Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Forbes Field memories come alive in new book

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

By Kevin Kirkland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Forbes Field probably tops the list of best-remembered local landmarks that are long gone. Someone oughta write a book about it.

In a new book, about 100 different accounts recall Forbs Field in Oakland. It was built in 1909 by Barney Dreyfuss.

Click photo for larger image.

Well, someone did. Two Western Pennsylvania natives now living in Omaha, Neb., produced "Forbes Field: Essays and Memories of the Pirates' Historic Ballpark, 1909-1971 (McFarland & Co., $35)

On Friday and Saturday, authors/editors David Cicotello and Angelo J. Louisa will hold book signings on the South Side and East Liberty.

The two men met through a mutual friend in the late 1990s while both were working at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. The construction of the Pirates' PNC Ballpark, with some Forbes-like features, got them thinking about a book containing fans' and players' remembrances of a ballpark surrounded and embraced by Oakland.

"We wanted to turn back the clock, to fill in the gap in the literature on this ballpark," Cicotello said.

A native of Windber, Somerset County, Cicotello, 54, writes in the introduction about his first visit to Forbes, a double-header the Pirates split with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965. Louisa, 55, was 9 when he and his father got a bus from South Fayette to see a 1961 game against St. Louis.

"This is the real thing and I'm here," he thought as he glimpsed the field from a ramp to the second deck.

The men gathered more than 200 accounts from fans like them through contacts at nursing homes, senior centers and a Web site. About 100 made it into the book, along with memories from nearly 60 former players, coaches and team officials.

Some recall Oct. 13, 1960 -- the day Bill Mazeroski's home run beat the Yankees and won the World Series for the Pirates. But the feat is barely mentioned by Mazeroski, who, along with fellow Hall-of-Famer Ralph Kiner, was the authors' favorite "get."

As the last game ended at Forbes Field on June 28, 1970, fans poured out of the stands to gather souvenirs, overrrunning a scheduled ceremony. The scoreboard was picked apart, number by number.

Click photo for larger image.

"Being an infielder, I felt that Forbes Field had the worst infield in the major leagues. ... But I got used to it and eventually almost liked it. I have a lot of good memories at Forbes Field, especially Oct. 13, 1960," he wrote.

The closest the authors came to getting Roberto Clemente, another of their heroes, is a transcript of a radio interview he did with Nellie King on June 28, 1970, before the last game at Forbes.

"I would like to play until I get 3,000 hits. ... I think that that is something that not too many fellows accomplish," Clemente says.

"I would like to stay in baseball in some capacity 'cuz I love baseball too much. ... I don't think I could never stay away as long as I got life."

He reached 3,000 hits in September 1972 and died in a plane crash three months later.

One chapter is an audiotape transcript of KDKA's coverage of the doubleheader against the Cubs that ended Forbes' 62-year run. In it, announcer Bob Prince predicts Pirates' fans will celebrate peacefully. That didn't happen:

"After the game, the fans stormed the field and took everything, grass, bases, numbers off the scoreboard. I even saw some old ladies with parts of chairs. It was a real scene," wrote the late Jim Nelson, the Pirates' winning pitcher that day.

The editors also included accounts by fans who took souvenirs.

"Some feel very elevated and proud that they brought away something. We wanted to have multiple perspectives," Cicotello said.

Other chapters discuss ballpark builder Barney Dreyfuss, whose innovations made it "the first truly modern ballpark of the 20th century"; the Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Pitt Panthers, Steelers and boxers who also competed there; and the field's changing dimensions and statistics showing that it wasn't really a "pitcher's park" after all. Though it had the fewest homers of any National League park, it had the most triples.

The heart of the book, however, is the Forbes' remembrances -- of ushering there for more than 40 years, of selling newspapers in the stands in 1958, of starting in 1995 an annual Oct. 13 celebration at what's left of the outfield wall in Oakland.

The editors were forced to leave out remembrances that were mainly sentimental.

"They had to have details and a deep connection to the park. I love the stories," Louisa said.

The "Forbes Field" authors/editors will sign books from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2705 E. Carson St., South Side, and from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Borders, 5986 Penn Circle South, East Liberty.

Kevin Kirkland can be reached at kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.

Willie Parker's goal is to be like LaDainian Tomlinson, only better

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Now that he has shown he's no fluke, Willie Parker wants to reach for the stars and not the twinkle-twinkle little ones, either. He has set his sights on the North star of the NFL, the brightest of the bright.

They don't come any more luminous than San Diego halfback LaDainian Tomlinson, the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player after he set league records with 31 touchdowns and 186 points last season.

"I want to be better than L.T.," Parker proclaimed yesterday between the Steelers' double practices at Saint Vincent College. "L.T. can do all that stuff. He's like a role model to me. I look up to this guy. I just want to do what he does."

The goals don't get much bigger, but then Parker backed up his 1,202-yard season in 2005 with 1,494 yards last season, third most in a franchise history that includes Franco Harris, John Henry Johnson and Jerome Bettis.

He did so by carrying the ball 337 times, fourth most in Steelers history. Now Parker wants more, much more. He does not want to leave the playing field this year; he wants to not only be their starting halfback, he wants to stick around for third downs as well.

"I want to do it all," Parker said. "I wouldn't be no running back if I say I want to come off the field in certain situations. I want to do all the situations."

His coaches are inclined to let him do it, too. New coordinator Bruce Arians believes in running his best players until their tongues hang out, and Parker might be the odds-on favorite to take over the role as third-down back, something Tomlinson does rather well.

"L.T.'s had a lot of touches, and if Willie has those kinds of touches, his yards could be the same," Arians said. "I like the fact he wants to be better. I don't ever want him on the bench unless he's tired."

And, as new running backs coach Kirby Wilson noted, why take your best players out of the game?

"Any time your best player is capable of playing [downs] one through three, you want him out there, especially with all the chips on the line."

Tomlinson ran for 1,815 yards on 348 carries for the Chargers last season. He also caught 56 passes for 508 yards. Parker caught 31 passes for 222 yards, many on first down. His 16 touchdowns set a Steelers record but were barely half Tomlinson's total.

Also, if Parker were the third-down back, he'd have more opportunities to run against defenses that are spread out to defend against the pass.

"That's something I'm beginning to love, it's something I'm taking a lot of pride in right now," Parker said of the third-down role. "I want to be on that field catching screens on third down."

Receiver Hines Ward talked to Parker before training camp and advised him to work on his blocking and receiving this summer. He did it in the spring and has continued it in Latrobe because you can't play on third downs if you can't block the blitz.

"Willie Parker has a chance to be great because he's willing to identify what he needs to work on, and he's doing it," coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's doing a heck of a job."

The L.T. goal is a lofty one, but Parker's story already has a can-you-top-this feel. Undrafted mostly because he was a backup at North Carolina, Parker played little as a rookie and then burst into the NFL consciousness in his second season, 2005, when he won the starting halfback job. He rushed for those 1,202 yards and then set a Super Bowl record by running 75 yards for a touchdown.

A fluke, a scatback who only runs outside, a one-hit wonder -- Parker heard it all, then carved out his niche near the top of the Steelers' record book last season.

Like Pittsburgh and its smoky image that won't go away, people thought of Parker as an outside runner. Even Tomlin, coaching the past six years in the NFC, thought that of him. He changed his mind after watching video of him from last season, saying he did not realize he was such a good runner inside.

"Everybody looks at my speed and says he's just so fast. They look at me as an outside runner," Parker said. "I'm always going to carry that. But I'm always banging inside too. I'm going to get the yards whatever it takes."

In fact, Parker prefers to run between the tackles.

"I'd rather have the hole inside; you can spring them into a big play. Outside, you don't usually go too far."

And, to be sure, Parker wants to go far, not so much to Tomlinson's level, but higher.

"That's a long goal and a big one, but that's what drives him," Wilson said. "He wants to be considered in that category and on that level."

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Roberto Clemente: The Father of Puerto Rican Baseball

02/15/2007 3:38 PM ET

By Luis R. Mayoral

Major League Baseball is of great importance in the history of Puerto Rico. It has given the island unforgettable heroes with careers full of great accomplishments, headed by Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-1972.

Clemente's days of glory coincided with a period of great social change in the United States. African Americans and Hispanics accelerated their causes for equality and better tomorrows. With resounding pride in his color and heritage, though never to the extent of demeaning others, all Clemente wanted was to make human beings aware of the strengths within themselves.

One Saturday afternoon during the spring of 1972, in his second story spring training room, in Bradenton, Fla., Clemente recalled how proud he was of having met with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Puerto Rico years before. He also discussed how he admired the principles of John F. Kennedy's "Peace Corps Program" to benefit countries around the world.

All countries need heroes, and as a U.S. colony since 1898, Puerto Rico is no exception. During the first half of the 20th century, the country had few internationally known heroes, but Major League Baseball paved the way for Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Bernie Williams and so many others.

