Despite all the excitement and drama of being in first place in late July, the Pittsburgh Pirates extended their North American sports record of consecutive losing seasons to nineteen. With yesterday's 3-2 loss against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates reached 82 losses to ensure their fate; a mark that was reached August 20th of last season. Although the season was more exciting and competitive, the end result was the same.
Was the season a success based on their ability to stay in a pennant race for four months? Of course not. Believe it, Pirates fans, the record does matter when the consecutive losing streak reaches long enough that today's teens were not alive to see Pittsburgh's last winning season. Make no mistake, despite the first half of the season, the Pirates were not successful and this season cannot be labeled an improvement based on a 10-15 more wins at the end of the road. In all honesty, I would be surprised if "The Streak" ended next year. The farm system has made significant improvements through the draft and development stages of young, talented prospects. The next step is to not only get these prospects to Pittsburgh, but to make them superstars at the big league level. Whether or not that will happen is still a question mark. However, as ugly as this sounds, patience is the right temperament to show.
How do you lose for nineteen straight years? Ugly drafts, bad signings and a slew of general managers who have no idea how to build a winning program. As much as we all wish to blame the current ownership for this mess, however, the fact remains that he will not give up his product to a billionaire and he will not jeopardize another decade of losing to create one winning year in Pittsburgh. When Bob Nutting brought Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington aboard, the franchise lacked sustainable talent at the minor and major league levels. While the plethora of moves has yet to yield a winning season, the overall direction of the franchise is forward with the brightest moments still a few years away.
Still, this stings. More so than in year's past.
The Pirates, after going 53-47 midway through the season, are now 67-82 with plenty of losses still on the table. The epic collapse we all thought wouldn't happen this year, happened. The pitching folded, the bullpen crumbled, and the hitting remained consistently bad. Along the way, the Pirates never overcame the errant call by Jerry Meals and possibly felt the pressure of being the team to end "The Streak". While two pieces of the future improved, (Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen) two of the other pieces took giants steps back (Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez). Next year, that simply cannot happen.
The standard is still set at winning baseball, regardless of the embarrassment the franchise has brought the city over the last two decades. Whether the fans kick and scream or simply numb themselves of the pain of futility, the prospect of winning must always be the focal point for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
With that being the obvious, the ownership must live up to their word on building a winning team. While the draft remains to be a strong suit for the franchise, it is time to take care of our current major leaguers. Particularly, Andrew McCutchen. He must be given an extension to eat up arbitration years and go beyond into his free agent period. McCutchen is the star in Pittsburgh, a fan favorite, and the marquee player in representing the Pirates "turn around".
We can dream that, one day, all the pieces will fall into place and the Pirates will contend for a championship. Until then, we must live with reality of rooting for the worst franchise in North American sports history. The proverbial monkey of a winning season remains on the backs of Pittsburghers for one more year.
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