17 going on 18

After setting a record for most consecutive losing seasons, what’s next for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

17 going on 18

Earlier this month major league baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates clinched their seventeenth consecutive losing season, the longest such streak in the history of North America’s four major sports leagues. As a writer who has covered the Pirates for five-plus years—and watched the team my whole life—it isn’t easy to describe how it felt to watch the Bucs eclipse the record (set by the Philadelphia Phillies, 1933-1948).

People always ask my twin brothers what it’s like to have a twin. They don’t know what to say, because they’ve never been without one. It’s like that with me and the Pirates. I’ll be 30 next month. The last time Pittsburgh won a World Series was the week I was born. The last time the Pirates had a winning season, I was 12. George Bush was president—the first one.

The truth is that it’s tough to be a small-market baseball team, as Joe Posnanski recently pointed out. The Cincinnati Reds recently clinched their ninth straight losing season. The Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers both ended streaks of ten or more consecutive losing seasons in the past decade. (So did the Detroit Tigers, though the Tigers don’t qualify as a small-market team.) And the Kansas City Royals have lost more games in the past 17 years than the Pirates.

Even the low payroll teams that claw their way into baseball’s elite—the Brewers, Rays and Oakland Athletics, for example—have trouble staying there. Meanwhile, wealthy clubs like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are among baseball’s best nearly every season.

Ultimately, though, focusing on baseball’s Gilded Age economic system lets the Pirates off the hook too easily. Given the choices the organization has made in recent years, it’s almost impossible to envision how the Bucs might have succeeded. The Pirates play in PNC Park, arguably the most beautiful stadium in the major leagues, yet Pittsburgh has played the most consistently ugly brand of baseball of any team over the past 17 years.

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