To Puerto Ricans, the national flag and Clemente are common denominators. He leads a very select group of islanders, who by way of sports, arts, sociology, science and politics, touch millions around the world in attempts to contribute to the greatness of man.

On Dec. 31, 1972, while on a goodwill mission to aid earthquake victims in Nicaragua, Clemente, 38, died when his plane crashed a few miles northeast of Puerto Rico's main airport. Today, I still recall the words of Elfren R. Bernier, a former president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association: "Puerto Rico has always been a country divided by religious, political and social matters, but Puerto Rico was always united in admiring and respecting Roberto."

Clemente, left, with Willie Mays and Henry Aaron at the 1961 All-Star Game.

Years after his death, Clemente's friend, Bill Guilfoile, who spent nearly 40 years in public relations with the Yankees, Pirates and the Baseball Hall of Fame, wrote, "Here in the Hall of Fame, I think a lot and, you know, Roberto died with the same dignity with which he played the game. No head of a mission of mercy, like Roberto in relation to Nicaragua, travels on December 31, to encounter death. Most leaders would send others, but not Roberto."

Imperfectly human, as we all are, Clemente reached martyrdom not only for his triumphs on the playing field, but with simple deeds and thoughts. Maintaining a strong work ethic, helping others whenever possible, and keeping alive the family concept were several of his personal campaigns.

I think about Clemente frequently. His smile had something peculiar. It was difficult to decipher. If I spoke a truth about him that he did not want to admit, he would come back with that smile. He told me several times that he was so strong, that at six years of age, he could take a nail and bend it with his hands. Then he would offer that smile.

Sharing time with Clemente was fun. We hardly talked baseball. Most of the time, we would philosophize about life. He loved to tell stories.

Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente hits against the Orioles during the 1971 World Series at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.

"Once in San Francisco," he said, "I hit a great shot to right-center field that appeared to be a sure home run, but the wind held the ball and Willie Mays caught it. I got so mad that I threw my helmet up in the air and the wind blew it right out of the park." He paused and said, "Ask Orlando Cepeda, he was there." Then he gave me that smile of his.

During the winter of 1970-1971, in the balcony of his home overlooking San Juan, he told me, "Late one night, an old lady knocked at the door. She was all bent over in pain and told me that God had sent her to me so that I could treat her with my massages." With a sense of great satisfaction, he added, "I gave her such a 'pop' of the back and a 'crack' of the neck and she walked away just fine."

Helping that woman was a highlight to him.

His large hands come to mind - to me they reflected his spirit. He would grip the bat with the strength of a tiger, but those same hands became extremely gentle when he saw a child and patted his or her head. With those talented hands, he made ceramic objects. He never studied music, but he played the organ quite well Let us not forget that at the time of his death, he was caring for people by means of chiropractic methods.

In Major League Baseball, in Puerto Rico and in the Hispanic culture of the game, Roberto Clemente equals number 21 and vice versa. The right field wall at PNC Park in Pittsburgh is 21 feet high, in honor of the great Pirate.

Number 21 has a history of its own. Several nights after Clemente's plane crashed, I sat down with his dear friend, Phil Dorsey, in San Juan. Dorsey, now in his 80s, met Clemente in the spring of 1955 through pitcher Bob Friend. Dorsey was Friend's sergeant in the Army Reserve. Knowing that Clemente would need help in adapting to life in the USA, Friend asked Dorsey, an African-American postal employee, to assist the young player.

Dorsey recalled, "During the 1955 season, Roberto and I would go to the movies. One night before the show began he wrote his full name - Roberto Clemente Walker - on a piece of paper." Clemente then turned to Dorsey and said, "My full name is made up of 21 letters. I'm going to see if the Pirates will give me that number."

On the night of Sept. 30, 1972, hours after reaching his 3000th hit, in a room in his Greentree, Pa. apartment, he told Dorsey and me after reflecting on his accomplishments, "Now, at last, they know me for the player that I am."

He did not use other adjectives to describe his abilities. He simply said, "The player that I am."

The recent World Baseball Classic, of which Puerto Rico was one of the hosts, brought Clemente to my mind repeatedly. Seeing so many fans enjoying major league caliber baseball in my country made me think of his legacy.

For Clemente, the Classic would have been a dream come true, a dream he shared with his longtime friend, Bob Leith, a successful San Juan businessman.

Joe L. Brown, the Pirates general manager during Clemente's 18-year career, once said of him, "You could never capture the magnificence of the man."

Former MLB Commissioner Bowie K. Kuhn stated at the time of his death, "He had about him a touch of royalty."

In Puerto Rico, we remember Roberto Clemente as a national hero, an outstanding humanitarian, an inspiration for the needy as well as a man who was able to solve the human, social and political challenges that life presented to him.

He gave Puerto Rico a sense of identity, new concepts as to hope and respect, and above all, his biggest legacy is that he is still an inspiration 33 years after his death.

A native of Puerto Rico, Luis R. Mayoral spent nine years as a Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers official and is in his 37th year in baseball. An author of five baseball books, he coordinated MLB's Latin American Baseball Players' Days for 25 years. He has been honored by the Puerto Rican, Mexican and Laredo-Texas Halls of Fame. A veteran of over 2,000 MLB radio broadcasts, he was a guest speaker at Harvard University in 1992 and a guest of President George W. Bush at the White House in 2001. Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda have been his inspirations and mentors.

When Clemente earned election to the Hall of Fame

02/15/2007 3:31 PM ET

In the direct aftermath of the unexpected death of Roberto Clemente in a New Year's Eve plane crash, the Cleveland Plain Dealer became one of the first media outlets to champion the cause of a special Hall of Fame election for the deceased superstar. "It would mean breaking a rule or two," the newspaper's editor wrote in its January 2, 1973 edition, "but under the circumstances, the baseball writers might want to consider immediate enshrinement in the Hall of Fame."

Jack Lang, the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) at the time, announced that his organization would explore the possibility of holding a special ballot. The president of the BBWAA, Joe Heiling, supported the idea. "He would have been elected and inducted in his first year eligible," said Heiling, comparing Clemente to first-ballot Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax and Stan Musial. "So why wait?" Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, having been contacted by the Baseball Writers, added his support to the movement for a special election.

At the time, the writers were in the midst of holding their regular Hall of Fame election, and about 30 writers had already returned ballots with Clemente's name written in, even though no decision had been made on his eligibility. The write-in votes for Clemente indicated the growing support for his election by the writers.

Under the Hall of Fame's election rules at the time, players had to wait five years after the end of their playing careers before they could become eligible. Yet, Lang cited a precedent involving New York Yankees' great Lou Gehrig. In 1939, the writers had waived the traditional waiting period so that Gehrig, who was dying from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), could enter the Hall of Fame before his passing.

1955: Clemente with Roman Mejias & Felipe Montemayor

On January 3, the Hall of Fame's Board of Directors announced that it had amended its eligibility rules in the case of Clemente, and would allow the BBWAA to hold a special election. On March 20, 1973, 30 years ago this week, the BBWAA announced that Clemente had received 393 out of 424 votes on ballots cast-good for 93 percent of the vote-which put him well over the 75 percent required for election. Only six previous Hall of Famers had received a higher percentage of the vote at the time: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Bob Feller, Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

Of the 31 "non-votes" in the Clemente election, about half of the writers attached explanatory notes stating they were not actually voting against Clemente, but against the decision to waive the five-year waiting period.

Six years after Clemente's election, the tragic death of Yankee star Thurman Munson once again raised awareness of the Hall of Fame's election rules. By then, the Hall of Fame had already altered its voting procedure for such tragic circumstances. In August 1973, the Hall instituted a new rule that allowed a deceased player to become eligible for the next regular election scheduled to occur at least six months after the player's date of death. Munson, who also died in a plane crash-on August 2, 1979-and coincidentally was Clemente's teammate with the San Juan Senators during the 1969-1970 winter league season, thus became eligible for the Hall's ballot for the first time in 1981.

On August 6, 1973, fans, baseball dignitaries and Pirate officials gathered in Cooperstown to witness the induction of Clemente into the game's shrine. Clemente's Pirate teammates also attended the ceremony. (As a tribute to Clemente, the Hall of Fame and the National League had agreed to substitute the Pirates for the Phillies in the annual Hall of Fame Game scheduled for later in the day.) Ironically, Clemente's induction coincided with that of Monte Irvin, his boyhood hero. Also inducted that day were Billy Evans, George Kelly, Warren Spahn and Mickey Welch. Standing at the podium in front of thousands of onlookers, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn read from Clemente's newly created Hall of Fame plaque:

"Roberto Walker Clemente, Pittsburgh National League 1955-1972. Member of the exclusive 3,000-hit club. He led the National League in batting four times. He had four seasons with 200 or more hits while posting a lifetime average of .317. He hit 240 home runs. He won the Most Valuable Player award in 1966. Rifle-armed defensive star set the National League mark by pacing outfielders in assists five years. He batted .362 in two World Series, hitting safely in all 14 games."

