Good evening, good night, good morning, whatever. It is September 4th, 2013. The Pittsburgh Pirates are 81-57.
I'm not even sure where to begin. My plan for these last two posts has been to give "81 wins" the historical context and "82 wins" the personal context. Maybe that's not going to work. I'm going to do my best.
Starting in 2011, which was the first year in the PNC Park era that the Pirates legitimately contended beyond the end of May and threatened to break .500 well into the summer, this question has existed: Is a .500 season something worth celebrating? Is an 82 or 83 or 84 win season really an achievment if it doesn't result in a playoff berth? My personal view has always been this: a .500 season or 82 wins should never be a baseball team's ultimate goal. The true crime of the Dave Littlefield era was that the organization as a whole lost sight of this and put snapping the losing streak ahead of everything else, to disastrous results. Celebrating 81 or 82 wins last September wouldn't have lessened the blow of the collapse; it would've made me feel terrible about celebrating one of the worst ends to any season that anyone could've dreamed up.
I've always thought of these two landmarks in particular as exactly that; something that you drive past on the highway on your way to something else. Not a destination; a waypoint to be acknowledged and moved beyond. If the 1997 Pirates had won 82 games instead of 79, would any of what happened in the following years or what's happened this summer be substantially different? Maybe it all would've, but it's hard to say from here.
What I know is this: the idea that 81 and 82 shouldn't exist as goals is always a concept that I've applied to the team. This is a milestone that's always been one marked by the fans. The more that people insist that it shouldn't be celebrated, the more I find myself asking why it shouldn't be. The players aren't popping champagne on the field. The Pirate organization has made it clear since 2008 what their ultimate goals are and no one is breaking stride with that today or tomorrow or whenever win 82 comes, and that's how it's supposed to be. But the fans? How can the fans not spend a night or two marking the passing of this occasion? How can we think back on all of the things that have happened since that October night in 1992 and not note that maybe now, in 2013, we can put all of that behind us.
What's great about this 2013 season is that it's clear that this is just the pre-party. This Pirate team is the favorite to win the NL Central, because that's what you are when you're in first place after 138 games. This team isn't falling apart like other Pirate teams. It's going to play one playoff game, and it's probably going to play at least one playoff series, and who knows what else they're going to do? We're not celebrating 81 tonight or 82 tomorrow as an endpoint; we're celebrating them as a necessary exorcism before we can get on to the real business of celebrating playoff berths, then living out the tense reality of playoff baseball that's been missing from all of our lives for such a long time.
It is almost impossible to give context to the Pirates' losing streak without feeling like you're dipping into parody. Since 1992, the Marlins, Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Rays have all come into existence and won pennants. The Marlins were created, won a World Series, tore that team apart and rebuilt from the ground up, won another World Series, and tore that team apart, and that was all by 2006. The Rays went from being the worst franchise maybe in baseball history to being consistently one of the best.
Perhaps that's the most difficult thing about all of this for Pirate fans: while all of baseball swirls and changes around us, the Pirates have always been the same. Other franchises go up and down, and while it never happens at the same rate for any team, for a long time it seemed like it was happening to everyone except for the Pirates. Life is all about change; change is what we remember, it's what we celebrate, it's what we mourn. Change is how we mark the passage of time, and for so many years that applied to everything in life except for the Pittsburgh Pirates. No matter what, the Pirates were always the same. Al Martin became Brian Giles became Jason Bay. Jon Lieber became Jason Schmidt became Kip Wells became Ian Snell. The Pirates wore pinstripes or they didn't. They had sleeves or they didn't. They had grey caps or red-billed caps or maybe uniforms that looked like they belonged on a McDonald's worker, or maybe they didn't. None of it mattered, because the Pirates were always the same.
For the first time in a long time, the Pirates aren't the same. Everything in life changes, even the Pittsburgh Pirates. Isn't that wonderful?
Pat, very good post. I always enjoy reading your blog. As someone who did not grow up or even live in Pittsburgh. I became a Pirates fan in 1970 as a small boy. I remember the 71 and 79 series. I also remember those disappointing years in the 1980's. The early 90's showed that the Bucs could become a winning competitive team in a free agent saturated market. I figured after 1992 it would be a few years and they would get back there again. Who could imagine that the ownership could let one of the oldest and storied baseball franchises become what they became.
So with yesterdays win there was excitement at least in my house. Not just for the fact that the streak can be put to rest for us fans. But also the excitement that this team has the potential to do so much more. Not only this season but for more seasons to come.
I too echo the sentiments expressed in many of the previous comments. As someone who makes a living as a writer, I know how much of your time goes into this blog -- especially when several posts are done in a day. You're doing a terrific job -- I find myself checking for your take on what occurred about an hour after every Pirates game. Even though fortunate enough to be able to watch almost all the games (except those televised as a Fox National Game), I still enjoy reading your thoughts on what transpired.
I'm probably a little older than many of your blog's followers as when I was attending grade school in Butler, the Pirates were the good Pittsburgh professional sports team and everyone wondered if the Steelers would ever win a championship. It just goes to show how times can change, but I always had faith that the Pirates would return to their winning ways.
Thanks for your great work!
@erma_2 it is a good article. The good thing is that the players didn’t celebrate the win in the field. It shows their will to go forward.
@NikNemec that's interesting and true haha
@whygavs that was a perfect summation.
@erma_2 LOVED THIS.
