Latest Issue

Remembering Ed Ott

With deep sadness, area sports fans learned last week of the death of Lycoming County sports legend Ed Ott, remembered as a standout catcher on the 1979 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirate team. He was also a legendary athlete at Muncy High School, excelling in both football and wrestling.

I had the pleasure of interacting with and meeting Ed when he spoke at the local chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) meeting held in September 2022 at the James V. Brown Library. He was an interesting and engaging speaker who left the 60-plus people in attendance in awe and wonder. I remember how tickled he was that the Williamsport Crosscutters had given away a bobblehead of him earlier that year. Some of the people at the meeting had him sign their bobbleheads of him.

He told us about his interesting baseball journey from outfielder to catcher. He said, “I was never going to get a shot with the Pirates as an outfielder with guys with names such as Stargell, Zisk, Parker, and Oliver, so I was asked to become a catcher, and I worked hard to learn this new position, and it worked out for me,” Ed said.

It certainly did. Before this year’s Hot Stove Banquet, Kent Tekulve told me that Ed was “an excellent handler of pitchers and a leader behind the plate.”

Ed was important to the Buccos’ “We Are Family” 1979 championship team. He alternated with young Steve Nicosia behind the plate and helped to mentor Nicosia.

Ed told us that the ’79 team was a very special group of guys and that Willie “Pops” Stargell’s veteran leadership was key to the team’s becoming known as “We Are Family.”

“Pops made us believe in ourselves, and whenever we got down, he lifted us up,” Ed said. “That team, at times, was lifted on the back of Stargell and his bat.”

One game in particular, that season epitomized the spirit of Ed and that great 1979 team.

“We were playing the Phillies in a game in August and were only up 1 1/2 games ahead of Montreal in the Eastern Division and were down in that game 8-0,” Ed told our SABR group, “when ‘Pops’ saw us all holding our heads down, he got angry and told us not to quit and that we needed to fight back and score some runs. Well, we started to come back, and I got a crack at the Phils’ ace reliever, Tug McGraw. Chuck Tanner was going to pinch hit for me, but I begged him to let me hit and left me in the lineup. I hit a hanging curveball for a grand slam home run to give us a 14-11 win. That win gave us momentum and helped send us on our way to the championship.”

In the 1979 World Series, Ed scored the winning run in Game Two and hit 4 for 12.

But Ed is perhaps best known for an incident with Mets’ infielder Felix Millan on August 12, 1977.

“I was trying to break up a double play and had a hard take-out slide into Mets second baseman Felix Millan,” Ed told our group. “Apparently, Felix didn’t like it much and threw his right hand into me with the ball still in his hand. Boy, did that make me mad, so I picked him up and slammed him to the turf. He ended up separating his shoulder, and I was thrown out of the game. I had to have a police escort coming out of Shea Stadium, and I got a few death threats as well.”

After retiring from baseball, he became the manager of one of the Pirates’ minor league teams and managed Barry Bonds in his first year of professional baseball.

“One time, Barry didn’t hustle like I thought he should have, so I benched him. I told him, when you prove that you care about playing and hustle, I’ll let you back in the lineup,” Ed told us. “Barry learned his lesson, and I never had another problem with him. He played very well for me.”

Ed Ott gained a respected reputation as a ballplayer’s ball player, and I think he appreciated that.

I would like to close with some excerpts from Grantland Rice’s poem “Game Called” that I think apply well to Ed.

Game Called. Where in the golden light
the bugle rolled the reveille.
The shadows creep where night falls deep,
and taps has called the end of play.
The game is done, the score is in,
the final cheer and jeer have passed.
But in the night, beyond the fight,
the player finds his rest at last.

Game Called. Upon the field of life
the darkness gathers far and wide,
the dream is done, the score is spun
that stands forever in the guide.
Nor victory, nor yet defeat
is chalked against the player’s name.
But down the roll, the final scroll,
shows only how he played the game.