Pittsburgh Pirates Poor Play Breaks the Voting Barrier: 18 Years of Futility
Recognize the guy in that picture? That's Barry Bonds, the all-time home run king. That picture is from 1992, which was the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates had a winning season. Bonds left after that season to sign with the San Francisco Giants, and it was all downhill in Pittsburgh from there.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates streak of consecutive losing seasons were a person, it would be old enough to vote.
It would have a driver's license, and if it were male, would have to have register for the draft.
If it were a person, it would be getting ready for college.
That's how long it has been since the Pirates have been losing baseball games.
The last time the Pirates had a winning season work was just beginning on a new ballpark in Cleveland (Jacob's Field); Jeffrey Dahmer pleaded guilty by reason of insanity for killing and eating people in Wisconsin; the Washington Redskins were the champions of the NFL; and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive time.
Sure, the citizens of Pittsburgh have seen their share of futility. The Steelers were no good for their first 40 years and the Penguins took more than 20 years to win their first Stanley Cup. In recent times, however, Pittsburghers have grown accustomed to a certain level of competency.
Sadly, the Pirates are not living up to the high expectations of the City of Champions.
On this, the day that the Pirates awaken to find they are above .500 in May, let's have a look at each year and see where the low point was as this new season filled with high hopes begins.
July 15, 1993—Fifth for Good
That was the day that the Pirates dropped to 5th in their division where they remained for the rest of the season.
They finished the season 22 games out of first place, but that was an improvement. At one point, they were 24 games back.
The season started on April 6 and they won their first three games. On April 9, they spent a single day at the top of the division. They would not be on top for the remainder of the year.
Their 75-87 record wasn't horrible, but it was a harbinger of things to come.
August 11, 1994—A Blessed End to the Suffering
Major League Baseball shut down on Aug. 11, 1994 as the players went on strike.
The Pirates were 53-61 at the time and 13 games out of first place. Surprisingly, they were still third in the division.
Extrapolating the numbers out to a full season, they would have finished with the same record as the previous season.
They were on pace to allow more runs and score fewer than the year before, so one can only assume a finish of 5th or worse in the division was in the making.
Maybe some good came out of the strike after all.
April 29, 1995—A Day in the Sun
The strike which began in 1994 carried over into the 1995 season. Major League Baseball played a shortened season of 144 games which began on Apr. 25.
The Pirates opened with three straight losses which immediately dropped them to fourth place in the division.
On Apr. 29 the team won their first game and reached second in the division.
They lost the next day, dropping them back into fourth place. That one day was the only time in the entire season they were above fourth place.
The Pirates finished 27 games back in the division.
September 12, 1996—A Streak Within the Streak
To say that the Pirates have been horrible during this entire streak of epic failure is to not give credit where it is due.
There have been signs that the team was not as bad as they seemed.
One such sign began on Sep. 12, 1996. The Pirates began a run of play that saw them win 11 games in 10 days and climb from 18 games back of first to 12.5.
Of course, they lost four of the next five after the winning streak and never did climb out from the cellar of the division.
They spent the last 87 games in last place in the division and finished the year with a record of 73-89.
Maybe they were as bad as they seemed.
July 2, 1997—The "Freak Show" Makes a Run at Ending the Streak
During the offseason, Jim Leyland left the Pirates. He was replaced by Gene Lamont as the Pirates' skipper, and they made a season of it.
With a payroll of only $9 million, the Pirates were in contention for the entire season. The team came to be known as the "Freak Show."
They finished the season 79-83 igniting talk that the years of losing might soon end.
Despite the improved play, the Pirates did not even get into the playoffs and what might have been a season to build on went by the wayside.
That date, July 2, was the last time in that year the Pirates were in third place in the division. They would be second or first for the remainder of the year.
It was also the last year of any real hope for the Bucs in Pittsburgh.
August 16, 1998—Even When They Were Good, They Couldn't Catch Up
On August 16, 1998, the Pirates began their longest undefeated streak of the year.
They would win nine of their next 10 games, with only a tie against the St. Louis Cardinals as a game they didn't win.
