The final installment of the best Pittsburgh Pirates of all time ends with the team’s strongest collection of talent — the 10 best outfielders since the untimely end of the Roberto Clemente era. This top 10 is comparable to, if not better than, any other major-league team’s. These guys are elite, and the top three could arguably make up the best historic outfield of all time.
10. When Bill Mazeroski finally hung up his cleats, the fans in Polish Hill needed a new Bucco to call their own. Richie Zisk actually entered the majors as a late-inning replacement for Clemente. The former Seton Hall Pirate was an unsung laborer in the famed Pittsburgh Lumber Company. Zisk had four solid seasons in Pittsburgh, hitting .302, knocking in 279 runs, with 68 homers and an .848 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). He was rewarded by being traded to Bill Veeck’s White Sox, where he had to endure wearing blue shorts in the outfield.
9. Scoops had mad hits like he was Rod Carew. In fact, in the entire decade of the 1970s Al “Scoops” Oliver had more hits than anyone besides “Hit King” Pete Rose. Oliver had several productive seasons alongside Clemente in the Bucs’ outfield. These numbers are just in the few years after. Still, Oliver hit .303, stole 39 bases, went deep 80 times and drove in 413 runs. Recently Oliver was awarded a settlement because major-league owners had colluded against him and other players to keep salaries down in the mid-’80s. This probably kept Oliver from obtaining 3,000 hits.
8. From 2003-2008, Jason Bay was the only reason to go to PNC Park (other than fireworks and bobbleheads). The finest non-hockey Canadian import to Pittsburgh, Bay made fans forget about Brian Giles, for whom he was traded. Bay was the first Pirates player to start an All-Star Game since Andy Van Slyke did it in the early 1990s. Also, he was the first Bucco to win Rookie of the Year since the award was created in 1947. The stereotypical quiet, polite Canadian cleared the deck with a cannonball 139 times, added 452 RBI, hit .281 and had an OPS of .880. Later he signed a big contract with the Mets that ended in disappointment. But the Mets are known to make bad deals, like …
7. Bobby Bonilla. Bonilla will be cashing checks from the Mets for another 18 years thanks to one of the best or worst deals in baseball history, depending which side of the desk you’re on. Bonilla, who ranks as the most productive Pirates third baseman in the past five decades, now makes this list for his work in the outfield. Bobby Bo hit .284, smacked 114 homers, and knocked in an even 500 runs. He wore nine different uniforms in his career, but had his best numbers as a Pirate.
6. Willie Stargell played the outfield for three years after Clemente passed. Sure, he was in his mid-30s at the time, but he still makes the list. Captain Willie was by far the best first baseman in team history and is also a top-10 outfielder. His career numbers would’ve ranked him higher, but even in baseball middle age, Willie Stargell is better than all but five guys on the list.
5. Brian Giles looked like Lenny Dykstra on steroids. Actually Lenny Dykstra was on steroids, but he should have skipped them because he never looked like Brian Giles. Monster numbers were the norm for Giles. As a Bucco, Giles had an OPS of 1.017, which is the best among any Pirates outfielder (Clemente included). In his four full seasons, the lowest number of homers Giles hit was 35, and only Pedro Alvarez has hit more than that since. Giles clubbed 165 home runs and knocked in 505 runs, all while hitting .308. He once had an on-base percentage of .450 and finished second in the league in walks the year Barry Bonds walked 198 times.
4. Andy Van Slyke won five consecutive Gold Gloves, hit 117 home runs and stole 134 bases while playing center field. He wasn’t the best in any category, but was among the leaders in almost all of them except for OPS (.811). He had a pretty good arm, too, and runners eventually decided to stop testing him after he enjoyed a long run atop the league’s outfield-assists list. Postseason let-downs and an unfriendly personality were traits he shared with his non-BFF outfield mate, Barry Bonds.
3. Dave Parker once hit the cover off a baseball and not figuratively, either. The Cobra crushed catchers who blocked home plate, threw lasers from right field, won two Gold Gloves and an MVP award. But Dave Parker was never loved by fans. Seen as too brash and as too well paid (traits we love today), Parker even had to dodge batteries and loaded socks that were thrown at him by his own fans. A remarkable talent who, if not for his penchant for non-performance-enhancing drugs, may have been one of the league’s best of all time. Also, you have to admit that picture of him smoking a cigarette in the dugout is pretty cool. Parker pounded 166 home runs, hit .305, stole 123 bases and drove in more runs than anyone on the list, with 758.
2. Andrew McCutchen has more home runs (175) more stolen bases (160) and a better OPS (.868) than Dave Parker. We know he’s struggling now, but at the age of 30, Cutch has been better than anyone … almost. He’s not been involved in a single controversy, and he’s had no confrontations; nothing but good has come out of Andrew McCutchen as a Pittsburgh Pirate. He also has an MVP under his belt and a legacy that is still being created. See him now while he’s still here! What more do we want from a player? Cutch has won the Roberto Clemente Award for his off-field contributions, and in spirit we would love to give him this Clemente Award for the best outfielder since The Great One. But when the numbers are finalized, nobody has been better than …
1. Barry LaMar Bonds. He’s got two MVPs, three Gold Gloves, 176 homers and 251 stolen bases to go along with an .883 OPS and the highest defensive ranking on this list. All these numbers were accrued by the time he was 28, and a full seven years before (allegedly) adding “juice” to his everyday diet. The most hated ex-Pittsburgher this side of Jaromir Jagr, Bonds was Dave Parker all over again, only better. The knocks against him were terrible postseasons and a churlish attitude. His lifetime WAR (wins above replacement level) is 162.4, which is behind only Walter Johnson, Cy Young and Babe Ruth in the annals of baseball history.