On Tuesday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 4-3, thereby ensuring that the Pirates will finish the season more successfully than they have finished every season since 1992. Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette joined Bill Littlefield to explore the surprising season.
BL: Gene, let’s start with those 20 losing seasons. What went wrong?
GC: In a word,Bill, everything. But it was a coming together of a myriad of negative things that just persisted and persisted through ownership groups and general managers and managers and all kinds of washed-up players. You couldn’t do it again, really, if you tried. It was unprecedented. None of these so-called major sports leagues has ever had a team that went that long without at least one winning season. It was really quite remarkable.
BL: Manager Clint Hurdle was hired in November 2010, and he quickly declared that he would change the culture of the Pirates. In this case, what has “changing the culture” required?
GC: Well, Clint Hurdle has done an outstanding job. He was not the first manager to make that declaration. But I think what he’s done — he’s brought a positivity to it that the players somehow felt was genuine. You know, Clint Hurdle kind of had a disappointing career as a player. He knew what the demands of baseball were. It’s based really on failure and how you deal with that failure on a day-to-day basis, and for some reason his voice and that, specifically and literally how he talked about it, resonated with players.
BL: The Pirates home park has been widely celebrated. Management seems stable, and the team is winning. Are fans in Pittsburgh confident regarding the future, or does history incline them to worry that these Pirates are a fluke?
GC: I think the fans in Pittsburgh right now are just so happy to see what is going on that they are just very, very determined to enjoy this as it rides out. I think that they have every right to be skeptical about what’ll happen in two years or five years, but at the same time the Pirates have put together a pretty good minor league system and they’ve shown in the last couple of months that they are willing to take on some contracts. It could still go either way, but the fan base is really excited about the next month.
BL: I have read that Roberto Clemente’s widow implored the Pirates to have a winning season so they wouldn’t have 21 straight losing seasons since 21 was Clemente’s number. I wonder if this season will go down as the blessing of Roberto Clemente as opposed to the Curse of the Bambino.
GC: That’s a really good thought. I saw Vera’s son, Roberto Jr., the other day talking about this very thing. They found it kind of horrifying, you know, that the number 21 would be associated with this. It looks like they are going to be able to avoid it, so good for them. I mean they certainly deserve it.