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Monday, January 21, 2019

Pittsburgh Pirates Still a Hapless Bunch

Avast ye, matey’s! It has been said that Halley’s Comet might appear on Earth twice in a typical human lifetime. The same could be said of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Somewhere on the spectrum of winning the lottery a few times in a row and finding one of those stamps with the upside-down airplane on them lies a Pirates championship run. Since the last time the team was spotted playing in October, the team has found a way to lose 90-or-more games nine times while finishing 13 games or more behind first place all but one season since 1992. The team came into being in 1887, when it was designated as hailing from “Pittsburg.” At some point in history, the team added an “H,” left out a lot of “W’s” and has elicited a flurry of “Z’s.” The result has been a laughingstock where one is not warranted, kind of like a Bob Saget variety show.

It’s safe to say that William Kidd, Bartholomew Roberts, and Blackbeard never swung in on any chandeliers in the vicinity of Pittsburgh. At least those guys knew how to make someone walk the plank. The poor schmos in the Steel City have had a tough enough time finding a way to walk the 90 feet down to first base. It probably explains why there is a long list of managers that have been sent to Davey Jones’ locker, from Gene Lamont to Pete Mackanin, and John Russell. Perhaps Garrett Jones (no relation to Davey) and Jose Tabata could have learned a thing or two from Long John Silver about how to properly execute a hit-and-run. Coming off their 18th consecutive losing season, it is safe to say that things for Pittsburgh’s resident baseball team have been AAARRRRRR-duous.

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum would be a good place to start before settling in to watch the Bucs. Most baseball watching landlubbers would point to Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series as the moment went the Pirates were, well, sunk. You may remember it, or at least heard the story: the Pirates were one out away from the World Series, leading 3-2 with the bases loaded, and Francisco Cabrera at the plate. Center fielder Andy Van Slyke was telling left fielder Barry Bonds to take a couple of steps in and Bonds responded via hand gesture to Van Slyke what he could do with his treasure map. Sure enough, Cabrera singles, the ball landing just in front of Barry, and David Justice and Sid Bream (whose speed could be tracked with a sun dial) came home to score the runs to win. Since that moment, it’s been “Thar she blows” for the Buccos.

It seems hard today to believe that there was a time that the Pirates were the team giving no quarter. After all of the three professional sports teams that play in the city right now, they are the 4th most popular. Before the hapless Bucs were marooned in the bottom of the NL Central for, lo, these many years, there were Hall of Famers like Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, and Willie Stargell who became legendary for bringing in titles to Pittsburgh. Now one may need a sextant to locate the last time central Pennsylvania had a winning baseball team.

Compared to the swashbucklers of yore, the recent editions of the Major League Pirates certainly would fit the bill as beggars and blighters and ne’er do-well cads. Certainly it’s easy to get lost in the parley over championships when the city’s Steelers and Penguins have hoisted multiple titles since the last time the Pirates came away with the prized Big League booty (still on hackneyed pirate lingo, not innuendo). A 5-3 start for the Steelers would have fans calling for Ben Rothliesberger to be measured for his chains. Perhaps it would cause the city’s hockey faithful to request that Sidney Crosby meet rope’s end. For the Pirates, it elicits a “shiver me timbers” response that presumably is a forewarning for their annual keelhaul once the calendar flips over to the second week of April.

Hey, some of the guys on this year’s squad actually have relatively good pirate names- players like Meek, Overbay, and Pearce (Gorkys Hernandez not included). The only problem is that, once reality sets in, the Buccos start swinging the bat like they’re wearing eye-patches, and pitching like they have yet to find their sea legs. Since the 1970s, the franchise has become the scourge of the seven seas, one of the most hapless teams in North American professional sports. The team has promised hope through rebuilding with young prospects for so long, Johnny Depp has had the opportunity to star in four different iterations as Captain Jack Sparrow. But are there really any grounds for optimism for this band of buccaneers? That depends, have you ever heard of a corsair eating a pierogi?

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