The year is 1992. A gallon of gas cost $1.05. The George Bush who threw up on a Chinese Prime Minister was about to be ousted from the White House in favor of America’s first black president, Bill Clinton. The United States sent professional basketball players over to the Barcelona Olympics for the first time and globalized the sport once and for all. Excess and gluttony were defined when the Mall of America opened their doors in Minnesota. It was a huge year for Billy Ray Cyrus who not only had the 15th biggest song on the planet (“Achy Breaky Heart”) but he also welcomed his pride and joy Miley Ray Cyrus into the world. Movies such as Aladdin (#1), Sister Act (#6), White Man Can’t Jump (#16), Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (#22), and Bebe’s Kids (#100) all outdrew Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.
Oh yeah, it was also the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates posted a record above .500, going 96-66 before losing to the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs. The Pirates still haven’t clinched a .500 record in 2013, but they did win their 80th game today – the first time Pittsburgh has reached that mark since ’92. It’s been a long time coming for Pittsburgh, a city which has seen plenty of success in the NFL and NHL over the past score-plus. Pittsburgh even produced two of the biggest rappers on the planet before they put out a respectable baseball team since 1992. And that makes less than no sense.
But does celebrating a season of simply finishing above .500 make any sense? I would contest it does not. Moral victories are for losers. Literally. Teams are more than the players on the field. Coaching and upper management have as much responsibility for the team’s success as do the players who sign the contracts in the MLB. Without proper scouting and leadership, talent goes wasted. And considering the ineptitudes of the Pittsburgh Pirates as a whole led them to ****** season after ****** season, there were plenty of opportunities to end this streak sooner through the draft alone. MUCH sooner.
From exclusively 2001-2008, the Pirates selected the likes of John Van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington (first overall), Paul Maholm, Brad Lincoln, and Daniel Moskos in the top 10 of the first round. While not all of those years were laden with bona fide studs in the top 10, the Pirates did miss out on the likes of Clayton Kershaw, David Wright, Matt Wieters, Jarrod Parker, Madison Bumgarner, Jason Heyward, Max Scherzer, Adam Jones, Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, and B.J. Upton. No, they couldn’t have drafted all of those players. But when you compare the names of the guys they pulled the trigger on to the ones they overlooked, you start to understand the microcosm as to why it’s taken the Pirates 21 years to get this thing back on track.
But considering no franchise in the four major American sports has ever experienced a losing streak which expanded over two decades, the seemingly inevitable 83rd win of the Pirates’ 2013 campaign should be treated as such – the 83rd win of the 2013 season.
Because if the Pirates goal coming into this season was just to merely finish above .500, they’re going to be right below .500 again next year. It’s good for a team to have goals at the onset of the season. I’ve never heard of a team putting “don’t suck” as one of their goals. But striving to merely finish at or slightly above .500 to end one of the more embarrassing streaks in all of sports is just as disgraceful. Go out and win. Not the NL Central. Not the first round in the playoffs. Treat this season like the next opportunity to win the World Series wont come again for another 21-years. Because, realistically, it might not.
Look at the Washington Nationals. The former Montreal Expos. The franchise which would have been the most irrelevant in all of baseball for the past 21-years had it not been for the Pirates. The Nationals were the best team in the MLB during the 2012 regular season. They won more games than anyone and routinely dominated their opposition with pitching. A pitching staff led by Stephen Strasburg. Was Strasburg their best starting pitcher last season? No. He was arguably their third best behind Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. But that’s like saying Bryce Harper wasn’t the Nationals best hitter last season because Adam LaRoche had a monster (contract) year. Strasburg was the hope. Strasburg was the franchise. Strasburg was shut down before the playoffs because the Nationals were too concerned with 2013 when they should’ve focused on 2012. Now the Nationals, a heavy preseason favorite in the National League, sit seven games back of the Wild Card and are a mere two games above .500. Because they were happy just being there last year.
Which is what seems to be going on with all the hoopla surrounding the Pirates. PNC Park is one of the more beautiful ballparks in all of baseball, and for once the people of Pittsburgh are filling up the seats for something other than an All Star Game or the Winter Classic. And all it took was 21 years. Damn near an entire generation. The excitement is understandable. It’s nice to no longer be considered the laughing stock of the league. It’s tough to say, “Act like you’ve been there before,” when, you know, they haven’t.
21-years after Barry Bonds, Doug Drabek, Andy Van Slyke, and Tim Wakefield were headed to the postseason under Jim Leyland, Clint Hurdle is trying to lead Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Russell Martin, and Francisco Liriano back into the second season. Will they make it? They better. They’re in a dead heat with the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central crown with a comfortable cushion in the Wild Card race. For the Pirates to not make the playoffs they would have to experience a September which would put them right up there with the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets for biggest regular season choke of all time. The past 21 years have nothing to do with the here and now. You’re not playing for the past 21 years. You’re playing for October 2013. Make the playoffs, then celebrate. Lose in the first round and celebrate. I don’t really care at that point. Let’s just stop pretending “slightly above mediocre” is an acceptable synonym for “success” because the Pirates haven’t sniffed average since Miley Cyrus was white.