After paraphrasing the words that appeared on the plaque, Kuhn continued his address. "The directors of the Hall of Fame unanimously elected to waive the five-year waiting rule in the case of this very remarkable man. So very great was he as a player, so very great was he as a leader, so very great was he as a humanitarian in the cause of his fellow men, so very great was he as an inspiration to the young and to all of us in baseball and throughout the world of sports, and so very great was his devotion to young people everywhere and particularly to the young people of his native island of Puerto Rico. Having said all those words, they are very inadequate to describe the real greatness of Roberto Walker Clemente. We are very deeply honored to have his wife, Vera Clemente, with us here today."

In a 1967 game against the New York Mets, Clemente shows off his coiled-spring batting stance.

The voice of Commissioner Kuhn, normally a stoic and reserved public speaker, wavered slightly throughout his address to those who had gathered in Cooper Park in front of the Hall of Fame's Library. "The ceremonies brought back the death and the poignancy of the death of Clemente-too soon and tragically. And I think that's what you were hearing. To me, we in baseball had simply lost one of the greatest players that we've had, one of the greatest personalities that we had, and the tragedy of it was still, I think, in my mind. It no doubt manifested itself in what I had to say and the way I said it. I'm quite clear that that would be an accurate description of how I felt," Kuhn said.

In her remarks during the ceremony, Vera Clemente said, "I want to thank the commissioner of baseball, the members of the Hall of Fame, the baseball writers, the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization and all the people who made this event possible, especially Roberto's fans who were the inspiration of his baseball career. This is a momentous last triumph, and if he were here, he would dedicate it to our people of Puerto Rico, our people in Pittsburgh, and to all his fans throughout the United States. Thank you."

With his election and induction now complete, Clemente became the first Latin American to gain enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. He would be joined in later years by Cuban Negro League star Martin Dihigo, Dominican pitcher Juan Marichal, Venezuelan shortstop Luis Aparicio, Panamanian infielder Rod Carew, Cuban slugger Tony Perez, and fellow Puerto Rican Orlando Cepeda. After the 1973 ceremony, Vera tried to offer a further reaction to her husband's history-making induction. "I have difficulty expressing the way I really feel," Vera told reporters. "It's not just for me and my children. It's a goal for all Latin American children, too."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hank Aaron: The Hammer's echoes still ring

As Barry Bonds approaches Hank Aaron's iconic home run record, Pirates 'victims' of Aaron recall the 78 long flies they contributed to the most revered record in sports.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

By Rick Shrum, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Hank Aaron, right, crosses the plate at Three Rivers Stadium in 1971 after hitting home run No. 598 off Bob Moose April 20, 1971. Catching for the Pirates is Manny Sanguillen.
Click photo for larger image.

Steve Blass was 22, a right-hander on the right track in 1964. He was a Pirates rookie, and his initial appearance was against the Milwaukee Braves and the guy who was tops in his Topps baseball card collection.

Talk about ratcheting up the anxiety.

"I thought, 'Here's Henry Aaron. Do I have his bubble gum card in my pocket?' "

Blass' discomfort hadn't been alleviated by a conversation he'd had with his roommate, Bob Friend, a savvy and respected veteran.

"I asked him, 'How do you pitch against Henry?' " Blass recalled. "He said, 'As infrequently as possible.' "

Now a Pirates broadcaster, Blass said he believes he did not allow a run in his first five innings that day, but cannot recall how he fared in his first faceoff with Hammerin' Hank.

"I've probably blotted it out because I was terrified," he said.

Overall, Blass said he did "fairly well" against Aaron, a right-handed hitter. "Five homers in 10 years, and I faced the Braves a lot."

The roomie? In nearly a decade as well, Hank yanked 12 out of the yard against him.

As Barry Bonds' inexorable pursuit of Aaron's major-league home run record continues -- he has 753, two shy of tying -- a number of former Pirates players recounted playing against The Hammer.

They remember those quick wrists, lethal hands and swift feet. Oh, and the body -- 6 feet, 180 pounds -- that was shaped by Mother Nature, not science.

The birth of a legend

Aaron is 73 now and a Braves employee for 54 of the past 56 years. He has been the senior vice president since 1989. All season, he has been more like a silent partner, refusing all interview requests during Bonds' quest for 756.

His talents were discernible at a young age. Aaron was 18, out of baseball-rich Mobile, Ala., when he became the star of the semipro Mobile Black Bears in 1951. He was a quick, agile shortstop who, despite batting cross-handed, was recognized as a wondrous hitter.

By season's end, he was offered a contract by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues.

The Negro Leagues, at that juncture, were struggling on the field and at the turnstiles -- they were losing quality players to Major League baseball, now that the so-called color barrier had been breached. But this was a better opportunity, so Aaron signed.

The following June, he left the Clowns for the big top, accepting a contract offer from the Boston Braves over one from the New York Giants. The Clowns, interested in solvency, readily agreed to a deal in which the Braves would pay them $2,500 immediately and $7,500 additionally if Aaron stayed with the organization for 30 days.

He did for the next 23 years, first in the minors, then with the Braves in Milwaukee (1954-65) and Atlanta (1966-74).

On April 8 of that 23rd season, 1974, against Dodgers left-hander Al Downing, Aaron launched his 715th home run. He was 40 when he eclipsed the most sacred record in sports, Babe Ruth's 714.

Aaron was traded to the Brewers, then in the American League, during the offseason and completed his career where it started, in Milwaukee, in October 1976. He joined the Braves front office immediately afterward.

His cumulative credentials are impeccable: .305 batting average; 3,771 hits; 2,297 RBIs and 6,856 total bases, both big-league records; 240 stolen bases; and a mere 60 strikeouts per year on the average.

The home run, however, will endure as his trademark.

Thank heaven for Forbes Field

Pirates fans 45 and over may consider this an egregious statistical shortfall, but Aaron smote "only" 78 -- 10.3 percent -- of his homers against their team. That is tied with the Giants for fifth-most victimized staff, behind the Reds (97), Dodgers (95), Cardinals (91) and Cubs (87).

That total is partly attributable to the Pirates playing at cavernous Forbes Field during the majority of Aaron's National League tenure. Still, he launched 31 at Forbes Field in 161/2 seasons.

He homered against Pirates pitchers 22 times each at the Braves' launching pads, County Stadium in Milwaukee and Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium. Aaron homered just three times in 4 1/2 seasons at Three Rivers Stadium.

Aaron, it seemed, had a friend in Friend, bashing 12 off him -- more than any Pirates pitcher.

"His home runs would sometimes get out of the park quickly," Friend said, chuckling, at his Fox Chapel home.

"I remember that I first saw him at Jacksonville in spring training. He didn't have a name -- Who is this Henry Aaron? Well, he hit three doubles and a couple of home runs."

As with Willie Mays, a contemporary and fellow basher, Aaron was known for his power to all fields. His trademark was the line-drive homer.

"I remember how quickly Henry's hands went through the ball," Friend said. "You thought you made a good pitch and he could rifle it any place, down the right-field line, left ..."

Former Pirates right-hander Vernon Law, who lives in Provo, Utah, said: "It was tough to pitch against Willie and Henry because they went with the pitch and used the entire field."

Dick Groat said that wasn't always the case with Aaron. Groat was an outstanding defensive shortstop for the Pirates partly because he scrutinized opposing batters. He said that Aaron eventually became more of a pull hitter.

"He was absolutely impossible to play his first couple of years," said Groat, an Edgewood resident. "He hit the ball like [Roberto] Clemente, from line to line. He was the only hitter in the National League who drove me crazy.

"I guess a couple of years later, he wanted to be more of a pull hitter and he was easier to play. But he could still spray and hit .330."

Groat said it didn't happen

Bob Prince, longtime Pirates broadcaster and renowned storyteller, loved to describe Aaron's hitting style with this oft-told tale:

One afternoon, Aaron lashed a shot toward Groat. The Pirates' shortstop leaped, but the ball grazed his glove ... and continued upward, over left fielder Bob Skinner and the Forbes Field wall.

"Not true," Groat said. "It did not touch my glove."

It was close, though.

"I thought I was going to catch it and Skins knew he was going to catch it," Groat said.

"I timed my leap perfectly. I didn't miss it. Well, it ended up in the light standard.

"This really happened because I remember talking with Skins as we left the field when the inning was over."

Blass may have been comparatively successful against Aaron, but was always wary of The Hammer playing laser tag with him.

"Henry hit line drives," said Blass, of Upper St. Clair. "When you got a scouting report on him, it was hope for the best and hope he doesn't kill one of your infielders.

"Sometimes, you could get him [out pitching] outside. But did you want to pitch him outside and risk dying, or pitch him inside and risk having it sent to the Carnegie Museum?"

