The Pirates are the first professional sports team to ever represent the city of Pittsburgh, a city that’s actually quite rich in sports glory and history. The team was founded in 1882 but shuffled through names before becoming known as the Pirates, a nickname that stuck after “stealing” Lou Bierbauer from the Philadelphia Athletics in 1891. At least they earned it.
In their lengthy history, however, the Pirates only lay claim to 5 World Series championships, their latest coming way back in 1979. It’s been quite a drought since then.
The closest the team came in the modern era of the sport was in the early 1990s when they won the NL East 3 times in a row, but were unable to reach the World Series each time. These losses led to a rebuild that turned into a very long downward spiral. Even after the construction of PNC Park in 2001, the team was still unable to make the playoffs.
After a series of front office shake-ups and some more rebuilding, the Pirates eventually found themselves back in the playoffs from 2013-2015, led by sluggers Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, and starters Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. However, each appearance in this stretch saw the Pirates lose in the first round of the wild card round. Since then, it has been more rebuilding for Pirates fans.
The 1970s represented both peak success for the franchise and tragic loss. The team won the NL East division title six times and came away with two of its five World Series titles in this decade. The Pirates had stars and future hall-of-fames such as Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Bert Blylevyn and Rich Gossage don their uniform. The Franchise was filled with talent that translated into consistent success and winning.
Willie Stargell is still the only player ever to win the NL MVP, the NL Championship Series MVP, and the World Series MVP in the same year. In 1971, Roberto Clemente won the Gold Glove and Babe Ruth Award while leading the Pirates to their fourth World Series title and his first World Series MVP.
Tragedy struck in December of 1972 when Roberto lost his life in a plane crash while en route to help provide relief to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The Pirates retired his jersey the very next season and he was elected into the Hall of Fame only a few months after his passing. September 18th has been deemed Roberto Clemente Day by the MLB, and this season the Pirates honored him by all wearing his number on their jerseys. This became the first time anyone in a Pirates uniform wore the number 21 since his jersey was retired in 1973.
The Pirates have a long history of trades both good and bad, some great and some downright head-scratching. Some of the greats include acquiring Bobby Bonilla in 1986, getting Marlon Byrd in 2013 in exchange for Dilson Herrera, and trading for J.A. Happ in 2015, who was a key piece in that 98-win 2015 season. Some of the worst include giving away fan-favorite Jason Grilli in 2014 to the Angels for Ernesto Frieri, a man who played in only 14 games for the Pirates. The toughest pill to swallow came in 2003 when the Pirates gave the Chicago Cubs both Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton in return for Matt Brubeck, Jose Hernandez, and Bobby Hill.
Pittsburgh’s most recent major trade came in 2018 when the Pirates traded away former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants for Kyle Crick, Bryan Reynolds, and cash considerations. This trade was part of a major overhaul in the front office and another rebuild.
The Acid Game
It’s impossible to talk about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ history and shortcomings without talking about something so strange and miraculous. On June 12th, 1970, Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis did the unthinkable, pitching a no-hitter while high on acid. You heard that right, on ACID! Dock Ellis was in Los Angeles visiting friends the day before the game in San Diego. He and said friend took acid, staying up all night drinking. In the morning he took another hit of acid before his friend reminded him that he was set to start against the Padres that night. Dock arrived at the stadium a mere 90 minutes before the first pitch and the rest was history.
The Current Pirates
The 2020 Pirates have been a disappointment, but not by accident. They’re in the midst of another rebuild after trading away Starling Marte to Arizona and signing low-end veterans to fill out a young roster. In terms of pitching, it’s been pretty abysmal. Derek Holland has started in 5 games and has a 7.29 ERA, while Trevor Williams has 7 starts and a 5.50 ERA. When it comes to position players, the highest batting average is held by catcher Jacob Stallings, at .303 in 24 games. The team features other more known players such as Gregory Polanco, JT Riddle, and Bryan Reynolds. The Pirates are currently owned by Robert Nutting and managed by Derek Shelton.
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