NORMAN — After a seemingly endless drought, the Pittsburgh Pirates are poised to have a winning season.
It’s been a long time coming, and this summer has been one more reminder of how fortunate I was growing up.
That was an era when the Buccos were perennial contenders, producing a constant crop of hitters who terrorized opposing pitchers.
There wasn’t anything fancy about the Pirates recruited by Joe L. Brown and managed by Danny Murtaugh. They swung at just about anything that came in their direction — and usually hit it. There was no need to manufacture runs; the Pirates were poised to attack the baseball.
Great teams produce great memories, and one that’s seared permanently in my brain is Roberto Clemente, standing atop second base at Three Rivers Stadium, doffing his cap to the crowd after attaining his 3,000th career hit.
That was late in the 1972 season. And while they had another outstanding year, the world champion Pirates lost to Cincinnati in the playoffs. But even worse, a few months later they lost Clemente. The Great One died in an airplane crash New Year’s Eve while on a mercy mission to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua.
Clemente’s death resonated far beyond his fan base in Pittsburgh. His exploits as an athlete on the field and a humanitarian off were the stuff of legend. The accolades poured in, and one came from the U.S. Postal Service, which in 1984 placed his image on a stamp.
Recently, another Pirate from that era was similarly honored. Willie Stargell, the great slugger, is depicted on his stamp staring ahead with bat poised to strike.
It’s one of the most fearsome images a pitcher of that era could face. Stargell, looming over the plate, his bat spinning like an airplane propeller. It was as if he were preparing to send the ball on a cross-country journey.
Along with the release of the stamp, the U.S. Postal Service launched a campaign called “8 on 8.” It’s a take on Stargell’s retired No. 8 jersey number, and it encourages fans to buy the stamps and mail letters with them to eight friends.
I would like to think this is intended purely as a tribute to Stargell, but it’s not. The postal service needs money, and it’s developed the habit of finding ways to encourage people to send mail as a means of selling stamps.
That strikes me as a sort of make-work scheme, designed to help keep the postal service afloat with no practical goal in mind.
I’m sure the postal service will sell plenty of Stargell stamps to baseball fans who will sock them away as mementos. That’s the goal of most stamp issues — that people will buy some with no intention of actually using them.
I suppose the “8 on 8” promotion isn’t much different from other businesses trying to get people to purchase their stuff. But it’s not going to save the postal service: For that to happen, Congress must repair the damage it has done to the agency by restricting its operations and draining its finances.
Mitchel Olszak is a columnist for the New Castle (Pa.) News.