Law said, "Aaron had a little weakness in his swing. If you kept the ball down, you had a better chance of getting him out."

But not necessarily a great chance. Law, an accomplished right-hander, the 1960 National League Cy Young recipient, yielded nine homers to Aaron, second among Pirates pitchers.

The inevitable comparison

The current home run king and his imminent successor have had little in common other than their quests and being African-American.

Bonds drives them high and far from the left side, direct contrasts with Aaron. Bonds has the single-season record of 73 homers, has crashed 40 or more eight times, has a .299 career average, and has been the unquestioned star of his day.

He was born in privilege, the son of a former major-leaguer, Bobby. Bonds is generally regarded as brooding, surly and abrasive.

Oh, and at 6-1, 228 pounds, he is a mammoth compared with his formative years with the Pirates (1986-92).

Aaron came from a working-class family and was overshadowed in the 1950s and '60s by the more-flamboyant Mays and the Yankees' Mickey Mantle. Some considered Aaron on a par with Clemente.

Modest in build and temperament, a gentleman by consensus, Aaron was a paragon of consistency in an era when pitching ruled. He never struck more than 45 home runs in a season, yet from 1955-73, he never hit fewer than 24. Aaron topped .300 14 times.

There is a similarity between these two. Each has spent his baseball dotage under a roiling, ominous cloud.

Aaron's was a cloud of racism. The closer he got to Ruth, the more hate mail he received.

Things were so bad heading into the 1974 season, when he was one shy of Ruth, that Aaron was assigned a bodyguard.

Steroid allegations have swirled about Bonds for years. Nothing has been proven, yet the BALCO investigation and Bonds' dramatic change in upper body have fueled speculation that he has been a frequent user.

"If he's taking this stuff, it's a shame because he didn't need it," Friend said. "He's a great athlete and a great ballplayer. He didn't have to take it to get to the Hall of Fame."

Blass said if Bonds, as widely suspected, did take performance-enhancing substances, they did not make him a more effective hitter.

"Steroids make you hit the ball farther, not better," Blass said. "You have to respect Barry Bonds for his abilities. I think he will go down as one of the 20 best ballplayers ever.

"But if people ask if I root for Bonds to break the record, I say 'no.' I have a special place in my heart for Henry because I competed against him."

Rick Shrum can be reached at rshrum@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1911.

Kirkland's at peace with what 1990s Steelers accomplished

By Mike Prisuta
Sunday, July 29, 2007

Levon Kirkland's return to St. Vincent College during the summer of the Steelers' 75th anniversary celebration couldn't have been more appropriate.

Kirkland arrived last week to learn the personnel business as a participant in the NFL's scouting minority intern program.

He leaves today having provided invaluable perspective.

That's something many among those who packed Memorial Stadium in Latrobe on Friday night or gathered in the grandstand and on the hillsides on campus Saturday afternoon no doubt continue to wrestle with even as they foam at the mouth in anticipation of Super Bowl Trophy VI.

The first four of those were won in the 1970s.
No. 5 arrived at the conclusion of the 2005 season.

The series of near-misses in between remains a source of lingering frustration to some.

Kirkland, who played linebacker from 1992-2000 in the tradition of the two Jacks and Andy Russell, isn't among them.

"I purposely took a few years away from the game just to reflect and do something different," said Kirkland, now the coordinator of minority recruitment at his alma mater, Clemson. "Really, it puts a lot of things in perspective.

"It lets you know the world is a lot bigger than football."

It didn't seem that way when the Steelers were threatening to win championships they could have and, perhaps on at least one occasion, should have won in 1994, 1995 and 1997.

Kirkland, who wasn't around for the so-close agony in 2001 and 2004, acknowledges to this day, "There was no reason for us not to win a Super Bowl."

Still, those 1990s era Steelers did everything short of that, and they did so with a style and attitude befitting their 1970s predecessors.

"If you were with that Steelers defense you had to play up to a certain level," Kirkland said. "We really took our goals very seriously. If somebody got 100 yards (rushing) on us, it really bothered us. If somebody got more than 17 points on us, that really scarred us. And, especially, if somebody won against us, that was just hard for us to take.

"We were a bunch of characters who laughed a lot, but when it was time to work we did our work. Even at practice you would see us just yuking it up, teasing each other. But when it came to competing, we got after it."

What they re-established in the process had enough of a shelf life that it was still detectable Feb. 5, 2006, at Ford Field in Detroit.

"Whatever attitude they had in the 1970s, we actually brought it back in the 1990s," Kirkland said. "We were a tough bunch of guys. We really went after people. And we played defense and offense the way you're supposed to play it. We were physical. We were tough. It meant something to us."

What they did was more than enough to carve out a place in Steelers' lore, even if they never got their names on the Super Bowl trophy.

"If we'd have won a Super Bowl, I think we'd have gone down in history even higher than where a lot of people probably place us," Kirkland said.

Upon further review, the spot they occupy ought to be appreciated with almost as much gusto.

Mike Prisuta is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at mprisuta@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lange signs 1-year Penguins radio deal

He, team to market signature products line

Friday, July 27, 2007

By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mike Lange, sitting next to Eddie Olczk, has been broadcasting Penguins games on the radio and television for over 30 years.

Mike Lange, known for his colorful phrases from the broadcast booth, is returning for his 32nd season doing Penguins play-by-play, his second as the team's radio voice.

The one-year contract announced yesterday by the Penguins is not the multiyear deal that was being discussed earlier this offseason -- "We're just going to take it one year at a time," Lange said -- but it does contain what the outgoing broadcaster called "an interesting new wrinkle."

In addition to his radio work, Lange and the team are going to market a signature line of items, such as shirts with logos of some of his more popular sayings. He said fans will get a chance to vote online for their favorites.

Phrases such as "He beat him like a rented mule," "Scratch my back with a hacksaw," and "Buy Sam a drink and get his dog one, too," have made Lange as popular locally as some of the players.

Radio color analyst Phil Bourque will return for his fourth season, his second with Lange, after agreeing two a two-year contract.

The Penguins' radio flagship is WXDX-FM 105.9.

Lange was fired as the Penguins' TV voice by cable network FSN Pittsburgh following the 2005-06 season and replaced by former radio broadcaster Paul Steigerwald. Weeks later, Lange signed on with the club to move to radio last season. The switch to radio was a step down in prestige and pay.

Lange said he is not biding his time doing radio until he can land another TV job.

"Right now, it's not a radio-TV issue," he said. "I'm just going to see how things go. I still enjoy what I'm doing."

Bourque, a member of both of the Penguins' Stanley Cup championship teams in the early 1990s, became a team broadcaster when Eddie Olczyk left his job as TV analyst beside Lange to take over as the Penguins coach. Analyst Bob Errey then moved from radio to TV.

"It's been an unbelievable treat for me to work with a Hall of Famer like that," Bourque said of Lange, who in 2001 received the Foster Hewitt Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"We have fun, and I think that translates to the on-air product. We have good chemistry, but that doesn't just develop in one year. I think it's going to take a while for that to get to where we want it to be.

"Of course, I think the team being that good made us sound better together in our first year."

Lange also is happy with the rapport he has with Bourque.

"I'm waiting for Bourquie to teach me a few new things," Lange said, showing some of his trademark humor.

Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Former backup linebacker Harrison gets his shot at big role with Steelers defense

Takes first shot at replacing Joey Porter

Thursday, July 26, 2007

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

James Harrison fights through a block during drills at Steelers training camp yesterday at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
Click photo for larger image.

In the old days, when people did such things, James Harrison would be the guy in the crowd to volunteer to wrestle the bear.

He is crazy enough to take on the task, strong and smart enough to accomplish it. He does it, after all, every day in practice and soon will do it every Sunday for the Steelers. He wrestles bears, in this case big ol' offensive tackles who could smother him with their size, if they could ever get hold of him.

Harrison stands slightly over 6 feet, and he has a tall order in coach Mike Tomlin's first edition of a Steelers team. Harrison will replace Joey Porter, whose reputation by word and action on the field left a vapor trail all the way to Miami that won't soon disappear.

Porter was admired by teammates, hated by opponents and adored by fans who loved how he backed up taunts to players such as Seattle tight end Jerramy Stevens and teams such as the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals.

Harrison has not been much of a taunter, publicly, but he has done well at backing things up. He is more than the guy who body-slammed a Browns fan on the field in Cleveland on Christmas Eve 2005. He has been the Steelers' best special teams player and No. 3 linebacker for three years. Now, he gets a shot for his personal big show, replacing Porter's big shoes at right outside linebacker.

"I'll do my best to uphold that and do better," Harrison said. "Anybody can talk the talk until you walk the walk."

