Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pittsburgh Memories R.I.P. 2014

With the Pittsburgh Steelers back in the playoffs, and my annual Pittsburgh-themed Christmas gift from one of my sisters (this year, a Pittsburgh scenes calendar) I pay homage to my hometown city and some of the people from its past--and my past--who passed away in 2014.
Chuck Noll was the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 1970s glory days, winning 4 Super Bowls.  I met him after their 1979 championship, on a story.  I asked him about Pittsburgh fans, and his face lit up.  He loved them.  And they loved him.  In football he was above all a teacher.  In the rest of his life, a civilized man.  He was a class act, and Pittsburgh learned from him.

Ralph Kiner was probably the first baseball player whose name I knew.  He was not just the Pirates' best player in the early to mid 50s, he was just about their only good player.  He led the National League in homers for seven straight years, with little help from the rest of the lineup.  Later he became an affectionately remembered baseball announcer, though in a different town.
Bill Nunn, Jr. was the managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, the premier African American newspaper in the US.  He then became the first African American executive of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hal Smith was one of two catchers on the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates.  Smoky Burgess was the hitter--he was kind of the Pablo Sandoval of his day--he hit bad pitches, and came up big in big games.  But in the seventh game of the World Series, Hal Smith came up in the eighth with the Pirates behind, and hit a three run homer that put them temporarily ahead, setting the stage for Bill Mazeroski's tie-breaking ninth inning solo homer.

Another former Pirate who passed away in 2014 was Eddie O'Brien, from their not great 50s team.  But when his brother Johnny played, he became half of the first twins to play for the same team in the same Major League game.

But life isn't all about sports, not even in Pittsburgh.  There's also music!  And Porky Chedwick was a legendary DJ in Pittsburgh and beyond, the original daddio of the radio, the platter-pushing papa, whose most influential era (even beyond Pittsburgh) was the doo-wop 1950s.  I was just a little too young (and a little too far away for good reception from his station) to catch him in his first flush of local fame, but everybody knew his name.  He brought a lot of attention to a lot of black acts in particular, not only on the radio but with live shows.

Pittsburgh had some great mayors, two of whom became PA governors.  Another great one was Richard Caliguiri, who I once interviewed at length.  But there was no Pittsburgh mayor who screamed Pittsburgh! in every way than Sophie Masloff.  As president of the City Council she became mayor upon Caliguiri's death in 1988, and was later elected in her own right.  Her proposal for a new baseball-only park was laughed to oblivion, but she lived long enough to attend games at PNC Park.  She left office in 1994.