Good morning. It is August 24th, 2013.
With last night's win, the Pirates are 76-52. Since 1992, the Pirates failed to win 76 games in the following seasons*: 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.
I've told this story a thousand times before, but my primary memory of the Pirates' 1993 season is this: my dad spent the winter preparing me for my first really bad Pirate team (some of my absolute earliest and foggiest memories of anything are of watching baseball during the 1989 season, but much of what I think of as the foundation for my life as a PIrate fan was laid during 1990), then he went to the home opener in 1993, and the Pirates beat the Padres 9-4. I think that I intellecutally knew that things had to be different for the Pirates without Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek, but I was also eight years old. I figured that they'd rebounded from losing Bobby Bonilla in 1992 and come closer to the World Series than ever. Why should 1993 be any different?
As it turned out, 1993 was only different because the Pirates won 75 games that year and in doing that the 1993 club would be better than 15 of the 19 baseball teams that would follow it. Think about this: the Pirates lost he best player of a generation and went from a 96-win team to a 75-win team, and that 75-win team was still one of the very best Pirate teams to take the field between 1993 and 2012. Honestly: outside of Royals fans, there are very few people that understand the depths of despair that Pirate fans have been through.
One of the reasons for the absolute depths of that despair is 2003, which is the other season that was checked off of this list with last night's win. I talked at length about the Drive for 75 on Friday, but the real reason to remember 2003 is this: "Aramis Ramirez traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates with Kenny Lofton and cash, to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later, Matt Bruback (minors) and Jose Hernandez. The Chicago Cubs sent Bobby Hill to the Pittsburgh Pirates to complete the trade."
There was no way of knowing it at the time, but the club had accrued a bunch of debt in moving into PNC Park and the Nutting family was moving behind the scenes to wrest power from Kevin McClatchy (UPDATE: I semi-remembered the details wrong here; prior to 2003 the Nuttings floated the team a big loan so that they could make MLB's mandated debt/equity ratio, but they still needed to slash salary in 2003 and, as Tim Williams pointed out to me, with Kris Benson on the disabled list, their options were limited). Ramirez was a 25-year old third baseman entering his prime, but the Pirates felt that they couldn't pay him the $6 million he was due in 2004 or the arbitration raise he'd get in 2005 before he hit free agency.
Really everything about Aramis Ramirez is a microcosm for how the Pirates failed to capitalize on the Freak Show of 1997 and turn it into any sort of contending baseball team. They failed to protect Joe Randa in the expansion draft and lost him, which lead to Ramirez making his big league debut in 1998 at the age of 19. Ramirez wasn't really, truly ready for the majors until 2001, but by that point the Pirates had burned just about a full year's worth of service (Ramirez played a total of 163 games for them between 1998-2000), which shifted his pay scale by a year and lead to the awful trade in 2003.
There are only three seasons left on this list, but that doesn't mean that there's not work left to be done.
*The strike shortened 1994 and 1995. The '94 Pirates were on pace for 75 wins, but the '95 Pirates were terrible and only on pace for 65 wins.