The 300 miles that separate Pittsburgh and Philadelphia seem much longer than they used to. A rivalry that stretched more than a century, beginning when the Pirates entered the National League in 1887, was extinguished with divisional realignment in 1994. But it was a remarkable rivalry.
The Pirates dominated the early years. But, despite Ralph Kiner winning seven straight home run titles from 1946-52, momentum began to shift after World War II, culminating with the Phillies Whiz Kids winning the 1950 pennant. The pendulum swung back in the next decade, and Bill Mazeroski's famous home run gave the Pirates the 1960 World Series.
The rivalry grew to its most heated levels in the 1970s and '80s. For one thing, both teams were good. The Pirates made the NLCS six times in the '70s, and the Phillies four times. The Pirates won the Series in '71 and '79, the Phils in '80. How evenly matched were they? From 1974-80, they played each other 126 times. The record: 63–63. Among the most memorable moments: The Pirates scored 10 runs in the top of the first at Philadelphia on June 8, 1989, prompting Pirates broadcaster Jim Rooker to say, "If we lose this game, I'll walk home." Predictably, the Phillies came back to win 15–11. (After the season, Rooker made good on his pledge with a charity walk from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.)
The Pirates' 6-foot-5, 230-pound Dave Parker ran over 5-11, 188-pound Phils catcher Johnny Oates on Opening Day in 1976. "Smoked him,” said Larry Bowa. “Broke his collarbone.” A brawl that erupted the next year between Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt and Pirates pitcher Bruce Kison left future Hall of Famer Schmidt with a broken finger. Three years later, the Pirates' Bert Blyleven buzzed Greg Luzinski, then threw inside twice to Schmidt. Later in the game, Kevin Saucier drilled Blyleven. The benches emptied. “One of the best fights I’ve ever seen,” said Phillies manager Dallas Green. The Pirates won the NL East three consecutive years from 1990-92, with the Phils bouncing back to win the NL pennant in 1993. But that was the end.
The Pirates, believing they would have trouble competing financially with the big-market Phillies and Mets, switched to the NL Central in 1994, effectively killing the rivalry. And now, after a record 19 straight losing seasons, we might ask the Pirates: How did that work out for you?