Do the Pirates Matter?

Chatting today with Jake over at Bucco Blog, I wondered about the reasons for the region's different reactions to our local professional sports teams. I take for granted that today, at least, and extending back for at least a decade, the kind of passion that Steelers football inspires just doesn't extend to Pirates baseball.

Is this just a matter of winning and losing? I suspect not, but it's hard for me otherwise to figure out why. Were things different 20 years ago? 30 years ago? Thoughts, please.


4 Responses to "Do the Pirates Matter?"

Tim Murray said... 8/08/2006 11:04 PM

It is largely a matter of winning and losing. There was a time when I was a kid, pre-Immaculate Reception, when relatively few people here cared about the Steelers. There was also a time as recently as the early '90's when baseball fans here actually watched the scoreboard of other teams to see how the Pirates' rivals were faring. When a rival would fall behind, a roar would go up in the stands -- something no high school-aged fan in Pittsburgh ever remembers experiencing. The Pirates are averaging around 23,000 fans per game (they play 81) for what is arguably the worst professional sports franchise at the major league (or equivalent) level. Imagine what that number would be if we were in a pennant race. Without quetion, it would be sold out most every game. (P.S. speaking of the Pirates, I have obtained a copy of the 1999 SEA contract with the Pirates. I am going to write an amicus curiae-type letter to the SEA explaining how the contract affords the SEA the right to hold the Pirates to greater accountability in performance. I will share with you, for your amusement.)

Anonymous said... 8/09/2006 11:17 AM

I remember the fan base losing it when Jim Leyland walked away from Kevin McClatchy after Leyland said he had lied to him. As we now know, Leyland was dead on.

I tend to think the change can be attributed to MLB and the Pirates hammering away on the fans the 'small market teams will never compete' mentality that drove many fan's expectations down.

Now that the Pirates have more profit each year than the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation had, the fan's don't seem to mind the owner's profiting while pushing an inferior product. Have the fans simply given up?

Mark Rauterkus said... 8/09/2006 5:55 PM

We just returned from a trip to Boston where Uncle Charlie and his family watches EVERY SINGLE Red Sox game. They always have baseball on the tip of the conversation.

It used to be that way with many people in Pittsburgh too.

The turning point, like the others said, was with the overall record. Strikes, steroids, spitting in the face of umpires, and a host of other ills helped, for sure.

Pittsburgh can be a baseball town again -- for sure. But, we'll have to have better baseball at PNC Park other than that of a rare visit by the Langley High School team and opponents for the city league championships.

RichW said... 8/11/2006 1:29 PM

I want to say that winning and losing has a lot to do with it.

Evidence to support that: I grew up in CT only a 45 minute drive from Shea (55 to Yankee Stadium, but who cares). When the Mets were winning we couldn't get to enough games. When they were losing, a handful of games a year was enough.

And during the Vince Coleman era when they were drugged out and getting arrested all over the place, well, TV was enough for any Met fan and the attendance history shows it.

I also lived in Quincy for a couple of years, about a dozen T stops from Fenway. The Sox were always in the race while I lived there and it was always a sellout.

But winning was necessary to draw people. The last time they drew under a million was 1966, and the last time under 1.5 million was 1981 - a strike season.

The Sox have drawn more than two million every year since 1986 (the Buckner year). Yet in four of those years the Sox finished more than 20 games out of first. And eight times in that period they more than 10 games out.

So there's a case that Sox fandom is more tied to the city of Boston than Mets fandom is to New York - or Pirates to Pittsburgh.

Certainly a case could be made that Fenway's status (and Boston's appeal) make it a tourist desination leading to tickets being sold to folks "just passing thru". Hopefully the All-Star game gave some of that same sheen to PNC Park.

At any rate, if the Bucs were still in Three Rivers, I wouldn't be surprised if attendance dropped into the four digits. That was a decent football stadium but a horrid place for watching baseball.

Still, a winner - even a plus-.500 team - would get PNC close to or north of a 30,000 average.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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