Posted by: Captain Easychord | September 10, 2009

Pirates Thursday: 82 Makes 17

With a 4-2 loss to the Cubs, the Pirates once again reached loss #82 and clinched a losing season.  The team seemed hopelessly lost in an endless abyss of losing.  Just a few years back, these same Pirates posted an ugly 100 loss season that was more or less representative of what they stood for.  Losing.  Interminable losing.  Losing like it was what they were made to do.  For literally half of my life, I had been following baseball and only once did I see the Pirates post a winning season.

Loss #82 seemed particularly difficult this year, particular year, what with the team actually looking kinda good the year prior… just not good enough.  The date was September 22, 1989 and to a 12 year old, six seasons feels like forever… entirely too long to wait to see the Pirates field a genuinely good baseball team. Little did I know what they had in store for me.

I’ve now followed the Pirates for 26 seasons.  22 of those teams have been losers.  Even the winners were bittersweet, with a run of increasingly painful playoff defeats, culminating in a loss that rivals just about any on Bill Simmons’ “Levels of Losing” scale.  And if five losing seasons in six years was bad for a kid, how on Earth does one handle 17 straight years of misery and hopelessness?

Ironically, before I knew what was to come, one of my fondest memories from my formative years as a baseball fan was the final series of the 1987 season, when the Pirates swept the Phillies to escape the cellar of the NL East for the first time in my memory, finishing tied for fourth place (!) with a record of… 80-82.  To me, this was an awesome season:  not finishing last and almost getting to .500.  I had never seen that before!

Ten years later, the “let’s go to work” freak show team of 1997 captured the imagination of Pirates fans everywhere with another almost .500 season that happened to result in an improbable playoff run.  For this, they might be my favorite Pittsburgh sports team of all time.  … and they finished with a losing record!

As another decade passed, September 2007 brought what seems to be a decennial reason to watch the Pirates.  Only this time, it wasn’t a gritty, gutty team that provided the excitement, it was a loss… specifically, the firing of Dave Littlefield, one of the men most singularly responsible for the ongoing abomination that is the Pirates.

Two years to the day after Littlefield was fired – as if providing a historical nod to the man – the Pirates had their appointment with a destiny foreseen many years in advance and clinched a record-setting 17th consecutive losing season with another 4-2 defeat to the Cubs.  And just as was the case 20 years prior, the losing pitcher in 2009 was a 26 year old Texan that came over from the Yankees while the outfield was patrolled by a flashy young outfielder with an exciting bunch of skills.

This isn’t to suggest an imminent turnaround for the current Pirates that the early 90’s teams saw.  Any winning seasons are still likely a few years away in the best case.  But with the organizational overhaul underway, maybe we can hope for another exciting almost .500 season next year?  Sure, it’s a meager goal that few other teams would see as a point of success, but when you’re a Pirates fan, you have to take what you can get.

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