Pittsburgh's Year? A Look Back at 20 Losing Pirates Seasons
Approximately one month into the 2013 baseball season, the Pittsburgh Pirates are doing fairly well. The team is currently at 15-10, putting Pittsburgh atop the NL Central.
While this does amount to a pretty good start, many Pittsburgh fans are still apprehensive and probably will remain so until October.
After all, the Pirates have ended each of the past 20 seasons with losing records.
Here is a look back at the Pirates' last 20 miserable years, highlighting many of the pitfalls and mistakes that they should avoid in 2013.
1993: Bye Bye, Barry
Barry Bonds had been a godsend for the Pirates in the mid-1980s.
Only a few years after Pittsburgh and Willie Stargell won the World Series in 1979, the Pirates had fallen to become the worst team in the NL East three years running—1984, 1985 and 1986.
By the end of the decade, however, Bonds had become a team leader and one of the best players in the National League.
The Pirates won the NL East in 1990, 1991 and 1992, going on to lose the NLCS first to the Cincinnati Reds, then twice in seven-game series to the Atlanta Braves. Bonds won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards all three years and was also voted MVP in both '90 and '92.
In 1993, however, Bonds left the Pirates to sign with the San Francisco Giants.
Without Bonds, the Pirates started 1993 decently and hovered around the .500 mark for much of the first half of the season. But after dropping three out of four games to the Montreal Expos in late June/early July, the team never fully recovered.
The Pirates ended the '93 season at 75-87, causing may to wonder if there would indeed be a new curse in baseball—the Curse of Barry Bonds.
1994: The Short Season
1994 will forever be the year of unanswered questions, thanks to the players' strike that cut the season short. Besides fans wondering if the Montreal Expos could have won the World Series, there's also the question of whether or not the Pirates could have finished with a winning record.
Certainly there was a great opportunity for the team: 1994 was the year that the NL Central Division was established and that Pittsburgh (along with Chicago and St. Louis) left the NL East. The Pirates could have capitalized on the shake-up and established themselves as kings of the new division.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
Pittsburgh did have a rough start to the season, losing its first four games, three of which were against Bonds and the Giants. The Pirates immediately recovered, however, going on a six-game winning streak. The Pirates ended April at 12-10 and by the end of June were still at .500.
Things went south for the Pirates once again in July, however, after they were swept in two separate three-game series by the Reds. As the season ended early in August, the Pirates dropped three out of four games to the Expos, who were the best team in baseball at the time.
The Pirates ended 1994 at 53-61.
1995: Back at the Bottom
1995 was simply a bad year for the Buccos.
The Pirates started the season by losing 13 of their first 17 games. Between mid-July and mid-August, they dropped another 18 out of 24 games.
In fact, the Pirates spent the entire 1995 season below .500, eventually ending at the very bottom of the new NL Central Division with a 58-86 record.
Also of note, the Pirates released RHP Tim Wakefield on April 20, 1995. Though Wakefield had been a big part of Pittsburgh's success in 1992, he was been sent back to the minors in 1993 and missed his chance at coming back to the team in 1994 due to the players' strike.
Within a week of being released, Wakefield was picked up by the Boston Red Sox, where he became an instrumental part of the team's success over the next decade.
1996: Last Straw for Leyland
Next to Barry Bonds, the one man who had been credited with rebuilding the Pirates during the late '80s was manager Jim Leyland.
In fact, in 1990 and 1992, the same years that Bonds had won MVP, Leyland won Manager of the Year.
With Leyland, the Pirates started out 1996 decently, beating up on the Mets and the Marlins in four of their first five games. Unable to keep that momentum, however, Pittsburgh dropped its next four games to the Phillies and Expos. The Pirates kept a pretty much even record until May, when they lost 16 out of 20 games.
Despite something of a comeback in June, the Pirates had a losing record for the rest of the season.
Following an outstanding performance by LHP Danny Neagle on August 27, in which the Pirates defeated the Braves 3-2, the Pirates traded Neagle to the Braves for RHP Jason Schmidt and minor league player Ron White. Neagle went on to pitch for the Braves in the 1996 World Series.
