Thoughts about our National Pastime and occasional thoughts for the Good and Welfare of the Reader (and maybe the writer)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Face of Futility

When I was a yout', growing up in Brooklyn, Ralph Kiner was the face of the Pirates. Those were the days of the 8-team National League and Pittsburgh was part of the western swing and what you could count on was the Pirates would finish 8th. Between 1946 and 1957 they managed only one winning season despite Kiner's winning seven consecutive home run titles.

These are the Pirates who played in the first world series ever and whose early MLB history included the dominant hall-of-famer, Honus Wagner. These are the Pirates who won the 1960 World Series when Bill Mazeroski's walk off home run became a nadir of NY Yankee history until the Red Sox decade began. These are the Pirates of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell and "We Are Family." The team that dominated the NL East.

It was during that time that I came to live in Pittsburgh. The sporting goods store that carried Honus Wagner's name was still open in the Triangle. Citysearch says it still is. Forbes Field's home plate was embedded in a floor in a building at Carnegie Mellon University. Three Rivers Stadium was the home of the Bucs and was a shrine to Clemente. Even the die-hard Steeler fans paid attention to the other Black and Gold team in town, although I never saw a Terrible Towel at the ballgame.

This season looks to be the 17th consecutive losing season for the Pirates – which will be the longest consecutive losing season streak in professional sports. Quoting Nicholas Tolemo from Doc's Betting service "Without hesitation the Las Vegas bookmakers have once again made the Pirates the team to beat for this upcoming regular season. By team to beat, I mean team everyone is going to beat. On most sports books . . . the Pirates have the worst odds to win the NL Central, the National League pennant and the World Series."

Another blogger, some time ago, pointed out that best thing the Pirates have going for them is their stadium. And, all reviews of PNC Park are in agreement. I am excited to be seeing it for the first time in a few days. With a Las Vegas over/under on wins at 67.5, I don't expect much for the home town to cheer about, but they are playing a mediocre Colorado Rockies team so there is always the hope that this will be one of the 67-68 projected wins. Of course, there is no such thing as a bad day at a ballpark and the company I will be with ensures that.

Thinking about seeing a game with someone who has very little knowledge of baseball, led me to think about growing up with baseball. I grew up in a winning city. The Yankees were there and the Dodgers. Even the Giants had their following. My friends and I, on opposite sides of the cheering fence, argued over who was best -- Mantle, Mays or Snider; Reese or Rizzuto; Berra or Campanella; even Mel Allen vs. Vin Scully vs. Red Barber.

I wonder what is like to grow up in Pittsburgh and be a baseball fan. It is a city that people do not leave easily or often. A guy I had dinner with the other night told me he had just attended his elementary school class's 50th anniversary. H also passed along a representative story. A man he knows was offered a job, but he had to move to San Diego. His wife was upset at leaving her friends and family and Giant Eagle. He said, "Don't worry. If the job does not work out, we can always come back and everyone will be here.

So, if you became a baseball fan at around age 6, in 1992 and went to the first game with your dad and maybe got a black and gold baseball cap; or a Tee Shirt, you are now 23 and you have never seen a winning baseball season. And, if you hang out with some older guys at, maybe, the bar at the Wooden Nickel in Monroeville, some of them might remember the 1979 World Series and Stargell's 2-run home run in the 7th game that provided the winning margin. Or, if you hang out in the South Side or Lawrenceville, you might find someone who saw Maz's 1960 home run.

OK. It is not as long ago as Chicago's last World Series, but somehow their stories of goats and the people sitting on the roof across the street makes it all seem less futile.


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