11 July 2008

Pirates Fever

Bottom of the ninth, two outs. Francisco Cabrera, a third-string rookie catcher, comes to the plate to pinch-hit in Game 7 of the National League playoffs. His team had been down by two runs, had scored one and now, the last position player available to hit, came up with the bases loaded.

Three pitches later, Cabrera laces a single to left field. The runner on third scores to tie the game and Sid Bream--lumbering, cow-quick Sid Bream--rounds third. Barry Bonds, in his pre-steroid days, flops a Daisy Mae scoot-throw wide of the plate. Bream slides in under the tag and the Braves win the game 3-2, scoring all their runs in the ninth.

That was 1992. And ever since, the Pittsburgh Pirates have had losing seasons. 

That's 15 seasons of "Wait 'til next year!", usually chanted in mid-July. Fifteen seasons of watching a small-market team develop young talent, young as in "Need more experience to win consistently," only to see that talent fly to other teams when money becomes an issue. (And in modern-day sports, money is almost always an issue.)

Despite a history that boasts three members of the 3,000 hit club (Roberto Clemente, Paul Waner, Honus Wagner), a 5-2 World Series record, the honor of having won the very first World Series game (back in 1903, as The Picky Grammar Lady will attest) and 37 Hall of Famers, the Pirates are not even the most-supported team in their own city. That honor goes to the Steelers.

Small market means less money means less ability to retain a core of highly-talented players. The only way to overcome this limitation is to have visionary management supported by "winning is job one" ownership. The Pirates haven't had that. And for 15 seasons, We've seen the results.

But this year, I'm livin' and dyin' with the Pirates. Their current record is a weak 43-48, after beating the disappointing Yankees and I keep waiting for the Bucs to tear off a 8- or 9-game winning streak, go 17-3 over a month or just come together and play .600 ball in the summer heat. Why? Because the longest sub-.500 losing streak in baseball history is 16 seasons, by the historically-bad Philadelphia Phillies. And I don't want the Pirates to tie that record.

Sure, the Pirates aren't the fascinating blend of speed and power they once were, smashing baseballs all over the National League. But they're still My team, My childhood gang, the home of the one and only Clemente. I may not get to see their games and their highlights are often relegated to the "garbage time" of SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, but I'm pulling for them, every day.

And I hope that come September, Our chant of "Wait 'til next year!" is of continuing a new streak.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

No comments: