It occurred to me that this is the 120th anniversary of the Fall Classic. The Pittsburgh Pirates lost the first World Series to the Boston Americans, who would become the Red Sox, 5 games to 3 in a best-of-nine series in 1903. But in 1909, the Pirates beat the Detroit Tigers, 4 games to 3. Fred Clarke was the Bucs’ manager in both series.
The Pirates also led the National League in 1901 and 1902 before the Series was initiated, their first two titles since joining the league in 1882 as the Pittsburgh Alleghenys; they became the Pirates in 1891.
The Bill McKechnie-led team of 1925 beat the Washington Senators, 4 games to 3. McKechnie was the first of only two managers to win a World Series with two different teams, also helming the 1940 Cincinnati Reds to the title.
Donie Bush’s 1927 Pirates were swept by the 1927 New York Yankees, with Ruth, Gehrig, and others of the Murderers’ Row.
The Pirates didn’t return to the Series until 1960 when Danny Murtagh led them to an exciting and dramatic win over the Yankees. Some claim Game 7 was the greatest ever played.
The Pirates won two Series in the 1970s over the Baltimore Orioles, 4 games to 3, in 1971 under Murtagh, and the exciting 1979 games when Chuck Tanner led them from a 3-1 deficit.
Downhill from there
They haven’t been to a World Series since. Of course, they have gotten to playoffs a few times with the ever-expanding playoffs. They lost the National League Championship Series in 1970 (to the Cincinnati Reds), 1972 (Reds), 1974 (Los Angeles Dodgers), and 1975 (Reds), all under Murtaugh, except 1972 when Bill Virdon led them.
Then they lost the NLCS when piloted by Jim Leyland in 1990 (Reds), 1991 (Atlanta Braves), and 1992 (Braves). I STILL remember former Pirate Sid Bream scoring the winning run in Game 7 of the 1992 series.
Since then, they’ve lost the NL Divisional Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013, then were eliminated in the Wild Card game in 2014 and 2015 by the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs, respectively. Clint Hurdle was the manager.
Even those were the good old days. Since then, the team has had only one season above .500, in 2018 at 82-79, and lost over 100 games in 2021 and 2022. They were in first place in the NL Central in mid-June 2023, but they’re well under .500 again. At least they can’t lose more than 95 games this season.
Here are 13 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who spent most of their careers as Pittsburgh Pirates. Every year, I hope the team does better. Alas, no.
Also, “Kent Tekulve, the closer for the 1979 World Series champion Pirates, Elroy Face from the 1960 World Series team, and the late Bob Friend and Dick Groat were all inducted into” the Pirates’ Hall of Fame.
Finally, you can VOTE for the 2023 Roberto Clemente Award until October 1. It honors “the MLB player who best represents the game through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy, and positive contributions, both on and off the field.”