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A closer look at the Pirates' run of futility

Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009
 

Nobody has played major-league baseball as consistently bad as the Pirates, who will make history by recording their 17th consecutive losing season with their next defeat.

This season isn't in the books yet, but with the record-setting day upon us, it's a good time to look back at the few highs and many lows from the 16 preceding years.

Since the last winning season in 1992, the Pirates endured Operation Shutdown, the Randall Simon sausage race incident and knockout punch from Marc Wilkins to fellow pitcher Jeff Tabaka. There have been many, many more strange incidents, perhaps as many as losses, which total 1,500 over the past 16-plus seasons.

The names have changed — from the players, general managers ranging from Ted Simmons to Neal Huntington and managers from Jim Leyland to John Russell. There have been failed first-round draft picks, lousy trades and unwise spending habits — does $15 million to Pat Meares or $60 million to Jason Kendall ring any bells?

Add it up and you get a run of futility unprecedented in professional sports.

The following is an examination of the 16 seasons that preceded this record-setting year, which mercifully will end in a few weeks:

2008

GM: Neal Huntington

Manager: John Russell

Record: 67-95

Highlights: OF Nate McLouth established himself as a regular, made the NL All-Star team and batted .276 with 26 HR and 94 RBI. ... C Ryan Doumit batted .318, and OF Xavier Nady batted .330 before he was traded. ... The Pirates drafted high-profile draft pick Pedro Alvarez.

Lowlights: LHP Tom Gorzelanny was sent to the minors by the All-Star break and was 6-9 with a 6.66 ERA. ... LHP Zach Duke was 5-14, and RHP Ian Snell 7-12 with a 5.42 ERA. ... 1B Adam LaRoche had a poor first half for the second consecutive year. ... Pitching coach Jeff Andrews was fired after one season. ... Alvarez wasn't signed until after three months of messy negotiations. ... Longtime broadcaser Lanny Frattare retired after 33 seasons.

Key players lost: OF Jason Bay (traded, Red Sox), OF Xavier Nady (traded, Yankees), LHP Damaso Marte (traded, Yankees), RHP Matt Morris (released), 3B Jose Bautista (traded, Blue Jays)

What went wrong?: The pitching staff had a 5.08 ERA that was third-worst in the majors. The core of Paul Maholm, Duke, Snell and Gorzelanny combined for 27 wins.

Quotable: "We're in a much better place than we were a year ago. But we're a long ways from where we're going to be five years from now." — GM Neal Huntington.

2007

GM: Dave Littlefield/Brian Graham/Neal Huntington

Manager: Jim Tracy

Record: 68-94

Highlights: Frank Coonelly was hired from MLB's offices to become team president in September. His first move was to hire Huntington as Littlefield's permanent replacement. ... Freddy Sanchez moved to second base and batted .304. ... LHP Tom Gorzelanny, in his first full season, went 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA.

Lowlights: Littlefield, Graham and Tracy lost their jobs, as did scouting director Ed Creech. ... Kevin McClatchy, replaced by Bob Nutting as principal owner in the winter, announced in July that he was stepping down as CEO at the end of the season. ... Littlefield's dismissal by Nutting came after 6 12 years and a 442-581 record. ... RHP Salomon Torres filed a grievance against the team, then withdrew it. ... SS Jack Wilson and pitching coach Jim Colborn had a heated exchange during a July game. ... OF Jason Bay dipped to .247-21-84. ... RHP Matt Morris, acquired in a questionable trade with the Giants, had a 6.10 ERA in 11 starts.

Key players lost: IF Mike Edwards (released), OF Rajai Davis (traded, Giants), RHP Masumi Kuwata (free agent)

What went wrong?: The players didn't respond to Tracy or his staff. A 1-10 stretch in July cost any shot at a winning year, and a 2-13 finish to the season sealed Tracy's fate.

