Last night, baseball fans witnessed a modern miracle as the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Houston Astros 5-1 to move 4 games over .500. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-3 to drop to just 3 games over .500, which means that the Pirates are now in second place in their division for the first time since 1992.
Of course, way back in 1992 – when most of your girlfriends weren’t even born yet – there were only two divisions in the National League, so it’s not as impressive that the Pirates are just 1.5 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the NL Central. But hey, who am I to ruin the fun? Even if it’s just for today, this is a huge milestone for the Pirates, as the franchise has become the biggest loser in modern professional sports with 18 consecutive losing seasons since they lost to the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 NLCS.
Today could mark the start of a 20-game losing streak for the Pirates, for all we know, so just for now, let’s live like we were dying, to quote a song I once heard at a gas station. Maybe the Pirates will even keep winning with their young, talented stable of players, featuring guys like Andrew McCutchen and… his teammates. Maybe they’ll even go all the way and end Steel Town’s baseball misery. Hell, not many people ever thought we’d even be where we are today.
That’s why I thought we could take a look back at all of the amazing things that have happened throughout the past 18 years just to give us an idea of how monumental this day is.
(For the ultimate reading experience, please listen to The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!”)
1992 – After finishing the regular season with a 96-66 record as NL East Champions, the Pirates advanced to the NLCS for the third-consecutive year, only to lose for the third-consecutive year. This time, the Bucs lost to the Braves in an exciting 7-game series. After game 7, 28-year old Barry Bonds vowed to work his hardest to become the best player in baseball and win many World Series titles, just not with the Pirates. He signed with the San Francisco Giants and was 6-foot-2 and weighed 185-pounds.
1993 – The Pirates finished 75-87, good enough for 5th in the NL East. Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays won their second-consecutive World Series, as the Braves and Philadelphia Phillies shamed America’s pastime in consecutive years. Over in San Fran, Barry Bonds hit 46 homeruns while batting .336. He also stole 29 bases en route to his third NL MVP award. In music, Billy Ray Cyrus and the Spin Doctors sold more records than Pearl Jam’s “Ten”. In fashion, Z. Cavarrici pants were the sh*t.
1994 – Major League Baseball was unhinged as America’s pastime on August 11, 1994, when the players went on strike and ended the season early. At the time of the strike, the Pirates had a 53-61 record and were 13 games behind the NL Central leaders (in the first season of realignment), the Cincinnati Reds. Said manager Jim Leyland while smoking two Marlboro Reds at once, “Damn, we totally could have won.” With 34 games canceled, Bonds still produced 37 homeruns and 81 RBIs. In the film industry, Tom Hanks captured our hearts as Forrest Gump, while millions of angst-ridden teens cried as jocks asked them, “Hey, what was the last thing that went through Kurt Cobain’s mind?”
1995 – The Atlanta Braves defeated the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series, proving to Pirates fans that rebuilding wasn’t something that every team has to go through. Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn was named the AL MVP and somewhere a young Steve Phillips practiced writing checks. Barry Bonds hit just 33 homeruns and 104 RBIs while batting .294. A down year, perhaps. In TV news, a young comedian named Will Ferrell made his Saturday Night Live debut, Disney announced the purchase of ESPN, and the OJ Simpson trial dominated daytime ratings. President Bill Clinton also gave Mexico $20 billion to avoid an economic collapse. Hey Mexico, can we talk about that loan now?
1996 – The New York Yankees climbed out from decades of darkness to regain their status as the greatest franchise in baseball history by winning the World Series. The Pirates, on the other hand, were 73-89 and last in the NL Central. Bonds, though, got a shot of power, you could say. He hit 42 homeruns and 129 RBIs while hitting .308. Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics and the U.S. dominated with 101 medals, which had nothing to do with Russia being broken up. The music world also shed a tear when Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley divorced.
1997 – The Florida Marlins, a franchise for just four years, won a World Series after owner Wayne Huizenga assembled a crack squad of elite players. What I mean is he bought a title. The Pirates, though, finished second in the NL Central! Too bad they had a losing record. Bonds slipped a little, as he only hit 40 homeruns and 101 RBIs. In movies, Leo DiCaprio was “King of the world!” as Titanic and that chubby British chick demolished box office records. Other prominent films included Air Bud and Beautician and the Beast. And the Spice Girls joined the Beatles as the only two British groups with two albums on the U.S. charts at the same time. The late 90s were a dark time for music.
1998 – Momentum be damned, the Pirates once again finished last in the NL Central with a 69-93 record. Derek Jeter and the Yankees won another World Series as their fans loudly proclaimed to have never left them. Bonds’ power dipped again with just 37 homeruns and his stolen base count dropped to its lowest since 1988. But he was older and he gained a little weight. No biggy. Nobody really cared about Bonds, though, because Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa stole the spotlight and saved baseball with their historic homerun race. Playstation and Nintendo 64 laid the groundwork for years of video game rivalry, while American kids reached their highest obesity level ever to date. Completely unrelated, I’m sure.
1999 – Oh look, the Yankees won again. I had forgotten how annoying the late 90s were. But it was another promising year for the Pirates, who finished third in the NL Central, just 5 games below .500. Could big things be in their immediate future? Spoiler alert: No. Bonds, however, had a rougher season. The slugger battled injuries and finished with just 34 homeruns in 102 games. Meanwhile, Hulk Hogan reunited both sides of the NWO as the WCW’s ratings crumbled and the WWF once again rose to prominence. Britney Spears had the biggest hit of the year with “Baby One More Time” while the No. 2 spot belonged to Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5”. Elsewhere, Sarah McLachlan released “Angel”, ensuring a future of aggravating ASPCA commercials.
