Putting the Pirates’ 19-Straight Losing Seasons Into Perspective

From Bonds to McCutchen, from dial-up to 4G, from '92 to 2011, much has changed, yet one thing remains the same.


Photo by Uprooted Photographer

Whenever the Pirates clinch a losing season, I tend to go searching for a bit of perspective to remind myself just how long their losing streak has been intact. Here's what I came up with for the Pirates 19th consecutive losing season in 2011: the 2011 Pirates are now as far removed from the last winning Pirate team—the 1992 Buccos—as the '92 Pirates were from the 1973 Pirates. The 1973 Pirates were the first edition to take the field after the tragic death of Roberto Clemente. In broader (and slightly rougher) terms, Andrew McCutchen is as far removed from Barry Bonds as Barry Bonds was from Roberto Clemente.  

As someone born after the Pirates' last World Series title, this is staggering to consider. When I was growing up as a Pirates fan in the early ’90s, there was a VHS tape that I watched basically on repeat for a year about the first 100 years of team history—from the Pittsburgh Alleghenys to Honus Wagner to Pie Traynor to Ralph Kiner to Clemente to Willie Stargell to the sad 1980s Pirates. The video ended with Barry Bonds and Andy Van Slyke, promising better days ahead. To me, everyone in that video was a historical figure except the people at the very end. Now, those players I grew up with are very much historical figures to young Pirates fans growing up today.

Think of all the things that happened between 1974 and Sid Bream's slide. The Pirates won the National League East in 1974 and 1975, but failed to get to the World Series. They finished third in the East three years in a row after that, then won the World Series in 1979. Willie Stargell retired and was elected to the Hall of Fame. The Pirates struggled badly in the early 1980s, but then hired general manager Syd Thrift in 1985. Thrift made a whirlwind of moves between ’85 and ’88 that set the foundation for the club's return to prominence in 1990. Between 1990 and 1992, they won three more division titles and lost three heart-breaking playoff series.

In total, that's six playoff appearances and a World Series in 19 years, and one very successful rebuilding project. It’s not exactly the 1940s Yankees, but it’s a solid run that many franchises would kill for. Teams like the present Pittsburgh Pirates.

Here's what's happened since the Pirates' 1992 season ended in heartbreak: GM Ted Simmons resigned during the 1992 season, leaving Cam Bonifay to oversee the project to rebuild the club in the wake of the departures of Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Doug Drabek. The Pirates weren't completely terrible between 1993 and 1996, but the Orlando Merced/Jay Bell/Jeff King/Carlos Garcia/Denny Neagle Pirates were far from successful and so the Bucs cleaned house as that contingent neared free agency.

With Kevin McClatchy assuming ownership in 1996, he and Bonifay declared that they would be instituting a five-year plan to have the Pirates competitive by the time PNC Park opened in 2001. Except for decent runs in 1997 and 1999, this plan failed miserably. PNC Park opened on the day that Willie Stargell died and the Pirates christened it with their first 100-loss season since 1985. Bonifay was fired part way through the season and Dave Littlefield took the reins. Littlefield's tenure never even got off of the ground and he'll be best remembered for making one of the worst trades of the aughts, the deal that sent Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton to the Cubs for a handful of beans that no one thought was magical, even in 2003.

Littlefield was fired and McClatchy was pushed out in 2007 and since then we've been in the Neal Huntington/Frank Coonelly era, which has seen a strengthening of the minor league system but precious little in the way of Major League results.

In total, that's zero winning seasons, zero playoff appearances, three failed rebuilding efforts, and one rebuild that the jury's still out on. The 1973-1992 Pirates look like the Dream Team in comparison.

In fact, besides the current World Series drought (32 years and counting), the Pirates have only had one stretch in franchise history in which they went longer than 19 years between World Series. That was between 1925 and 1960, a stretch that contained the only era in modern Pirate history even arguably worse than the one we're in now, nine losing seasons from 1949-1957 that included three straight 100-loss seasons (’52-’54).

