The number 21 has a few different meanings for Pittsburgh Pirate fans. The number may represent how many years it took the team to clinch their next first winning season and playoff birth and win, or it may represent a man. The man that represents 21 would be Pirate legend and Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.
Clemente, the first Major League Baseball player from Puerto Rican left a huge impact on Pittsburgh and the baseball community. Although Clemente may be the most famous Pirate player in club history, he is not alone.
Established in 1876 as Pittsburgh’s professional baseball team, the original name for the Pirates was the Alleghenys. In 1887, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys joined the National League, which is now part of Major League Baseball. After acquiring second baseman Lou Bierbaur, which has been considered controversial, the Alleghenys renamed themselves ‘The Pirates.’
At this time the Pirates had already been on of the better teams in the league but it was not until the 1899 season when the Pirates became a world-class team. The National League had decided to eliminate teams and have eight teams instead of twelve. Louisville Colonels owner Barney Dreyfuss had learned his team was to be eliminated and decided to do something uncommon at the time. Dreyfuss purchased a large interest in the Pirates and added the former Colonels to team. Two players who joined the Pirates with Dreyfuss were Pirate legends and Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke. Wagner and Clarke helped the Pirates become the best team in the National League in the early 20th century. They were also responsible for helping the team reach the first World Series ever played in 1903.
The Pirates continued their winning ways and defeated the Detroit Tigers in the 1909 World Series. As the years passed, young players joined the team and history repeated itself as the Pirates had some of the best players in the entire National League. Players such as Max Carey, Pie Traynor, Kiki Cuyler, Arky Vaughan, and brothers Lloyd and Paul Waner led the Pirates throughout the 1920 and 1930s. The club won their second World Series title in 1925 defeating the Washington Senators.
After World War II, the Pirates began to struggle as the team did not have the superstars they once did. There was however one player who stood out on the Pirates; Ralph Kiner. Kiner led the National League in homer runs for seven straight seasons, however the team could not produce their former winning ways. Although, the rest of the team struggled, Kiner still produced and is another Pirate legend and Baseball Hall of Famer.
In the 1950s, the team decided to rebuild and once again, fill the roster with young players, which included Hall of Famers Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Clemente. Led by the winningest manager in team history Danny Murtaugh, the Pirates reclaimed their winning ways and beat the Yankees in the 1960 World Series at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. Bill Mazeroski, who is known as one of the best second baseman in baseball history, hit a game winning home run to secure the victory. It was the first time a home run had won a team the World Series.
It was during this time Roberto Clemente and newcomer Willie Stargell became known as the main superstars on the team and in 1971, the Pirates won another World Series Title. However, Pittsburgh and the sports world was stunned when Roberto Clemente was killed in a plane crash while attempting to supply victim of an earthquake in Nicaragua. In his last regular season at bat, Clemente hit a stand-up double for his 3,000 career hit. After his death, Major League Baseball announced they would immediately induct Clemente into the Hall of Fame.
Throughout the 1970s, the Pirates were once again one of the top teams in Major League Baseball. The team won the 1979 World Series and along with the Steelers winning the 1979 Super Bowl, Pittsburgh became known as ‘The City of Champions.’
Starting in the 1980s, the Pirates fell upon dark times. The team began losing again and a number of the players went to court regarding a league drug scandal. It was during these tough times, the city of Pittsburgh purchased the team. Toward the end of the 1980s, the Pirates began to have success with player such as Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Jay Bell, Andy Van Slyke, Doug Drabek, and John Smiley. The Pirates would win the National League East titles in 1990, 1991, and 1992, but after a tough loss in the 1992 playoffs, the team would struggle for the next twenty years.
For the next twenty years, the Pittsburgh Pirates would fail to produce a winning season or .500 season. In 2001, then Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy opened what he hailed as a must for the organization; PNC Park. PNC Park was the new home for the Pittsburgh Pirates and has since been named one of baseballs best ballparks. At the time, numerous individuals and organizations thought the idea of redesigning Pittsburgh North Shore was unforeseeable. However, as people look at Pittsburgh’s North Shore today, it may have been one of the best ideas and projects the city ever accomplished. It was also McClatchy who believed the Pirates were too important to Pittsburgh to relocate to another city. Although Kevin McClatchy is no longer the owner of the Pirates, he is the main reason the Pirates are still in Pittsburgh and one of the reasons why PNC Park was constructed.
In recent years, the Pirates began to rebuild and in 2013, finished the season with a 94-68, the teams first winning season since 1992. It was also the first season the Pirates would play in the postseason. On October 1, 2013 the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds with a score of 6-2 and won their first home playoff game since 1992.
For the rest of the 2013 season and into the future, fans will forever root, ‘Lets Go Bucs!’