Pirates fans deserve better than this …

Neuman Wagner color.jpg   I don’t know how Pittsburgh Pirates fans do it. Seventeen seasons without topping the .500 mark, 17 years since they lost the greatest player of his generation and ultimately became the poster child for a baseball system that’s demoralizing to fans old enough to remember when this was one of the coolest franchises in the game.
   The proud franchise that brought you Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, a couple of Waners, Ralph Kiner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, et. al, has spent nearly two decades wandering in baseball’s wilderness, fielding clubs just good enough to be interesting but not very threatening to The Haves.
(The Alfred E. Neuman T206 card is provided courtesy of the Michael Gidwitz Collection.)

   Personally, I think the whole situation sucks. They have a great baseball town, a cool ballpark smack dab in the middle of downtown and the aforementioned sterling MLB tradition that goes back 100 years … and yet every year it would seem to require self-delusion on a grand scale to hold out much hope for a postseason berth.
   I know, I know, there have plenty enough examples of small-market miracles or even successful repeaters of teams that find ways to win against payrolls far in excess of their own, but I don’t think that negates the underlying flaws in the system. Ultimately it means that such clubs will need to precisely align all of their roster-building efforts to coincide with a couple of peak years they might get from a top player or two before free agency beckons. Not impossible, certainly, but apparently a tall order for any number of teams that have languished in what we laughingly described as the “second division” so many years ago.
   I was in Pittsburgh in the fall of 1992 when they last took part in the postseason fun. I think I must have been set up at the J. Paul Promotions show at Robert Morris College; I wasn’t able to get to the playoff game, but I remember all the enthusiasm that fans at that classic show always have for their Pirates down through the years.
   At least with my Mets I don’t have to abandon all hope until a wee bit later in the year (and sometimes there’s even a surprise or two). With that kind of pedigree, it’s clear I have a lot of empathy for long-suffering fans from virtually any generation.

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