- CP file photo
- Gregory Polanco
We’re in the home stretch of naming the best Pirates players of the past 50 years. This is the first of three installments ranking the club’s strongest collection of players — outfielders. Obviously, Roberto Clemente is the best. With all due deference to Paul “Big Poison” Waner and Ralph Kiner, The Great One is one of the top 10 players in the history of the game. He’s a publicly beatified legend and the greatest Pirates outfielder of all time. So, this list begins in 1973, the first year after Clemente. That means Willie Stargell and Al Oliver won’t be ranked as high as they would be if it included their entire careers. Both still make the top 10, however, even though we’re considering only a portion of their impressive numbers. But no more spoilers. After exhaustive research and an expanded list of statistics, we’ve got a top 30, and we’re starting with a guy who did a lot in his five years with some pretty bad teams.
30. Tike Redman hit .330 and .288 in consecutive years and stole 33 bases as a Pirate. Among all outfielders, Redman was the fifth-best defensively and had a higher batting average than Barry Bonds.
29. Lee Mazzilli was as popular with the ladies in the 1970s and 1980s as Ponch was on CHiPS. A star with the Mets, Mazzilli was solid, but is best known for testifying before a grand jury (he and other players were granted immunity) in what has become known as the Pittsburgh Drug Trials, which involved several Pirates players.
28. Lloyd McClendon led a great baseball life. “Legendary Lloyd” was his nickname at age 12 after homering in five consecutive at-bats with five swings in the 1971 Little League World Series. McClendon played on good clubs in the early 1990s, and after the 2000 baseball season, McClendon was hired to manage the Bucs. He never led the team to a winning season, but the occasionally hot-tempered McClendon was fun to watch.
27. Poor Joe Orsulak was one of those guys who had a long pro career, but never once saw a pitch in the playoffs. Orsulak hit .272 in four seasons here. Fun fact, unless you’re Joe Orsulak: In 14 major-league seasons, he made the same amount of money that Josh Harrison is making this year alone.
26. Gregory Polanco, El Coffee, has been more decaf than we had hoped. So far, he’s hit .252 with some power (38 homers) and some speed (63 steals), but he’s still only 25 years old and has been good enough to make this list.
25. John Milner was 3-for-9 in the 1979 World Series and hit 16 regular-season home runs as the team’s best clutch pinch-hitter. Milner was another fixture of the drug trials and actually testified against dealer and chef Curtis Strong.
24. In 2004, Rob Mackowiak hit a game-winning grand slam that made Pirates announcer Greg Brown so excited he might have had a mild heart attack. Mack’s big blast came on the same day that his son was born. Unfortunately for that kid, I’m sure that’s all he’ll ever hear about on his birthday for the rest of his life. Mackowiak hit 57 homers and stole 40 bases as a Bucco.
23. R.J. Reynolds was Dave Clark with more speed. R.J. stole 109 bases in his six part-time seasons here and added depth to a good team. In 1990, he hit .288 and was 31 years old; the next season, nobody in the majors signed him. Washed up at 31, Reynolds went on to play three years in Japan, where he was much more popular.
22. Dave Clark spent his life in the shadows of giants. When you Google his name, you have to put in the word “baseball” or just get results about a famous singer. When he got to Pittsburgh as an outfielder, Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla all had pretty good job security.
21. We remember Nate McLouth as the sacrificial lamb who had to be slaughtered to make way for Andrew McCutchen, the phenom from Fort Meade, Fla. McLouth just missed the top 20, but was an All-Star and won a Gold Glove during his stay. Also, in the entire 140-year history of baseball, fewer than 250 players have hit 100 home runs and stolen 100 bases, and Nate is in that club. You have to respect that.