Upset with the trades and other management decisions, Leyland finally announced on September 17 that he would be quitting the team—just as the Pirates were in the middle of an 11-game winning streak.
Leyland went on to coach the Florida Marlins to victory in the 1997 World Series over the Cleveland Indians.
1997: The Freak Show
Following the 1996 season, Pirates management continued making controversial trades. In December, they lost infielder Jeff King and Gold Glove SS Jay Bell.
Despite many expecting the Pirates to be pulverized during the 1997 season, the team actually fared well under the leadership of new manager Gene Lamont.
In fact, the Pirates were at .500 as late as August 30, 1997.
Unfortunately, September's competition just proved to be too much for the Buccos, as they lost series to the Indians, Reds, Expos and Cubs.
And even though they won seven out of nine games between September 15 and September 23, they were mathematically stopped from having a winning season thanks to a 5-7 loss to the Mets on September 24. Two days later, the Astros ensured another losing season for Pittsburgh.
The Pirates ended 1997 with a respectable 79-83 record, finishing second in the NL Central behind the Astros.
1998: From Bad to Worse
Once again, the Pirates held onto a decent record for the early portion of 1998. On June 14, they still had a 34-34 record.
But between June 15 and July 12, the Pirates lost 17 out of 23 games.
The Buccos did manage a comeback in August (and tied one game against the Cardinals thanks to a seventh inning rain-out). Unfortunately, they got cold again quickly, getting swept by the Astros and Diamondbacks in back-to-back series.
In fact, the Pirates lost 25 of their last 30 games in '98, ending the season again at the bottom of the NL Central with a record of 69-93.
1999: Good, but Not Good Enough
1999 was yet another heartbreaking year for the Pirates.
Much like 1997, the young team was able to manage some decent performances. In fact, the Pirates were even at .500 after finalizing a sweep of the Rockies on September 1.
But yet again the Buccos choked in the last month of the season. They lost series to the Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks and were swept by both the Cubs and the Mets at the season's end.
Pittsburgh ended the 1999 season at 78-83, a full 18.5 games behind the Astros.
Like 1998, the Pirates were hoping to capitalize on the momentum of their previous season to finally establish a winning record in 2000.
But that didn't happen.
The Pirates consistently lost throughout the millennial season, even dropping 21 of 28 games in August.
The only silver lining for Pittsburgh in 2000 was that, even though the Pirates ended at 69-93, that was still four games better than the Chicago Cubs.
At the end of the season, manager Gene Lamont was fired. It was soon announced that he would be replaced by former Pirate OF Lloyd McClendon.
2001: Baseball's Most Beautiful Ballpark
In 2001, only 10 years after it was first announced, PNC Park opened its gates. Thanks to the fact that the stadium faces the Pittsburgh skyline, many consider PNC to be the most beautiful ballpark in the MLB.
After going 3-3 in their first two road series to kick off the season, the Pirates lost their inaugural game at the ballpark, being defeated by the Cincinnati Reds 8-2.
May and June were rough on the Pirates, as they were swept by the Phillies, the Braves and twice by the Cardinals.
That same season, GM Cam Bonifay was fired. On July 13, Dave Littlefield was made the new GM and given orders by owner Kevin McClatchy—who had purchased the team in 1996—to cut the team's salary.
By the end of that same month, the Pirates had traded John Vander Wal (who had hit .299 with 24 home runs in 2000) and RHP Jason Schmidt to the Giants in exchange for OF Armando Rios and RHP Ryan Vogelsong.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, Vogelsong pitched only two games before requiring Tommy John surgery.
The Pirates ended the season with a series in Chicago wherein they lost their 100th game of the season.
Pittsburgh's 2001 record (62-100) was its worst season since its abysmal performance in 1985 (57-104).
2002: A Decade Later
10 years since the last time they were in the NLCS or even had a winning season, the Pirates were looking forward to a return to greatness in 2002.
Pittsburgh did get off to a good start. After sweeping the Cubs, the Brewers and the Phillies, the team actually had a 12-5 record by April 21.
By May 8, the Pirates were back at .500.
Though they held onto this position for roughly a month, in mid-June Pittsburgh dropped nine out of 10 games, effectively solidifying another second half of trying to play catch-up.
