The Pittsburgh Pirates trace their beginnings to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, one of the American Association’s original teams in 1882. The Alleghenys joined the National League in 1887 and adopted the Pirates nickname in 1891. When the National League contracted from twelve to eight teams in 1900, Barney Dreyfuss acquired a controlling interest in the Pirates and brought to Pittsburgh many of the best players from his former club, the now defunct Louisville Colonels. Included was the gentleman at left, the legendary Honus Wagner.
The Pirates are the fourth of the original NL clubs in our Mount Rushmore series. Your task is to choose the four players who best represent this franchise. Have fun!
For their first two decades, the Pirates were a second division team, only twice finishing higher than 3rd. Their best club in this period was the 1893 team that went 81-48 (including a 55-21 finish) and placed second, 5 games back of the NL champion Boston Beaneaters. With the influx of quality players from Louisville, Pittsburgh immediately challenged with a second place finish in 1900, followed by three successive NL championships in 1901-03. The 1903 club challenged the Boston Americans in the inaugural World Series, falling 5-3 to the AL champions. After a 110 win season in 1909, still the franchise record, Pittsburgh edged Detroit 4-3 in the World Series, the first to go the distance. The top players in the franchise’s first 3 decades were Wagner, Fred Clarke and Tommy Leach, all former Louisville players, plus HOF first baseman Jake Beckley. Notable moundsmen include Sam Leever, Deacon Philippe and Jesse Tannehill from the championship teams of the early 1900s, and Ed Morris and HOFer Pud Galvin from the 1880s teams.
The Pirates were next a contending team in the 1920s when, led by HOF third baseman Pie Traynor, Pittsburgh posted eight straight first division finishes (1921-28), all within 9 games of top spot. Included were pennants in 1925 (won WS in 7 games over the Senators) and 1927 (swept in WS by the Yankees). The season between those two pennants marked the debut of Paul Waner who teamed with fellow HOFer Arky Vaughan to lead the Pirates through the 1930s, including second place finishes in 1932, 1933 and 1938. The last was a particularly tough pill to swallow as, after leading by 7 games starting September and being in first place for 71 days, the Bucs were overtaken in the last week of the season by the surging Cubs who finished 22-7, including a sweep of Pittsburgh at Wrigley on Sep 27-29. Ray Kremer was the leading Buc moundsman of this period but was supported by several pitchers who compiled decent WAR totals, including Wilbur Cooper and Johnny Morrison in the 1920s (plus Babe Adams, winding up his 18 seasons with the Bucs), and Larry French and Bill Swift in the 1930s.
Through the war years and the 1950s, the Pirates were mostly dreadful, only once finishing within 10 games of the pennant from 1939 to 1957. Included was a franchise worst 112 losses in 1952, the first of three successive 100 loss seasons. After consecutive .500 seasons in 1958 and 1959, the Pirates took the 1960 pennant after holding down first place every day since late May. Their victory in that year’s World Series was memorable for an iconic game 7 decided on a Bill Mazeroski walk-off home run (the series was also notable for even reaching game 7, as the opposing Yankees had outscored the Bucs to that point in the series by the improbable count of 46 runs to 17). The Pirates were a middle-of-the-pack team for most of the 1960s, challenging for the pennant only in 1966 in a three-way race with the Dodgers and Giants. With expansion and divisional alignment in 1969 came a flurry of NL East crowns, with five in six seasons from 1970 to 1975. Alas, Pittsburgh turned those five titles into only a single pennant in 1971 when they went on to edge the Orioles in another 7-game World Series thriller. As in 1960, the winning run in game 7 came on a home run, this time by Roberto Clemente. He, Mazeroski and Willie Stargell were the fixtures of those Pirate teams, together with pitchers Bob Friend, Vern Law and Bob Veale.
The Pirates continued their strong performance through the 1970s, culminating in another 7-game World Series triumph in 1979, again defeating the Orioles, this time after trailing in the series by 3 games to 1. The 80s were a down decade for Pittsburgh, bottoming out with 104 losses in 1985 as the Bucs finished below .500 in 4 successive seasons (1984-87) for the first time in 30 years. Things turned around when the Pirates started the 90s with 3 straight division titles, but also 3 straight NLCS defeats, the last the most memorable as the Braves’ Sid Bream slid home safely for a walk-off series win. Nobody could have guessed it then but that 1992 season would be Pittsburgh’s last .500 season for 20 years, a streak started by the departure of their best player (Barry Bonds) to free agency. Other dominant players of this period include Dave Parker, Andy Van Slyke and Andrew McCutchen, with John Candelaria, Doug Drabek and Kent Tekulve on the mound.
Here are the top 15 Pirates’ batters, by WAR (Baseball-Reference.com version) as a Pirate.
|15||Andy Van Slyke||30.9||1987||1994||26-33||1057||4441||598||1108||203||67||117||564||431||733||.283||.353||.458||.811||*8/H93|
And, the top 15 pitchers by WAR as a Pirate.
Now, it’s your turn. Please choose 4 players, or write in your own. Polls are open until midnight Pacific time on Thu, Dec 11th. You can check on results using the link at the bottom of the ballot. If the ballot does not display on your browser, you can also vote here.