It's unfair to lump the whole of the last 19 years on anyone involved with the current Pirates or the way they're run. Since 2007, they've been working on a long-term plan to change the franchise's fortunes that's different than anything that's been attempted since the losing streak started. But they haven't turned things around yet, and so the brunt of this unprecedented losing streak falls on the only thing that the current Pirates really have in common with the 1992 Pirates: the fans. That's why it was so exciting to see the Pirates hang in contention through the end of July, and that's why 2011 feels worse than 2010, even if the record is a better.

 

Pat Lackey is a frequent guest blogger for Pulling No Punches. You can find him at his own blog, Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? and on Twitter @whygavs.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Your 10 best bets for this month.
Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Peers, players, and regular observers know him to be one of the best coaches — and people — in college basketball.
15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

From east to west — and north and south — these are the region’s salons and services that make our cut. Having a good hair day doesn’t have to be so difficult after all.
Home of the Year: 2015

Home of the Year: 2015

This year’s selections include a Richland Township house built to appreciate its 160-acre lot and Shadyside garage that was renovated into a stunning, modern dream home.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Everything That's Awesome About Pittsburgh Today
5 Classic Pittsburghers Still Popular on YouTube

5 Classic Pittsburghers Still Popular on YouTube

From Fred Rogers to Pittsburgh traffic cop Vic Cianca to weatherman Joe DeNardo, these 'Burghers are fun to watch and remember.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
Deer Debate: It's All about Priorities

Deer Debate: It's All about Priorities

PittGirl can't be convinced there is any solid math that proves an animal’s life is more important than a human one.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
First Look: Smoke's New Lawrenceville Location

First Look: Smoke's New Lawrenceville Location

At long last, Jeff Petruso and Nelda Carranco again are churning out the Tex-Mex-style tacos Pittsburghers crave.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Retro Shops in Pittsburgh

5 Best Retro Shops in Pittsburgh

For anyone looking for a perfect #throwback picture to post, head here first.

Comments


Bar Exam: Wings, Suds & Spuds

Bar Exam: Wings, Suds & Spuds

This humble Moon Township bar and restaurant could be a haven for weary travelers (and hungry neighbors).

Comments


Inside Downtown Pittsburgh's New Juice Bar

Inside Downtown Pittsburgh's New Juice Bar

Get a healthy dose of fruits, veggies and more from the same folks who brought us the Smiley cookie.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Looking Sharp

Looking Sharp

Give your style some bite with the porcelain shark tooth necklace by Redraven studios.

Comments


This week's buzz from the PM editors
Let It Go: Despite Being a Costly Outing, See 'Disney on Ice'

Let It Go: Despite Being a Costly Outing, See 'Disney on Ice'

The kids want to see characters from "Frozen." You want to see your favorite princess. Make everyone happy by snagging tickets to a weekend show.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
#PGHWeddings

#PGHWeddings

More brides are using social media to enhance their wedding days, so we’re sharing a few tips to help you do the same.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Now Accepting 2016 Home of the Year Submissions

Now Accepting 2016 Home of the Year Submissions

Our first standalone HOME issue in years features the 2015 winners of the annual Home of the Year competition — and we're already thinking about next year's contest.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Allegheny College Students Learn in the Sand

Allegheny College Students Learn in the Sand

The school's augmented reality sand box creates three-dimensional topographical maps based on the way students physically shape the sand.

Comments


Thinking outside the box (score)
Time Not on Penguins GM’s Side

Time Not on Penguins GM’s Side

General Manager Jim Rutherford has overhauled much of the Pens’ roster in a short period of time. Will his mind-on-the-now plan work to win Cup No. 4?

Comments


Award-winning sports commentary by Sean Conboy
R.I.P. Corporate Penguins, 2009-2014

R.I.P. Corporate Penguins, 2009-2014

Fire Bylsma? Fire Shero? The Penguins' problems run deeper.

Comments

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags