In their locker room in picturesque new Three Rivers (that is, the Allegheny, the Ohio and the Monongahela) Stadium, the Pittsburgh Pirates were enjoying themselves. Manny Sanguillen, the hottest-hitting long-armed Panamanian catcher in baseball, yelled at Dave Giusti, perhaps the best reliever in baseball, "Hey, you too old to throw a fassball inside," and then he roared with laughter.
Dock Ellis, the hottest-talking, hottest winning pitcher in the National League, explained that his one-year-old daugher's name, Shangaleza Talwanga, meant "everything black is beautiful" in Swahili. Manager Danny Murtaugh, who looks like a cross between a bulldog and Barry Fitzgerald, sat in his office rocking chair, quietly rocking and chewing. Reserve Infielder Jose Pagan walked up to All-Star Leftfielder Willie Stargell (see cover) and hit him five or six good solid blows to the chest.
"O.K.," Pagan announced. "I'm ready. I feel good."
Stargell looked down on his little teammate and agreed. "You do," he said. And not just Pagan. Almost all the Pirates were feeling good and going good. As they loosened up last week for the Dodgers, the Bucs had grounds for team euphoria. They had won 11 in a row and were leading the National League East by 11� games, with a winning percentage of .667, best in the majors.
They were at home at Three Rivers (that is, at the Monongahela, the Allegheny and the Ohio) where their record for the year was a cozy 36-13. They were batting .284—14 points higher than the fabled 1970 Big Red Machine had—and they were leading both leagues in home runs.
Their ace pitcher, Ellis (the only Pirate who wears a fuzzy—or as he prefers to call it, a "velvetized"—batting helmet) was riding a personal winning streak of 13.
Their batting bulwark, Stargell (the only Pirate whose number is marked on everything—even his shower shoes—in a Roman numeral) was leading baseball with 31 home runs and 88 RBIs, and their bullpen bulwark, Giusti, had a similarly staggering total of 19 saves.
Their Hall of Fame rightfielder, Roberto Clemente, was hitting around .340, as usual, and a couple of weeks before in Houston he had made a catch about which Astro Manager Harry Walker declared, "He took it full flight and hit the wall wide open. It was the best I've ever seen."
They owned an offensive depth that would bring honor to a nuclear submarine. The Pirates' fourth outfielder, Gene Clines, had exactly the same lifetime batting average (covering 31 games in '70 and 52 in '71) as Ty Cobb, and their fill-in second baseman was old Bill Mazeroski—hitting for a better average than when he was a perennial All-Star. Due back soon from Marine camp was Dave Cash, batting .322 and already established, at age 23, as Mazeroski's worthy successor. Altogether, with seven American blacks, six Latins and a white minority which included at least one Polish American, one Texas American and two redheads, the Pirates had perhaps the richest assortment of ethnic strains ever to heap threats, obloquy and even full nelsons upon one another, day after day, in active harmony at Three Rivers—that is, at the Ohio, the Monongahela and the Allegheny.
Then, that night against the Dodgers, the Pirates lost a baseball game.