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The Forgotten Rivalry in Philadelphia Phillies History

Fans of the Philadelphia Phillies usually look at the New York Mets or the Atlanta Braves as their top rival. The proximity of the Big Apple means heated interaction between fan bases. Atlanta’s dominance in the National League East over the past three decades makes them an obvious target of venom. Does Phillies-Pirates even enter the conversation? Philadelphia and Pittsburgh can duke it out in hockey, but the baseball teams don’t bring as much intensity. Things used to be very different. The Former National League East Baseball fans adjusted to three divisions in each league after 1994. Long before the Pirates joined the newly-created NL Central, however, they sustained a run of dominance at the top of the NL East in the early 1970s. Roberto Clemente took home the MVP honors after Pittsburgh’s fourth World Series championship in 1971. The future Hall of Famer’s tragic death in 1972 didn’t stop the Pirates’ run to five of six NL East pennants from 1970-75. The Phillies, meanwhile, spent more time in the division's basement during the early ‘70s. Danny Ozark soon helped a historically underachieving franchise back to respectability. The Phillies finished the 1975 season in second place, six games behind Willie Stargell and their cross-state rivals. Mike Schmidt and Greg “The Bull” Luzinski helped bring the NL East flag back to the eastern side of Pennsylvania. The Phillies won three straight division crowns with the Pirates in second place each season from 1976-78. The upper hand in the rivalry disappeared when the Pirates won their fifth World Series in 1979. The Phillies trudged through a disappointing season. They hadn’t reached the promised land in 76 tries since the first World Series in 1903. Along came Dallas Green. The new manager added some fire behind Schmidt, Luzinski, Steve Carlton, and Pete Rose on the way to the 1980 World Series. The Stargell Star Baseball cherishes its records and memories like no other sport. Two legendary home runs of the Phillies-Pirates rivalry help define the legacy of two of the all-time greats for the respective franchises. The concrete in Section 601 at Veterans Stadium displayed a giant black and gold star until the concrete giant closed in 2003. Younger fans might not have realized that it honored the longest home run in the Vet’s history. It came off the bat of a rival opponent, however. Willie Stargell established himself as a big-time slugger through the late 1960s. He retired with 475 career homers and seven All-Star appearances that ultimately sent him to the Hall of Fame. One of the most memorable swings of his career came on a moon shot in Philadelphia off Jim Bunning in 1971. No video scoreboards displayed the  “How far did it fly?” sponsorship in 1971. The world will never know the real distance, but don't underestimate the intensity of Phillies fans. Two plaques went missing from Section 601 before the sticker finally occupied the spot for good. Michael Jack Schmidt Although a long-time rival owned a moment of glory at the Vet, Mike Schmidt returned the favor at Three Rivers Stadium. The Phillies trailed the Bucs 6-5 on April 18, 1987. The greatest third basemen ever to play the game stepped into the box with 499 career home runs. Phillies fans of all ages know the call from the late, great Harry Kalas. “Swing and a long drive. There it is! Number 500! The career 500th home run for Michael Jack Schmidt.” -Harry Kalas The Phillies jumped out of the dugout in Pittsburgh to greet Mike Schmidt at home plate after his 500th career home run. A fierce rival crowd at Three Rivers Stadium tipped their caps with a respectable standing ovation.   The Unintentional Walk Olders fans might remember it for themselves. Younger fans have probably watched the “Unintentional Walk” special during a Phillies rain delay broadcast at one point or another. The Pirates jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the top of the first inning at the Vet on June 9, 1989. Jim Rooker, Pittsburgh’s color commentator and former pitcher, jokingly wrote off the rest of the game. He jumped the gun with a foot in the mouth comment about walking back to Pittsburgh if the Bucs lost. The Phillies slugged their way to a 15-10 victory. Rooker put his money where his mouth was. He walked across the state of Pennsylvania with overnight stops the following offseason. His stunt raised thousands of dollars for charity causes. It took him 10 weeks to complete. Phillies-Pirates in Modern Day The Pirates have faded away from contention. Their ownership hasn’t made the effort to construct a playoff-caliber roster. The Phillies took control of the cross-state matchup after signing Bryce Harper in 2019. They won three and split one season series against the Pirates with a 17-9 advantage through the 2023 season. Despite the lack of venom in the modern era, fans from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh still enjoy road trips every time the teams play. Citizens Bank Park instantly became one of the best ballpark experiences when it opened in 2004. PNC Park sits in a great location that allows fans to enjoy the surrounding area of the city. Watch Kincade & Salciunas on the 97.5 The Fanatic YouTube page for discussion about the latest breaking sports news in Philadelphia. [select-listicle listicle_id="522983" syndication_name="philadelphia-phillies-world-series-appearances" description="no"]

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