Part four of the look back at past Spring Training camps for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Today, we go back to March 30,1972 as the defending World Series champs get ready to try to repeat. The first three articles can be found here:
The 1971 Pirates went 97-65, winning the NL East by seven games over the Cardinals. In the NLCS, they defeated the Giants in four games then took care of the Baltimore Orioles in seven games to win their fourth World Series title. That off-season they basically kept the entire team together except for one key piece. Danny Murtaugh stepped down as the manager and Bill Virdon took his place. It was the first major league managerial job for Virdon, who last played for the Pirates in 1968. He had previously only managed two seasons in the Mets farm system. The regular season didn’t begin until April 15th that year, so the team was still in the middle part of their Spring Training workouts at this point.
The big story of the day was two injuries. The first was to 22 year old pitcher Bruce Kison, who was diagnosed with shoulder tendonitis. He was placed on the 21 day disabled list and would miss Opening Day. The Pirates pitching coach, Don Osborn, said that the problem wasn’t serious but it had caused Kison to throw different and they would need time to straighten him out. Kison went 6-5 3.40 in 95.1 innings as a rookie in 1971. He then pitched 11 scoreless innings in the playoffs. The other injury was a lingering one. Future Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski, had missed most of the preseason up to that point with a bad back and there was a chance he would need to be placed on the disabled list as well. He played just 70 games in 1971 and the 1972 season would end up being his last in the majors. Maz played only 34 games that last year and his injury opened up playing time for 21 year old Rennie Stennett, who made his major league debut in July of 1971.
The team was nearly all in place at this point, despite the fact they still had just over two weeks to go in Spring Training. The pitching rotation was set with Kison out and included Dock Ellis, Steve Blass, Bob Moose, Bob Johnson and Nelson Briles. Luke Walker would start the season in the bullpen(he ended up making 12 starts) and he was joined by Dave Giusti, Bob Miller, Ramon Hernandez and Bob Veale. These 11 players(including Kison) would end up pitching all but 11.1 of the Pirates innings in 1972. Virdon said that the last cuts would be made by either April 2nd or 3rd and would likely include the only other pitcher still in camp, John Lamb. Despite making it to the final cut, Lamb never pitched in the majors in 1972 but he did see plenty of time with the Pirates in 1973.
On that March 30th day, the Pirates played the Kansas City Royals in Fort Myers and their lineup was as follows:
1. Dave Cash,2b
2. Al Oliver,cf
3. Roberto Clemente,rf
4. Willie Stargell,lf
5. Richie Hebner,3b
6. Bob Robertson,1b
7. Manny Sanguillen,c
8. Gene Alley,ss
9. Nelson Briles,p
The Pirates would end up losing by a 5-4 score and it was a tough way to lose. Briles went seven innings, allowing three runs, two of them earned, and he left with a 4-3 lead. The Pirates scored their fourth run in the eighth inning before Giusti came in to close the game. He gave up just a hit in the eighth inning, then retired the first two hitters of the ninth. With one out to go, and no one on base and a one run lead, he allowed a single to Cookie Rojas, a double to Amos Otis and a game winning single off the bat of John Mayberry.
For the Pirates, Sanguillen and Robertson each had two hits and an RBI. Cash, Hebner and Stargell each went 1-4 with a run scored and off the bench, Vic Davalillo drove in the Pirates fourth run with a sacrifice fly that scored Cash. Of all the position players that started the game, only Clemente didn’t play the whole game. He was replaced by Davalillo after three getting AB’s. Vic was the only player used off the bench as Briles took all three of his AB’s and Giusti’s spot in the order never came up. Gene Alley made both of the Pirates errors in the field.