It's taken 21 years—their streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993 through 2012 was the longest in North American professional sports history—but the Pirates finally can put an "82" in the win column.
To get an idea of just how long it's been, if someone had planted a time capsule to capture the zeitgeist of 1992, here are a few things that might be revealed upon digging it up now, more than two decades later:
- Bill Clinton was elected the 42nd President of the United States
- "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men was the No. 1 song on the charts
- Disney's Aladdin was the highest-grossing film at the box office
Heck, it was so long ago, MTV's The Real World was in its (gasp) first season. And that's only what happened in pop culture.
Plenty more has happened in Major League Baseball dating back to the last time the Pirates were above .500. In fact, in "honor" of the franchise's past 21 years of losing, here are—you guessed it—21 things that have taken place since.
1. Infielder Jurickson Profar (born Feb. 20, 1993), right-hander Dylan Bundy (Nov. 15, 1992) outfielder and 2012 National League Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper (Oct. 16, 1992) all were born* and made their MLB debuts.
*The last day of the 1992 season was Oct. 4, so not every player born in 1992 qualifies.
2. MLB endured the players' strike of 1994, which cut short the season and left the sport without a World Series that October.
3. That same year, the league adopted a new divisional format, switching from two divisions per league to three. The wild card was also introduced, but because the strike cancelled the postseason, the divisional round of the playoffs didn't start till October of 1995. The first teams to earn playoff berths via the wild card were the New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies.
4. Sticking with the Yankees, there's an intriguing dynamic at play between them and the Pirates. Through Pittsburgh's last winning season in 1992, New York actually had failed to make the playoffs for 11 years running—tied for the longest stretch in the franchise's history after it became a perennial power in the 1920s.
While that skid would continue through 1994, the Yankees soon embarked on what became baseball's longest, most successful run—17 postseason appearances and five titles in 18 seasons*—during the same time the Pirates became the sport's cellar-dwellers.
*The rise of the Yankees dynasty began around the same time the team brought in the members of the "Core Four"—Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada—all four of whom began their big league careers after 1993.
Amazingly, Posada is the only one who is no longer active. Pettitte has compiled 255 wins since 1993, the second-most in baseball in that time. Jeter has amassed 3,316 hits over 2,598 games played (both MLB highs), and Mariano Rivera owns a record 649 saves, having pitched in 1,108 games—most in the majors in the same time period.
5. Cal Ripken surpassed Lou "The Iron Horse" Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played in September of 1995. In case you're scoring at home, 897 of Ripken's eventual mark—2,632 straight—came from 1993 on.
6. After serving as acting commissioner since 1992, Bud Selig officially became the ninth commissioner of the sport in 1998. Selig's tenure, which almost perfectly coincides with the Pirates' streak of losing seasons, is the second-longest among MLB commissioners, trailing only Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who served as baseball's first commissioner from 1920-1944.
7. New teams, new names, new locations. Four entirely new franchises were created—the Colorado Rockies and Florida* Marlins in 1993, followed by the Tampa Bay Devil* Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998—while the Milwaukee Brewers shifted from the AL Central the the NL Central in 1998, the Montreal Expos left Canada and became the Washington Nationals in 2005 and the Houston Astros moved from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013.
*Tampa Bay dropped the "Devil" from the team nickname in 2008, while the Marlins swapped "Florida" for the more specific "Miami" in 2012. And for the sake of proper bookkeeping, in 1997, the California Angels became the Anaheim Angels, and then morphed into the clunky Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2005.
8. Of the now-30 MLB teams—there were only 26 back in 1992—here are the ones with the fewest winning seasons from 1993 through 2012:
9. In that same span, 28 of 30 clubs made the postseason. Aside from the Bucs, the Kansas City Royals are the only squad that hasn't played into October. In fact, they actually have a longer playoff drought than Pittsburgh,* who last made it in 1992, whereas the Royals haven't been since winning it all in 1985.
*In case you're wondering which Pirate holds the title of "He Who Has Suffered Most" (i.e., the longest-tenured Pittsburgh player from 1993 through 2012), that would be none other than former catcher Jason Kendall, who played in 1,252 games and was a three-time All-Star as a Pirate.
Here's the irony: Kendall played for the Pirates from 1996 through 2004 and eventually retired in 2010, meaning his entire 15-year career came and went without the Buccos ever reaching 82 victories, and yet Pittsburgh drafted him in the first round way back in June of (yep) 1992—the middle of the Pirates' last winning season.
10. Speaking of winning it all, 19 different teams made the World Series, and 11 of those took the trophy,* including a pair of expansion clubs: the Diamondbacks in 2001 and the Marlins not once, but twice: in 1997 and again in 2003.
*Both "Sox" teams, the White ones from Chicago and the Red ones from Boston, won championships, ending two of the three longest droughts in baseball. The "other" Chicago team, meanwhile, remains sans title since 1908, and many blame Steve Bartman for extending that curse in 2003. The "Curse of the Bambino," though, was extinguished in 2004.