Quotable: "I don't think these are the 25 guys who are going to take us to the World Series." — OF Jason Bay

2006

GM: Dave Littlefield

Manager: Jim Tracy

Record: 67-95

Highlights: The Pirates went 37-35 after the All-Star break for their first winning second half since 1992. ... The Pirates played host to the All-Star Game, with OF Jason Bay and 3B Freddy Sanchez representing the team. ... Bay batted .286 with 35 HR and 109 RBI. ... Sanchez, spurred by "Go Freddy Go" chants on the final weekend, won the NL batting title with a .344 average and had 200 hits. ... RHP Ian Snell went 14-11, and reliever Salomon Torres pitched in 94 games.

Lowlights: The Pirates went 30-60 in a first half that featured a 13-game losing streak, the team's longest in the modern era. ... OF Jeromy Burnitz, a $6 million free agent acquisition, batted .230 in 111 games. ... CF Chris Duffy, demoted in May, opted to go home and quit baseball for a month before returning to the minors. ... LHP Oliver Perez went 2-10 with a 6.63 ERA in 15 starts before being traded. ... LHP Zach Duke regressed to a 10-15 record after sensational rookie year.

Key players lost: 1B Sean Casey (traded, Tigers), LHP Oliver Perez (traded, Mets), RHP Roberto Hernandez (traded, Mets), 1B/OF Craig Wilson (traded, Yankees), RHP Kip Wells (traded, Rangers)

What went wrong?: The spending spree for free agents Burnitz, Hernandez and 3B Joe Randa didn't pan out, nor did the trade for Casey.

Quotable: "I don't know why there is reason to think this team would go backwards." — Owner Kevin McClatchy

2005

GM: Dave Littlefield

Manager: Lloyd McClendon/Pete Mackanin

Record: 67-95

Highlights: OF Jason Bay became the only player in franchise history to reach a .300 average, 40 doubles, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 100 runs and 20 steals in a season. ... LHP Zach Duke went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA as a rookie. Counting his Triple-A numbers, he reached 20 wins for the season. ... 1B prospect Brad Eldred hit 40 HR between the minors and majors, including 12 for the Pirates. ... Interim manager Mackanin went 12-14 in the final 26 games.

Lowlights: McClendon was fired in September in midst of a 2-12 rut. He was 336-446 in almost five seasons. ... The Pirates reached .500 on June 11 but went 25-51 before McClendon was canned. ... The entire coaching staff, including Mackanin, was let go after the last game of the season. ... After trading C Jason Kendall in the offseason, the Pirates used Benito Santiago, David Ross, Humberto Cota and Ryan Doumit behind the plate. ... CF Tike Redman batted. 251 with a .291 OBP.

Key players lost: C Benito Santiago (released), C David Ross (traded, Padres), OF Matt Lawton (traded, Cubs)

What went wrong?: The starting rotation featured four pitchers with ERAs of 4.90 or higher (LHPs Mark Redman and Oliver Perez and RHPs Josh Fogg and Kip Wells). Wells labored through an 8-18 season, and Redman finished 5-15.

Quotable: "It puts even more pressure on us. It puts a lot of focus there. We have to improve next year." — Owner Kevin McClatchy

2004

GM: Dave Littlefield

Manager: Lloyd McClendon

Record: 72-89

Highlights: SS Jack Wilson batted .308 with 201 hits, tying a team record held by Honus Wagner. ... LF Jason Bay became the Pirates' first Rookie of the Year recipient after batting .282 with 26 HR and 82 RBI. ... OF/1B Craig Wilson had 29 HR and 82 RBI. ... LHP Oliver Perez had 2.98 ERA and 239 strikeouts. ... RHP Jose Mesa was 43 of 48 in save opportunities.

