Today marks the official trade deadline in Major League Baseball. Teams have until 4:00 pm eastern to pad their rosters for the stretch run.
A question on my mind these days is: "What has happened to the Pittsburgh Pirates?"
Pittsburgh has gone on a fire sale not seen since the days of Jack "Trader Jack" McKeon in San Diego. This house-cleaning began last year when they traded Jason Bay (to the Boston Red Sox) and Xavier Nady & Damaso Marte (to the New York Yankees) before the trade deadline.
So far this year, they have gone on a trade-happy rampage. Earlier this year they unloaded All-Star outfielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves and Nyjer Morgan to the Washington Nationals. So far this week, former All-Star and senior Pirate's player Jack Wilson was traded to the Seattle Mariners, first baseman Adam LaRoche to the Boston Red Sox and second baseman Freddy Sanchez to the San Francisco Giants. Who's next? I think if the Pirates can figure out a way to trade Sidney Crosby and Ben Roethlisberger, they probably would.
What's stunning about this whole thing is, we're not talking about some minor league team that plays in a "one-horse town" somewhere. We're talking about a major league team in Titletown, USA. The home of the defending Super Bowl champions, Pittsburgh Steelers and the defending Stanley Cup champions, Pittsburgh Penguins. Not to mention, the University of Pittsburgh, whose basketball team was ranked #1 on different occasions and were a #1 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament earlier this year.
This downward spiral began after the 1992 season. The Pirates are heading for a major league-record, 17th consecutive losing season. But for much of the 20th century the Pirates were one of the elite teams in baseball. So how do you go from being an elite team for over 90 years to becoming a struggling small business who has to get rid of its workers because you can't make payroll?
I mean, we're talking about a team with 5 World Series championships, 9 NL Pennants and 9 East Division titles, under its belt.
We're talking about the team of Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Pie Traynor, Paul Waner and Ralph Kiner. A team whose illustrious history has ingrained such moments as, Mazeroski's 1960 World Series winning home run and Stargell's "We Are Family" 1979 team, in the minds of baseball fans around the world. And let's not forget the catchy nicknames: "The Flying Dutchman", "Maz", "Pops", "The Cobra" and "The Candy Man."
Did the heart-breaking loss to the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, deflate the hearts and souls of the franchise and the city? Is the ghost of Francisco Cabrera still lurking-about in the city streets? It seems to me that something happened after that loss and the team and the city have never recovered.
But the Pirates were not the first or the last team to suffer heart-breaking defeats. In Boston, they still haven't forgotten the ball that trickled through Bill Buckner's legs; in St. Louis, they still haven't forgotten the botched safe-call at first base in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series; in New York, we haven't forgotten the Arizona Diamondbacks incredible comeback in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, against the greatest closer (Mariano Rivera) ever. The same Atlanta Braves team who broke your hearts hasn't forgotten Jack Morris' 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the '91 World Series.
Whatever it may be, something is most definitely wrong in Pittsburgh and I think it's no coincidence that it started with the 1993 season. I look at the Pittsburgh Pirates as a tale of two teams; the great franchise (1887-1992) and the "whoa is me" impostor (1993-present) that manifested itself after that dreadful night on October 14, 1992.