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Pittsburgh Pirates’ Rivalry

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Rivalry

All sports teams have rivalries, it’s part of the fun and the excitement.  The Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies had what is considered to be one of the most intense rivalries in the National League.  Both teams are nearly as old as the game itself and their close geographic proximity keeps the feud alive despite their modern day separation in the National League structure.

The Pirates joined the National League in 1887, four years behind the Phillies.  The two teams lived and played right next door to each other, even when the National League adopted a divisional organization, until 1994.  During this time the two teams were rarely good at the same time; but between the two of them they accounted for 15 of the 25 divisional championships between 1969 and 1993.  In 1992 the Pirates and Phillies faced off 18 times.  The next year the National League added the Florida Marlins and the Pirates and Phillies only met 13 times.  1994 marked the virtual end of the Pirates—Phillies rivalry when the National League realigned into three divisions.  The Pirates gave up their spot in the East to the Atlanta Braves and moved into the Central division.

The Pirates chose to make the move partly because it moved them into the same division as their NFL counterpart, the Steelers, and partly because their marketing department, so they claimed, saw no difference between the East and Central divisions and believed they had just as many rivalries in the Central.  The Phillies lamented the loss of the 104 year, in-state rivalry, but weren’t completely abandoned because they could then focus on their rivalry with the New York Mets.  This was the beginning of a decline for the Pirates anyway.  After losing to the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series the Pirates lost Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek and proceeded into an all-sport record streak of 19 losing seasons.  Players and fans believe a reignited rivalry with the Phillies is exactly what the team needs to find their fire again.

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Logo

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Logo

Being over 120 years old, the Pittsburgh Pirates have seen a fair number of styles come and go.  They have had 17 distinct logos over the years and worn a variety of colors and cuts, some of which made them pioneers.  The longest standing and least changed tradition in the Pirates’ logo is the distinct “P” on their caps.  It was adopted in the 1940’s and has remained there since even when the cap around it changed.  The “P” first became associated with the Pirates in 1900, roughly the time they started calling themselves the Pirates as a nickname while they were still the Alleghenys.  It likely had more to do with their association with Pittsburgh, though, as the previous logo had simply been the word “Pittsburgh”.

Until 1948 the Pirates used a traditional patriotic color scheme of red, white, and blue, the only distinction being in the variation of emphasis.  The “P” was either red or blue until 1931 and was seen in seven different styles including the 1908-1909  logo where a blue P above a blue C was superimposed over a red B.  In 1933 the “P” became blue with a red border, the last P to be used for 15 years.  From 1936 to 1996 the logo was some variation on a pirate’s face, varying in realism and sincerity.

The modern day logo is a scowling pirate with two crossed bats behind him, reminiscent of the Jolly Roger.  The Pirates also have an alternate logo that is simply a Jolly Roger with the word “Pirates” across the top.  Another modern day alternate logo is a P set in a circle with the words Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball and Since 1887 surrounding it.  The modern day color scheme of black and gold began in 1948, making the Pirates one of the first teams to break away from tradition.

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Uniforms

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Uniforms

In 1948 the Pirates’ colors changed to black and gold to match the Pittsburgh flag and those of the little known (at the time) Pittsburgh Steelers.  They weren’t the first team to change their colors, but they were one of the first to do it permanently, joining the San Francisco Giants as the only pre-expansion teams to change their colors entirely.  In the 1950’s the Pirates began using sleeveless jerseys and while they again weren’t the first, they did a great deal to help make the look popular.  They were the first to adopt the pullover spandex uniform in 1970, as a way to mark the move into Three Rivers Stadium, leading most other teams to do the same over the next decade.

The National League celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1976 and some NL teams wore classic pillbox style hats to commemorate the auspicious season.  The Pirates adopted the hats permanently and alternated between black and gold until settling on black in 1985. By 1977 the Pirates were one of the first teams, along with the Oakland Athletics, to have entirely separate “third jersey” options to their uniforms.  The two caps, two undershirts, three jerseys, and three pants that made up the total wardrobe were freely interchanged, sometimes with unfortunate results, on a day to day basis until 1985.

A simple gray and white uniform selection was established in 1985 and the pillbox style hats were retired in 1986.  The Pirates returned to button-down uniforms from the spandex pullovers in 1991, one of the last teams to do so.  They changed to vested jerseys in 2001 during which time the home jerseys had “Pirates” printed on them while the away jerseys showed “Pittsburgh”.  In 2009 the team adopted all sleeved uniforms except for pinstriped vests to be used for Sunday home games.

The Pioneering Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pioneering Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates are one of the oldest sports teams in the United States and they have never been afraid of trying new things.  Some things that are taken for granted today are thanks to the Pirates’ experimentation and a few impressive feats are first credited to Pirates games.  To prove their age and demonstrate one of the oldest rivalries in professional sports, on August 5, 1921 the Phillies hosted the Pirates for the first ever Major League Baseball game to be broadcast on the radio.  KDKA AM broadcast the game which the Pirates won 8-5.

In 1925 the Pirates became the first MLB team to recover from a 3 to 1 deficit to win the World Series, a best of seven championship.  They were also the first team to repeat that accomplishment when they did so in 1979.  The Pirates were the first team to wear batting helmets which they adopted during the 1953 season.  Their general manager Branch Rickey (who happened to own stock in the helmet making company) required players to wear the helmets on offense and defense.  The trend stuck with hitters, but within a few weeks the defending players gave them up as awkward and heavy.

The Pirates were the first to win the World Series in its 7th game with a home run in 1960.  Only one other team has ever won the World Series with a home run, the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993, but they did so in game 6.  On September 1, 1971 the Pirates fielded the first all-minority lineup in MLB history and they continued their tradition of diversity by being the first MLB team to sign Indian players.  Perhaps most impressively, the Pirates are the first and only MLB team to pitch a combined, extra-inning no hitter.  On July 12, 1997 Francisco Cordova pitched nine no-hit innings and Ricardo Rincon pitched one against the Houston Astros.  Mark Smith hit a three-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the tenth inning to seal the legendary game.

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