By Matthew Taylor
A memorable World Series forever links two teams in baseball memory, and in the tattered psyche of many baseball fans the most excruciating losses are often as memorable as any one victory. It’ll always be easier to recall who beat the Red Sox in 1986 than who Boston defeated in 2004 and 2007.
In Baltimore, the Orioles will forever be linked with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Nowadays, that link goes beyond the 1979 World Series. For as much as the baseball world has changed since the “We Are Family” days, the two once-proud franchises share a common bond in their respective levels of futility.
I first commented on this relationship last season, when the O’s fortunes mirrored those of their NL East brethren. Sure, we hate Pittsburgh during football season, but the Iron City may as well be our Sister City come summer.
The longest winning streak for each team? Pittsburgh – 5; Baltimore – 6.
Longest losing streak? Pittsburgh – 9 ; Baltimore – 9.
Most Games over .500? Pittsburgh – 3; Baltimore – 4.
Most Games under .500? Pittsburgh – 26; Baltimore – 24.
This spring, a New York Times article about the Pirates’ outlook moving forward has me thinking about the Pirates – Orioles comparison all over again. Does any of the following sound familiar?
The crowd around the fellow laughed, Coonelly walked over to absorb some abuse and offer some encouragement — “Just trust us,” and “We’re going to build with youth” — before conceding that for long-suffering Pirates fans, placation will come in wins, not words. This once-proud franchise has not posted a winning record since 1992. A 16th straight losing season this year would tie the major league record held by the positively wretched Philadelphia Phillies of 1933-48 — raising the hackles of Pennsylvanians everywhere, or at least Arlen Specter.
“The city of Pittsburgh, I don’t know how much longer they’re going to wait,” the right-hander Ian Snell said. “The losing’s got to stop somewhere.”
Two regimes ago, signing the likes of Pat Meares and Kevin Young to bamboozling long-term contracts gummed up the payroll for years. The team spent its 1999 through 2002 first-round draft choices on pitchers who all later had major surgery, raising questions about the Pirates’ scouting and development approach. More recently, marginal veterans like Joe Randa and Jeromy Burnitz were signed to significant contracts when commitment to youth was called for, and the right-hander Matt Morris was acquired at last year’s trade deadline, despite having $13.7 million left on his contract.
The new front office decided to keep these players and try to inspire them by proving management’s commitment: The spring training complex in Bradenton is being rebuilt, for example, and a new Dominican academy will open next summer. Bill Mazeroski, Manny Sanguillen and Kent Tekulve, all members of the Pirates’ last three World Series champions in 1960, 1971 and 1979, respectively, are in camp as instructors trying to remind players that the team was not always horrible.
Some skepticism remains, though. Coonelly and Huntington addressed the players last Thursday and promised that their commitment to smart player development would not wane — recent history to the contrary — and were understandably met with some rolling eyes.
“The players are kind of looking at us like, ‘We’ve heard this before,’ ” Huntington said. “They’re right. Most general managers and front offices come in and say they’re going to win through scouting and development. We believe it’s the execution that’s going to set us apart.”
Granted, Pittsburgh has the longer streak of losing seasons. Give the Pirates some credit, though – they were ahead of the curve on Sopranos spoofs before such a move became cliché.