Pittsburgh refers to itself as the “City of Champions,” which is hard to argue with given the six Super Bowls and three Stanley Cups that the Steelers and Penguins have won respectively. The third team in Pittsburgh however, the Pirates, have not won a World Series since 1979, and would simply be happy with finishing a season above .500.
The Pirates have logged an almost unbelievable 20 straight losing seasons, not only an MLB record for futility, but also the longest sub-.500 stretch for any North American professional sports team. You have to go all the way back to 1992, when a young Barry Bonds was patrolling the outfield to find the last time the Pirates have finished the season with a winning mark.
The long dry spell appears to finally be coming to an end in a big way as the Pirates right now sit at 80-57, just two wins away from securing a winning season, and currently sitting in first place in the NL Central. The Pirates have brought baseball fever back to the Steel City and hope to reward their fans’ suffering with a playoff birth and possible World Series title.
The Pirates unprecedented resurgence has been led by a young pitching staff that ranks among the best in the majors in almost every category, and the stellar play of star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, a strong candidate for NL MVP who hit a staggering .384 in August with a league leading .483 on base percentage. McCutchen, who was the 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft is the unquestioned leader of this team, and has become the face of a Pirate’s franchise who has been missing a star since the tragic death of Roberto Clemente and the departure of Barry Bonds in the early nineties to the Giants.
The Pirates have shown that they are serious about contending, as evidenced by the signings that they have made both in the off-season and just in the last few weeks. In the off-season the Bucs signed catcher Russell Martin and pitcher Francisco Liriano. Both are players that know how to win and have been to the playoffs in their careers. Last week the Pirates made a surprising move by trading for Mets’ outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck, cementing the positions of right field and backup catcher, which had been major question marks all season long. Over the weekend they also acquired slugger Justin Morneau from the Twins, who will add much needed left-handed power to the middle of an already formidable Pirates lineup.
Pittsburgh fans have noticed the Pirates turnaround as evidenced by the average attendance of 27,288 fans a game, which is the second-highest figure in Pirates’ history, only behind the 2001 season, which was the team’ s first year at PNC Park, which in my humble opinion is the most beautiful ballpark in the MLB. The fans are again proud to call the Pirates their baseball team, and are no longer ashamed to wear their Pirates gear around town, as they were over the last two decades. Hard to believe that these are the same fans who once back in 2007, staged a walk out at PNC Park during a game in protest of 15 straight losing seasons and management’s seeming content to do nothing about it.
This year’s Pirates have a chance to make their own legacy, and a simple winning record is not the ultimate goal that this team hopes to achieve. For the first time in decades a World Series title seems realistic for a franchise that seemed left for dead just a few seasons ago. The Pirates have turned Pittsburgh back into the great baseball town that it once was, and fans should be proud of what this team has achieved thus far. I am excited to see if this team can take the next step and bring its much deserving fan base the ultimate prize.