Willie Stargell, left, hugs his Pittsburgh Pirates teammate Al Oliver, center, as Roberto Clemente looks on during the 1971 season. On September 1, 1971, the Pirates fielded an all-Black lineup of African-American and Latino players, a first in the history of Major League Baseball. (MLB.COM)
The 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates were a special team in a multitude of ways. They were probably the most diverse team in the major leagues, featuring 13 players of Latin or African-American descent on their roster, including their best two players, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. That season the Pirates went on to win the World Series, but along the way they also achieved a first in the history of major-league baseball. On September 1, 1971, the Pirates fielded an all-Black lineup of African-American and Latino players.
The historic game was played between the Pirates and division rivals the Philadelphia Phillies on a Wednesday night at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. The Pirates entered the game with a record of 81-56, and were in first place in the National League East by 4½ games over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies were a lowly 57-77 and in last place in the division. The attendance for the game was 11,278, all of whom got to see history made.
The starting lineup for the Pirates was: batting leadoff and playing second base, Rennie Stennett; batting second and playing center field, Gene Clines; batting third and playing right field, Roberto Clemente; batting cleanup and playing left field, Willie Stargell; batting fifth and catching, Manny Sanguillen; batting sixth and playing third base, Dave Cash; batting seventh and playing first base, Al Oliver; batting eighth and playing shortstop, Jackie Hernandez; and batting ninth and pitching, Dock Ellis.1
Aside from the pitcher, the one position and really the only position where a white player was generally more likely to start at this point in the season, was at first base.2 Bob Robertson generally played first for the Pirates in 1971, especially against left-handed pitching. Despite the fact that the Phillies were starting former-Bucco Woodie Fryman, a lefthander, lefty-swinging Al Oliver got the start at first base for the Bucs.
The occasion of the first all-Black lineup came without any warning. Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh posted the lineup, and may not have realized himself that he had started the game with all Black players. The players themselves did not realize until the game was underway. Al Oliver stated that he had not noticed the lineup until an inning or two into the game when Dave Cash came up to him and said, “Hey Scoop, we’ve got all brothers out there.”3
The first inning started out very poorly for Dock Ellis as he walked the first two Phillie batters, Ron Stone and Larry Bowa, to lead off the game. Ellis then righted the ship, getting Tim McCarver to fly out, and striking out Deron Johnson. Ellis was not able to get out of the inning unscathed however, as shortstop Jackie Hernandez was not able to handle a groundball hit by Willie Montanez. The play ended with Stone scoring, Montanez at first, and Bowa at third. Oscar Gamble then singled down the third-base line, allowing Bowa to score. Ellis finally got out of the inning after Terry Harmon, flied out to center. The Pirates roared back in the bottom of the first, with six of the first seven batters reaching base on singles or doubles. By the end of the inning, the Pirates had batted around, knocked out starter Fryman who was replaced by Bucky Brandon, and scored five runs.
Ellis was not very sharp in the second inning either, walking leadoff batter John Vukovich and giving up a home run to Ron Stone for his second long-ball of the season. After walking Larry Bowa, Ellis was relieved by Bob Moose. Moose had started the game the previous night, but had gone only two and one-third innings. Two batters later, Moose gave up a two-run home run to Deron Johnson, allowing the Phillies to take the lead, 6-5 on the slugger’s 29th blast of the year. Once more, the Pirates came back. After a Gene Clines single, stolen base, and advance to third on an errant throw by McCarver, and a Roberto Clemente walk, Willie Stargell hit a sacrifice fly scoring Clines and Manny Sanguillen hit a home run scoring Clemente. The Pirates finished the inning leading 8-6.
In the third, after Moose gave up a two-out single to Phillies pitcher Brandon putting runners on first and second, Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh chose to replace him with hard-throwing reliever Bob Veale. With Veale’s entrance into the game, the Pirates once more fielded an all-Black lineup in the field. Veale struck out Phillies batter Ron Stone to get out of the inning. In the bottom of the third, the Pirates manufactured yet another run on a single by Al Oliver, fielder’s choice by Jackie Hernandez, sacrifice bunt by Veale, and single by Stennett. The Phillies brought in veteran reliever Dick Selma, who got them out of the inning. The Pirates now led the game by a score of 9-6.
