Sunday, September 1, 2013

1992 to Forever: The Pittsburgh Pirates and Solving the Moses Complex

As the story goes, Moses never set foot in the promised land, he merely witnessed his long-sought paradise from a mountain. A generation lost in the wilderness was too long. There have been many fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates who perished before this season. Wandering in the unholy mire of losing season after losing season, the identity of the team became synonymous with crippling failure. Today marks the beginning of the end. To the season, and to the more than two decades of tribulation. As I write, Pittsburgh sits tied atop the National League Central division. Much like that mountain Moses stood upon, the Pirates can see the promised land in the distance, but unlike the ancient prophet, this land of milk and honey is within reach.

If you were born on the day Pittsburgh last clinched a winning season, you would be celebrating your twenty-first birthday eleven days from today. One month after that day, the Pirates would lose the American League Championship Series for the third consecutive year, beginning a span of futility that came to define the organization. In the twenty seasons after their last playoff appearance, the team would lose 1796 games, never winning more than seventy-nine in a season. Three wins separated each the 1997 and 2012 seasons from breaking the streak, but as the fates allow, the wandering continued. After falling to their co-division leaders, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates remain at seventy-nine wins for the 2013 season. By all accounts, even the worst collapse in history would still see them finish at least 82-80, which would be the best finish since Barry Bonds called the steel city home. What is a winning season worth? Is the release from the heartache of failure good enough, or will the Pirates faithful, so hungry for the taste of victory, expect more from their ball club?

For fans of clubs that win year after year, the idea of eighty-two wins is merely an afterthought. For those teams just below who struggle to surprise, a winning season is a nice addition to a playoff run. For a team so lost in the wilderness of the league for many years like the Pittsburgh Pirates, the prospect of the winning season is a reason to celebrate. It is likely that at some point this week, the Pirates will win their eighty-second game, clinching the winning season. On that night, I hope the crowd roars loud enough to wake the ghosts of 1992. I hope the team takes that moment to recognize the significance. Those kind to the Cardinals and Yankees may laugh at the local reaction to something as menial as a winning season, but for a team bound to long suffering and shortcomings, there is a unique pride to finally be called a winner. Wandering through the desert is an act of heartbreak, but once the final outs of the next three wins are scored, Pittsburgh will exuberantly end one of the most painful eras in American sports history.

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