Lowlights: Unlike 2003, Littlefield's low-cost, free-agent bargain shopping didn't pay off. OF Raul Mondesi, 1B Randall Simon and 3B Chris Stynes each flopped and were released before the end of the season. ... Mondesi left the team in May, then had his contract terminated and was released when he was dissatisfied with his contract. ... Stynes batted .216 with 1 HR and 16 RBI, and Simon batted .194 with 3 HR and 14 RBI. ... RHP Ryan Vogelsong went 6-13 with a 6.50 ERA. ... LHP Sean Burnett's promising rookie season was cut short by reconstructive elbow surgery.

Key players lost: LHP Joe Beimel (released), OF Raul Mondesi (released), RHP Kris Benson (traded, Mets), 3B Chris Stynes (released), 1B Randall Simon (released)

What went wrong?: The Pirates scored the fourth-fewest runs in the majors and couldn't keep pace with the Cardinals, Astros and Cubs, going 15-37 against those division foes.

Quotable: "It won't be like an Abbott and Costello routine anymore" — Manager Lloyd McClendon, on assembling a starting lineup.

2003

GM: Dave Littlefield

Manager: Lloyd McClendon

Record: 75-87

Highlights: Littlefield spent about $6 million on six free agents: OFs Matt Stairs, Reggie Sanders and Kenny Lofton and RHPs Jeff D'Amico, Jeff Suppan and Julian Tavarez. ... Pirates went 50-48 after June 13 and were 33-35 after first cost-cutting trade was made July 20. ... C Jason Kendall batted .325. ... Sanders batted .285 with 31 HR and 87 RBI. ... CF Tike Redman batted .330 after being promoted Aug. 1.

Lowlights: Littlefield traded prospect Chris Young for Matt Herges only to release the reliever in spring training. ... RHP Kris Benson was 5-9 with a 4.97 ERA and started only once after the break because of shoulder problems. ... Citing losses of $30 million in three seasons, owner Kevin McClatchy ordered the payroll slashed, necessitating a series of cost-cutting trades. ... 1B Randall Simon was arrested for hitting a sausage race competitor with his bat during a July game in Milwaukee.

Key players lost: 1B Kevin Young (released), RHP Mike Williams (traded, Phillies), 3B Aramis Ramirez (traded, Cubs), CF Kenny Lofton (traded, Cubs), RHP Jeff Suppan (traded, Red Sox), LHP Scott Sauerbeck (traded, Red Sox), 1B Randall Simon (traded, Cubs), LF Brian Giles (traded, Padres)

What went wrong?: The bullpen finished with the worst ERA in the NL, which ruined expectations of contending. The Pirates were nine games under .500 by May 13 and never recovered. Williams epitomized the collapse, compiling a 6.27 ERA before he was traded.

Quotable: "We've gotten rid of that self-defeatist type of attitude. We believe we can win on any given night." — Manager Lloyd McClendon

2002

GM: Dave Littlefield

Manager: Lloyd McClendon

Record: 72-89

Highlights: The staff ERA dropped from 5.05 to 4.23, the biggest drop in the majors. ... Jack Wilson and Pokey Reese turned more double plays than any middle infielders in the majors. ... OF Brian Giles batted .298 with 38 HR and 103 RBI. ... RHP Mike Williams saved a franchise-record 46 games.

Lowlights: Spring training featured Operation Shutdown and the release of OF Derek Bell. ... 3B Aramis Ramirez's production dipped to .234-18-71 because of an ankle injury sustained in April when he charged the mound in Milwaukee. ... LHP Jimmy Anderson was 8-13 with a 5.44 ERA.

Key players lost: RHP Mike Fetters (traded, Diamondbacks), OF Chad Hermansen (traded, Cubs), RHP Josias Manzanillo (released)

What went wrong?: The offense had the worst batting average and second-fewest runs scored in the NL. Center field was a problem, as Adrian Brown batted .216, and six players were used there.

Quotable: "I don't want everyone to think we're jumping for joy because we've got 72 wins." — GM Dave Littlefield

2001

GM: Cam Bonifay/Roy Smith/Dave Littlefield

Manager: Lloyd McClendon

Record: 62-100

Highlights: OF Brian Giles batted .309 with 37 HR and 95 RBI. ... 3B Aramis Ramirez batted .300 with 34 HR and 112 RBI. ... Rookie C/1B Craig Wilson had seven pinch-hit homers.

