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Perrotto: No Pirates Player Has Ever Been Tougher Than Ed Ott

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Ed Ott, Pittsburgh Pirates

Time stops for no one. I was sadly reminded of that again on Sunday.

Ed Ott died at age 72. A platoon catcher with Steve Nicosia on the last Pittsburgh Pirates’ World Series-winning team in 1979, he was a hero to many people of my generation in Western Pennsylvania who were baseball fans.

The statistics say Ott was an average player. He hit .259 with 37 home runs in his eight-year career from 1974-81 and never made an All-Star Game or won a Gold Glove or Silver Slugger.

For those who believe in WAR, Ott’s career total was 5.9. That won’t get you to Cooperstown.

However, a case can be made that Ott was the toughest man to wear a Pirates’ uniform. Quite simply, nobody messed with him or there were consequences.

Ott was an outstanding wrestler at Muncy High School, near Williamsport, Pa. Wrestling in the 165-pound class as a senior in 1970, Muncy won the District 4 championship and was runner-up in the PIAA state championships.

Ott used those wrestling skills to put his name in Pirates’ lore and provide one of the memorable moments of my adolescent years.

The Pirates were playing the New York Mets on Aug. 12, 1977, in the second game of a twi-night doubleheader at Three Rivers Stadium.

With a runner on second base, one out and the Pirates leading 4-3 in the seventh inning, the Mets intentionally walked Ott to pitch to Mario Mendoza. The slick-fielding Mendoza was such a poor hitter that, even today, any major-league player with a batting average below .200 is said to be under the Mendoza Line.

Mendoza hit a ground ball to shortstop Bud Harrelson, who flipped to second baseman Felix Millan for the force out. However, Ott slid into second base hard, and Millan had no play. Instead, Millan took the ball and hit Ott on the right side of his head out of frustration.

Ott was underneath Millan following the slide. Ott then picked Millan up with one arm and body-slammed him against his knee.

Millan sustained a broken collarbone, an injury that ended his 12-year career. Ott was ejected, suspended for three games by the National League and fined $250, which he initially refused to pay before begrudgingly writing a check.

As a footnote, the Pirates went on to a 5-4 win in 12 innings. Coincidentally, Larry Demery, who died on Feb. 20, pitched four scoreless relief innings for the win.

I scoured Google and YouTube hoping to find a video clip of the incident without luck. That’s too bad because you had to see it to believe it. I was lucky enough to be in the ballpark.

There was, of course, more to Ott’s career than the Millan incident. He was one of the leaders of the 1979 champions, and a strong clubhouse presence throughout his time with the Pirates.

I saw Ott last season at PNC Park and exchanged pleasantries. We used to talk about the “old days” when he was coaching with the Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers.

Ott came to Pittsburgh to see his former teammate Kent Tekulve inducted into the Pirates Hall of Fame.

Ott’s mind was still sharp, but he was in a wheelchair and not in great health. It was quite a contrast to the hardnosed catcher of the 1970s.

Yet I’m reminded of a conversation with Clint Hurdle when he was managing the Pirates. Hurdle asked me if I remembered Ott’s body slam of Millan and smiled.

Remember it? I’ll never forget it.

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