Note to Pirates fans: Quit your bellyaching.
It’s been 20 years since the Pirates have been in the playoffs, or had a winning record, or been a relevant Major League Baseball team, so many of their fans believe their futility is unrivaled.
The Pirates aren’t even the biggest losers in their own city. That distinction belongs to Duquesne University basketball, which has not earned an NCAA tournament berth since the Carter presidency, 1977, and has 26 losing seasons in that span, though not in a row. The Pirates last postseason appearance came in 1992.
Think they need reminded of that each year?
Think Wally Pipp would still enjoy hearing, “You know, if you hadn’t taken that one day off . . .”
Think the Rooney family didn’t cringe when asked why they let Len Dawson and Johnny Unitas slip away in the 1950s?
Bad decisions are made every day; some just have larger implications and linger longer, like two decades. Still, failure at the highest level can be classic, even memorable.
Just ask Vinko Bogataj what he thinks about failure. He failed on a major scale only once, in the 1970 Ski Jump World Championship, and became the symbol for ABC’s “Agony of Defeat.” He was reminded of that one mistake, if the television happened to be on in his living room, each Saturday afternoon when the network used film of that crash as part of the opening for its “Wide World of Sports” program.
The Pirates’ losing streak has not been as famous, because most baseball fans outside of Western Pennsylvania don’t pay much attention to it. Just look at what they missed. The last two years, Pittsburgh got off to pretty good starts only to have unbelievable crashes – sorry, Vinko – to punctuate another losing season.
Those who were paying attention last year missed these “memorable” nuggets:
• The Pirates were 16 games over .500 Aug. 8 and finished with a sub-.500 – 79-83 – record. It was the greatest collapse in Major League Baseball history. How many teams can say they made that type of history?
• Their 81st loss came when Homer Bailey tossed a no-hitter in a 1-0 win by Cincinnati. The last time the Pirates were no-hit was in 1971 by Bob Gibson of St. Louis.
• Not only did the Pirates extend their losing streak to 20 straight seasons, a North American record for professional sports, but did so in grand fashion with loss No. 82. It came on Fan Appreciation Day.
You can’t make this stuff up.
So what thrills can we expect this season?
After watching Wichita State make the Final Four and Florida Gulf Coast knock off some pretty good teams in the NCAA Tournament, some might believe the stars have aligned in such a way that even more unusual events can take place in other sports, such as baseball in Pittsburgh. Don’t count on it.
The starting pitching is weak past A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. James McDonald looked unhittable early last season, then dissolved into a psychological mess over the final few months. Jeff Karstens is hurt again, Charlie Morton is coming back from Tommy John surgery, and Jonathan Sanchez and Jeff Locke are, in order, older and ineffective, and younger and ineffective.
Jason Grilli is moving into a closer role for the first time after Joel Hanrahan was traded, and the bullpen looks mediocre.
The offense should be good. Centerfielder Andrew McCutcheon is a star, left fielder Starling Marte could become one, and third baseman Pedro Alvarez found his power stroke last season. Second baseman Neil Walker will produce as long as back problems don’t flare up, and Russell Martin is an improvement on offense and defense behind the plate.
Despite their best efforts, the Pirates will finish 75-87 and in fourth place in the National League Central.
Try not to get caught up in the record, because you don’t want to miss those memorable parts as another season spins out of control.
Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org