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The Most Important Game That Nobody Noticed. . .Until Later

September 2, 2021

September 1 is an important day during a long baseball season. The dog days of summer are coming to an end. The final push for the playoffs is starting. Rosters are expanded as clubs can call up some of their promising AAA prospects.

Fifty years ago a game was played that no one really took note of at the time, but has since become one of the most important games every played.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were hosting the Philadelphia Phillies at the old Three Rivers Stadium. The Pittsburg lineup that day was,

Rennie Stennett 2B
Gene Clines CF
Roberto Clemente RF
Willie Stargell LF
Manny Sanguillén C
Dave Cash 3B
Al Oliver 1B
Jackie Hernández SS
Dock Ellis P

That lineup included two future Hall of Famers, Willie Stargell and the great Roberto Clemente. The rest were pretty good in their own right. Pittsburg’s Manager Danny Murtaugh penciled in Al Oliver at first base. This was a bit of a departure.

Oliver was normally an outfielder, but he occasionally played first base. But, as a left-handed hitter, he would not normally be in the lineup against a left handed pitcher (Woodie Fryman, pitcher for Phillies was a southpaw.) He did better than okay going 2-4.

But, Oliver’s success at the plate had little to do with the exceptional nature of the game. In fact, no one today cares that the hometown Pirates defeated their visiting cross-state rivals 10-7.

No, what made the Pirates lineup unique that day was that for the first time in the long history of baseball a starting lineup was all black or Latino players. It was briefly mentioned during the game, but it wasn’t really celebrated. The announcers made a brief mention of it, but only as a curiosity.

And next day in the papers? Not a mention.

You would think that would be inspiring right? All black and Latino team takes the field and the papers treat it as not worthy of note. Except that wasn’t the case. The newspapers didn’t mention it because they didn’t want to draw attention to such an event.

The same thing happened April 16, 1947, the day after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. The papers treated it like just another rookie call up. And thus it was with the September 1, 1971 game. Just another September game in Pittsburg.

Murtaugh was asked if he compiled his lineup with the idea of it being the first exclusive Black and Latino lineup. In typical baseball manager tradition he said,

“When it comes to making out the lineup, I’m colorblind and my athletes know it. They don’t know because I told them, but they know it because they’re familiar with the way I operate. “

I’m sure that Murtaugh would also explain that pitchers never try to hit batter. They’re just trying to pitch inside and occasionally one gets away from them.

If any team was going to accomplish this feat, it’s not surprising. Pittsburg had 13 Black and Latino players on their roster. More than any other team.

Fifty years on, people and even players in the game have started to gain a better perspective of just how important that game was. Catcher Manny Sanguillen,

Now that I’ve thought about it, that’s the best game I caught in the Major Leagues. That’s going to be part of history forever.

Yes, even if you have never heard about it, it’s one of the most important games ever played.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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