Remember when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, shanking the Curse of the Bambino, and shifting into a new era, where – surprise – they were no longer underdogs in baseball’s cruel spin cycle? I remember thinking then – as I do now – that despite the magnificence that moment created, that the meaning of their team to the city would never be the same. That they were – gasp — relegated to just another team.
There’s something strangely magnetic to teams who can’t get over the hump. We’re a sucker for loveable losers. They’re just full of that goofy charm. The Bills. The Cubs. Teams who’ve reached the alter a few times in what seems like a zillion, only to get stood up at the very end. Teams that resonate with us – whether we like them or not – because they kinda, sorta suck. They’re sympathetic figures whom you kinda, sorta feel sorry for. Others just laugh at their continued failures. Teams you could bet on to lose, while earning money remotely on sports betting sites.
In a forest full of long, tall, perfectly upright trees, they stick out like a cactus in the Bahamas. They’re… different. But memorable. The Lions run to infamy in 2008, their 79th season was a train-wreck. But it separated them from the pack. They were the team with ‘no wins.’
Just like the Pirates were the team with no winning seasons. For 21 years.
Post Barry Bonds the Pirates have been comically bad. The poster-child of a sport whose gap often engulfs the rich and the poor, but whom some teams strangely come out of the other side with more titles than those who try. They’ve had company: like the Royals, Devil Rays, and even the Brewers, but no one did ‘sad’ quite like Team Rolly Roger.
But that was their thing. They didn’t win more games than they lost. They were consistently awful.
They were an eye-sore. A black eye. A dark hole. Arrrrrrrrguably the worst franchise in sports.
But there was something intrinsically fascinating about their decades long struggle in quick sand.
Now, they’re back in the playoffs – a Wild Card win in tow – and they take on the St. Louis Cardinals in a series that few will pick them to win. Reminds me a lot of the Rays in 2008, making their first playoff appearance, playing with house money, and a happy to be there attitude amidst years of futility.
But the stain is gone. And once this season is over, the Pirates get relegated to just another team. A team on the rise, no longer special for the s*&^ show they put on the field. Just a competitive ball club who has no streak.
Remember how bad the Clippers were? They were the worst run franchise in sports. One blip of a post-season appearance in 2005-06 and they were kinda, sorta off the hook. The addition of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul exterminated them from years of horror.
So for 21 years we’ve had the Pirates. A team that couldn’t get out of its own way for over two decades, and whom now finds itself back in the good graces of .500. They were the punching-bag. The laughingstock. They were the gold standard of losing.
Who takes their place?
(finished 86-76 this year; previously 9 straight losing seasons)
How about the Royals? Their last playoff appearance came in 1985, but since then they’ve had seven winning seasons. Following the strike season of 1994, they posted one winning mark (2003), until this year. Now they’re pretty decent. That means, they’re out.
(2 consecutive losing seasons)
The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs in 19 years. But does anyone really look at them as a dumpster-fire of a franchise? They’re almost always in that 70-80 win range, which makes them mediocre, but not mercy-rule worthy. Next.
(4 consecutive losing seasons)
Seattle hasn’t felt the warm glow of the Post-season since 2001, which is astounding, considering that was the team that amassed a record setting 116 wins. How a team could go from the greatest record ever to post-season blanked the next 11 seasons is pretty eye-opening. That said, in that span they’ve collected 93 wins twice, to go along with 88 and 85 win seasons. They’ve been stuck in a rut, but more of a rock and a hard place, then national laughingstock kind of place.
We’re grouping together this brutal bunch of 100 game losers, because they both stripped down their roster to skeleton status, stockpiling prospects, and devising their own blue-print to get back to relevance (both on meager budgets). While bad recently, none of these teams reek of decades long futility, and both have been involved in a World Series since 2003. That’s a distinction many teams would kill for. So no for now, but looking ahead, keep an eye on both teams, whose stinginess could bury them into irrelevance for many years to come.
The list isn’t nearly as long as you might expect. And there are no contenders within even spitting distance of the Pirates gruesome 21 year slide. With the advent of a second Wild Card, the odds get further stacked that we’ll ever see a streak like this again. The law of averages point to a team being good at least once a decade. Maybe not playoff good, but at the very least relevant. To be as bad as the Pirates were, you almost need luck.
You almost need to be good at losing.