The Pittsburgh Pirates ended their 1992 season in heart-breaking fashion when former Pirate Sid Bream slid home safely underneath the tag of catcher Mike LaValliere in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Seven of the National League Championship Series, sending the Atlanta Braves back to the World Series for the second straight year with a 3-2 victory.
It was Pittsburgh’s third straight NLCS loss and it came after the Pirates led 2-0 going to the bottom of the ninth. There was a sense that an era was coming to an end. Two-time NL Most Valuable Player Barry Bonds would be a free agent that winter, as would staff ace Doug Drabek. All-Star outfielder Bobby Bonilla had already left.
That offseason was also a seminal one for the Milwaukee Brewers, however. The Crew had just finished a 92-70 regular season, finishing four games behind the eventual World Champion Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East, but they also faced some tough personnel decisions.
Longtime Brewer stalwart Paul Molitor was coming off one of his best seasons, posting a .320/.389/.461 batting line in 701 plate appearances as the designated hitter, but his contract was expiring and Robin Yount, for nearly two decades the face of the Brewers, was slowing down.
What neither organization—nor their fans—could know at the time was that it would be years, more than a decade, before either franchise experienced anything even resembling success.
The Pittsburgh Pirates snapped the longest streak of losing seasons in North American professional sports history on Tuesday night with a 4-3 win over the Brewers. It was the Pirates’ 81st win and ensured them of their first non-losing season since that fateful 1992 season, a string of 20 consecutive losing years unparalleled in any sport.
Major League Baseball has had some strings of futility. The Philadelphia Phillies went 16 straight seasons, 1933 through 1948, without winning more than they lost. The Boston Red Sox and the Athletics, in both Philadelphia and Kansas City, put together strings of 15 straight losing campaigns.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the record for extended futility in the National Football League at 14 seasons, while the Kansas City-Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association had 15 straight losing seasons, as did the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.
The Pirates aren’t all that far removed from their low-water mark, having lost 105 games in 2010. They were also 100-game losers in 2001 and hit at least the 90-loss mark in 10 of the last 20 seasons.
But the Milwaukee Brewers understand, at least to a degree, how it feels to lose year after agonizing year. At the same time the Pirates were putting together their record streak, the Crew went 12 straight years without a winning mark.
From 1993 through 2004, the Brewers were anywhere from unlucky to mediocre to pretty bad to one season of absolute God-awful.
Milwaukee lost 106 games in 2002, lost at least 90 games five times, including four straight seasons from 2001-04, before getting to the .500 mark at 81-81 in 2005. It would be another two years, 2007, before the Crew actually won more than it lost.
The Pirates, now with a two-game lead in the National League Central, have their sights set on much bigger things. They actually have a magic number—any combination of Pirate wins and losses by the Washington Nationals or Arizona Diamondbacks that adds up to 15 clinches Pittsburgh’s first postseason berth in 21 years.
As the Brewers look up from 22 games back in the standings and 20 games below .500, their fans can relate—at least a bit—to what the long-suffering fan base in Pittsburgh must be feeling.
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