“Two balls, one strike. What tension! The runners lead. A lotta room in right-center, if he hits one there, we can dance in the streets. The two-one. Swung, line drive left field! One run is in! Here comes Bream! Here’s the throw to the plate! He is…SAFE! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN! They may have to hospitalize Sid Bream. He’s down at the bottom of a huge pile at the plate. They help him to his feet. Frank Cabrera got the game-winner! The Atlanta Braves are National League champions again! This crowd has gone berserk, listen! Meanwhile, Barry Bonds is just now walking off the field. Andy Van Slyke is sitting on his glove in center field in shock. The Braves came from two runs down in the ninth, and with two outs Francisco Cabrera got the hit that won Atlanta the game, a two-run single to left! What a ballgame!”
–Atlanta Braves announcer Skip Caray’s call of Francisco Cabrera’s game-winning hit in Game 7.
That quote is how many Pirates fans remember that dramatic 1992 National League Championship Series loss to the Atlanta Braves. However, that quote means so much more today than it did in the waning moment of Game 7.
That quote represents a moment of heartbreak for Pirates fans who though they had they had a chance at the championship. That 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates team, comprised of Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Doug Drabek, Tim Wakefield, and managed by Jim Leyland was the last winning team the Pirates fielded and they went out blowing a 2-run lead in the ninth inning on a play at the plate.
Immediately following the season, the Pirates opted to rebuild, jettisoning salaries in favor of youth. Seventeen years later, that move has yet to pay dividends and the team has never recovered.
One would think that after seventeen years of rebuilding, stripping, and rebuilding again, the Pirates would have fielded a winner at some stage. Years of high draft picks and acquiring prospects for veterans would have to pay off somehow right? While there have been a few of players that have reached All-Star status like Brian Giles, Jason Bay, Aramis Ramirez, Freddy Sanchez, and Oliver Perez, Pittsburgh was unable to piece the puzzle together by fielding a team with all of these players at the same time, either by lack of patience or by dictates necessity to keep payroll low. Poor returns on trades were settled on in favor of salary concessions on top of poor development and scouting of drafted players has kept the hands of fate from turning in Pittsburgh’s favor.
So where does that leave Pittsburgh in its hunt to end their humility?
The current roster has just one player, center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who was developed by the organization and can be labeled as a “can’t miss prospect.” Additionally, the team’s farm system doesn’t appear to be very fruitful either. A recent ranking on AOL Fanhouse listed the Pirates as having the 28th ranked farm system in baseball, which isn’t much of a reach with only third baseman Pedro Alvaraz (drafted) ranking as a five-Star prospect and outfielder Jose Tabata (trade with Yankees) and catcher Tony Sanchez (draft) classified as four-star prospects according to Baseball Prospectus. The Pirates also lack the chips to move at the trade deadline this season to further add to the farm system, with only Ryan Doumit and Garrett Jones qualifying as trade possibilities that may demand attention.
Needless to say, the cupboard is pretty bare and there isn’t much opportunity to add to that aside from having the second pick in the 2010 draft.
That all said, Pittsburgh fans are likely to have to watch the Pirates add to their record seventeen consecutive losing seasons for at least a few more years. As the Rays and Nationals are showing, a few good years of smart decisions at draft time can equate to positive developments for the major league roster in just a few short years.
Then again, as past Pirates history would indicate, there is no sure thing when it comes to rebuilding this once proud organization. Ownerships desire to no spend on the team and the current regime’s inability to scout and develop talent mean the Pirates will wallow in futility for the foreseeable future unless something changes.
Until then, memories of Honus Wagner, Ralph Kiner, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and that 1992 team to pull them through the misery.
Pittsburgh Pirates, Wikipedia.com
1992 National League Championship Series, Wikipedia.com
Depth Chart, pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com
2010 Farm System Rankings, Fanhouse.com
Pittsburgh Pirates Top 11 Prospects, BaseballProspectus.com