Longtime Pittsburgh Pirates backstop Ed Ott was an integral part of the Buccos’ 1979 World Series title winning team. A leader on the field and in the clubhouse, Ott scored the wining run in a game two series victory.
A tough, hard nosed field general, Ott transitioned as a youngster from the infield to the outfield and finally found a home behind the plate, playing seven of his eight big league seasons in Pittsburgh.
After one season with the Angels, Ott hung up the spikes for good.
After his retirement he spend many years as a manager and coach at the big league and minor league levels, spending time in the Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers organizations.
In the newest installment of Card Back Q&A, we flipped over his cardboard and found some gems as we discuss his high school’s lack of a baseball team, his deep ties to the late seventies Pirates squads, his amazing bicycle trek from Pennsylvania to Florida for the team’s spring training and much more.
TR–There are two interesting facts in those cartoons on the back of your 1981 Topps card. The first is that you lettered in football and wrestling in high school but not baseball. Is it true your high school didn’t have a baseball team?
EO– No, we did not have a high school baseball team. I had to play Little League then to what was called intermediate to American Legion. Then I played semi-pro baseball. My dad had me playing with 35 or 40 year old guys in the West Branch Semi-Pro League when I was 13 years old. My dad always had me play up a level. Once you get success at that level and then it on to the next level and the next level. We did not have high school baseball, though.
TR–The second fun fact said you rode a bicycle to spring training prior to the 1979 season. Could you elaborate on that story for us?
EO– It is true. There were eight of us that went down the east coast and eight that went down the west coast. All of the proceeds went to muscular dystrophy. This is something that Tug McGraw started with the Phillies. We left Philadelphia around February 10th. It was minus six degrees. Our goggles didn’t come in. Our sweatshirts didn’t come in. We were basically semi-naked riding down the road. We put in so many miles a day on those bicycles. We met at certain places at certain times throughout the day like schools or universities or malls and we would stop and talk about and raise awareness for muscular dystrophy. That was the last year it was ever done.
A lot of people don’t realize that on the west coast Larry Christianson was riding a bicycle (in Northern California) and his tire went in between a railroad track and it catapulted him and he ended up broke his shoulder. That was the end of us baseball players riding bicycles down to Spring Training. None of us had really ridden a bicycle since we were 12 years old. All of a sudden we are on these expensive bicycles. Our leader would yell out numbers and apparently that was the gear we were supposed to change to make it easier to go up hills. We had no idea what was going on.
It took us 17 days. It was 1,330 miles total. We actually bicycled 1,030 of it. We had to make up time. The second day we were in Baltimore and woke up and there was three inches of snow on the ground. They put me in charge of our group going down the east coast. The guys came up to me in the morning and said ‘What are we going to do?’ I said “We are going to put chains on our bicycles and we are going to bicycle out of here.” They looked at me like I was nuts. I said ‘We ain’t bicycling out of here. Get everybody on the bus and let’s go!’ It was a lot of fun but by the end of the 17 days and we got to Spring Training and you start to exercise, believe me, it took us another two weeks before we could even run. On the bikes you never go full extension. Your legs are only moving so far. You get used to that and anything over that you are going to tear it or cramp up. I did it once but I’m not saying I would ever do it again.
TR–Your 2009 New Jersey Jackals card makes mention of you clutch play helping the Pirates defeat the Orioles in the 1979 World Series, in part by scoring the game winning run in a pivotal game two. What was that magical World Series experience like for you and what was it like being a part of the family?
EO– It was basically the same thing as it was the year before but then we didn’t get to the World Series. We were the family. That was the best, closest knit 25 guys I have ever played with on one ball club. I would say we would all go to death for each other. That’s how much we honored each other. To get the opportunity to go to the World Series by beating Cincinnati and then beating Baltimore in the World Series, it’s like a birthday party. The birthday cake is great but it’s better with the icing. If you don’t have the icing you still really enjoy the cake. That what the World Series is, it’s great to get there you can still eat the cake buts it’s nice to have the icing.
After being down three games to one against Baltimore, with that club they had and then coming back and winning the next three and winning the series four to three, was a great thrill. It just showed that we would never quit. You never quit on a teammate and you never quit on a family member. That is basically what drove us to come back and win the last three games of the World Series.