In the Putman History of The National League the Pittsburgh Pirates chapter spends the first two pages outlining Branch Rickey’s arrival to Pittsburgh and his attempt to lift this once proud franchise back to its glory when steel was king and Pittsburgh was called fondly (but without envy) the “Smoke City”
Currently the Pirates of the post strike era are living the same situation as they did in the 50’s. If you were to look at the top 20 worst seasons in OPS vs. the League or ERA vs. the league for the Pirates you would find 65% of the seasons came in the 50’s or since the strike of 1994. In short the Pirates are currently experiencing a historical dip in the quality of play that is only matched by the 50’s. Opponents of the team savor moments like this all the while knowing that every dog will someday have it’s day… at least that’s the tune Bud and his friends whistle on their way to the Savings and Loan.
So… You’ve probably asked yourself how a sea faring icon of thievery ended up as the team name for an industrial city on a river in western Pennsylvania. In short you’ve said… WHY the Pirates?
Here is why.
In 1891 following the unsuccessful Brotherhood League (A venture that hurt the Pittsburgh franchise bad, as did the Federal League) the Alleghenies as they were called then swooped in and secured a former Philadelphia Athletic of the A.A. who had jumped that team for the Brotherhood the prior year. In the court case that was held about the signing the Philadelphia lawyer representing the A’s declared, “The action of the Pittsburgh club in signing player Bierbaur was piratical.” The club enjoyed the term and declared amongst themselves that moniker. Eventually local sportswriters grabbed it and in the era of every changing team nicknames it stuck. Hence the Pirates were christened.
Too bad the lawyer didn’t call them “Robber Barons” that would have been a great name and most likely would have been shortened too the R.B.’s, I would have liked that, a name like that might have stymied Arbys from naming their franchise a phonetic reproduction of the Corporations principals the Raffel Brothers.
But seriously I digress.
Most of us remember the Pirates of the 70’s the Reds constant adversary from the east, proudly swathed in their beehive colored pajamas they lived on contact hitting and power hitting. Winning it all in 1971 and again in 1979, each time led by a single larger than life figure, both who will go down as not only great ballplayers but as great men.
The Reds managed to take more from the Pirates than they lost back then, but not in 1979.
I remember recognizing the end of it all as I spent a day in the sun with my GF and 55,000 others, this was familiar this was Reds playoff baseball. I had my World Series Tickets and I was ready. First they had to take care of the Pirates.
No Problem I thought… no problem at all. Seaver was throwing and Foster hitting a home run made it all seem fine no worry, just wait and see. Then Tim Foli led off the 11th with a walk off current BP coach Tom Hume. TIM FOLI!!!! Tim Foli who had a walk every 24-plate appearances in his career, Tim Foli who was a small white version of Shawon Dunston. Pops hit a Home Run a couple of batters later and the air left the balloon.
And no I never wanted one of those pillbox shaped hats either.
More on the Pirates…You know what is dead in this game?
Triples, dead and gone.
Confined by walls and ground rules the loss of triples in this game is the loss of a part of the game that was once revered as the most exciting play, it was the Braves owner in 1915 that wanted Braves Field to have an expansive outfield to encourage the exciting scamper a triple brought to the contest.
Pittsburgh always makes me think of triples too.
To start, the Pirates always seem to have hit triples more than the rest of the league.
Maybe because they have hit more triples then everyone. In fact the Pirates are to triples what the Yankees are/were to the Home Run. Just without the press or fanfare, very Jan Brady.
In the history of the National League in the modern era the Pirates lead all teams since in Triples by the huge margin of 871.
The top 2 players with triples in modern times are Honus Wagner and Paul Waner, both Pirates; in fact 2 other Pirates are in the top ten too. When perusing the top National League seasons in compiling triples once again you’ll trip over a six more Pirates, including the top two with number one (Chief Wilson) logging an incredible 36, 10 more than the nearest competitor.
Examples abound… let’s look at the triples in the first 10 years of the 20th century and the ones in the last 10 to start.
1900-1909 TRIPLES 3B 1 Pirates 925 2 Reds 825 3 Cardinals 661 4 Dodgers 642 5 Phillies 614 6 Cubs 593 7 Giants 555 8 Braves 482 1995-2004 TRIPLES 3B 1 Rockies 415 2 Pirates 347 3 Phillies 344 4 Marlins 334 5 Giants 316 6 Expos 315 7 Astros 305 8 Cubs 303
No team tripled like the Pirates did in the early part of the 20th century(no team since the 1933 Senators has had 100 triples in a season.)
In the National League’s “Modern Era” there have only been 22 teams that had 100 triples in a season the Pirates were 13 of them, an amazing 59% of the times it was accomplished. The Reds accomplished it 5 of those times. Only Cincinnati and Pittsburgh can claim teams with multiple seasons with 100 or more triples .
TRIPLES YEAR 3B 1 Pirates 1912 129 2 Pirates 1924 122 3 Reds 1926 120 4 Pirates 1930 119 5 Pirates 1929 116 T6 Pirates 1923 111 T6 Reds 1924 111 T8 Pirates 1903 110 T8 Pirates 1922 110 10 Pirates 1926 106 T11 Pirates 1925 105 T11 Reds 1911 105 T11 Pirates 1911 105 14 Pirates 1921 104 15 Giants 1911 103 16 Pirates 1904 102 T17 Reds 1905 101 T17 Cubs 1911 101 T19 Reds 1917 100 T19 Pirates 1900 100 T19 Braves 1921 100 T19 Pirates 1928 100
So next time someone hits a triple amaze your friends (or bore your spouse) with these facts about the Pirates.
Brian first met the greatest game in Detroit in 1968, that team played in a league called the “American League”…. but I digress.
Later after a family move he started a dalliance with the Cincinnati Reds, who perchance were in the midst of their greatest era. It was a romance that was greater than many could hope to be.
After barely stomaching the strike of 1981 Brian headed West but never forgot the Reds, and even despite being surrounded by Giants and A’s fans who tried to entice him with things both Green and Orange he found himself wondering what was up with Kal Daniels and was that kid from Moeller ever going to make us forget Davey.
A long time member of SABR and a baseball history junkie he currently lives in Portland and can be followed at @baseballminutia