Harrison has been the Steelers' little secret the past several years, but, at 29 years old, he could become an overnight sensation. He has been especially productive when thrust into starting jobs for injured starters Clark Haggans and Porter. There was the memorable game, again in Cleveland in 2004, when Porter was ejected before kickoff for a pregame fight. Harrison started instead and had a sack, a pressure, a pass defensed and six tackles.

Most everyone knows the story how Harrison made the team, a free agent from Kent State who knocked on the Steelers' door twice in two years only to get turned away. He played in NFL Europe and was released by Baltimore in the summer of his third year of trying to make the NFL. The Steelers only picked him up a week before training camp that year (2004) because Haggans had a broken hand and they needed another camp linebacker.

He has been with them since.

He has the mean streak of Jack Lambert, a notable Kent State alum, and, surprisingly, about the height of former All-Pro Greg Lloyd.

"He has a toughness that's been indicative of the Steelers' defense for a while," said linebackers coach Keith Butler. "He's a tough, physical player, a strong player. He brings a tenacity, too."

That fierce resolve, early on, frightened a coach or two, who weren't sure if they would end up like that wayward Browns fan. At 242 pounds, Harrison packs powerful leverage that can give him an advantage over tackles 7 inches taller and 100 pounds heavier.

"It's hard to keep him from getting underneath them and penetration or pressure from the edge," Butler said. "His height is probably an advantage for him."

"You have to use that leverage," Harrison said. "You have a guy who sometimes outweighs you by 100 pounds, the only thing you can use is your leverage, and, with my height, I feel it's an advantage for me."

The bigger question about Harrison is not will he produce, but will he last. He never has started more than four games in a season and now the Steelers plan to use him on special teams as well.

"You can't pace yourself," Harrison said. "That's why we went out and drafted a couple of guys. If you get tired, we want to have somebody to step in there for a few plays and give you a little break."

The Steelers drafted two outside linebackers in the first two rounds, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. Timmons is listed on the depth chart behind Harrison and, as long as there is progress, it usually does not take long before the star rookie gets more playing time. Perhaps, Timmons will spell Harrison, particularly in pass-rushing situations.

Harrison isn't worried about what's behind him, but what's ahead.

"Can he hold up for all that? I don't know if anybody can," Butler said. "But that will be up to [Tomlin] and that'll be up to the special teams coach. My concern is how he plays linebacker, and I think he'll do well."

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ron Cook: Timing works out perfectly for Polamalu

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As Hines Ward took a moment yesterday to gladly pass along the ceremonial title of highest-paid Steelers player to Troy Polamalu, he made the afternoon's pertinent point.

"They didn't have any choice but to take care of Troy, did they?"


Life is all about timing, and Polamalu's is extraordinary. He came up for a new contract about the time the Steelers released popular linebacker Joey Porter in a cost-cutting move, let Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Cowher leave after refusing to meet his price and decided, apparently, to part ways with six-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca after this season. Players openly have questioned the Rooneys' strategy. Even Polamalu mentioned at the May minicamp being "a little unsure about the direction of the team."

"They have to keep somebody," Ward said yesterday.

Polamalu is the guy. The Steelers made him the NFL's highest-paid safety, giving him a five-year, $33 million contract, including $15,375,000 in signing and roster bonuses.

You have to go back to the Pirates' Jason Kendall to find a Pittsburgh athlete for whom the stars aligned so perfectly. Kendall was due for a new contract after the 2000 season as the Pirates prepared to move into PNC Park and promised everybody the beautiful new ballpark would enable them to keep their top players and become competitive. Like Polamalu, Kendall was a huge fan favorite because of his all-out style. He signed a six-year, $60 million extension.

That deal still haunts the Pirates.

It's nice to think the Polamalu contract will have a happier ending.

Kendall was a singles hitter who never could justify the silly money. Polamalu hits home runs. It might be an interception or a sack or a big stop on a third-down running play. The man is a physical freak, able to run like a cornerback and hit like a linebacker. There can't be a player in the league with better closing speed.

The only worry about Polamalu is the ferocious way he plays. He seems like a serious injury waiting to happen, the way he throws his body around. Last season, he was troubled by a bad shoulder, left a game with a concussion and missed three others with a knee injury.

The new contract isn't going to change Polamalu's approach. If anything, it will make him play harder. "You've got to earn the money," he said. "You can't go out there worrying about getting hurt."

Clearly, the Steelers are willing to take their chances.

They're betting $33 million on the man.

"He's awesome," new coach Mike Tomlin gushed.

"He's our playmaker, our star," linebacker Larry Foote has said.

"One of those few guys in the league who's special," teammate Aaron Smith said.

Polamalu is the type of player the Steelers have shown a willingness to reward despite lingering complaints that go back to the 1960s that they are cheap. In the past two years, they've given big money to Ward, Smith, Casey Hampton, Ike Taylor and Willie Parker, among others. Certainly, they will take care of Ben Roethlisberger after this season. He'll surpass Polamalu as highest paid, unless he goes out and throws 23 balls to the wrong team again.

But, sadly, under the NFL salary cap, a team can't keep everybody. Faneca and the Steelers seem to have agreed to a divorce. It has happened here before with great players, obviously, not just with Porter, but with Rod Woodson, Mike Webster, Mike Merriweather and Franco Harris.

"I feel for Alan," Polamalu said. "It's a shame."

It's business, actually.

It's fair to think that Polamalu, more thoughtful than most, has wondered why him and not Faneca. The obvious reason is age; he's 26, Faneca 30. Beyond that, Polamalu made it a priority to stay. Although his deal is phenomenal, he could get more as a free agent after the season.

"I didn't want to be a player who jumps from team to team."

So much for that speculation about Polamalu being a West Coast guy, wanting to finish his career on the West Coast.

"Quite the contrary," he said. "I find myself going to other cities and boasting about Pittsburgh ...

"I wasn't sure about my wife for a while. I thought she might be saying she was happy here just because of me. But as we got started with this contract stuff and we weren't sure how it was going to turn out, I saw something in her that convinced me she'd miss it if we had to leave.

"Pittsburgh has become home for us."

It will be home for at least the next five seasons.

"You know, every instance in my life has been about perfect timing," Polamalu said. "From the system we played in college under coach [Pete] Carroll [at Southern California] to the system we play here under coach [Dick] LeBeau. Even going back to high school, I always had coaches who looked out for me.

"It's truly divine intervention."

It's also Rooney intervention.

The Steelers' owners needed to make a statement to their players and fans.

It came across loud and clear.

Camp Tomlin / Day One: Polamalu signs 5-year extension

Extends his stay, signs richest contract in team history

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette photos
Troy Polamalu is all smiles during running drills in Steelers training camp yesterday at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
Click photo for larger image.

Sweat dripped off Troy Polamalu's face as news hounds surrounded him on the grassy Chuck Noll Field yesterday, peppering him with questions about all that new money.

The five-year, $33 million contract with the $15,375,000 in signing and roster bonuses he received from the Steelers yesterday makes him the highest-paid player in team history and the highest-paid safety in the NFL.

His signing bonus of $10,975,000 is the largest the Steelers have ever paid, topping the $9 million they gave Hines Ward two years ago.

The sun beat down on him as if it were Southern California, a place Polamalu reportedly -- erroneously -- wanted to play when his contract with the Steelers ended.

"This is home," Polamalu said softly. "I didn't want to be a player that was jumping from team to team. I've always felt comfortable here. This organization and the tradition they have here is very legendary in that sense and I always wanted to be part of that."

Polamalu and the Steelers completed a rather smooth, non-public contract negotiation that for a couple of weeks seemed destined to get done by the opening of training camp. The deal was reported just before the Steelers took the practice field at Saint Vincent College yesterday afternoon for the first time under new coach Mike Tomlin.

It also contrasts sharply with the contract impasse the club has had with six-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca. He reported on time yesterday, reiterated this will be his final season with the team and said he's not frustrated that Polamalu received a contract extension and he will not.

"No, I'm happy for Troy and that's the way it works. Troy deserves it and I'm happy for him."

Polamalu said he wishes Faneca could also achieve an extension.

"I feel for Alan," Polamalu said. "It's a shame. He has a wife and kids and a lifestyle to uphold. You hope you can get something done that's fair."

Leading the way in running drills, Alan Faneca is followed by Kendall Simmons and Ben Roethlisberger yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.

Polamalu, who has made every Pro Bowl since he became a starting strong safety in 2004, said that's precisely what he was looking for in his deal. He had one year left on his 2003 rookie contract. The Steelers tore that up and created a new five-year deal that binds him through the 2011 season. Under his old deal, he was to earn a salary of slightly more than $1 million this year. His new deal will pay him $600,000 in salary this year.

"First and foremost, it mattered to me that it was a fair contract. A lot of people are making a lot of money out there. I wanted it to be very fair and I wanted it to be here. Those were the most important things."

He said there now is more pressure on him to continue to perform at a high level.

