The Pittsburgh Pirates began life in the American Association and were the first team to switch over to the National League and renamed themselves the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. The team renamed themselves the Pirates in 1891. At the end of the 1899 season, the Pirates signed the stars from their rival Louisville Colonels who were slated to be eliminated as the National League downsized. Two of the players signed are future Hall of Fame inductees Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke.
The 1901 season began an era of championships as the Pirates finished with a 90-49 record and won their first National League Pennant. The following season was even more successful as the team finished with an astonishing 103-36 record en route to back to back National League Pennants. In 1903, the first World Series was held in a series between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates won game one 7-3 but the Americans would win the best of 9 series five games to three. Team owner Horace B. Phillips sold the team in 1907 to Dennis McKnight and the team moved into the newly built Forbes Field in 1909. The team opened up Forbes with a game against the Chicago Cubs, (61 seasons later Forbes Field would close with a game against the Chicago Cubs). Two season later, the Pirates found themselves in the World Series again. Led by Shortstop Honus Wagner, the Pirates faced off against Ty Cobb and his Detroit Tigers. The series would go the limit, seven games, but the Pirates would emerge as the World Champions for the first time.
Honus Wagner would retire after the team suffered one of their worst seasons, a 51-103 record in 1917. Wagner would return to the team sixteen years later as Coach of the Pirates. In 1921, Radio station KDKA became the first commercial radio station to air a Major League game (Pirates Vs Phillies). In the 1925 season, the Pirates would again find themselves in the World Series, this time against the Washington Senators and won their second World Series. Two seasons later, they faced the New York Yankees in the World Series, losing to them in a sweep. The ’38 season saw the Pirates lose to the Chicago Cubs for the pennant.
At the start of World War II, MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, urged President Roosevelt to allow the ’42 season to play out. This is known in history as the Green Light Letter. Roosevelt’s response was "I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before." With that baseball resumed but was also affected by a draft that put nearly two million men in uniform by the end of 1941. Stars like Hugh Mulcahy of the Phillies, Hank Greenberg of the Tigers, Ted Williams of the Red Sox, Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees. Billy Southworth Jr of the Toronto Maple Leafs voluntarily enlisted in the Army Air Corps saying "I think it's my duty to enlist because they're going to need us," Southworth had confided to his father earlier in the year. "My baseball career can wait."
Team Owner Barry Dreyfuss sold the team to a group led by Frank McKinney and which included singer/actor Bing Crosby. In the early ‘50’s, minority owner John W. Galbreath would emerge as the majority owner of the team, hired a new General Manager (Branch Ricky) and, much to the dismay of Pirates fans, began an eradication of the highest paid players, filling the roster instead with unknown young players. This buildup of young untested men, (most of them unsuccessful) would lead to a handful of players who would go on to form the nucleus of the championship team that would emerge in the 1960 season. Those players included Vern Law, Dick Groat, Bill Mazeroksi, Roberto Clemente, Bob Friend and Elroy Face.
The 1960 World Series pit the Pirates against the New York Yankees. Combined, the two teams would field a number of Hall of Fame Players, (past, present or future), that included Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Marris, Elston Howard Whitey Ford and Bobby Shantz. The Pirates would walk away World Series Champions at the end of their 7-game series. In 1962, the Pirates signed a young Willie Stargell whose 21-year career would be spent entirely with the Pirates. In his career, Stargell would lead the Pirates to six NL East Division titles, two NL pennants and two World Series showings.
1968 saw the opening of Three Rivers Stadium, the new home for both the Pirates and the NFL franchise Pittsburgh Steelers but it wasn’t until 1970 that the Pirates returned form, winning their first pennant in 1971 which featured the first all-black starting lineup which were Rennie Stennett, Gene Clines, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Cash, Al Oliver, Jackie Hernandez and Dock Ellis. On the last day of the year, slugger Roberto Clemente, who was delivering relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua when the plane he was in crashed. The Baseball Hall of Fame waived their waiting requirements and immediately inducted him into the Hall of Fame.
The next time the team found themselves in the playoffs was during the 1979 season after a 98-64 regular season run. In the playoffs, the Pirates, who took the wildly famous Sister Sledge song “We Are Family” as their own, met and beat the Cincinnati Reds en route to their 9th NL title. They then faced the AL Champions Baltimore Orioles who took the Pirates to 7-games. The Pirates would emerge victorious, winning their 5th World Series Title.
The ‘80’s were less than nice to the Pirates franchise and they were considered the worst team in baseball during a long stretch of the decade. It wasn’t until the 1988 season that the team finished with a respectable 85-75. The team suffered a setback the following season falling to 5th place. In the early ‘90’s, the Pirates won three successive Division Titles, but couldn’t advance to the World Series. In the final game at Three Rivers Stadium, the Pirates drew a record crowd of 55,351.
In 2001, the Pirates opened a new stadium, PNC Park which has become what baseball enthusiasts consider the best ballpark in the country. Since moving to PNC Park, the Pirates have yet to have a winning season but did host the 2006 MLB All Star Game
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