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Zuba: All hail the Pirates (Sept. 4)

Samantha Zuba | Tuesday, September 3, 2013

 

Baseball teams aren’t clinching playoff spots yet, but with two more wins the Pirates clinch two other things: their first winning season since 1992 and some positive press for baseball.

After Monday’s 5-2 victory over the Brewers, Pittsburgh’s record sits at 80-57. The Pirates have 25 games left and would have to lose every single one to post their 21st losing season in a row.

I don’t want to call down a curse, but 25-game losing streaks don’t happen. Everyone will agree, except the 1961 Phillies, who tried really hard to make it happen, but fell short at 23 games.

Unless the spirit of the ’61 Phillies camps out at PNC Park for the rest of the season, the Pirates should be safe. Breaking the losing-season streak would be fun for Pittsburgh fans, but the achievement could accomplish more for baseball.

Baseball has always been exciting because of its traditions and history, and America’s favorite pastime needs to return to those roots to make the steroid era a bad memory and not a recurring nightmare.

The Pirates are an historic team that has a chance to rise again to prominence and remind fans of not only their own history, but also baseball’s.

Forget Alex Rodriguez and think about Bill Mazeroski, instead. The Hall of Fame second baseman won eight Gold Gloves while playing his entire career with the Pirates from 1956 to 1972. Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series is the only walk-off ever hit in the history of World Series Game Seven’s and sealed the underdog Pirates’ triumph over the mighty Yankees.

Forget Biogenesis and think of the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates instead. On their way to a come-from-behind World Series title, the Pirates adopted Sister Sledge’s disco hit “We Are Family” as the team theme song. Hall of Fame outfielder and first baseman Willie “Pops” Stargell led an energetic, quirky and memorable clubhouse.

Think about Honus Wagner. The Pirates shortstop from 1900 to 1917 became one of the five original inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. The famous T206 Wagner baseball card sold for $2.1 million in April and recalls a time when young fans collected cards from bubble gum packs and stuck them in bike spokes without knowing they would one day be valuable.

Remember Roberto Clemente. The Hall of Fame right fielder won four batting titles and 12 consecutive Gold Gloves during an 18-year career for the Pirates. Fans admired him as a ballplayer and a profoundly dedicated humanitarian.

Delve into other team’s histories and you’ll find many more great storylines, fantastic ballplayers, incredible people and amazing moments. These stories are far more compelling than Ryan Braun’s.

The steroid era will always stain baseball’s history, but cheating doesn’t have to become baseball’s heritage. Baseball has a deeper, richer legend to draw on.

Breaking long-held records or streaks calls up memories of this legend. Tigers third basemen Miguel Cabrera did it last season when he became the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

Suddenly, Yastrzemski and his era entered the national sports conversation and contributed to the good press for baseball that Cabrera started. Longtime fans started thinking about Yastrzemski and remembering “how it was.” The Pirates have the same opportunity to recreate visions of history.

Baseball has an opportunity to create new memories rooted in its legendary past, the past that made the game a proud cultural icon. But it only matters if the current generation of players dedicate themselves to restoring the game.

I’m thinking about Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, Bryce Harper and the game’s other young ambassadors. History is what makes baseball great, and these players have a chance to make that true again with clean accomplishments. 

I’d like to thank the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates for reminding me and I hope they can spark something similar for other disillusioned fans.

Here’s to the Pirates.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessa