I have been strangely silent about the current baseball season, which, as you know, is the Pirates’ shot at setting a new record: The first North American professional team in any sport (football, basketball, hockey, water polo, etc) losing 21 seasons in a row. The Bucs already broke the record in season XVIII (2010). And again in Season XIX (2011) and Season XX (2012). Could they achieve immortality by doing it for Season XXI? Or will the pressure be too much for them, and they choke?
A word of explanation for those who are on another planet when it comes to sports. By “losing” doesn’t mean they didn’t win a division title, a playoff game or World Series. It means the team did not reach .500, or parity. That means: win one, lose one. Whatever it means the Bucs have not achieved that high level since 1991. There are Pirate fans today, like my grandsons Ike Clemente Kitman and Milo Finn Kitman, who never knew a winning Pirate season.
Should that .500 day come this season—or in 2016 or even further into the mists of time, as some pessimists predict—there will be a ticker-tape parade downtown with players in open convertibles, accompanied by an outbreak of over-turned smashed cars and burning tires, what usually happens after World Series victories in Pittsburgh (See 1971 and 1979).
With 15/32nd of Season XXI gone (50 out of 162 games), the Bucs— as of 10:43 AM May 27, 2013 on my computer— are 12 games over the magical .500 (31-19). You have to go back to 1991 the last time the Bucs posted a 31-19 record through 50 games, on its way to win 98 games and the NL East title.
The franchise is no longer a joke. As the city slogan reads: “Pittsburgh, the home of champions, and the Pirates.” Like the Steelers and the Penguins, the Pirates, dare I say it, have achieved respectability.
Why have I kept mum about where we are today? An entire 15/32nd of the season in the books, and I remain mute. Nada. My mouth or computer has been zipped shut.
I’d like to say I am suffering from pre-traumatic shock syndrome, a condition caused by Epic Collapse I (as Season XIX  is technically known) and Epic Collapse II (Season XX ). The details of which are still too painful to regale you with. Look it up yourself. Suffice it to say, the good start has become an annual rite of spring.
Is this current amazing run just another spring fling? The first eight or nine weeks of a season I usually find myself kicking the tires of the new model, looking for sustainability. A one-game losing streak —such as the one that started yesterday (May 27) with the loss to the Tigers — can morph into 11 or 12 and without warning the Pirates can burst into flames. The Bucs are the Pinto of major league baseball.
True, there are good signs about the 2013 model, despite the previous record of “the best management team in baseball” (owner Nutting’s description of them in 2011). As you know, the Pirates are currently in their fifth five-year rebuilding plan.
Five years ago, in Pirate Victory Plan No. 4, the BMTIB (as the ’Burgh media call the gang of three) began using “the money ball” technique pioneered by the Oakland Athletics. With one difference. They didn’t spend money, like the A’s. They also didn’t win.
But this year may be different:
Gay vayz, as Bubbe Kitman used to say when I would tell her that the Pirates won again during the 1947 season when the Bucs were 47-108.
Giving the 2013 Pirates the silent treatment is a marked contrast with my usual approach to a season.
In 2012, for example, I pointed out jubilantly to the Bucs Nation “we are only one game under .500.” This was on the second day of the season when the Bucs record was 0-1 after its Opening Day loss. You can look it up.
You also should know that I have a record of mishagas when it comes to the Pirates. For the last 20 years I thought they won and lost based on my watching the games on TV. It had something to do with excess electro-magnetic rays I gave off from over- exposure during my 35 years as a TV critic.
My latest theory is that what might prevent Epic Collapse III would be not only keeping my fingers and eyes crossed, but acting as if I didn’t care about what happened.
“What season?” was my line when friends called to congratulate me on the outstanding start this year. “ You mean it’s started already?”
I expect to remain in the cone of silence until the playoffs. Yes, I ordered playoff tickets during spring training when the team was 8 -13. Ye of little faith. (In the interest of transparency, I should add I expect them to win the pennant every year, especially before the season starts.)
Okay, since this is my final word on the subject, I couldn’t leave without answering the question on everybody’s mind. To what do I attribute the success of the 2013 model?
I like to think they are finally taking my advice and using steroids. If so, it would be about time, as I’m convinced that their high moral position of saying no to drugs since 1991 is one of the major reasons for XX seasons of futility—that, plus poor pitching and hitting and a run of extraordinarily bad luck. Hopefully these Bucs will continue eating a lot of fresh vegetables, going to bed early, and using deer antler extract, or whatever else Dr. Barry Bonds was self-medicating.
Not to be continued.