Lowlights: Bonifay was fired in June after nearly eight years on the job. ... Free-agent bust Derek Bell batted .173 with 5 HR and 13 RBI. ... C Jason Kendall slumped to .266 and spent time in left field. ... OF Armando Rios and RHP Ryan Vogelsong each were lost to injury in their second games after being acquired from the Giants. ... The Pirates raised ticket prices five days after concluding 100-loss season.

Key players lost: RHP Jason Schmidt (traded, Giants), OF John Vander Wal (traded, Giants), RHP Mike Williams (traded, Astros), LHP Terry Mulholland (traded, Dodgers)

What went wrong?: The prior offseason, Bonifay failed to address starting pitching depth. Injuries to Francisco Cordova, Kris Benson and Jason Schmidt in spring training forced the Pirates to use the likes of Omar Olivares, Tony McKnight, Ramon Martinez and Don Wengert in the rotation.

Quotable: "One trade is is not going to reverse our record, but you have to walk before you can run." — GM Dave Littlefield

2000

GM: Cam Bonifay

Manager: Gene Lamont

Record: 69-93

Highlights: Pittsburgh native John Wehner hit the last homer in Three Rivers Stadium history. ... C Jason Kendall returned from his ankle injury to bat .320 with 14 HR, 58 RBI and 112 runs scored. ... OF Brian Giles batted .315 with 35 HR and 123 RBI, and OF John Vander Wal hit 24 HR.

Lowlights: Owner Kevin McClatchy's wish for a 90-win season backfired badly, and the Pirates were 10 games under .500 in June and 20 under in mid-August. ... Lamont was fired after compiling a 295-352 record in four seasons. ... 2B Warren Morris slumped to .259 in his second season, and SS Pat Meares batted .240.

Key players lost: LHP Pete Schourek (released), LHP Jason Christiansen (traded, Cardinals), OF Wil Cordero (traded, Indians), OF Bruce Aven (traded, Dodgers), IF Luis Sojo (traded, Yankees)

What went wrong?: The pitching staff compiled a 4.94 ERA, a full run higher than in 1998. Jimmy Anderson, Jason Schmidt, Bronson Arroyo, Jose Silva and Francisco Cordova had an ERA of 5.21 or higher.

Quotable: " I didn't think 90 wins was realistic, to be truthful." — Manager Gene Lamont.

1999

GM: Cam Bonifay

Manager: Gene Lamont

Record: 78-83

Highlights: 1B Kevin Young became the first player in franchise history to exceed 100 RBI, 100 runs, 40 doubles, 20 HR and 20 SB. ... Four players exceeded 20 HR, led by Brian Giles with 39. ... Rookie 2B Warren Morris batted .288 with 15 HR and 73 RBI. ... Giles batted .315 and drove in 115 runs. ... RHP Todd Ritchie went 15-9 with a 3.49 ERA.

Lowlights: Bonifay signed injured 2B Pat Meares (21 games) to a 4-year, $15 million extension and Young to a 4-year, $24 million extension. 3B Ed Sprague was offered — and unwisely rejected — a two-year, $6 million extension. ... Brant Brown, a bust in center field, batted .232. ... LHP Pete Schourek went 4-7 with a 5.34 ERA.

Key players lost: OF Jose Guillen (traded, Devil Rays), OF Turner Ward (released), 3B Freddy Garcia (traded, Braves)

What went wrong?: C Jason Kendall grossly dislocated his right ankle stepping on first base July 4 vs. Milwaukee. His was one of 22 trips to the disabled list for the Bucs, who lost 1,321 man-games to injury.

Quotable: "I think if we can stay healthy and everything breaks right for us, we could be in 90-win territory next season." — Owner Kevin McClatchy, pointing to 2000.

