OK, so maybe we’re a little late to jump on the Pirates bandwagon, and even then, it’s still difficult to imagine a team like Pittsburgh – to whom a whole generation of baseball fans have no idea about their previous winning tradition – is even vying for first place.
It’s been fun for the first 100 or so games of this season to continue to look at the standings and see Pittsburgh at or near the top of the NL Central. That’s where the Pirates should always be.
Think about it – ever since Sid Bream (a former Buc himself) scored that run in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, Pittsburgh has more or less been an afterthought. If this were European soccer, Pittsburgh would have been in the minor leagues for the last 20 years.
It’s nice to think that Pittsburgh might – emphasis on that word – be back in the fold of National League contenders. (Quick tangent, though: how many Pirates can you name right now? Aside from the guy who looks like he should be an NFL cornerback?)
Finally – FINALLY!! – there is hope in a sports-crazed town.
A problem that the Pirates have faced while suffering since Bream scored (I hate to use one instance as an example of a franchise’s downfall, but it really feels appropriate here) is that the other teams in Pittsburgh have not been as crappy as the Pirates.
For years Pittsburgh fans have taken great pride in the fact that their major sports teams – Steelers and Penguins included – have always been good. The thing is, while the Pens and Steelers kept on that winning tradition, the Pirates suffered. They lost a fan base. They lost a generation. Pittsburgh is unabashedly a Steelers city now. You see fans across the country sporting Steelers gear. You never see a Pirates hat anywhere.
This isn’t to say that Pittsburgh-ers are bandwagoners. Not at all. But it’s a lot easier to puff your chest when your football team has won a few Super Bowls, despite its quarterback dealing with multiple sexual assault cases. (One in which hispenis was described as “gray.” How the hell do you recover from that? The answer: You get married.)
It was almost like every four or five years the Bucs were relevant in my youth. It was nice to always have them around. They had a little mystique to them. When my team played the Pirates, I paid attention. It wasn’t like the Cubs were coming to town.
Unfortunately after that 1992 NLCS, the Pirates were done. They had made the NLCS in three straight seasons and the team broke up. It never recovered.
A look back at the 1990, 1991 and 1992 series shows how agonizingly close the Bucs came to getting to the World Series.
- In 1990 the Pirates won 95 games, had the MVP (Barry Bonds), the Cy Young (Doug Drabek), two Gold Glove winners, the Manager of the Year and two Silver Sluggers. They were favored over the Reds in the NLCS. They won the first game in Cincinnati and lost the second by a run. So they head back to Pittsburgh tied 1-1 and then lose Games 3 and 4 back home, pretty much ending their season.
- In 1991 the Braves come out of nowhere – the worst to first season – and Pittsburgh is overshadowed, despite winning 98 games. The Pirates again win Game 1 and lose Game 2 by a run (1-0 when they left seven men on base and were just 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position). They get crushed in Game 3 but come back, win a gutsy Game 4 and Game 5 to go back home needing one win to head to the Series. Steve Avery shuts them down again in Game 6 – like he did in Game 2 – holding Pittsburgh scoreless and then John Smoltz pitches a complete-game shutout in Game 7. So, the Pirates need to win once at home and don’t score a single run.
- Yet, they come back in 1992, win 96 games and have to face the damned Braves again. They drop the first two games in Atlanta and are down 2-0 coming back home. Doomed again. However, they show life in Game 3 and win, but fall in Game 4. Series over, right? Wrong. They outscore the Braves 20-5 in the next two games and force Game 7. Three outs from the NL crown, leading 2-0, they blow it. Drabek allows a double and an error by second baseman Jose Lind followed by Drabek walking Sid Bream and the bases are full. Ron Gant hits a sac fly off Stan Belinda to make it 2-1 and then Belinda walks a guy. Bases loaded again. After a popout, Francisco Cabrera comes through and Bream, perhaps the slowest man in baseball, scores from second. We cannot forget two things from that play: 1) Barry Bonds throws like a girl and 2) you never leave a fastball over the middle of the plate to a Dominican.
Maybe Pittsburgh can take a page out of the Braves’ book, the team that sunk them to this abyss. Atlanta was terrible for eons until 1991 and then rattled off wins and division titles like they were the Yankees. Atlanta is considered one of the best franchises in baseball. We need that from Pittsburgh. They need to be a team that opposing fans fear. They need to be a visiting team around the country that doesn’t need a bobblehead giveaway for fans to come watch play.
They cannot be the Mariners. Seattle, a great city, is not a sports city. Pittsburgh is. They need their teams to win. Hell, they live in Pittsburgh.