Whether it’s Throwback Thursday, Flashback Friday or Turn-back-the-clock Tuesday, we love nostalgia. Even though, most of the time, the past is over-romanticized.
The 1950s, to a lot of people, is the golden era to which we should strive to return. Well, that’s great if you love segregation, unfettered air pollution and polio. But for Pittsburgh sports fans, the golden era is the 1970s. That’s why this week I’ve prepared a special Way-Back-Wednesday edition of Cheap Seats.
Everybody in Pittsburgh knows that the sports world achieved perfection in 1979. A fourth Lombardi, a fifth World Series, and we were just three years removed from Pitt football’s national title. We didn’t even know that a couple of teenagers named Danny Marino and Mario Lemiuex were on their way to extend our golden era. With the 2015 Pirates winning more than 95 games in PNC Park, let’s travel back to the cheap seats at Three Rivers Stadium the last time they won it all.
Back then the stadium had a 600 level, the cheapest of all seats. In those days, you could blow cigarette smoke in someone’s face during the game and they just had to deal with it; popping a Quaalude or two was also completely acceptable. Sitting high above the Allegheny River watching amphetamine-fueled players run around the rock-hard artificial turf was a tiny slice of heaven. And if you needed something with a little more pop, even the Pirates mascot could hook you up. It was a land of big mustaches, bigger hair and crazy-looking uniforms. The players and the fans were all as high as the inflation.
Hall of Fame captain Willie Stargell led the 1979 team and everyone knew him as Pops. Coolers full of beer were stocked in the dugout. You just had to remove a massive chaw of chewing tobacco from your mouth first. The entire decade was one big party, perhaps best summed up by the iconic picture of the “Cobra,” Dave Parker, smoking a cigarette in uniform during a game. Other teams had glow-in-the-dark baseballs, nickel-beer nights and disco nights, and the Chicago White Sox even wore shorts. Not the uncomfortable-to-look at shorty-shorts NBA players wore, but shorts nonetheless. Everyone had a buzz and let it all hang out, even before midnight.
Modern players traded in those amphetamines for HGH (although even that’s going away), swapped ice-cold beer for bottled water and gave up chewing tobacco for sunflower seeds. The shifty cocaine dealer is no longer lurking in the background; instead, it’s a personal trainer making sure you’re staying on your workout regimen. What a bunch of wusses.
Today, relief pitchers come running out to the mound with heavy-metal music blaring. Back then, not-as-uptight relief pitchers leisurely rode in a golf cart from the bullpen. Whether it is better now or then is completely subjective. Athletes are certainly in better shape today. No one chokes up on the bat like Tim Foli, or wears reading glasses like Kent Tekulve. But I will put Dave Parker’s cannon of an arm up against anyone playing today.
The cheap seats in 1979 must have been great. You could go to a game for around $5, and still have a little left over to party on Liberty Avenue. We’ll remember 1979 as the year Stargell unfairly had to share his MVP award with Keith Hernandez. But you did not see Hernandez holding a championship trophy with Terry Bradshaw on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Ahh, the good old days.
Hopefully, we can look back on the days of Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte and the 2015 Pirates with similar reverence. Unfortunately, we might also be waxing nostalgic about the “good old days” when tickets were just $50, beer only cost $10 a can and you could park for a measly $25.