The Pirates ended 2002 at 72-89, which was still ahead of both the Cubs and the Brewers.
2003: Fire Sale!
2003 was a year of change for the Pirates.
After acquiring six-time All-Star CF Kenny Lofton in March, the Pirates traded Lofton along with Aramis Ramirez to the Chicago Cubs in July.
A month later, first baseman Randall Simon was also traded to the Cubs.
In late August, the Pirates made another notable trade: In exchange for OF Brian Giles, they acquired Corey Stewart, LHP Oliver Perez and a rookie LF named Jason Bay.
The Pirates ended the 2003 season at 75-87, once again fourth in the NL Central.
2004: Rookie of the Year
Jason Bay was a breath of fresh air for the Pirates.
Though the 25-year-old from British Columbia was injured at the start of the season, he quickly made a name for himself when he made his way onto the field in May.
Over the course of the remaining season, Bay would hit a total of 26 home runs, breaking the Pirates' 23-home-run rookie record held by both Johnny Rizzo and Ralph Kiner.
In fact, with a .282 average and 82 RBI, Bay would eventually be named NL Rookie of the Year, the first Canadian to ever earn that distinction.
With Bay, the Pirates managed to climb back to .500 on May 28 by beating the Cubs in a double-header.
And, though the Pirates went through a period of losing 21 out of 25 games in May and June, they did hit a 10-game winning-streak going into July, sweeping both the Cardinals and the Brewers.
Despite the success, the Pirates ended 2004 at 72-89, ahead of only the Brewers.
2005: More Shake-Ups
By 2005, the Pirates had been through a decade of major changes.
The team had been purchased by Kevin McClatchy in 1996, the same year that they lost manager Jim Leyland.
After losing manager Gene Lamont in 2000 and moving to a new stadium in 2001, the Pirates also lost longtime GM Cam Bonifay, getting instead Dave Littlefield.
Well, following another rough season in 2005, the Pirates also lost manager Lloyd McClendon in September. Bench coach Pete Mackanin filled in as interim manager for the last month of the season.
Pittsburgh ended 2005 at 67-95, once again the worst team in the NL Central.
On October 11, the Pirates hired former Dodgers manager Jim Tracy.
2006: An All-Star Spark
In 2006, PNC Park hosted its very first All-Star Game ever. This was the first All-Star Game in Pittsburgh since 1994 and the fifth in franchise history.
Despite hosting the event, the only Pirate in the National League's starting lineup was LF Jason Bay. And the only other Pirate on the team was 3B Freddy Sanchez.
Truth be told, the Pirates had started out the year terribly, losing their first six games of the season before going on another seven-game losing streak at the end of April.
Worse yet, Pittsburgh lost 21 of its 26 games before the All-Star break, a stint that included a 13-game losing streak.
Still, the MLB All-Star Game did seem to spark the team slightly.
The Pirates swept the Giants in late July before doing the same to the Cardinals and Cubs in August. Following a sweep of the Mets and victories over the Dodgers in September, the Pirates had inexplicably climbed up from 30-60 at the time of the All-Star Game to 65-87.
In fact, even after closing out the season with another eight-game losing streak, the Pirates still managed a second-half record of 37-35, their first winning second half since 1992.
Unfortunately, this only amounted to another 67-95 record, which placed the Pirates only ahead of the Cubs in the Central.
2007: New Ownership
In January 2007, the Pirates were taken over by Ogden Newspapers CEO Robert Nutting.
Within the following week, Pittsburgh acquired 1B Adam LaRoche from the Atlanta Braves.
The Pirates went 12-12 in April before going 11-18 in May. Things only got worse for the team from there, as it lost 14 of its first 16 games after the All-Star break.
The Pirates ended 2007 with a 68-94 record, once again the worst team in their division.
Following this performance, both GM Dave Littlefield and manager Jim Tracy were fired.
2008: New Management
Leading up to the 2008 season, it was announced that Neal Huntington would become the new Pirates GM. Likewise, John Russell was made the team's new manager.
Over the course of 2008, just as the upstart Tampa Bay Rays were proving that underdogs could come from behind, many were wondering if the Pirates could do the same in the National League.
