Origin of the Pittsburgh Pirates

Baseball has been a professional sport in the Pittsburgh area since 1876.  The teams of that time were all independent and played wherever they could find a field and an opponent.  There was no organization to it, but the teams were run as businesses and the players did receive salaries.  In 1882 the most successful team in the area joined the American Association, claiming Allegheny City (at the time a distinct city separated from Pittsburgh by the Allegheny River) as their home and thus being listed as the Alleghenys (not “Alleghenies”).  They made a modest showing for five seasons in the AA before transferring to the National League in 1887.  They took advantage of the opportunity to change their name to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys.

In 1890 the Alleghenys were decimated when most of its players left for the Pittsburgh Burghers of the Player’s League.  The legal battle resulted ultimately in nearly the entire original roster returning to the Alleghenys as well as a number of players from other AA teams.  One of the most notable of those was second baseman Lou Bierbauer.  Bierbauer had been playing for the Philadelphia Athletics, but when the Athletics didn’t put him on their reserve list the Alleghenys snatched him up.  The Athletics accused the Alleghenys of being piratical and the controversy divided the AA, ultimately resulting in its collapse.  The Alleghenys made light of the accusation by nicknaming themselves the Pirates, a name that stuck.  It was first reflected on their uniforms in 1912.

One of the most significant events of the Pirates’ early life in the National League was in 1899 when the Louisville Colonels were due to be dissolved as the NL was reducing their 12 teams to 8.  Pittsburgh picked up virtually all the Colonels’ star players in exchange for four virtual unknowns, making it a legal trade, and even waited until after the season ended to make the exchange.


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