By Bob Smizik
June 17, 2011
Amid this flurry of Pirate victories, which has put the team in the highly unusual position of being two games over .500, people are looking back on the bad, old days and some are recalling them as 18 seasons of ``misery.’’
Everyone is entitled to describe their own feelings, but I have a hard time equating a losing baseball team with ``misery.’’ That’s especially true because those teams were surrounded by and often had overlapping seasons with highly successful NFL and NHL franchises that would tend to take the edge of that ``misery.’’
But this isn’t about feelings, it’s about fact. Yes, there have been 18 consecutive seasons in which the Pirates lost more games than they won, but not all of those seasons were miserable. The so-called misery didn’t truly begin until the Pirates moved into PNC Park in 2001 and lost 100 games. That turned everything upside down. All of a sudden, a season of less than 95 losses was a success.
That wasn’t how this losing began. In their final eight seasons at Three Rivers Stadium, the Pirates might have had losing records but they were not a national punch line. Fans looked at the upcoming season with hope, not dread.
As is well known, the Pirates made a serious run at a division title in 1997 when the streak was only four years in duration. They were 1½ game out of first place on Sept. 2 and 3½ out with seven game to go. A division title was within their reach going into the final week of the season. That wasn’t misery; it was fun and excitement.
The 1999 season was the last time the Pirates had anything approaching a serious relationship with .500 baseball. The manager that year and in 1997 was Gene Lamont, who, by today’s standards, was a raging success.
In 1999, the Pirates were above .500 from May 30 to June 20. They were at or above .500 from May 29 through July 5. They were a seriously competitive team --- five games out of first and in third place at the end of June.
To answer some questions that might come up in the days ahead, the last time the Pirates were three games over .500 was July 1, 1999 (40-37); the last time they were four games over was June 16, 1999 (34-30); the last time there were five games over was June 4, 1999 (29-24).
The Pirates were 46-45 on July 18; 56-55 on Aug. 8; 61-61 on Aug. 20. They never touched .500 again but always remained within reach. They were 78-80 with three games remaining in the season and -- a barometer of the seasons ahead -- lost all three games.
But it was a good season. There was no misery. The Pirates had two players with 100 or more RBIs -- Brian Giles and Kevin Young. They had a third baseman with 81 RBIs -- Ed Sprague -- and a second baseman with 73 -- Warren Morris.
Giles, Young and Morris all had their careers in front of them. So did Jason Kendall, Aramis Ramirez, Al Martin and Adrian Brown. The pitching staff was young and full of potential -- Jason Schmidt, Kris Benson, Francisco Cordova and Todd Ritchie.
It was a fun time. But for many reasons that team never worked out -- never come close to working out.
Which is to say, enjoy the 2011 Pirates. You never know how long this success will last.