2000 – Yankees, blah blah blah. The Pirates failed to start fresh in the sort-of-new-millennium, finishing 5th in the NL Central with a 69-93 record. Over in San Fran, Bonds recovered from injury with almost superhuman results. Winning the MVP once again, Bonds hit a career-best 49 homeruns. He also stole just 11 bases, which marked a career low at that point. But he was also weighing over 220-pounds at this point, so he must have been dealing with recovery weight. Thankfully, the world of sports was able to continue on after the Y2K bug failed to destroy everything we loved.
2001 – The Yankees failed at winning a fourth-consecutive World Series thanks to a band of rapscallion no-gooders known as the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Pirates went a different direction and tied the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for the worst record in the league at 62-100, as they ignored the idea of starting fresh in the new millennium again. Bonds won the MVP award again, as he hit 73 homeruns, 3 more than McGwire’s record-setting season in 1998. Gee, he must have worked out a whole bunch. Nerds didn’t care, though, because they were busy watching Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
2002 – The Anaheim Angels and their Rally Monkey defeated Bonds’ Giants 4-3 in an incredibly exciting World Series, while Bonds’ old team, the Pirates, finished 17 games below .500. Bonds hit just a modest 46 homeruns that season, but he suddenly decided to hit .370, which was .034 higher than his previous highest BA. On the music scene, Canada’s favorite snaggle tooth, Avril Lavigne gave us the instant classics “Complicated” and “Sk8ter Boi”. GRRRRR SHE’S SO PUNK ROCK!
2003 – In just their 11th season as a franchise, the Marlins defeated the Yankees to win their second World Series, this time with an actual team that wasn’t put together with gigantic checks and contracts. The Pirates improved on their 2002 results, finishing just 12 games under .500. Bonds won another MVP award with 45 homeruns and a .341 average. He may have also been moonlighting as a NFL defensive end, but he also received some attention for his association with BALCO. CBS also debuted Two and a Half Men as a comedy, despite having zero jokes.
2004 – The Boston Red Sox ended a legacy of shame and disgust with the greatest comeback in playoff sports history against the Yankees in the ALCS, and a sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. The Pirates finished 17 games below .500 again. Bonds won his 7th and final MVP in what would be his last relevant season, hitting 45 homeruns and capturing the batting title again with a .362 average. Outkast’s “Hey Ya” also became the most annoyingly catchy song of all-time, while Anchorman gave legions of frat boys and blog commenters a lifetime of comedy quotes.
2005 – The Chicago White Sox ended their own franchise run of sadness and gloom with a sweep of the Houston Astros in the World Series. The Pirates finished in a three-way tie for the second worst record in baseball at 67-95, good enough for last in the NL Central. Bonds played in just 14 games in 2005, but he earned $22 million for his efforts. Meanwhile, Brokeback Mountain forever changed the way we look at cowboys and was probably the worst thing to happen to Tony Romo.
2006 – Despite being just 5 games over .500, the Cardinals won the World Series, which their fans truly deserved because they are recognized as the most intelligent and classiest in baseball. The Pirates had very few fans left, finishing 28 games below .500. Still, they were a game better than the Chicago Cubs. Bonds made $20 million to play in 130 games and hit 26 homeruns and 77 RBIs, but he managed to break Hank Aaron’s all-time NL homerun record and that was truly special. In movies, Sacha Baren Cohen’s Borat refueled the comedy tanks of frat boys and bloggers.
2007 – The Red Sox won another World Series and their fans, after decades of labeling Yankees fans arrogant and obnoxious, became ironic. The Pirates finished with the worst record in the NL at 68-94 and rope and razor blades were banned from being sold in Pittsburgh. Bonds hit 28 homeruns in what became his final season, and it was special because he broke Aaron’s all-time record while people booed him. He also tested positive for amphetamines and was indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. In music, Robert Goulet died and the world mourned.
2008 – The Philadelphia Phillies crushed the dreams of the low-payroll Tampa Bay Rays by defeating them in the World Series, and the Pirates crushed no dreams or hopes by once again finishing 28 games below .500. Bonds, weighing in at more than 230-pounds by some estimates, was unofficially black-listed. Breaking Bad debuted on AMC and Matt Ufford’s erection has not subsided since.
2009 – The Yankees ended a smaller drought by knocking off the Phillies in the World Series, and the Pirates (62-99) sent the Washington Nationals a fruit basket for being the worst team in baseball. On the big screen, Avatar made James Cameron an even wealthier man, but it was funny to watch his ex-wife Kathryn “Bam Bam” Bigelow win the Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker.
2010 – Bonds-less and reborn, the Giants won the World Series and baseball fans across the nation cackled with delight as Bonds still occasionally popped up to tell people he wants to play again. The Pirates, though, finished with a sensational 57-105 record (.352), just a remarkable feat for any team in any pro sport.
2011 – Today, the Pirates are 6-4 in their last 10 games and winners of 3 straight. They’re 1.5 games back of the Cardinals, who lack consistent starting and relief pitching to truly maintain a season-long run. They’re in front of the Brewers, who lack back-end starters and are showing signs of weakness in their bullpen. And the Reds are managed by Dusty Baker. Could this be the year the Pirates shock the world and take the NL Central? No. What are you, high?