Here is another in a series of think pieces about a historic event that changed my world, if not the rest of the world, being written before my devoted readers get to say, “Will you shut the fuck up about the Pirates already.” There are more important things in the world! Like what?
Sept. 12, 2013
The Pittsburgh Pirates won their 82nd game of the season the other night (Sept. 9), as you may have heard by now, ensuring “a winning season.” 20 years of hard work, and consistency, down the drain, as Glenn Rabney observed.
And they did it all without steroids!
It wasn’t easy not reaching .500 (the official benchmark for winning and losing seasons) every year since 1992. A team has to not have the pitching or hitting, and in the case of the Bucs, often both, year after year. The front office has to contribute by picking the wrong players in the draft, and trading for pitchers with bad arms about to happen. But the Bucs didn’t give up.
While stats are the most exciting part of the game, I rarely mention them in my think pieces. Still one has to marvel at the Pirates faithfulness/steadfastness/ dedication (all three) since it began breaking the existing record at 17 losing seasons in 2009. The Philadelphia Phillies held the previous Major League Baseball record with 16 consecutive losing seasons from 1933-48. The NHL’s Vancouver Canucks (1976-91) and the NBA’s Kansas City/Sacramento Kings (1983-98) each lost for 15 consecutive years. The NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished below .500 for 14 consecutive seasons (1983-96).
So you can see what an achievement it was to the reach the nadir of organized professional sports in North America.
Clearly, it is a record not to be taken lightly. The distinguished gentleman from Center Field, Mr. Andrew McCutchen, disagrees. “All it means I don’t have to talk about it any more anywhere. That’s all I’ve heard since climbing up in the Pirates minor league system is losing, losing, losing.”
This is disgusting. It’s like coming home to Pittsburgh with the Holy Grail and calling the dish, plate, stone, cup or salver—whatever it really is — a piece of bric-a-brac on its way to being donated to the thrift shop.
It diminishes all the pain and suffering fans went through during the futility of two full decades of uninterrupted failure that is almost incomprehensible outside the Pirate Nation-in-exile, of which I am a member (the New Jersey chapter)
What was it like? I will be telling the full story of twenty years, so often in the basement mushrooms were growing inside my heart, in my book “America’s Team.” (Look for it on the Amazon Best Seller list in 2014). Suffice it to say now, as Ted Faraone remembered, it was a bit like following the on-going presidential campaigns of William Jennings Bryan, Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas, Gus Hall and the unforgettable Harold E. Stassen.
While it was nice that the 23,768 fans who attended the first game at home in PNC Park (Sept.12, 2013) since cracking the 82 win mark gave the team a standing ovation before the game against the Cubs began, a more fitting acknowledgment of the enormity of the team’s accomplishment would have been a ticker tape parade downtown, with the players sitting in open convertibles waving at the folks. Followed in a separate Secret Service style-black van occupied by the Pittsburgh Baseball Club management team, without whom none of it would have been possible.
This is the same group the boss declared was “the best management team in baseball. That was in 2007, as TBMTIB embarked on the five-year plan, the fifth since the non-winning streak began. We had more five-year plans than the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (aka Presidium), with the same success record.
And perhaps the fans would have ended the celebration by over-turning cars and burning tires as they did after the 1979 and 1971 World Series victories. It’s a local tradition.
What is happening now can be explained by the escalation principle. The fans are no longer satisfied with breaking a record, no matter how gritty. Suddenly, it’s not enough to have a winning season. Now they are talking playoffs.
And it’s not enough to get the wild-card slot (the magic number is nine; even though I went to Brooklyn Tech, I can’t figure out how they calculate those numbers).
Then it has to be winning the NL Central Division flag.
And then it will be getting in the World Series. And then winning it.
(Pardon mixing a metaphor, but the goal line keeps being moved.)
And then the 2013 Bucs will truly be the Miracle Team America’s Underdog has transmogrified into America’s Team. Nobody wants to be #2 in this country, even though there are so many of us.
As a veteran of the good years before the grand Non-Winning Streak, I am not so quick to dance in the streets at making—should we be so gifted— the playoffs. I remember those playoff years (circa 1991) when Barry Bonds, who had been setting the league on fire, would start hitting .105; the years when we like clockwork lost to the Atlanta Braves, and before that the Cincinnati Reds. My teeth are still gnashed down from the joys of participating in those glory events.
As Honus Wagner, or Arky Vaughn, first said, “Be careful about what you wish for.”
For me I’m happy with The Record. I’m glad its over but I respect a record that I dare say is an all time, all-universe record, never to be duplicated in the Known World or other planets, for all we know.