Traveling across the country last month I had a short stopover in Pittsburgh, home to the National League Central Division Pirates. Last year, the hapless Bucs achieved something that may be more difficult than winning three World Series in a row: they played their 18th consecutive losing baseball season— 1993 through 2010.
A quick check of Wikipedia confirmed it is the longest losing streak by any organized group of human beings in the history of civilization.
Apparently a number of dedicated Pirate fans believe it will take only another eight to ten losing seasons before the front office finally gets control of this thing and begins to turn it around. They say we’ll know when that happens because by then Ben and Jerry’s ice cream will be stored and sold in hell.
While in the Steel City, I took the opportunity to stop in on an old friend who is a dedicated Pittsburgh Pirates fan and season ticket holder. This is not widely known, but a local ordinance forces the Pirates’ organization to send a letter to all season ticket holders each January asking if they really want to renew, or if they would prefer to watch the games on TV or simply read about them the next day in the newspaper. It's part of the city's nationally acclaimed suicide prevention program.
My buddy asked me if I wanted to go with him to a monthly meeting of recovering Pittsburgh Pirates fans, held in a drafty old warehouse in the industrial section of the city. It seemed harmless, so that night we drove through dark city streets along the river, parked amid broken bottles and trash, then walked up to an old building and entered a large brightly lit room.
Inside, a variety of people sat in several dozen folding chairs facing a worn podium. As we took our seats, I noticed a scruffy table along the side wall with boxes of doughnuts and an old metal coffee urn surrounded by stacks of white Styrofoam cups. On the wall was a Pittsburgh Pirates banner with a red line through it.
A man slowly walked up to the podium and spoke. "I want to welcome everyone and I applaud your courage in coming here tonight. I know it's not easy, but I have faith we can beat this thing together. Now let's hear from someone in the audience who has wrestled the demon down and is now free."
A man raised his hand and stood up. "Hi... my name is William and as of yesterday, I haven't have been a Pirates fan for three straight years." The room erupted in applause and shouts of “Yes we can!” as William smiled and lowered his head.
“You all know I slipped, lost control and became a Pirates fan a couple of times on and off the past ten years, despite all the bad trades of the really good players and the inability of the front office to properly assess and draft minor league talent. But I want everyone to know I'm back."
More applause and cheering filled the dingy room as William smiled sheepishly and sat down. "Thank you, William," said the moderator. “Everyone in this is room knows no matter how long they stop, inside they will always be Pittsburgh Pirates fans. Now, can we please hear from Pastor Bob?"
A black-robed man stood up, shuffled to the podium and began to speak. "After eighteen straight losing seasons, we know we cannot beat the flannel devil that haunts us without looking him in the face, so I want everyone to bow their heads and repeat the names on this partial list as I speak them...".
Pastor Bob held up a remarkably thick set of crumpled papers. “First, the names of Pittsburgh Pirate players we foolishly lost in negligent, ass backward trades: Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Aramis Ramirez, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Xavier Nady, Jason Schmidt."
After reciting the names, many in the room suddenly began to shift in their seats and mumble in pain and anger.
Pastor Bob continued. "Next, those players the Pirates could have picked before any other team in the annual First Year Player drafts if our GMs didn't have their heads so dramatically deep inside their fat butts: Jayson Werth, Lance Berkman, Jon Garland (1997); C.C. Sabathia, Brad Lidge (1998); Ben Sheets, Alex Rios (1999); Adam Wainwright (2000); David Wright (2001); Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Denard Span, James Loney, Scott Kasmir, B.J. Upton (2002); Phil Hughes, Jered Weaver (2004); Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza (2005); Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum (2006); Jayson Heyward, Madison Bumgarner (2007); Buster Posey (2008)."
At this point, a number of the reformed Pirate fans began openly sobbing and wailing, and quite a number pulled out hidden bottles from their coats and began drinking directly from them. When they started yelling and knocking over chairs, my friend and I quickly headed out the back door.
As we sped away in the night, I took a bite from a stale doughnut and vowed to never become a Pittsburgh Pirates fan no matter how desperate I was or how low my self-esteem. That level of pain and suffering is just too much to bear.
(Updated from an original 2009 blog.)