Luke Walker replaced Veale on the mound to start the fourth inning, and the seasoned southpaw promptly loaded the bases with a walk, single, and walk to the first three Phillie batters. Willie Montanez then hit a sacrifice fly allowing Larry Bowa to score. However, Tim McCarver was thrown out attempting to advance to third base on the sacrifice resulting in a double play. Walker got out of the inning, and the Pirates remained ahead of the Phillies by a score of 9-7. The Pirates were held in check in the bottom of the fourth, the first time in the game that they did not score in an inning. Neither team scored in the fifth inning, but the Pirates put together another rally in the sixth, with Gene Clines reaching base on a double, and scoring on a Clemente single, bringing the score to 10-7. Luke Walker then took control of the game, not allowing a Phillie batter to reach base in the seventh, eighth, or ninth innings.
Luke Walker got the win, his seventh of the season, after pitching the final six innings of the game. Bucky Brandon took the loss for the Phillies. Six Pirates batters had two hits apiece, but it was Manny Sanguillen’s two-run home run during the second frame, just his sixth of the season, that put the Pirates ahead for good in this rollicking game.
Immediate recognition of the unprecedented event by the press was mixed. There was no newspaper coverage of the event in Pittsburgh as all of the papers were closed due to a strike. The Philadelphia papers did not really recognize the event either. It was not mentioned in the game account in the Philadelphia Inquirer,4 and the only allusion to the unique Pirates lineup in the Philadelphia Daily News was reporter Bill Conlin’s reference to Danny Murtaugh’s “all-soul lineup,” with no further explanation.5
However, a United Press International story that focused upon the all-Black lineup that was published in several newspapers around the country. In that article, Danny Murtaugh was quoted as saying, “When it comes to making out the lineup, I’m colorblind, and my athletes know it. They don’t know it because I told them. They know it because they’re familiar with how I operate. The best men in our organization are the ones who are here. And the ones who are here all play, depending on when the circumstances present themselves.”6
Pirates pitcher Steve Blass commented on Murtaugh’s approach to the game, stating, “He treated it with the respect it deserved, but didn’t act like it was as big of a deal as they were making — he just put out the nine best Pirates and didn’t care if they were white, Black, Latino, whatever. It was a tremendous response to that whole thing, which was a big deal.”7
With the win, the Pirates improved to a record of 82 and 56. They completed the season with a record of 97-65. They went on to defeat the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series three games to one, and then defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series in seven games. Historically, the fielding of an all-Black team certainly ranks with that World Series victory.
This article appears in “Moments of Joy and Heartbreak: 66 Significant Episodes in the History of the Pittsburgh Pirates” (SABR, 2018), edited by Jorge Iber and Bill Nowlin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted:
Markusen, Bruce. The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates (Yardley, Pennsylvania: Westholme Publishing, 2006).
1 On Saturday, June 17, 1967 at Connie Mack Stadium, the Pittsburgh Pirates almost fielded an all-Black lineup. Pirates manager Harry Walker’s starting lineup was Matty Alou in center field, Maury Wills at third base, Roberto Clemente in right field, Willie Stargell at first base, Manny Mota in left field, Jose Pagan at shortstop, Andre Rodgers at second base, and Jesse Gonder catching. Dennis Ribant was the starting pitcher for that game, but the Pirates also had several Black pitchers including Bob Veale, Al McBean , and Juan Pizarro who all started games that season.
2 Richie Hebner, hospitalized with a viral infection, would have likely been the third baseman since he started 93 games there in 1971, with Jose Pagan (38 games at third base), and Dave Cash (22 games at third base) taking up the slack. Also, Gene Alley (97 games started at shortstop in 1971) was being rested due to a sprained left knee.
3 Al Oliver and Andrew O’Toole, Baseball’s Best Kept Secret: Al Oliver and His Time in Baseball (Pittsburgh: City of Champions Publishing, 1997), 51.
4 Mark Heisler, “Pirates’ Sweep Saddles Phillies With Last Place,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 2, 1971: 29-30.
5 Bill Conlin, “Kerplunk! Phils Last,” Philadelphia Daily News, September 2, 1971: 44.
6 “Pirates Field First All-Black Starting Team,” Tyrone Daily Herald, September 2, 1971: 5.
7 Colleen Hroncich, The Whistling Irishman: Danny Murtaugh Remembered (Philadelphia: Sports Challenge Network, 2010), 178-179.