Pittsburgh’s starting nine: Mike Wysocki on the greatest Pittsburgh-born baseball stars | Sports | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh’s starting nine: Mike Wysocki on the greatest Pittsburgh-born baseball stars

Now, 86 years and countless steroid injections later, nobody has topped that record

click to enlarge Pittsburgh’s starting nine: Mike Wysocki on the greatest Pittsburgh-born baseball stars
Photo by Heather Mull
Mike Wysocki

The upcoming Pirates season isn’t the only thing to get excited about; Donora native Ken Griffey Jr. will also be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s a well-deserved honor, and I wonder where Griffey fits in among other major-leaguers born in the Pittsburgh area. Here’s how I see a top nine shaking out:

9) Dick Groat. You may know him as the old guy doing commentary on Pitt basketball games, but he’s much more. The pride of Wilkinsburg is a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame and has his number retired at Duke. He could play a little baseball as well. Groat, who played for the Pirates and the Cardinals, among others, was an eight-time All-Star and an MVP, and won a batting title. That’s pretty good for his second-best sport.

8) Ken Griffey Sr. His offspring gets all the glory, but Ken Griffey Jr.’s dad wasn’t too shabby. KGS was a three-time All-Star, a two-time world champ with the Cincinnati Reds’ legendary Big Red Machine, and a lifetime .296 hitter. The Dynamic Donora Duo once hit back-to-back home runs in a game against the Angels, a feat never accomplished before or since.

7) Bill Mazeroski. Maz was born in Wheeling, but moved here to play with the Pirates when he was only 17, so he counts. A Hall of Famer, Maz won eight Gold Gloves, and baseball numbers guru Bill James has said: “Bill Mazeroski’s defense statistics are probably the most impressive of any player at any position.” Defense wins championships, but so does hitting the most famous home run in World Series and baseball history.

6) Hack Wilson. Not a good name for a comedian, but a great name for a slugger. Hack is the second most famous person from Ellwood City, behind Donnie Iris. In 1930, he drove in 191 runs for the Chicago Cubs. Now, 86 years and countless steroid injections later, nobody has topped that record. Hack led the National League in homers four times and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979.

5) Dick Allen. Straight out of Wampum in Lawrence County, Allen might be the least-appreciated player in baseball history. For some reason, his lifetime average of almost .300, 351 home runs and 1,119 RBI isn’t good enough for the Hall of Fame. Plus he did it in a dead-ball era when pitchers dominated. Allen, who played mainly with the Phillies and White Sox, was an MVP, rookie of the year and seven-time All-Star. Willie Stargell once said, “I know why Phillies fans boo him — when he hits a home run, there’s no souvenir.” 

4) Josh Gibson. Gibson moved here when he was little, and had he been allowed to play in the majors, he might have been at the top of this list. Scant records were kept for his Negro Leagues years with the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords. It’s estimated that Gibson hit more than 800 home runs in his career. He is known as the only player to hit a fair ball out of old Yankee Stadium. He was so good that players called Babe Ruth “the white Josh Gibson.”

3) Ken Griffey Jr. If you lived in the 1990s, you know him. A cultural phenomenon who appears in Macklemore videos and has been on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and The Simpsons, Griffey Jr. slugged more than 600 home runs without a hint of drug enhancement, a rare accomplishment in his era. Perhaps that’s why he received 99.3 percent of the Hall of Fame votes on his first ballot. 

2) Honus Wagner. Carnegie’s own is so old-school that he played for both the Pittsburg Pirates and the Pittsburgh Pirates. “The Flying Dutchman” led the Bucs to their first-ever world title, in 1909. Wagner won eight batting titles, and led the league in steals and RBI in five different seasons. Wagner was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the inaugural class. He’s the original first-ballot Hall of Famer.

1) Stan Musial. When your nickname is “The Man” and nobody ever argues that you’re not, you must be something special. The Man, who played for the Cardinals for all 22 years of his career, was a 24-time All-Star (some years had multiple All-Star Games), three-time World Champion, seven-time batting champion and member of MLB’s All-Century team. Poor Ken Griffey Jr., he’s a left-handed hitting outfielder from Donora born on November 21, the same as Musial. And while they were both great players, Musial, well, he was The Man in every way.