Pittsburgh Pirates Look to Climb Out of NL Central Cellar in 2009

Zeke FuhrmanAnalyst IIIFebruary 18, 2009

1992 was a good year for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Barry Bonds won his third MVP, skipper Jim Leyland was voted the NL Manager of the Year, and the Bucs had two All-Star Starters (LF Bonds and CF Andy Van Slyke, who also recorded the first unassisted double play in the outfield in 18 years), had three gold glove winners (Bonds, Van Slyke, and 2B Jose Lind), and won their third straight NL East title.

The postseason, however, was a different story.

Despite being down 0-2 to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, the Pirates fought back to force a Game Seven. Going into the bottom of the ninth with a two run lead, with starter Doug Drabek, looking for a complete game shut out and a place in postseason history, on the mound.

After a Terry Pendelton double, a Jose Lind error that allowed David Justice to reach, and a walk to Sid Bream, the Braves had the bases loaded with no outs. Closer Stan Belinda replaced Drabek, and the rest is history.

Ron Gant hit a sac fly, which scored Pendelton from third. Damon Berryhill walked, reloading the bases. Brian Hunter poped up to short. With two outs, and down one run, Manager Bobby Cox sent Francisco Cabrera to pinch hit for P Jeff Reardon. Cabrera only had 10 at-bats that season prior to Game Seven.

On a 2-1 pitch, Cabrera hit a line drive over the shortstop to score David Justice, and Sid Bream barely beat the Barry Bonds throw to score the winning run and catapulted the Braves to their second straight World Series. It seems though the Pirates have never recovered from the blow, and have had 16 straight losing season. Ironically, 1992 was also the last time the New York Yankees recorded a losing season, and have now finished over .500 16 years in a row.

It's not that the Pirates have been terrible. They have only lost 100 games once during their 16-year slump. They came in second place in the NL Central in 1997, and haven't finished higher than fourth place since.

The Pirate's divisoin has been very competative the past 16 seasons. The NL East Champion Phillies (97-65) went to World Series in 1993, and finished 22 games ahead of 75-87 Pittsburgh. The Pirates, who won 96 games in 1992, blame their decrease in wins to the departure of reigning MVP Barry Bonds, who would win the 1993 MVP award with the San Francisco Giants.

The league reformatted in 1994 from a four divison league to a six division league, and the Pirates were sent to the NL Central along with St. Louis and the Chicago Cubs. They were greated by the Houston Astros and the Cincinatti Reds to form the NL Central Division.

Pittsburgh would finish 27 games back in 1995 and 15 games back in 1996, finishing in last place both seasons. They finished 79-83, under new manager Gene Lamont, who took over for Jim Leyland after his eleven seasons in Pittsburgh.

Lamont wouldn't last in Pittsburgh, and would go 295-352 in his four seasons in Pittsburgh. In 2001, Lloyd McClendon took over the Bucs, and they lost 100 games. Since McClendon took over, the Bucs haven't finished higher than fourth, or won more than 75 games (2003) in a season.

In 2005, McClendon was fired after compiling a 55-81, and was 336-446 during his 5 years in Pittsburgh. Pete Mackanin was brought in to finish the season, and the Bucs ended the season with a 12-14 record.

In 2006, Jim Tracy was hired as the manager. Tracy was the skipper for the LA Dodgers, and had seen success during his five years in LA. But he would not emulate the same success in Pittsburgh, and only lasted two seasons in Pittsburgh, going 135-189.

Rookie manager John Russell was hired for 2008, and the Pirates went 67-95 and finished dead last in the NL Central.

In the last five seasons, the NL has been represented by the NL Central in the World Series three times: St. Louis ('04,'06), and Houston ('05). In 2008, four teams in the NL Central: Chicago (97-64), Milwaukee (90-72), Houston (86-75), and St. Louis (86-76) finished with a better record than NL West Champion LA Dodgers (84-78).

There is nowhere to go but up for the Pirates. Their big off-season moves were signing OF Eric Hinske (.247, 20 HR, 60 RBI with TB) and 3B Ramon Vazquez (.290, 6 HR, 40 RBI with TEX). They re-signed All-Star CF Nate McLouth to a multi-year deal, keeping him with the team until 2012. The Pirates now have a nucleus of young talent, with McLouth, 3B Freddy Sanchez (the 2006 NL Batting Champion), P Zack Duke, and P Matt Capps.

The NL Central didn't get any easier to win this offseason. The Cubs, who held the best record in the NL, added All-Star OF Milton Bradley (.321, 22 HR, 77 RBI with TEX), and 2B Aaron Miles (.317, 4 HR, 31 RBI with STL). Milwaukee and Houston are bringing back their young teams. Cincinatti is looking to regain its former glory and is full of young talent.

I know this may be a tough thing to hear for Pittsburgh fans, but give the team some more time. Eventually, they will recapture their glory.