Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Pittsburgh Pirates

I would be remiss if I did not at least acknowledge an all-time mark for futility set by the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday. The Pirates clinched their 17th consecutive losing season yesterday, meaning that the last time that they won anything--and they did win their division in 1992--Barry Bonds was still playing left field for them, and wasn't yet a juicer. That 17 year streak is a new major league record for futility. It's a very dubious honor at best.

I actually have a real soft spot in my heart for the Buccos. I lived in Pittsburgh from August 1983-May 1987, and I went to a lot of Pirates games. I was at opening night in 1986, which was great fun, although I froze my ass off that night. I had only a suit coat to wear, and it got MIGHTY cold long about the 7th inning. I saw R. J. Reynolds hit a lead-off homer off Doc Gooden as the Mets began their World Series run. In those days, the Pirates were atrocious, and nobody went to their games, so management came up with a great idea--every Wednesday night home game was Buck Night. It went like this: a buck to get in, a buck to park your car, and for a third buck, you got a Coke and a hot dog. Even on my extraordinarily limited student budget, that was an entertainment value. My roommate Al and I spent many an enjoyable Wednesday evening sitting in the cheap seats, smoking bad cigars and drinking warm Iron City, watching the Pirates lose game after game. I saw one of Barry Bonds' first games in the major leagues, and I was at Three Rivers Stadium the day Mike Schmidt hit his 500th homer off Don Robinson in the 9th inning of a game to win one for the Phightins.

Pitt's law school--my alma mater--stands on the spot where old Forbes Field stood. The next building over, called Forbes Quadrangle, has home plate imbedded in the floor where it would have been in the old stadium. The angle in the old wall in center field and the flagpole there still stand, and there used to be a brass plaque embedded in a parking lot marking the spot where Bill Mazeroski's 1960 World Series homer went out to beat the Yankees. I spent many an hour wandering around those spots while a student at Pitt, and as a baseball fan, it still thrills me to stand in some of those historic spots and think about all of the great players who also stood there.

I also remember some great rivalry games between the Phils and Pirates in the 1970's, when those two teams dominated the National League East for nearly an entire decade. I particularly remember the 1979 pennant race when old Pops Stargell and Dave Parker carried the team to its last world championship over a much better Baltimore Orioles team. I remember Kent Tekulve, and Manny Sanguillen, Jim Rooker, Rick Rhoden, Bruce "The Barber" Kison, and Bob "The Gunner" Prince, and especially Roberto Clemente, possibly the best right fielder to ever take the field.

I rooted for the Pirates when they were awful, and I enjoyed the success of their fine teams in the late 1980's and early 1990's, and I regret their lack of success today. This team is saddled with a tiny market, no budget, terrible ownership, and a lot of mediocre players. Unfortunately, they seem destined to continue to be awful, which is too bad. I'd love to see them at least break the .500 barrier last year, because as it stands, they've joined the true pantheon of epically bad baseball teams with this dubious honor they've just achieved.


  1. Eric,

    Hmmm...whose ignominious losing record did the Bucco's surpass?

    I too was in the house for Schmidt's 500th (off Donny Robinson, I believe). And yesterday we rode down the parking garage elevator before the game with Manny Sanguillen (he has a barbecue in the park like Boog Powell and Greg Luzinski). I talked with him all the way to the stadium gate, and didn't understand but a few words. He is a genuinely nice guy, though, and I've spoken with him a number of times.

    I have to disagree about mamagement - keep in mind that current ownership has only been actively involved in the operations for a couple of years, and the president and GM are in their second year. They are doing what should have been done years ago. As a result, the team has two ROY candidates in Jones and McCutchen, and another very good young player on the big team in Milledge. They lost two pretty good players in Bay and Morgan, a great fielder in Wilson and a fine hitter in Sanchez, but note that when we had all four of them the Pirates were well below .500. And most important, they have good young players in the minor league pipeline, something they haven't had in 20 years. So things really are looking up. Let's just hope if we do break .500 next year, we don't suffer the same fate as the team that held the consecutive losing season record before us. Look it up - they managed to put another hefty string of failures.

  2. Harry,

    There's no doubt that the Phillies had far too many years in the wilderness, and that reign of futility was the nadir.

    You're right that the Pirates have some good young players in their system. I just hope that they manage to hold on to a few of them....