"It means that I have to work harder and go out and earn it. That's what it means to me," Polamalu said. "So it's very exciting, especially for my wife and me. We feel very welcome in the city and I think this contract really puts our roots down here."

The Steelers made Polamalu their top priority almost as soon as last season ended and have been quietly negotiating for one month with agent Marvin Demoff.

"Troy Polamalu is a very special football player who has been a key ingredient to our success over the past few seasons," Steelers president Art Rooney said. "We are excited to know he will be a Steeler for many seasons to come."

At 5 feet 10 and 207 pounds, Polamalu plays a unique brand of safety, lining up in various positions. Coordinator Dick LeBeau has designed many of his defenses to take advantage of Polamalu's ability.

"I think both sides are very happy to get this done very peacefully without any feelings hurt or anything like that," Polamalu said.

Dan Rooney, the team's chairman, also was pleased with the contract.

"It's a tremendous thing," he said. "He's a great person and a great player. He means an awful lot to the team on the field and off."

Polamalu's contract may be the last one the Steelers negotiate this year. They have not held talks with any other veteran who has one year left on their contracts. Those include starters Clark Haggans at linebacker, Kendall Simmons at guard, Max Starks at tackle and Dan Kreider at fullback. They previously extended the deals of defensive linemen Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke this year.

They've also made it clear that they will not open negotiations to extend the contract of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger until next year, when he has two seasons left under the six-year deal he signed as a rookie in 2004.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Timmons agrees to 5-year contract

Steelers will have all draft picks in camp

Monday, July 23, 2007

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers will have all of their rookies in training camp today after coming to a five-year contract agreement with first-round draft choice Lawrence Timmons yesterday.

Timmons, who has been working out in Pittsburgh, signed the contract yesterday at team headquarters. It is worth slightly less than $12 million in base salary and could be worth as much as $15 million with the incentives. He will receive various guaranteed bonuses of $8,053,000 that includes signing and roster bonuses.

"We think it was very important to get Lawrence signed on time to give him an opportunity to reach his immense potential," said his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. "Obviously, Mike Tomlin's in his first training camp and Lawrence is his first draft pick as head coach and we wanted him to be there. He's off to a great start."

Timmons, a linebacker from Florida State, was the 15th overall pick in the draft. He is the highest pick and only the third in the first round to sign a contract.

Under new rules, the Steelers could have pushed for a six-year contract because Timmons was picked in the first half of the draft.

"It's a five-year deal, which was very important," Rosenhaus said. "The Steelers were able to work with us on that. It's a very good deal all the way around for everybody."

Rosenhaus and his partner/brother Jason were scheduled to fly to Pittsburgh from Florida yesterday afternoon to complete negotiations, but made enough progress on the telephone with Steelers negotiator Omar Khan to come to terms.

"There was a lot of pressure, both on myself and on Omar, to get this deal done given the fact the Steelers are the first team to report to training camp," Rosenhaus said.

Tomlin has put Timmons at right outside linebacker, where Joey Porter started the past seven years. Porter was released in March, ostensibly for salary cap purposes, and signed with the Miami Dolphins. The Steelers then made two outside linebackers their top draft choices -- LaMarr Woodley of Michigan has been placed on the left side behind Clark Haggans.

Timmons is listed second on the training camp depth chart behind James Harrison. Woodley is listed third on the left side behind Haggans and Arnold Harrison.

Timmons, 21, is 6 feet 1 and weighs 234 pounds. He's the first linebacker drafted in the first round by the Steelers since 1991. He did not become a starter until last season at Florida State, as a junior. In 13 starts at strongside outside linebacker, he had five sacks and was second on the team with 79 tackles.

Clemente Museum brightens Lower Lawrenceville outlook

Monday, July 23, 2007

By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette photos

Commercial photographer Duane Rieder, with the work "Clemente Angel Wings," has turned his studio space in the former Engine House 25 in Lawrenceville into the Roberto Clemente Museum.
Click photo for larger image.

The Roberto Clemente Museum opened last week with little fanfare -- a couple of open-house parties and a $30,000 check from Councilman Len Bodack.

But it was an auspicious occasion for Duane Rieder, whose building of the museum has been a labor of love for 11 years. The museum is also being hailed as a catalyst for investments coming to Lower Lawrenceville's western gateway, which has been neglected in the upswing of the larger neighborhood's fortunes.

At 3339 Penn Ave., near the junction with Butler Street, the former Enginehouse No. 25 now makes Doughboy Square a destination, albeit by appointment only, for now.

Mr. Rieder bought the turn-of-the-century, 4,400-square-foot stone building in 1996 and established his commercial photography studio there. Photography is his job, but his passion has been building a jaw-dropping collection of all things Clemente, for which he is seeking nonprofit status and another $270,000 to support the museum as a stand-alone destination, with his studio to move elsewhere.

Annual taxes on the building are $12,000, he said.

For those who grew up idolizing the Pirates' superstar, a visit there becomes a slow-motion rush, a bittersweet meltdown and a reverie. The collection of thousands of items includes professional sports photography, Clemente family snapshots, contracts, receipts for furniture, telegrams, letters, a union card, a wedding invitation, a pair of 1971 cleats, old uniforms, gloves, balls, bats, seats from Forbes Field and a replica of the old scoreboard.

The bat has dents from his children hitting baseballs with it. It is displayed in a case surrounded by baseballs painted to resemble a U.S. flag.
Click photo for larger image.

It all started with a calendar Mr. Rieder took part in creating for the 1994 All-Star Game at Three Rivers Stadium, and it escalated as he came to know the Clemente family.

Mr. Clemente was killed en route to Nicaragua with earthquake relief supplies when the small plane he had chartered went down off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico on New Years Eve 1972. His eldest son, Roberto Jr. was 7 at the time. Now 41, he moved to Pittsburgh last fall and lives Downtown.

The calendar project that brought Mr. Rieder and Mr. Clemente's widow, Vera, together was opportune in that she had few pictures of her husband, except one in which he appears with team members and Mrs. Clemente at the White House in 1973 to receive a presidential medal.

Family photos of that event were in bad condition, Mr. Clemente said. "Mom asked Duane about the possibility of saving them, and he was able to get [negatives] from the White House."

Describing Mr. Rieder as "my brother from another mother," Mr. Clemente said he had helped him with the wiring in the engine house a decade ago but had no idea what the electricity would be illuminating.

"What he has done, I truly never thought of doing," Mr. Clemente said. "I am flattered and honored to know him, and I know that his heart is in that place, and my heart is also there.

"I meet people every day and hear stories and accolades of my father, but Duane has taken it to the next level. He has gone out of his way to do good, which was the spirit of my father."

From one visit to Puerto Rico, Mr. Rieder returned with the Clemente family's entire photo collection and set about saving it and making copies for his collection.

Mr. Rieder said that when he was a kid growing up playing ball with friends in Du Bois, Clearfield County, "I always loved him," but when all the other kids would pick Clemente to be, he would be center fielder Matty Alou "because we couldn't all be Clemente," he said, grinning.

A bust of the former Pirates great and its plaster proof at the Clemente Museum.
Click photo for larger image.

"How can you not fall in love with the guy?" he said. "The way he played, the way he looked, the kind of person he was."

One of his goals is to achieve school field-trip status for the museum, to bring Mr. Clemente to another generation of children and to generate some income for the upkeep of the building.

Tony Ceoffe, executive director of Lawrenceville United, said the condition of Lower Lawrenceville has been "a shame" as the entrance to the neighborhood, but for years, the nuisance bar, JK's Place, held sway. It closed about a year ago.

Now, Desmone & Associates, a firm of architects in Doughboy Square at 34th Street, is planning an expansion that could include retail.

Luke Desmone, CEO and owner, said the expansion could be about 40,000 square feet.

"We'll be looking for additional tenants, maybe street-level retail," he said. "Our project would include indoor parking. ... I'd say it will take place within a year."

More improvements include a planned repositioning of traffic lights, said Mr. Bodack, who described his check as "neighborhood needs community reinvestment money." The museum "is a great way to use the money because it's a great community resource."

For Mr. Rieder, the first funds from his councilman are the beginning of a long process. At 45, he knows something about long processes, his own and those of his hero.

For the 19-year-old who would one day become a Pirates legend, that wisdom may have begun with the letter in 1956 from Branch Rickey Jr., then vice president of the Pittsburgh Pirates, telling him that his expectation of $10,000 for the next year, after one season batting .255, was "an absurdity."

Visits to the Roberto Clemente Museum can be arranged by calling Mr. Rieder at 412-621-1268.

Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

42 years after his death, Pirates finally honor Paul Waner

The family of Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer Paul Waner attend a pre-game ceremony to retire Waner's number before baseball action against the Houston Astros in Pittsburgh, Saturday, July 21, 2007. From left family members are: nephew Jim Knight, grandson Paul Waner III, and granddaughter Beth Waner Noe.