Normally, a week and a half of winning will see a team pick up four or five, maybe even six games on the division leaders. How many games did the Pirates pick up during their winning streak?
Three. That's it.
They began the streak 21 games out of first place and ended it 18 games back. The Pirates even lost half a game by tying the Cards.
During their eight-game losing streak that immediately followed the winning streak, the team lost five games on the leaders.
Picked up three games during a nine-game winning streak. Lost five games on an eight-game losing streak.
There is a God, and he is not a Pirates fan.
April 7, 1999—Ground Breaks on PNC Park
The Pirates were getting new digs. PNC Park is regarded as one of the best venues in baseball. What a shame the Pirates can't get a quality product on the field to fill this pretty ballpark.
Ground was broken on PNC Park, right up the river from aging Three Rivers Stadium, on April 7, 1999. It would be two years under construction and during that time, the Pirates struggled to get above .500 with nearly no success.
While construction began on their new home, the Pirates were busy losing their third game of the young season to go 1-2.
The team would sweep the next series with the visiting Cubs and would be alone atop the NL Central for a single day.
They lost their next three games, and would spend the rest of the year alternating between third and fourth in the division and wondering what the new stadium would look like.
April 7, 2000—Only One Game Back
A baseball season has 162 games.
They say every team will win 50 and lose 50 of those games. That's 100 games.
Where seasons are made is what the team does with those other 62 games.
The Pirates won only 19 of those other 62 games in 2000, somehow managing to not lose 100 games on the season.
The Pirates strung together eight wins in September to climb from sixth in the division to third, picking up a scant two games on the division leaders in the process.
In what appears to be a pattern for the Bucs, however, they promptly lost their next nine games after the winning streak ended, and returned to the cellar of the division. During their losing streak, they dropped eight games to the division leaders, going from 19.5 games back to 27.5 games back.
That date, April 7, 2000, was the last time in the season the Pirates were within a game of the division lead. They played their fourth game of the season that day.
October 6, 2001—Joining the "100-30 Club"
Some teams just understand losing. The Pirates are such a team.
After somehow avoiding losing 100 games in 2000, they proved to the world that anything worth doing is worth doing right.
On Oct. 6, 2001, with only two games left in the season, the Pirates lost to the Cubs in Chicago. That loss gave them 100 for the season.
You would think they would have at least made a game of it. Oh, no, not the Bucs. They got hammered, 13-2.
They won the next night and finished the season with a 62-100 record, dead last in the division, 31 games out of first place.
100 losses, 30 games out. "100-30 Club"
April 21, 2002—Getting the Winning Done Early
It seems very strange to write this, but there was a time only nine years ago that the Pirates had a lead in their division.
Having won six games in a row, including manhandling the Phillies in Pittsburgh to the tune of 9-3 on Apr. 21, 2002, the Pirates were in the lead in their division by 2.5 games.
They promptly lost seven of their next nine to go from 2.5 games up to 2.5 games back and would never get another sniff of the division lead.
The finishing record wasn't nearly as bad as the previous year, 79-82, but they were 24.5 games out of first when the season ended.
July 18, 2003—We're Number Four! We're Number Four!
On July 18, 2003, the Pirates climbed out of fifth place in the NL Central to the fourth spot.
They would remain there for the next 69 games. They spent more than a third of the season in fourth place and didn't move up or down! They were never more than 14 games out of first, and never fewer than seven.
That, my friends, is consistency.
Once again, the record was not abysmal at 75-87, but during this run of treading water, they neither lost nor won more than four consecutive games.
Maybe it's just me, but that is all remarkable.
September 21, 2004—Hitting 30 Again
Think about it for a moment. You have to play a lot of bad baseball to get yourself 30 games out of first place.
Of course, if the team you're chasing is really good, it can make this number seem larger than it should be.
When they lost 100 games, you would expect them to be out of first by 30 games or so, but when they actually win more games and still find themselves an incredible number of games back, that's just sad.
The Pirates would finish the season 32.5 games back of the Cardinals, who won 105 games.
I can't help but wonder what it feels like to be a Cards fan and getting to watch a winning team.