Certainly the prospect was not promising. By the All-Star break, the Pirates were 44-50.
At the end of July the new management made several big trades, which caused the departures of Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte and Jason Bay.
Between mid-August and mid-September, the Pirates lost 21 out of 26 games, including a 10-game losing streak.
Pittsburgh ended the season at 67-95, again the worst team in the NL Central.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the bad times didn't end there.
2009: Breaking the Record
2009 was another year of major trades for the Pirates.
Over a matter of only a few weeks, the team lost most of its major stars, including Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett, Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez.
At the same time, the Bucs continued losing.
While the Pirates had started out the season fairly well, standing at 11-7 on April 26, they then lost 12 of their next 13 games. After the barrage of trading, they again lost 12 out of 13 games in August.
Another stint of losing 23 out of 26 games sealed the deal for the Bucs.
Pittsburgh ended 2009 with a record of 62-99, making the Pirates not only the worst team in their division, but also the only team in MLB history to have 17 straight losing seasons.
2010: And Then Things Got Worse
Statistically, 2010 was one of the worst years in the Pirates' franchise history—a franchise that started in 1882.
After starting the season with a 7-5 record, they immediately went on a seven-game losing streak that knocked them under .500.
During June, the Bucs dropped 18 of 20 games. In August, they lost another 17 of 21.
Pittsburgh ended the season with a record of 57-105.
This was the second time since 1992 that the Buccos lost over 100 games, but the first time since 1952 that they had lost more than 104 games.
In October, manager John Russell was fired.
2011: Hope Springs Anew
By 2011, the Pirates had become a laughingstock in baseball.
The once-proud franchise that played the Boston Red Sox in the very first World Series, the same team that had overcome the New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series, the team of Honus Wagner and Roberto Clemente, had now lost 18 seasons in a row.
With this assuredly in the backs of their minds, the Buccos started the 2011 season under new manager Clint Hurdle with only objective: win games.
As such, Pittsburgh battled their way to a 18-17 record by May 9. While they lost their next six games, they then managed to win the following four.
By the All-Star break, the Pirates were up to 47-43. This marked their first winning first half since 1992.
Could it really be the year? Could the Pirates actually break the streak?
Things turned for the worse, however, when the Pirates lost a 19-inning game in Atlanta thanks to what appeared to be a blown call by umpire Jerry Meals.
Though the Pirates defeated the Braves the following night, they nevertheless fell victim to a 10-game losing streak, being swept by the Phillies, Cubs and Padres.
As such, Pittsburgh once again ended with a losing record.
Despite finishing at 72-90, the Pirates did finish ahead of both the Cubs and Astros.
Furthermore, by winning during the first half, they established themselves as a team to be taken seriously once again.
2012: The Last Year of the Streak?
2012 really seemed like the year for a lot of fans.
The Pirates even won 17 of the 27 games they played in June. Likewise, they won six of their eight games leading up to the All-Star break, giving them a first-half record of 48-37 and putting them atop the NL Central.
In fact, Pittsburgh's luck even continued after the break, as they won nine out of 11 games in late July.
After defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks on August 6, the Pirates were a full 16 games over .500.
It had to be the year! Right?
Well, even after being swept by the Padres and the Brewers, Pittsburgh was still at 70-63 as late as September 2.
But after being swept by both the Cubs and Reds in back-to-back series, the Pirates had fallen to 72-71 by September 14.
Yes, with only weeks remaining, the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates, who had proved themselves repeatedly, completely fell apart.
Another sweep by the Brewers, along with losses against Astros, Mets and Reds, sealed the deal.
Pittsburgh ended 2012 with a 79-83 record, its best season since the "Freak Show" of 1997.
With 20 consecutive losing seasons in the books, it seems a simple fact that the Pirates cannot "count their chickens."
If and when the Bucs make good and end this historic slump, it will likely come with bated breath, perhaps in the last out of the last game of the season.
But when the Pirates do reclaim their spot as one of the greatest teams in baseball history, the fans in Pittsburgh certainly will rejoice.
After all, only real fans hang around for 20 losing seasons in a row.