Steve Blass

Blass presents one of baseball’s great unsolved mysteries. Why did one of the NL’s most consistent winners from 1968 through 1972 suddenly collapse? The slender, intelligent pattern pitcher with the jerky, unorthodox motion went 18-6 with a 2.12 ERA in 1968. He posted three-hit and four-hit victories in Games Three and Seven of the 1971 World Series, and his 1972 season was his best: 19-8, 2.49 ERA.

Suddenly, in 1973, he couldn’t cut his fastball loose and he was so wild he often threw behind batters. Yet there was no pain or stiffness in his arm. The once ebullient winner became emotionless on the mound. Teammates said he “looked relieved” when taken from a game. He struggled, going 3-9 with a 9.81 ERA. He pitched one game for the Pirates in 1974, walked seven and gave up five earned runs in five innings, and was sent to Charleston.

Everyone had a theory: “too nice a guy, afraid he’d hit a batter”; “his jittery motion finally let him down”; “he was afraid he couldn’t duplicate his ’72 record.” Some said he was devastated by the tragic death of Roberto Clemente, whose eulogy he gave in Puerto Rico. He tried psychotherapy, transcendental meditation, optometherapy, and various mechanical experiments. Nothing helped. Blass later became a Pirate broadcaster.