As a young boy – yes, I once was a young boy; there are photographs – I adopted the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Pirates as my favorite teams. This was a curious decision, considering I had no ties to Pittsburgh and had never been to Pittsburgh.
Yet Roberto Clemente and Franco Harris were two of my adolescent sporting idols.
To this day, I still have never been to Pittsburgh, but I still root for the Steelers and the Pirates.
The Steelers thing has gone about as well as a fan-team relationship can go: six Super Bowl rings and eight Super Bowl appearances in a 37-season period.
The Pirates thing? Well, there was that 10-game winning streak in 2004, though the team, I believe, finished with a losing record.
In fact, in 2010 the Pirates managed their 18th consecutive losing season, the most ever for any professional sports franchise in these United States.
Over the last generation, waiting for the Pirates to win has been like waiting for a toxic dump site to sprout tulips.
It’s the overriding reason I have not moved to Pittsburgh.
(I fled my hometown of Washington, D.C., when that sporting landscape became spiritually bankrupt. First the Senators were taken away in 1971, leaving my teen years to wandering 7-Elevens in search of the perfect Slim Jim. Then the Redskins were bought by Daniel Snyder in 1999, rendering my all-time favored franchise unable to sustain life.)
When the Braves’ Sid Bream beat Barry Bonds’ throw to the plate in 1992, leaving Pittsburgh one game short of the World Series, who knew that would be the last gasp for the Pirates over parts of two millennia?
I think it’s important for baseball fans of all ages to see, in stark black-and-white, the enormity of the Pirates’ malaise. So here are their records, season by season, from 1993 to 2010:
75-87*, 53-61 (strike year), 58-86, 73-89, 79-83, 69-93, 78-83, 69-93, 62-100, 72-89, 75-87, 72-89*, 67-95, 67-95, 68-94, 67-95, 62-99 and 57-105.
(* Years in which the Pirates were sub-.500 and Couch Slouch went through a divorce.)
In all of the 20th century, the Pirates – a proud franchise with five World Series titles and nine National League pennants – still only won 100 games in a season twice. Already in the 21st century, the Pirates have lost 100 games in a season twice.
Heck, I was in college the last time the Pirates got to the World Series (and won it), in 1979 – this was so long ago, the University of Maryland was still graduating basketball players every few years or so.
The late 20th century was bad, but the 21st century has been worse. Since 2005, the Pirates haven’t had a record better than 68-94.
In 2000, then-owner Kevin McClatchy predicted the Pirates would win 90 games; they finished 69-93. The next season, the Pirates lost 100 games – and McClatchy raised ticket prices.
In 2003, first baseman Randall Simon was fined $432.10 for disorderly conduct after clubbing a racing sausage with a bat at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
In 2005, pitcher Oliver Perez went onto the disabled list with a broken left big toe after kicking a laundry cart in the clubhouse.
(This ends the “Pirates highlights portion” of the column.)
Needless to say, 18 straight losing years and penny-pinching management – this season, Pittsburgh has the third-lowest player payroll in MLB – have somewhat lowered expectations for most Pirates fans.
At the moment, it’s a nonlethal lineup full of .240 hitters, but somehow the Pirates have crawled to 32-33 – that’s almost .500; at least there’s some hope. Hey, I’m not asking – yet – for this team to win the pennant or a division title or a wild-card berth or even finish ahead of Tony (Stinkin’) La Russa’s dreaded St. Louis Cardinals. But would it kill these guys to go 82-80?
Ask The Slouch
Q. Do poker players have to do OTAs like pro football players? (Gary Randolph; Warrenton, Va.)
A. Yes. It’s called “craps.”
Q. Which professional sport will be the first to have its championship game end one day before training camp begins? (Bruce Glover; Palm Desert, Calif.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
Q. Did you realize you have three more rings than LeBron James? (Joe Schmidt; Strongsville, Ohio)
A. Pay this wise soul, too.
Norman Chad is a syndicated columnist. You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!