Baseball is a game of generations. Whether it is in front of a radio or television, over the internet or a pile of cards, the histories, legends, and general meaning of the game have been passed down between the generations of fans, cementing its place in the fabric of time. A 10-year-old Pirates fan could just as easily pick out the face of Willie Stargell or Roberto Clemente as he could Andrew McCutchen or James McDonald.
And unfortunately, he can also remember the face of former Pirates first baseman Sid Bream.
Of course, the lasting impression of Bream’s mug is not that of his time in Pittsburgh. Rather, it is of the then Atlanta Braves first baseman, sprawled across home plate with his arms raised triumphantly into the air, having scored the winning run of the 1992 National League Championship Series and sending the Braves to the World Series.
That 10-year-old remembers the face of Sid Bream because he is part of an entire generation of Pirates fans that have been inducted into what has become the longest streak of consecutive losing seasons in professional sports history. 20 years is a long time for a wound like the one that Bream cut into the hearts of Pirates fans to fester, becoming a burden on fathers and sons alike.
Thankfully, it appears that long-festering wound is finally starting to heal.
20 years later, we sit at the end of that pendulum as it begins to swing in the other direction. The 2012 Pirates are riding a wave of success that the town of Pittsburgh has not seen for a long time. They enter the All-Star break with a record of 48-37, well enough for a one game lead in the hotly contested National League Central division and only one game worse than the Washington Nationals for the best record in the National League. According to Sports Illustrated, this marks the first time the Pirates were 11 games over .500 since that never-forgotten 1992 season.
Granted, the Pirates flirted with a .500 record in 2011 as well, before they hit the wall in the second half, eventually finishing at 72-90 on the season. But this team is different. This team has a confidence that seems to exude from the backbones of aforementioned Andrew McCutchen and James McDonald, permeating through the likes of Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones, and Joel Hanrahan. It shows on the faces of new additions like Drew Sutton, who slot into the line-up and just start contributing.
This is not a team that will allow itself to collapse and, for once, statistics seem to be on their side.
The Pirates currently rank fifth in all of baseball with a staff ERA of 3.47, thanks in no small part to a major league leading bullpen ERA of 2.63. And while the offense has been stagnant at times, it has come alive of late, providing the Pirates with a solid run differential of +32.
If we extrapolate that information to compute their Pythagorean record for the remainder of the season, we can expect the Pirates to finish 90-72 on the season. While this may not be enough to secure a division title and a spot in the playoffs, it is certainly a giant leap forward, giving the Pirates a winning season and showing that they will be well in the hunt for a post season berth deep into September.
Of course, that also relies on Pittsburgh’s questionable offensive supporting cast continuing to provide adequate support. It also relies on the likes of AJ Burnett and James McDonald not regressing in any way. Both can be expected to some degree, but the level of degree will determine if 2011 repeats itself or 2012 begins a new trend.
However, with things going this well, it is likely the front office in Pittsburgh makes the tough decisions that will hedge against regression. They see what the team is doing and what it has the chance to do. They will invest in the chance to put it all behind them.
They will invest in a new generation of Pirates fans forgetting the face of Sid Bream.
In addition to his work at Call to the Pen, Kyle can be found casting his thoughts on small market baseball on The Baseball Big Brother Project. You can also follow his other dribbles on twitter @BBallBigBrother