Pirates - Yes, They Were Good
A lot can happen in 20 years. Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a lot didn't happen for two decades as they put together 20 consecutive losing seasons.
That ended this season with the team's first postseason appearance since 1992 and it has been extended with a win in an all-or-nothing wild-card game on Tuesday night. Now the Pirates are in the divisional playoffs.
Seeing Pittsburgh in the baseball postseason is something new for quite a few baseball fans in their early 20s. But not only playing in the postseason, but also with a record over 500. For 20 years the Pirates never had a winning record.
So throughout much of their lifetimes, the Pirates have been an afterthought to twenty-somethings. That's because after Pittsburgh won three straight division titles in 1990, 1991 and 1992, it hadn't play a postseason game until Tuesday.
The 20 years of futility began in heart-breaking fashion in Atlanta on Oct. 14, 1992, when the Pirates were three outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time in 13 years. But after coming into the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series with a 2-0 lead, the Braves scored three runs.
It was the winning run that hurt the most. It was scored with two outs by former Pirate Sid Bream, who, despite being known as one of the slowest runners in baseball, plodded home from second base on a single.
That play made Bream famous. If he had been thrown out, Atlanta manager Bobby Cox would never have been forgiven by Braves fans for not putting in a pinch-runner.
"Some people say (third-base coach) Jimy Williams tried to hold me up," Bream said at Diethrick Park in 2008 when he was the hitting coach for the State College Spikes. "I don't know to this day. I've not seen video of it whether he did or not. But in that situation, in my book, you force the issue and see if it happens or not. Fortunately for me, I was four inches safe and not four inches out; and fortunately for Bobby Cox. If he couldn't have gotten somebody to run (for me) in the dugout, he should have got somebody in the stands to run for Sid Bream. Fortunately for me, he left me out there and that was just a great moment for me in my baseball career."
And a terrible moment for Pirates fans.
Those three straight postseason appearances in the 1990s only went as far as the NLCS. However, some twenty-somethings might be amazed to know that a team that didn't have a winning record for 20 years had a decade of success beginning 43 years ago.
Not only did the Pirates win six National League Eastern Division titles in the 1970s, but they also won two World Series.
It was only appropriate that Pittsburgh defeated the Cincinnati Reds in Tuesday night's wild-card game because they met four times in the NLCS in the 1970s with each team winning twice.
The first was in 1970 with the Reds recording a 3-0 sweep in the best-of-five series.
They met again in 1972 in an NLCS that went the full five games. In Game 5 at Riverfront Stadium, the Pirates headed into the bottom of the ninth inning with a 3-2 lead and they were three outs away from returning to the World Series and defending their 1971 world championship. But Johnny Bench of the Reds led off the inning with a tying home run off reliever Dave Giusti. Then with two outs and George Foster on third base, Bob Moose, who relieved Giusti, threw a wild pitch. Foster scored and the Reds went on to the World Series.
The 1972 Pirates, an arguably better team than the 1971 World Series champions, went home.
Pittsburgh was back in the NLCS in 1974, but lost in four games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Pirates returned in 1975, but were swept in three games by the Reds.
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati met again in the 1979 NLCS and again it was a 3-0 sweep, but by the Pirates. And the first two wins were in extra innings.
Then the Pirates went on to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series after trailing three games to one. It was similar to Pittsburgh's 1971 World Series win over Baltimore, which came after losing the first two games.
So in the span of nine years, the Pirates had won two World Series. And when you throw in winning it in 1960, they had three World Series titles in 19 years.
On an odd note, Pittsburgh had all that 1970s success with a logo of a handsome, smiling pirate. Unlike the previous logo of a tough-looking Pirate with a stubble beard, the new one looked like a college graduate you would be delighted to have your daughter date.
Ticket prices were quite different, too. For the current NLDS, on-line ticket sites are posting standing-room-only tickets at PNC Park for more than $100.
In 1970, I purchased a reserved-seat ticket for the NLCS at Three Rivers Stadium through the mail for $5. In 1971, I was confident the Pirates would win the NLCS and didn't attend any games. Instead, again through the mail, I purchased four reserved-seat tickets for Game 3 and four more for Game 5 of the World Series at Three Rivers Stadium. They had a ''hefty'' price of $10 each.
Times change and so have the Pirates. Now attending a postseason baseball game in Pittsburgh is something new, but 40 years ago it was expected.