This is some of your best work. Thanks for giving a voice to the million little frustrations and joys of being a Pirates fan.
Don't you believe the players when they tell you 82 wins is not important to them.
It will be...and it should be.
It is just a mile marker on the way to the ultimate prize, and not an end in itself, but it is a very important mile marker.
To acknowledge its importance...to the players, the organization, and the fans alike...is not to diminish the value of the ultimate prize.
So enjoy this milestone without shame- take time to revel in it, drink it in- even pop a little bubbly if you like.
The players and the organization will be doing all that too (well- maybe not the bubbly, but who knows?)
In 1992 I was one year into a new job, one where I worked 12 hours a day 6 days a week. Our daughter was 18 months old; if you have kids, you know what I mean. I watched that last game of '92 falling asleep and waking up, falling asleep and waking up; my wife shook me awake to watch the end of it, but all I remember is Bream sliding home on a bright screen in a dark room. I groaned, we turned off the TV, and the next morning life went on.
At the time, all news was going by in a blur. I knew in a vague way that the Bucs were going to get broken up, but my mindset was more, "OK, so we'll bring up some new guys. What the hell am I going to do about all those held contracts from last week?"
I tell that story to point out: none of us had any idea. Through the next 20 years, the only other really strong feeling I got was from the mid 2000s, when I was listening to the Bucs on XM while washing the car (something I loved to do with my dad in the '60s and '70s). They were playing the Brewers, and the Brewers kicked the snot out of the Pirates, and I realized that I really, really hated the Brewers.
So that's it. Not knowing, and hating the Brewers. That's what's kept ME going all these years.
Pat: A toast is a celebration and a parade is a celebration. For today, here's to the best written blog on the internet and the end of a streak (clink).
Dave Littlefield: If Annie Savoy from Bull Durham was here she say something like, "It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere - Voltaire".
I concur with what other have said about the writing in this post and in general; no one, including the people who did it for a living, writes this well about the Pirates--or this well, period. I also agree with your take on the notion of the .500 season; mediocrity is not and should never be a goal. In my view, the whole 82 wins thing is a silly statistical bugaboo which hearkens back to a team whose germination was the result of bad drafts by a GM who is dead who was hired by an owner who is equallyd ead which played in a ballpark which was imploded over a decade ago. What's important is that the Pirates are in a position to put the Cardinals out of their misery this weekend, which is why the sun shines a little more brightly this morning.
Pat, I just want to say again that your writing is some of the best I've read, and today's edition exemplifies that. Simply outstanding. Thank you.
Let's go Bucs!
Thanks, Pat. Your writing through these years has been tremendous. One big step out of the canyon...
@whygavs Seriously, you're in the wrong business.
"We're not celebrating 81 tonight or 82 tomorrow as an endpoint; we're celebrating them as a necessary exorcism before we can get on to the real business of celebrating playoff berths, then living out the tense reality of playoff baseball that's been missing from all of our lives for such a long time."
Yep. THAT'S over with; now we can get to the business at hand, winning the whole effin' thing.
Normally, I'd repeat/paraphrase what has been attributed to Vince Lombardi, 'Bear' Bryant and even Barry Sanders: "Act like you've been there before." But for so many Pirates' fans (not me - I'm old enough to remember '79 & '71), they HAVEN'T been there before, and I'm just as happy FOR them as I am for the Bucs [and myself].
Still, 82 is even MORE important, fan-wise - as will be every subsequent win this year. There's work yet to be done. So, after we all celebrate AGAIN, it's time for us fans to hunker down and get into a Playoff mindset. And believe me, there's nothin' like it.
@whygavs so awesome. Cheers! I'm just not drinking yam beer with you.
@whygavs "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard then everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes it great."
@whygavs great stuff as always!
@whygavs great stuff
@Hammad_26 when do you travel? are you here already?! I am a bit sad I will not see your face & jealous of your bucco tickets. safe travels
@TomBrenholts Just reading that gave me PTSD. I was engaged at the time doing the crazy job, crazy commute, crazy hours thing. It was literally 20 years before I could even look at any replay of Bream safe at home.That would be last year when the MLB Network did a special on all-time playoff games.
@TomBrenholts Except for the shitty job being brand new, I'm pretty much "been there, done that, couldn't afford the t-shirt." Especially the part about hating the Brewers.
@wkkortas I kinda want them to run Cumpton or Gomez out there tonight to try to steal the sweep, leaving a rested Liriano waiting for the Cardinals on Friday night.
@AtomK13 @whygavs It's become pretty clear this year he should drop the whole bio-chem-whatever-it-is-he-does and get a PhD in baseball writing. Wouldn't be much extra work because, in the time-honored tradition of grad school, he could just take previous work and package it up as a thesis. We could round up, oh... how about Keri, Neyer, and Verducci as the committee. Maybe pick up Bill Barnwell or Chris B. Brown if we need an external member. Say the word, Pat. We can help make this happen.
@laclips I promise it's good ...
@ChrisMuellerPGH Thanks, as always.
@erma_2 in 2 hours I’ll be in the sky .. I am sorry I couldn’t pass by this year .. But my St. Louis closet is quite large lol. Thank u!
@TomBrenholts Oh...and the Breweres are douchetastic.
@whygavs I don't know if I can drink it. I hate sweet potatoes.
@Hammad_26 you on the ground yet?
@Hammad_26 sooo tempted. fly well friend! we will def talk buccos your whole trip. ;) let me know when you land.