1998

GM: Cam Bonifay

Manager: Gene Lamont

Record: 69-93

Highlights: 1B Kevin Young had 27 HR, 40 doubles and 108 RBI. That was the first time a Pirates player had accomplished those numbers in a season since Willie Stargell in 1973. ... 2B Tony Womack won his second consecutive stolen base title with 58 steals. ... C Jason Kendall batted .327, the highest by a Pirates player since Bill Madlock's .341 average in 1981.

Lowlights: The season ended with an 8-game losing streak and a 5-25 record in the final 30 games. Prior to that, the Pirates were 64-68. ... Relievers Marc Wilkins and Jeff Tabaka scuffled in a Milwaukee hotel, with Wilkins breaking Tabaka's jaw. ... 3B Aramis Ramirez, rushed to the majors at 20 because of injuries, batted .235 in 72 games. ... Free-agent signee Doug Strange batted .173 in 90 games.

Key players lost: OF Jermaine Allensworth (traded, Royals), RHP Esteban Loaiza (traded, Rangers),

What went wrong?: The Pirates couldn't score runs, finishing 15th out of 16 NL teams. They also were last with 107 HR. Mark McGwire, by comparison, hit 70.

Quotable: "We need better chemistry. If the chemistry ever clicks here, things will be 10 times better." — RHP Jason Schmidt.

1997

GM: Cam Bonifay

Manager: Gene Lamont

Record: 79-83

Highlights: Despite having a $9 million payroll, the "Freak Show" Pirates spent 40 days in first place and contended for the title until four days remained in the season. ... 2B Tony Womack led the NL with 60 stolen bases. ... Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon combined on a 10-inning no-hitter against the Astros. ... 1B Kevin Young, released the previous year, led the team with 18 HR and 74 RBI despite missing six weeks with a thumb injury.

Lowlights: SS Kevin Elster fractured his left wrist, and CF Jermaine Allensworth broke his left hand on successive days. ... Cordova was sidelined by shoulder problems for 15 days. ... The Pirates never returned to first place after July 17.

Key players lost: OF Midre Cummings (waivers, Phillies), RHP Paul Wagner (released), 1B Mark Johnson (waivers, Reds)

What went wrong?: The Pirates greatly overachieved but didn't have enough depth to overcome injuries to Elster, Allensworth, Young, 3B Joe Randa, LF Al Martin, SS Kevin Polcovich and RHP John Ericks.

Quotable: "I'll never forget it. It was the most enjoyable year I've had other than when I was playing." — Manager Gene Lamont.

1996

GM: Cam Bonifay

Manager: Jim Leyland

Record: 73-89

Highlights: Jason Kendall debuted at catcher and made the NL All-Star team. He batted .300 as a rookie. ... 1B Jeff King, in his final season with the Pirates, had 30 HR and 111 RBI. ... LF Al Martin batted .300 with 18 HR, 72 RBI and 38 SB. ... Denny Neagle went 14-6 with a 3.05 ERA before being traded. ... The Pirates had an 11-game winning streak in September.

Lowlights: New owner Kevin McClatchy announced he was slashing the team's $23 million payroll for 1997, prompting Leyland to ask to be released from his contract, ending his 11-year tenure with the franchise. ... Mark Sauer resigned as team president. ... Only one pitcher made more than 19 starts, and the Pirates used 25 pitchers.

Key players lost: Charlie Hayes (traded, Yankees), Denny Neagle (traded, Braves), Kevin Young (released), Jacob Brumfield (traded, Blue Jays), Zane Smith (released)

What went wrong?: McClatchy learned early into his run as owner that the franchise was hemorraging money, and that led to distractions and the trading of several high-priced players. The plan continued into the offseason when Orlando Merced, Carlos Garcia, Dan Plesac, Jeff King and Jay Bell were all dealt.

