For Steve Blass one trip to the mound at age 62 last January rivals any of the performances he's most remembered for during a 10-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Experiencing a thrill he hadn't felt in 33 years, the former All-Star righthander, who had two complete-game victories in the Pirates' 1971 World Series triumph over the Baltimore Orioles, had command of his pitches as he struck out four and walked only one in eight innings. Never mind that the batters were fantasy-camp participants. It was a dream come true for Blass, whose career ended not long after he inexplicably lost his control beginning in '73. "I have no thoughts for a comeback," Blass says, jokingly, "but I felt ecstatic. It was an absolute hoot."
Blass will stick to working as an analyst on Pirates TV and radio broadcasts, a job he has held for 22 years. He was doing public relations for Anheuser-Busch and had no on-air experience when he heard the club was hiring. An ardent reader throughout his life, Blass says he always liked showing off his vocabulary, and the Pirates took a liking to his style in a tryout behind the mike.
Blass led the National League in winning percentage (.750, 18-6) in 1968 and shutouts (five) in '71, the year he helped the Pirates dig out of an 0-2 hole in the Series. He pitched a three-hitter to win Game 3 and a four-hitter to win Game 7, holding the Orioles to a total of two runs. The following season Blass had a career-high 19 wins and a 2.49 ERA, but in '73 he was plagued by wildness that he still can't explain. He finished 3-9 with a 9.85 ERA and a league-leading 12 hit batsmen. He tried anything to regain his control--consulting sports psychologists, meditating, even pitching from one knee in practice--but quit the game after one disastrous five-inning appearance (seven walks and eight runs) in '74.
Blass became a salesman for Jostens, the class-ring company, and eight years later moved to Anheuser-Busch. Less than a year later he was in the broadcast booth. This season he is working only home games so he can spend more time with Karen, his high school sweetheart and wife of 41 years. They have two grown children and five grandchildren.
Blass isn't sure when he'll stop broadcasting, but he knows he'll always have one task: fielding calls from pitchers who suddenly can't find the plate. "I have an 800 number set up," he says, laughing. "It's ironic that they call me for advice, because I never figured it out. I tell them I don't know how you can fix yourself. My only advice is to try everything." --Andrea Woo
A World Series hero who soon after lost control of his pitches, Blass remains associated with the Pirates as a broadcaster.