11. A sport that kept the American and National Leagues separate throughout its history—aside from the World Series and the All-Star Game, the two sides had never faced each other—embarked upon interleague play starting in 1997.
12. In 1998, Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs, while Sammy Sosa hit 66 to topple Roger Maris' long-standing, single-season home run record of 61. Only three seasons later, in 2001, Barry Bonds* broke McGwire's record by smashing 73.
*Bonds, of course, was the star of the last Pirates team to win more games than it lost in 1992, but he went on to sign with the Giants after that season, then hit 586 of his 762 career home runs for San Francisco, passing Hank Aaron to become the all-time home run king in 2007.
13. Baseball endured the brunt* of what is now known as the Steroid Era from the 1990s into the 2000s, as the three players in the previous note, among many others, were linked to—or even admitted to using—performance-enhancing drugs. In 2007, MLB released the Mitchell Report, which revealed the findings from a lengthy, wide-ranging investigation into the extent that PEDs had infiltrated the sport.
*The Steroid Era, clearly, isn't quite over yet: In July and August of 2013, the league suspended 13 players for ties to the now-shuttered Biogenesis clinic as uncovered by MLB's investigation. Among those given suspensions were Ryan Braun, who received a 65-game ban (the rest of the 2013 season) and Alex Rodriguez, who was hit with a record 211-game ban (through the 2014 season). Rodriguez, though, has appealed and continues to play.
14. While only four pitchers—Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson—joined the 300-win club from 1993 on, the number of hitters in the 500-home run club nearly doubled, from 14 through 1992 to 25 through 2013. They were, in chronological order:
*Rodriguez's home run total of 651 is through games played on Sept. 8, 2013
15. As if to prove that this era wasn't entirely about power, Ichiro Suzuki—the very antithesis of the home run—slapped, punched, flared and infield hit his way past George Sisler to a record 262 base knocks in 2004, with 225 of those being of the one-base variety (also a record).
16. Continuing the run on personal achievements over this time frame, nearly half of the perfect games in MLB history—10 of 23—were twirled, and there were 45 no-hitters* in which the starting pitcher went nine innings and won.
*Incidentally, it would have been 46 no-nos, except Francisco Cordova didn't get the win in his nine-inning no-no on July 12, 1997. As it so happened, Cordova pitched for the Pirates, who went on to victory in extra innings.
17. Baseball brought in instant replay in 2008, but only in a limited capacity to help determine whether home runs cleared the fence were fair or foul. During the 2013 season, the league announced that it's expecting to expand the system beyond the initial use of home run boundary calls.
18. While on the topic of expanding things, MLB altered the postseason format again in 2012 by adding a second wild card spot in each league, with those two clubs facing each other in a one-game playoff. This means that 10 of the 30 teams—or one-third—now make it to October.* The first-ever second wild cards were the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals.
*This will certainly help the Pirates' postseason hopes as they battle the Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds for first place in the NL Central, a division in which those three clubs are separated by only 2.0 games through the Pirates' 82nd win.
19. If you think the money in baseball has come a long way while the Pirates have been sub.-500, you'd be right.
*The small-market Pirates have been in the bottom 10 among payrolls every season except for 2001 (18th), 2003 (19th) and 2013 (20th). To put 1993's $30.6 million league-average payroll in perspective further, the Pirates actually ranked dead last in payroll as recently as 2010—and they spent $34.9 million.
20. Here, the counting number matches the factoid, as a whopping 20 stadiums were built* in the time it took the Pirates to return to a winning team, including Pittsburgh's own PNC Park, which opened in 2001. Think of it this way: That's one new major league ballpark for every Pirates losing season!
*This does not include Tampa Bays' Tropicana Field, which actually was constructed in 1990 but only joined MLB in 1998, the first season for the expansion Rays. If we're talking ballparks that were officially opened as MLB stadiums, then, that number is 21.
21. As a final "thing," it's worth pointing out how much the way baseball evaluation has changed over the past two decades, specifically the concept of old-school scouting versus (or in conjunction with) new-school sabermetrics, a development highlighted in the ground-breaking non-fiction book-turned-film Moneyball. To that end, just about every club (with one glaring exception) relies heavily on statistical data and information to help with the decision-making process, including the Pirates.
General manager Neal Huntington, hired at the end of the 2007 season, revamped the organization's approach to player evaluation. The new approach is demonstrated by, for one, the 2008 hiring of sabermetrician Dan Fox, currently the club's director of baseball systems development. It may have taken a while, but the club's turnaround can be attributed, at least in part, to this.
Alas, despite all the new-age statistics and advanced metrics, one number remains unobtainable and perhaps even incalculable: Cigarettes smoked by current Detroit Tigers head honcho and notorious smoker Jim Leyland, who was the last Pirates manager to lead the franchise to a winning season.
Thanks to Gerrit Cole's gem* on Monday to get win No. 82, it now can be said that Clint Hurdle has gone where the five managers between Leyland and him never could—above .500 in Pittsburgh.
*The last time the Pirates were a winning team, by the way, Cole was two years old.
What else has happened in MLB since the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates were a winning team? Add to the list above in the comments below.
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