Quotable: "It'll never be the same for me, whether I'm fortunate enough to go on and win a world championship." — Manager Jim Leyland, on his exit after 11 seasons.

1995

GM: Cam Bonifay

Manager: Jim Leyland

Record: 58-86

Highlights: 3B Jeff King had 18 HR and 87 RBI. ... LHP Denny Neagle won 13 games and tied Greg Maddux for the league lead in innings pitched. ... RHP Paul Wagner came within one out of no-hitting the Colorado Rockies. ... The last-place finish assured the Pirates of the first pick in the 1996 draft.

Lowlights: With rumors flying that the team might move to Northern Virginia, the final game in '95 loomed as perhaps the final one for the Pirates in Pittsburgh. ... The .403 winning percentage was the team's worst since 1986. ... OFs Dave Clark and Jacob Brumfield were involved in a violent collison on the warning track.

Key players lost: Andy Van Slyke (free agent), Zane Smith (free agent), Randy Tomlin (free agent), Tim Wakefield (released)

What went wrong?: No starter other than Neagle had an ERA under 4.50. That included Wagner (4.80), Esteban Loaiza (5.15), Steve Parris (5.30) and Jon Lieber (6.32). Brumfield replaced Van Slyke in CF and was a bust in the field and as a leadoff hitter. C Don Slaught was limited to 35 games because of injuries.

Quotable: "We've got a long road ahead of us to get to where we want to be. I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say we are just around the corner from contention." — Manager Jim Leyland

1994

GM: Cam Bonifay

Manager: Jim Leyland

Record: 53-61

Highlights: The franchise played host to the MLB All-Star Game, which the National League won, 8-7, in 10 innings. ... 2B Carlos Garcia batted .277 and made the NL All-Star team. ... RF Orlando Merced had a team-high 51 RBI.

Lowlights: The season was interrupted by the eighth work stoppage in baseball history and the first since 1985. The season never resumed after the final game was played Aug. 11. ... The strike ended Andy Van Slyke's tenure with the Pirates. ... The franchise also faced possible relocation after it was put up for sale.

Key players lost: RHP Bob Walk (retired), RHP Alejandro Pena (released), 1B Brian Hunter (traded, Cincinnati)

What went wrong?: The Pirates scored the fewest runs and tied for the fewest homers in the NL. The bullpen had a 5.42 ERA and blew 14 of 38 save opportunities. The rotation struggled with four starters 26 or younger — Denny Neagle, Steve Cooke, Paul Wagner and Jon Lieber.

Quotable: "I'm not going to be happy if I'm not putting on a uniform tomorrow." — Manager Jim Leyland, on the eve of the players' strike.

1993

GM : Ted Simmons/Cam Bonifay

Manager : Jim Leyland

Record : 75-87

Highlights : Rookie OF Al Martin led the team with 18 HRs. ... 3B Jeff King drove in 98 runs. ... SS Jay Bell batted .310 and won a Gold Glove. ... RHP Bob Walk won 13 games, including No. 100 for his career.

Lowlights : Simmons resigned in June after a heart attack. ... Bell and OF Lloyd McClendon almost fought in the clubhouse after a game. ... Leyland challenged Dodgers pitcher Kevin Gross to a fight during a game in Los Angeles. ... Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield went 6-11 with a 5.61 ERA and spent time in the minors.

Key players lost : RHP Stan Belinda (traded, Kansas City), C Mike LaValliere (released), OF Lonnie Smith (traded, Baltimore)

What went wrong? : Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek left via free agency. The Pirates entered the season with three rookies in the lineup — Martin, 2B Carlos Garcia and 1B Kevin Young. Starting pitchers Zane Smith and Randy Tomlin spent more time on the disabled list than they did on the mound. CF Andy Van Slyke was limited to 83 games because of a broken collarbone.

Quotable : "I'm sure people expected more. I know we did. But we'll be back and, hopefully, with better results." — Manager Jim Leyland

 

 

 
 


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