Doug Orleans (dougo) wrote,
Doug Orleans

The Pittsburgh Pirates

In December 1978, I watched my first NFL football game on TV: a playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos. The Steelers won convincingly, 33-10; Franco Harris scored two rushing touchdowns, and Terry Bradshaw threw two touchdowns, one each to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. (All four of them, along with five others on that team, were eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame.) I was 8 years old; I liked their flamboyancy and their colors (black and gold), and I became a fan. They went on to win the Super Bowl over the Dallas Cowboys that season ("still widely regarded as one of the greatest Super Bowl games ever played," according to Wikipedia), and I learned the joy of rooting for a winning team.

In April 1979, baseball season started, and I discovered that the Pittsburgh Pirates also had black-and-gold uniforms, so I decided to become a fan of theirs too. They turned out to be just as flamboyant: Willie Stargell's windmill wind-up, Kent Tekulve's "submarine" side-arm, Phil Garner's mustache. In one game, an opposing pitcher tried to intentionally walk Dave Parker (professional sports' first $1-million/year player), but Parker got mad, stepped over the plate, swung and hit the ball into the outfield. The team theme song was the Sisters Sledge's disco classic "We Are Family", which played at every home game. They led the National League with 98 wins, and came from being down 3 games to 1 to win the World Series over Earl Weaver's Baltimore Orioles.

The Steelers won the Super Bowl again the next year, their fourth of the decade.  But the next decade, the '80s, were a bad time to be a Pittsburgh fan, as the Steelers sank into mediocrity and the Pirates became the worst team in baseball.  As the '90s began, though, Mario Lemieux led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a couple of Stanley Cups, Bill Cowher arrived to coach the Steelers to six consecutive playoff seasons, and the "outfield of dreams" (Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy van Slyke) brought the Pirates three division titles. In the bottom of the 9th inning of the 1992 League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves, Sid Bream, who had just left the Pirates as a free agent two years earlier, loped in from second base (Bream "was known as an unusually slow runner" according to Wikipedia) to just barely beat Bonds's throw to win the game and end the Pirates' season.

In the 2000s, the Penguins won a third Stanley Cup. The Steelers won two more Super Bowls and cemented the best record in the NFL since 1970. But after 1992 the Pittsburgh Pirates went on to have 20 straight losing seasons, the longest such streak in North American professional sports history.  I still followed baseball for a while, through the steroid-laden late '90s/'00s, as Barry Bonds broke the single-season and career home run records with the SF Giants, and the Boston Red Sox "reversed the curse" and ended their own legendary 86-year streak and won the World Series (the New England Patriots having won the Super Bowl earlier that year, Boston became the first city to have simultaneous baseball and football champs since... Pittsburgh in 1979). But the days of rooting for the Pirates in the postseason were long-gone fond memories, and I haven't really paid attention to any sports at all in the past four or five years.

Maybe you can see where this is going... Last Tuesday, Oct 1st, we were at the Middle East club to see the indie rock band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and there was a baseball game on the TV behind the bar. When I noticed it was a Pirates game, I figured something unusual was happening—why would they be on TV in an American League city at the end of the season? It turned out to be the Wild Card game, and the Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds to get into the playoffs!

Right now, the Pirates are tied with the St. Louis Cardinals in the Division Series at 2 games apiece. The Red Sox are ahead 2-1 in their series with the Tampa Bay Rays. There's an outside chance that the Pirates could play the Red Sox in the World Series. I might just have to re-subscribe to cable TV...
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