By ALAN ROBINSON, AP Sports Writer
July 21, 2007

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Only a handful of players in the Pittsburgh Pirates' 121-year history produced statistics to rival Paul Waner's, yet the club never got around to retiring his No. 11.

They corrected that long-standing oversight on Saturday by making him the seventh former Pirates player whose uniform number will not be worn again. Waner joins a short list that previously included only Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Pie Traynor, Ralph Kiner and Bill Mazeroski.

Waner retired 62 years ago and died nearly 42 years ago, but the Pirates waited until the 55th anniversary of Waner entering the Hall of Fame to honor him with the other top players in their history. His number and name are now displayed on a sign located on the third base grandstand.

"Paul Waner was one of the most dominating players, not only in the storied history of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but throughout major league baseball," said Kevin McClatchy, who wanted Waner to be honored before McClatchy steps down later this year as the club's chief executive officer.

As part of a pregame ceremony that delayed the start of the Astros-Pirates game for 15 minutes, Waner -- known as Big Poison -- was remembered as an exceptional line drive hitter who took full advantage of Forbes Field's spacious outfield to line doubles and triples into the gaps. He is tied for 11th all-time with 603 doubles and 10th in triples with 190.

The Pirates cut the outline of his No. 11 into the grass in PNC Park's right field, as they did with Mazeroski's No. 9 when he entered the Hall of Fame in 2001.

Waner was one of the majors' top hitters during most of his career from 1926-1945, playing his first 15 seasons in Pittsburgh -- mostly as the Pirates' right fielder, with brother Lloyd "Little Poison" Waner in center field. Paul Waner (3,152 hits) and Lloyd Waner (2,459) had 5,611 hits between them, a major league record for the only two brothers enshrined in the Hall of Fame solely as players.

When Paul Waner retired in 1945, his hits total ranked sixth in major league history. He is now 16th.

Waner had 237 hits and a club-record 131 RBIs during his MVP season in 1927, when the Pirates won the pennant but were swept by the Yankees in the World Series. Waner had 200 or more hits eight times from 1926-37. His 2,868 hits with Pittsburgh rank behind only Clemente (3,000) and Honus Wagner (2,967) in franchise history and his .340 career average is the Pirates' best.

Waner had been retired for seven years when infielder Dick Groat, who would later join Waner as an NL MVP, first played for the Pirates in 1952. Groat learned that Waner was one of the few former or current players at the time who had a batting cage and pitching machine in his home, and he often went there for pregame batting practice.

"He still could hit then," Groat said. "He could really hit."

Among those taking part in the onfield ceremony were several Waner family members, plus Mazeroski and Kiner. Their uniform numbers were retired in 1987 and, until now, were the last former Pirates to achieve the honor.

Also recognized during the ceremony was Astros infielder Craig Biggio, who recently became the 27th player in major league history with 3,000 or more hits. Biggio tipped his cap several times while taking a few steps from the Houston dugout to acknowledge a loud ovation.

Previously, the Pirates also retired the numbers of former managers Danny Murtaugh and Billy Meyer and, like all major league clubs, retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42 in 1997.

Faneca's farewell to Pittsburgh

By Mike Prisuta
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Day One of Alan Faneca's countdown to free agency begins in earnest on Monday at St. Vincent College.

By showing up as promised, Big Red will at least keep alive hope that his story will have something other than one of the most disappointing endings in Steelers history.

Sadly, that is about as likely as Brady Quinn winning the Super Bowl this season for Cleveland.

The Steelers once let Franco Harris finish his career in Seattle. Dan Rooney laments to this day that things didn't work out differently.

Faneca winding up in Arizona or some other NFL outpost would leave a similar taste in mouths on the South Side.
"Alan Faneca is a Pro Bowl player, a probable Hall of Fame player," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "You don't make six Pro Bowls in a row and not get to the Hall of Fame at some point. He's been a great player for us. He's been a great off-the-field person for us. There's no questioning that."

The issue is what such a player is worth.

The two sides are far enough apart for Faneca to have labeled the Steelers' offer for an extension "pretty much a non-offer" during that infamous minicamp rant back in mid-May.

Faneca said then he wasn't considering any course of action other than showing up to camp on time and playing out the season as best he could under the circumstances.

By doing so, he'll at least keep the door open a crack to an unanticipated resolution of differences.

Faneca knows the Steelers won't negotiate with someone who's AWOL.

Reporting as ordered won't in itself change the Steelers' opinion of him as it relates to 2008 and beyond, but it can't hurt.

Faneca fans have that much to cling to, but only that.

"We're open to keeping things alive, and his people are open to keeping things alive," Colbert said. "Whether we'll ever get anywhere, we don't know.

"What we know is Alan will be here for this season."

Both sides are also well aware of the Steelers' policy of entertaining potential extensions only until the preseason becomes the regular season, unless such a deal is perceived as imminent.

"That hasn't changed for anybody, and it won't change going forward," Colbert said.

Nor is Faneca likely to get any younger between now and then.

He'll be 31 in December.

Troy Polamalu, who has been deemed worthy of receiving a boatload of money, is 26.

And Ben Roethlisberger, who is destined to soon receive the Titanic of such sums, is 25.

And the Steelers aren't interested in spending too much now if it risks what they'll be capable of down the road.

"Never do we want to put it all on, 'OK, this is the year we're going for it,' " Colbert said. "If you do that and you have one key injury and everything's gone and you have to cut that whole team, now you've set yourself back three or four years.

"If we can have a good team every year and have a chance to get to the kind of run we got on when we won the Super Bowl, that's what we want to do."

With or without Alan Faneca, a player destined to embody the heart, the soul and the spirit of the Steelers -- right up until the moment the two part company.

Mike Prisuta is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at mprisuta@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

Ron Cook: Roethlisberger the key man

Big Ben has the keys to the offense and how long the ride lasts will depend on his play

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Amid all of the uncertainty surrounding the Steelers as they prepare to gather at Saint Vincent College tomorrow for the start of training camp -- and there's plenty involving the offensive linemen, outside linebackers, cornerbacks and even the new head coach with the 0-0 record -- one question looms largest:

Will Big Ben throw the ball to the right team this season?

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette photos
Despite throwing an NFL-high 23 interceptions last season, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers went 8-8 and were in the playoff hunt until the next-to-last weekend.
Click photo for larger image.

If Roethlisberger delivers the proper answer, not to mention the ball to the fellows in the black-and-gold uniforms, the Steelers will have a successful season. You think that's too simplistic? The team would have made the playoffs last season if Roethlisberger hadn't been horrendous for reasons ranging from bad luck with his health to bad protection from his linemen to just plain bad play from him. He was so horrendous -- throwing an NFL-high 23 interceptions, three more than his total from the previous two seasons -- that 46 percent of the respondents to a highly scientific Post-Gazette Internet poll called for his benching at mid-season and for Charlie Batch to start. Still, the Steelers went 8-8 and were in the hunt for a playoff spot until the next-to-last weekend.

Is it really so hard to believe the team will be better if Roethlisberger is better?

"I know he is very motivated and very competitive," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said last week. "I know, on a personal note, he feels like he has some critics to answer. I expect big things from him."

Roethlisberger has much going for him again, nothing more important than his good health. It's pretty safe to assume he won't wreck a motorcycle or grow another appendix before the start of the season. Now concussions? They are an occupational hazard, especially for a guy who will set up behind a line that is unsure of its starters at three positions and has a disgruntled All-Pro, Alan Faneca, at a fourth. Weak line play was a significant factor in Roethlisberger being sacked 46 times last season and knocked out of the game at Atlanta in October.

But assuming the line isn't an absolute disaster and that Roethlisberger stays in one piece, there's reason to think he'll be the same quarterback he was in '05, when he led the Steelers to the Super Bowl, and in '04, his rookie year, when the team went 13-0 in his regular-season starts and made it to the AFC championship game. All indications are he worked harder this off-season than in the past, making a favorable impression on the new coach.

"He has behaved like a franchise quarterback," Tomlin said.

Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians have given Big Ben the keys to the car with the directions to Super Bowl XLII.
Click photo for larger image.

New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians certainly has placed his trust in Roethlisberger, giving him the kind of offense he long has wanted. The Steelers still are expected to pound the ball with their running game, but they'll also throw on early downs out of four-wide receiver or multiple-tight end formations. They frequently will run the no-huddle, a Roethlisberger favorite. He also will be responsible for changing the protection calls at the line for the first time, something everyone hopes will eliminate some of the blocking confusion from last season.

In other words, Tomlin and Arians have given Big Ben the keys to the car with directions to the Promised Land.

Super Bowl XLII.

OK, the playoffs, anyway.

"Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised," Roethlisberger told Steelers Digest.