September 24, 2005—One Win to Avoid 100 Losses
When they woke up on the morning of September 24, 2005, the Pirates' record was 62-92. They had eight games to play and a losing streak would ensure another 100-loss season.
All they needed was one win; one single win.
Thankfully for the Pirates' faithful, they won that night, beating the Dodgers 8-3 in Pittsburgh and killing the specter of 100 losses.
In fact, they actually played pretty well for those eight finishing games, winning five of them. They took both games in a two-game set with the Cubs and two of three games against the Brewers to close out the season.
June 15, 2006—Two Weeks of Futility
The Pirates beat the Cardinals on June 14, 2006 and then didn't win another game until two weeks later.
Thirteen games. Thirteen losses.
You have to wonder if they were reenacting the scene from Bull Durham where the players agree that the only thing that will stop the losing is a rain-out.
June 26 was the only day they didn't lose a game during the streak. There wasn't a game scheduled. Maybe they should have taken more days off because they picked up half a game on the division lead by not playing.
The truly remarkable part of this streak is that they only lost four games to the leaders. It must have been a pretty bad week for everyone in the NL Central.
April 27, 2007—Let's Go Streaking!
On April 27, 2007, the Bucs won the last of a five-game winning streak by beating Cincinnati.
Their record was 10-11 and they were in second place in the division, 2.5 games back.
That would be the longest winning streak of the year.
By way of comparison, they would have three losing streaks of five games, one of seven games, and one of nine.
When the Pirates started losing that year, they seemed incapable of stopping.
Yeah, that was fun.
May 31, 2008—15 Wins!
While their final record was not as bad as in previous years (67-95), this time the losing seemed to be spread over the entire season as opposed to a couple truly awful months.
On the last day of May, the Pirates won their 15th game of the month. They went 15-13 in May.
That was the best month of the year by far. May was the only month that they had a winning record (except for winning their only game in March). In no other month did they post a win percentage greater than .462.
The low was in August when they won seven of 28 games for a .250 win percentage. They lost 14.5 games to the division leader during August.
Talk about depressing.
September 30, 2009—A Win Streak to Avoid Joining "The Club" Again
The Pirates were 30.5 games out of first and had a record of 59-97 to start the day.
If they didn't win at least three of the five games, they would finish with at least 100 losses.
If they didn't win at least two of them, they would finish 30 or more games out of first.
They were in real jeopardy of once again joining the "100-30 Club."
Thankfully, they took both games from the Cubs on Sept. 30, and then won their opener against the Reds.
The three wins guaranteed they would not lose 100 games and would not be more than 30 games out.
As a Pirates fan, you have to take the little victories.
September 24, 2010—Can We Replay the 2008 Season?
Last year the Pirates showed, once again, that anything worth doing is worth doing in an epic, unbelievable, catastrophic way.
After the incredible bad-ness that was 2008 followed by narrowly missing the infamous "100-30 Club" in 2009, the Pirates blew past that into a whole new realm of putrid play in 2010.
Having already reached 30 games back a month earlier, the only real "goal" in sight was 100 losses.
On the morning of Sept. 24, the Pirates' record was 53-99. They would lose that night and win only four more games the rest of the season to finish 57-105.
Remember how I said that teams are expected to lose 50 games and win 50 games? By that criteria, they won only seven of the those other 62 games while losing 55 of them.
Their best month of the year, by winning percentage was September when they managed a .444 win percentage. They won 12 games that month and "only" lost 15.
The worst month? June, when they won six games and lost 20. They had losing streaks in June of 12 and six games during the month.
What is to be made of this incredible run of pathetic losing?
It is easy to say that they have been astonishingly bad for a very long time, and that would not be wrong.
Over the 18 years of this streak, their combined record is 1223-1623-1. That is a win percentage of 42.97%
They have an average record of 68-94.
But as they say, I would rather light a candle than curse the darkness.
Clint Hurdle seems to be doing the right things with the team this year. The pitching is better. The fielding is better, and the bats look to be coming around.
Where will this team end up for the season? Who knows, but one thing is for sure.
Where the Pirates are concerned, there really isn't anyplace to go but up.