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Everything to Lose

One more losing baseball season, please

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are rattling to the end of another 90-loss season -- their third in a row. But you can detect an undercurrent of hope among fans. Kevin McClatchy is out; Frank Coonley is in. As I write this, the team seems poised to hire a new general manager. Maybe change is coming. Maybe next season will be the year this team turns around. Maybe it will be the year the Pirates claw their way to a .500 season, or even -- given their weak division -- a shot at the playoffs.

But I hope not.

Look, it's not that I've enjoyed 15 years of losing. But this isn't about casual fans like me. It's about destiny.

When this year is in the books, the Pirates will have had a total of 15 losing seasons in a row, dating back to 1993. That ties a record set by the Philadelphia Phillies between 1933 and 1948. With just one more losing season, we will have the longest string of consecutive losing seasons in major-league history.

In the World Series of Suck, our guys are serious playoff contenders. This is our shot at the record books, and given what the Pirates have to work with, it may be the only shot we get.

Total disaster has its own kind of grandeur, a greatness that mediocrity, or even run-of-the-mill catastrophe, can't touch. The sinking of the Titanic is the stuff of blockbuster movies. The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is the stuff of songs by Gordon Lightfoot. Kevin Costner's Waterworld will exert a fascination that Kevin Coster's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves will never have.

Besides, as Pittsburghers, we're used to this sort of thing. Down deep in our bones, we're always expecting the worst. When misfortune befalls us, it happens on an industrial scale. The cataclysmic collapse of US Steel still haunts and defines us -- it's as much a part of us as the mills themselves were. The drawn-out sputter of US Airways, while painful, has nothing to compare.

The same goes for our sports teams: We tout our legacy as the City of Champions, but epic failure is as much a part of Pittsburgh sports history as epic success.

The Chief, Art Rooney, is the patron saint of Steelers fans ... but the "Super Steelers" of the 1970s are only part of the reason. The other half of the legend involves all those awful decades that came before, when locals rolled their eyes about the "Same Old Steelers." Could the 1970s have been as sweet if it weren't for all the years of anguish before?

Or take the Penguins, who for much of their history had more bankruptcy filings than Stanley Cup victories. When the team hit bottom in the early 1980s, its awful win-loss record didn't just allow us to draft Mario Lemieux; it gave us a chance to worship him.

By contrast, what if the Pirates do have a mediocre season next year? What if they do manage to hover around .500? Where's the glory in that? A bunch of other teams will do the same. None are poised for the greatness that lies within our grasp.

And we've come so far. Turning back now would make a mockery of Kevin McClatchy's years of careful planning. It means squandering the sacrifices made by Derek "Operation Shutdown" Bell. It will mean admitting that all the money we paid Jason Kendall was just ... a waste.

As we here at City Paper like to say, when you're in a race to the bottom, you may as well win.

And consider it from the fan's perspective. Your average ballpark fan comes to a game or two each year, not to watch the team, but to savor the pastoral experience of PNC Park. But nothing is less pastoral than a winning streak: Fans get rowdy, the beer line gets long. The park's bucolic charm will be overlooked if people start watching what happens down on the field.

I'm not saying that the Pirates should throw games, partly because I'm not sure anyone could tell by now. I'm just asking players and management alike to realize that breaking our streak would be like ... like losing at losing.

But I suppose if anybody could pull that off, it would be the Pirates.

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