked like to hearing legendary announcer Howard Cosell tell it like it was.  Hopefully, the NFL, NHL, NBA and NCAA will follow suit.  A potential gold mine is right there waiting in those archives.


After losing the National League East to the Philadelphia Phillies on the second to last day of the season in 1978, the hard-hitting Pittsburgh Pirates, nicknamed "The Lumber Company," got off to a slow start at the beginning of the 1979 season, but two key trades early in the campaign, which acquired third baseman Bill Madlock from the San Francisco Giants and shortstop Tim Foli from the New York Mets, added two important pieces to the puzzle.  The addition of former batting champion Madlock and the pesky Foli were clearly two key components to helping the Pirates narrowly beat out the upstart Montreal Expos to take the N.L. East that year, but not enough can be said about the leadership of veteran power hitter Willie Stargell.  The 38-year-old Stargell, affectionately nicknamed "Pops," was the team's inspirational leader, and during one rough stretch in the middle of the season Stargell adopted the Sister Sledge disco hit "We Are Family" as the team's unifying theme song.  It worked.  The song became the team's anthem for the rest of that season with the '79 Pirates to this day being known as "The Family."  As Stargell said in an interview recorded two decades ago, the '79 club was full of characters who couldn't be more different off the field, but when they were on the field together, they became one.


After clinching the N.L. East title on the last weekend of the season after a strong challenge from the up and coming Montreal Expos, the Pirates would be matched against the N.L. West-winning Cincinnati Reds in the then five game League Championship series -- the Reds had beaten the Pirates three previous times in the playoffs during the 1970s, but the 1979 edition of The Big Red Machine was without Pete Rose, who was traded to the Phillies the previous year.  After surprising the baseball world by sweeping Cincinnati in three straight games, the Pirates advanced to the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, a team known for its excellent pitching staff that had won 102 regular season games in 1979.  With four of the seven World Series games in Baltimore that year, the Orioles were the favorite.  Managed by the silver-haired, crafty Earl Weaver, who managed the Orioles in the 1971 Series, which the Pirates also came from behind to win in seven games, the '79 Orioles had the Pirates down three games to one, before The Family pulled it together and won three straight to take the 1979 Series.  And because the '79 Bucs were forced to beat the Orioles three best starting pitchers (Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer and Scott McGregor) in the final three games, it remains one of the greatest comebacks in World Series history.


But in revisiting these games in their entirety for the first time in 27 years, so many memories that receded to the back of one's mind suddenly come rushing to the forefront.  For instance, the unseasonably cold and rainy weather during much of the series; the defensive errors that cost the Pirates Game 1; Manny Sanguillen's game-winning pinch hit to give the Pirates the win in Game 2; Pirates second baseman Phil Garner's clutch hitting throughout the series; Pirates manager Chuck Tanner's bold move to start Jim Rooker in Game 5 with his team on the brink of elimination, and Rooker rising to the challenge by pitching four shutout innings and combining with Bert Blyleven for a crucial 7-1 victory in the last game of the series played at Three Rivers Stadium; Stargell's big two-run homer in Game 7; and sidearm-throwing reliever Kent Tekulve's big saves in Games 6 and 7 at Baltimore.  But one of the most interesting facts of the series is that on Sunday morning October 14, 1979, with the Pirates down three games to one, Chuck Tanner's mother died, giving the Pirates a rallying point, and, possibly, some heavenly help.


A&E's 7-disc DVD box set of the 1979 World Series is a genuine keepsake.  Each game is presented full frame (in the original 1:33:1 analog color video, looking good) on its own individual DVD in its own plastic case with statistics and facts from the game on each side of the case.  Each game begins with a warning that there may be some interference in audio and sound due to imperfections inherent in the original videotapes of the games.  Thankfully, though, most of the interference only lasts for a few seconds at a time and only persists for any length of time in the later innings of Game 5 and Game 7.  But what a treat it is to again hear the distinctive voice of Howard Cosell, who announced the '79 World Series on ABC with Don Drysdale, Keith Jackson and Al Michaels.  Cosell was truly a great broadcaster and a straight-shooter who always made watching games more entertaining.


The 1979 World Series Collector's Edition is a beautifully put together set, and an absolute must-have for Pirate fans.  Furthermore, the fact that the Bucs haven't won another World Series in the subsequent 27 years, and with the team currently on its way to its 14th consecutive losing season, this DVD box set will make fans appreciate that magical '79 season more than ever.  The Game 7 disc also has bonus features including the last half inning of the Pirates victory over Cincinnati in the playoffs, older interviews with Willie Stargell (God rest his soul), more recent interviews with other members of the '79 squad including Bill Robinson, Tim Foli and Don Robinson, highlights of Dave Parker's two great throws that made him the MVP of the 1979 All-Star Game, plus footage of the post-Game 7 celebration in the Pirates locker room where President Jimmy Carter paid a congratulatory visit.  All of this brings a smile to your face, and, if you're old enough to have watched this live in '79, will make you marvel at how fast 27 years have flown by.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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