The more I’ve sat here and thought about it, the more I realized how difficult it is to assemble a Pittsburgh Pirates Mount Rushmore.
Not because there aren’t enough worthy candidates — the franchise history is quite rich. But it’s because of after what I would consider three easy calls, the fourth and final spot is completely up for grabs.
Before we dive in, let me preface this by stating what my belief of what a Mount Rushmore is. It’s not necessarily the best four players in franchise history. While performance undoubtedly is a key factor, it doesn’t stand alone. And yes, I’m only using players here.
To me, the Mount. Rushmore should consist of choosing the four most recognizable faces of the franchise. In this case, four players most closely associated to the Pirates. In other words, when you hear ‘Pittsburgh Pirates,’ who do you think of?
Below, I will outline my four choices and mention why I left certain franchise greats off the list. This is just my personal opinion. I know there will be those who disagree, and I don’t have a problem with it.
As I said, the first three choices are straightforward, starting with ‘The Great One.’ Clemente is one of the most iconic players in this history of Major League Baseball, let alone the Pirates.
Clemente did it all during his 18-year-career in Pittsburgh. He won two World Series, was the MVP of the Fall Classic in 1971 and was the regular season MVP in 1966. Clemente was named to the All-Star team 15 times, won 12 Gold Gloves in right field and was the batting champion four times.
Today, he is honored each year by Major League Baseball on Roberto Clemente Day. Over half a century after his untimely death, Clemente’s legacy is as strong as ever.
When talking about the game’s all-time greats, Wagner is right in the thick of the discussion. In his 21-year career, 18 of those seasons were with the Pirates. While wearing a Pirates’ uniform, Wagner hit .338 and was the league leader in the category eight times.
A 1909 World Series Champion, Wagner led baseball in bWAR 11 times out of his 18 seasons with the Pirates. Wagner’s 131.0 career bWAR is 10th all-time.
‘The Flying Dutchman’ was another no-brainer to add to the Pirates Mt. Rushmore.
The pride of the 1979 ‘We Are Family’ Bucs, Stargell was the co-regular season Most Valuable Player and the World Series MVP that year for what was the Pirates’ fifth championship run.
Stargell played 21 seasons in the big leagues. All of them came in Pittsburgh. To go along with his 1979 MVPs, Stargell was a seven-time All-Star and like the previous two mentioned, he’s enshrined in Cooperstown in the Hall of Fame.
The last choice came down to a near-impossible decision. I know it will be controversial, but here’s why I chose McCutchen.
For starters, McCutchen is the undisputed face of the franchise since the turn of the century. Nearly a quarter of a century into the 2000s, that means something. To take things a step further, it could be argued that McCutchen was the face of baseball during the Pirates’ three-year playoff run from 2013-15.
Those three years are another reason I ultimately went with McCutchen. He was the captain of the ship that broke the Pirates historic 20-year losing stretch and brought baseball in Pittsburgh back to relevance. It was that 2013 season that McCutchen was named the MVP of the National League.
Statistically speaking, McCutchen isn’t quite up to par with some of the players I left off — ones I’ll discuss below. But going back to what I said earlier, he is who an entire generation of younger fans think of when they hear ‘Pittsburgh Pirates.’
McCutchen’s performance and accolades can warrant a spot on this list, too. In addition to his MVP, McCutchen is a five-time All-Star, a four-time Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove recipient. Additionally, he’s fourth on the franchise’s all-time home run list with 215, and he’s in the top 10 in doubles, extra-base hits, RBIs and walks.
- Paul Waner: After much thought, my choice came down to McCutchen and Waner. Waner is undoubtedly deserving to be on there. However, I tend to believe more people think McCutchen than Waner when they think Pirates.
- Arky Vaughn: What I said about Waner could also apply here. Vaughn is one of the best shortstops ever and could easily be on the list. Again, by my definition of what a Mt. Rushmore is, he simply is just too dated when going against McCutchen and my reasoning for choosing him.
- Bill Mazeroski: Mazeroski has arguably the most iconic postseason home run, was an elite defender and is in the Hall of Fame. His numbers with the bat fell short for me, though.
- Ralph Kiner: For his era, Kiner was one of, if not the most prolific power hitters in the game. Through no fault of his own, he never played in a postseason game. In a close call, that was a big deciding factor.
- Dave Parker: Parker was squarely in the mix in my deliberations. His résumé is filled with impressive achievements. His numbers in a Pirates’ uniform aren’t quite up to McCutchen’s and the latter’s association with the modern day Pirates carries too much weight.
- Barry Bonds: With two MVPs while with the Pirates, Bonds was under consideration. However, I couldn’t put someone the average baseball fan would associate with the Giants on a Pirates Mt. Rushmore.