Let's Learn From the Past: 1971 Pirates

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From the Negro League dominance of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays to the Pittsburgh Courier's unparalleled coverage of African-American athletes, Western Pennsylvania has been home to many significant achievements by minorities in sports.

In 1971, the Pittsburgh Pirates continued this groundbreaking tradition by producing the first all-minority starting lineup in Major League Baseball, more than 24 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

Before a home game against Philadelphia on Sept. 1, 1971, Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh filled in a starting lineup card that consisted of nine players who were either African-American or Latino. The lineup included future Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, as well as All-Stars such as catcher Manny Sanguillen and pitcher Dock Ellis.

The all-minority lineup fared well for the Pirates, as they defeated the Phillies, 10-7, after trailing early in the game.

The game didn't get much recognition at the time in Pittsburgh, mostly because the Pittsburgh newspapers were on strike. However, in Philadelphia, the Evening Bulletin ran a story headlined, "Pirates Starters All Black," and quoted Murtaugh as saying, "When it comes to making out the lineup, I'm colorblind and my athletes know it."

The Pirates finished the 1971 season with a 97-65 record and defeated the San Francisco Giants three games to one to win the National League Championship and earn a trip to the World Series for the first time since 1960.

Pittsburgh took on the defending champion Baltimore Orioles. The Pirates, led by many of the same players from the all-minority lineup in September, upset the Orioles, 2-1, in Game 7 in Baltimore. Clemente was named Most Valuable Player of the World Series, the first Latin American to win the award. He batted .414 and equaled his performance in the 1960 World Series with at least one hit in all seven of the series' games.

Today, the 1971 Pirates are considered trailblazers in the sport as their success encouraged the signings of more minority players in Major League Baseball.

Visitors to the History Center can learn more about Pittsburgh's legendary African-American players as part of the new exhibition, "The Story of Negro League Baseball: We Are the Ship," featuring nearly 50 paintings by artist Kadir Nelson.

Visitors can also see memorabilia from the 1971 Pirates championship team, including a glove used by pitcher Steve Blass in Game 7 of the World Series, in the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

Information: www.heinzhistorycenter.org.

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