The surprise won't be Roethlisberger playing well. The shock was him playing so poorly last season. His horrific motorcycle accident in June and his emergency appendectomy four days before the opener in September had some impact; he threw seven interceptions and no touchdown passes in his first three games after the appendectomy, all losses. But all of the blame can't go there. The Steelers' medical people cleared Roethlisberger. He also played spectacularly at times. The near-perfect 153.8 passer rating against Kansas City. The three touchdown passes against New Orleans. The game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdown drive at Cleveland. The 67-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Santonio Holmes in overtime to beat the Bengals in Cincinnati.

But the bad far outweighed the good for Roethlisberger. Everyone blames Ricardo Colclough's fumble on a punt return for the home loss to Cincinnati, but Roethlisberger threw a killer interception from the Bengals' 6 earlier. He cost the Steelers a chance for a late tie at San Diego with a bad interception when he threw over the middle under pressure. And he almost single-handedly lost the game at Oakland when his interception from the Steelers' 11 was returned 24 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and his one from the Raiders' 7 was brought back 100 yards for a score in the fourth.

"I feel like I'm letting the team down," Roethlisberger said after the San Diego game in October. "I'm letting the fans down."

No kidding.

This is how important Roethlisberger is to the Steelers' success or lack thereof:

In the seven wins he engineered last season, he threw 12 touchdown passes and five interceptions. In the eight losses, he threw for six touchdowns with 18 interceptions.

Still think it's too simplistic to suggest the Steelers will go as far as Big Ben takes them?

No-nonsense Tomlin looks forward to camp

Sunday, July 22, 2007

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In his first training camp, Chuck Noll told his players many of them would not be on the team long because they lacked the kind of talent he needed to forge a winner.

In his first training camp, Bill Cowher stopped practice in the middle one day, gathered his players around him and screamed at them so loud his words could be heard on the hillside around Saint Vincent College.

Mike Tomlin seems ready to continue the tradition tomorrow when his first Steelers team reports to training camp in Latrobe.

As were his two predecessors, Tomlin is young -- at 35, the same age as Cowher and two years younger than Noll when they became Steelers coaches. And he also appears ready to follow their paths as a tough, no-nonsense leader.

Even in the spring, players appealed to captain Hines Ward to approach the coach to go easier in no-pads practices. What's it going to be like in this training camp with 15 two-a-days and no day off until Aug. 6, the day after their first preseason game in Canton, Ohio?

"Probably a little heavier than they are used to,'' Tomlin said, almost gleefully. "It will give them something to whine about.

"I don't know too many active players that like training camp. They probably endure it. I did tell the group ... that it is going to be extremely tough. I am not apologizing for that. I am going to put that challenge out there to them because in a lot of ways it represents the journey that we are going to face this year."

Expectations for Tomlin's first season are not as high as they were for the Steelers the past two training camps, first when they followed a 15-1 season and a visit to the AFC championship game, and then a Super Bowl victory. Still, there is enough talent left from those two teams that last year's 8-8 record is not the expectation either.

As Ward noted in June, "Expectations are still high."

Like the change at the top, the change in personnel from last season is small in numbers, large in stature. Linebacker Joey Porter was cut and center Jeff Hartings retired. Both are former Pro Bowl players.

Matt Freed, Post-Gazette

Coach Mike Tomlin will judge players off this training camp.
Click photo for larger image

That opened up two jobs, and Tomlin has opened others, most specifically at right guard and right tackle. Several other jobs are in jeopardy because of younger players -- Bryant McFadden at cornerback and Anthony Smith at free safety -- coming into their own.

Tomlin, though, carries no nostalgia for his players into this training camp, so if some veterans do not perform up to expectations, they also could find themselves in a fight to keep their jobs.

"There are known position battles that everybody knows about, but there are also unknown position battles that are going to develop, because we are going to go into this thing with no preconceived notions," Tomlin said. "We are going to base our decisions on what we see in training camp."

It wasn't merely a management decision to release Porter, ostensibly for salary cap purposes. Tomlin quickly gave it his stamp of approval for competitive reasons as well after watching tape of Porter last season.

"Whether people are looking for comfort or if they find comfort in whether or not their jobs are mentioned as one being up for grabs, I hope they don't," Tomlin said. "I hope they understand what we have been saying to them all along. We are going to base our judgments off of what they do and not what they have done or what their reputations are."

Tomlin has a depth chart going in, but as he noted when he closed up shop in June, they are penciled in, subject to erasure.

"No job is secure," he said. "This is not a security business and if they are looking for security, they need to find a new line of work."

How Tomlin walks that fine line between being tough and too tough should be interesting as camp progresses.

"It is not going to be without ups and downs," he acknowledged. "It is not going to be smooth sailing, but we have to deal with it like champions if we want to be champions. So, I am looking forward to training camp. I am sure they are. I am sure at times, they won't but that is part of it. That is what NFL training camps are about. They are not supposed to be pleasant."

It appears there will be no day at the movies instead of practice for the Steelers this summer, as was an annual ritual of Cowher's.

"You define guys on how they play this game when they play it in pads," Tomlin said.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Pirates to retire Waner's number

Right fielder won an MVP award and NL pennant in 1927

By Jeremy Anders / MLB.com

Paul Waner's batting average with the Pirates was .340 -- which remains the best in club history.

PITTSBURGH - Pirates fans remember 15 years of steady and dominant performances at Forbes Field. His grandson remembers two wonderful summers in the Florida heat.
Pirates fans remember a young right fielder taking home NL MVP and batting crown honors as he led his team to the NL pennant in 1927. Dick Groat, the 1960 NL MVP, remembers a man who patiently taught him how to hit big league pitching in his rookie season.

Pirates fans know him for the scalding line drives that came off his bat. His grandson remembers the soft tosses that came out of his grandfather's hand when he threw batting practice to him.

The man is Paul Waner, one of the greatest players in Pirates history whom the team will honor by retiring his number on Saturday. He rapped out 3,152 hits and patrolled right field at Forbes Field for 15 of his 20 years as a Major Leaguer.

Those prolific statistics helped define his career on the field, but his kind and patient nature as a grandfather and coach helped define him as a man after his playing days ended.

Paul Waner III's memories of his grandfather are limited to two summers spent with him in the early 1960's. Waner III was 11 and 12 years old then and traveled from his Fort Worth home to spend the summer with his grandpa in Sarasota, Fla.

Those summers became some of the fondest memories of Waner III's childhood and he wished he could have gotten to spend more time with his grandfather. Waner died of emphysema in 1965.

"He was a really super nice guy," Waner III said. "He liked kids, he was great with me and fun to be around."

The pair spent their days in the outdoors, fishing for catfish on an ocean inlet before moving to the baseball diamond, where Waner threw batting practice for his grandson.

That was the only time Waner III said he really enjoyed playing the game his grandfather had been a legend at.

"I tried [baseball], but I just never enjoyed it enough to stay with it," Waner III said. "I played football and that was it."

But the exception to that was on a small field in Sarasota. The game may not have been fun when he was surrounded with his peers, but it became an absolute joy when it was just him and his grandpa alone on the diamond.

"It was a lot of fun," Waner III said. "He was patient; I could see he spent a lot of time coaching. To be honest, I was not a good baseball player at all, but we'd go out there and work out and he'd tell me, I think, I was better than I really was."

The patience Waner showed to a young boy on a small field was the same patience he had when he dealt with Major and Minor League players during his coaching career.

He got into coaching immediately after he retired when he began a short stint as the manager of the Florida International League's Miami Sun Fox in 1946. Waner later was a hitting coach in the Minor Leagues as well as a Spring Training batting instructor for several teams including the Pirates.

Even when he wasn't an official coach or instructor with a team, he was always willing to help another player out. In 1952, Pirates shortstop Groat was signed out of Duke to play for the Pirates.

Beginning his career in the Major Leagues was baptism by fire for Groat and he struggled at the beginning of the season. But work put in with hitting coach George Sisler along with plenty of extra practice with Waner helped turn things around.

Waner owned a batting cage in Harmarville, east of Pittsburgh, and Groat worked with him in the mornings before practice. He remembers Waner's patience and kindness as a teacher.

"He was fun to be with, I really liked Paul Waner," Groat said. "He couldn't have been nicer to me in every way. He helped me build confidence, and I ended up leading the Pirates in hitting that year as a rookie.

"He was very patient, very understanding and had a great hitting philosophy. Even at that age, he could still hit that machine and hit that ball hard. He had such an enthusiasm for life and for swinging the bat and he was just fun to be around."

Waner kept that love for baseball as well as a love for the outdoors throughout his life. He shared both with his grandson when they were together in the summer.

"I had a lot of fun," Waner III said. "I was too young to really appreciate it at the time, looking back."

Now, on the day his number will be retired, fans can look back on years of dominating offensive performances as a player, while Waner III, Groat and others who knew him off the field will remember the kind, patient man he was.

Jeremy Anders is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.