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Pirate for Life, USC Resident for 40 Years

Pitcher-turned-broadcaster Steve Blass talks about his new book and his admiration for his hometown.

So, you've just pitched a complete game to win the seventh game of the World Series. What are you going to do?

In Steve Blass' case, he decided to buy a house.

Actually, he and his wife, Karen, did so the year after his performance for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1971 Series. They decided on a place south of Three Rivers Stadium, in a township called Upper St. Clair.

"We didn't know anything about it," Steve admits.

Forty years later, the Blasses still are in the same home, and are happy about it.

"We couldn't have asked for a better neighborhood and better neighbors. It's a wonderful atmosphere to bring up kids," he says, with the firsthand experience of raising two sons, David and Christopher, in the township.

"And we've have had some of the best neighborhood parties in the United States throughout the years."

The folks next door might know him simply as Steve, but to Pirates fans, he's a legend for his successes on the diamond and his longevity in the broadcast booth, during a career with the team that started in the early '60s.

And with that type of résumé, it's no wonder he called his recently published book, "A Pirate for Life."

Collaborating with professional writer Erik Sherman—"He did a wonderful job, did a lot of research, talked to a lot of people."—Blass tells his story in an engaging manner that mirrors his on-air persona, which also mirrors his amiable nature when answering questions for interviews.

And that shows a lot of character, considering what he's most known for around baseball circles. The title of the books' first chapter says it all: "They Named a Disease After Me."

Pirates fans who are old enough to go back with the team four decades will recall that Blass followed his World Series triumph with 19 wins in 1972, when he finished second in the National League Cy Young Award voting.

But they'll also remember the following year, when his pitching statistics resembled nothing seen in the sport's history to that point.

"I finished the season at 3-9 with a 9.85 ERA," he writes matter-of-factly. "Had I been anything but awful, we would have easily won the division."

Blass' inability to throw strikes, and the inability of everyone involved to diagnose why, served as the basis for Steve Blass Disease (or as he calls it, "the thing"). And as he's noted many times on Pirates broadcasts over the years, whenever other pitchers suffer similarly, he can expect the phone to ring.

Ater attempting to pitch through "the thing" in the minor leagues during 1974, Blass decided to retire the following spring training. Later that year, he was approached by a writer named Roger Angell for a New Yorker magazine article on Blass' travails.

"I had talked about that whole scenario enough and was tired of talking about it," Blass recalls. "But when Roger called and said he'd like to talk about it, I was very flattered. I knew it would be done with class, so I had no hesitation."

He wasn't disappointed.

The resulting piece, "Gone for Good," has been a staple of Angell anthologies, consistently drawing high praise. As reviewer Richard C. Crepeau notes in the Journal of Sport History, "This may be the best piece that anyone has ever written on baseball or any other sport."

Even though the subject matter was tough to swallow, Blass proved his resiliency, eventually rejoining the Pirates in another capacity. He's been a fixture on television and radio since 1983, and at age 70 is ready to keep on color commentating.

"I've been blessed with good health," he says, attributing that more to heredity than anything he does.

During much of his time as a broadcaster, the Pirates haven't been blessed with good teams. But 2012 might be different.

"I've got my fingers crossed," he says. "I'm like every other Pirates fan. I've heard a lot over the last 19 years; I have to see it now."

Recently, he's been seeing an offensive surge to accompany consistently good pitching.

"Now that they're hitting a little better, it makes everyone relax a bit. For that reason, I'm optimistic."

Meanwhile, whatever optimism he had for his book is proving to be well-founded: It sold out of its first printing, went into a second and already is on its third.

So if some of Steve's Upper St. Clair friends and neighbors haven't gotten their copies yet, help is on the way.

This story first appeared on Upper St. Clair Patch

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