I buried the Pirates a month ago. Wrote them off and didn’t spend one minute grieving over the corpse. A few days ago I compared them to the faithless girlfriend that we all dated at some point who treated us like crap, but we still kept taking them back, for reasons that none of us can ever fully explain.
Because we’re suckers for a pretty face. Because every guy has their Kryptonite girl. The chick that turns you into a helpless, emotional idiot. They don’t respect you or even really care about you, but yet you keep trying to make it work…because…. Well because you are helpless sucker, and for whatever reason you just cannot walk away. If you have never experienced it, then consider yourself lucky. But everyone has at least seen this relationship. Everyone has had a friend that just cannot walk away from the person who treats them horribly, no matter how many times they get dumped on.
These are the Pirates. A faithless, careless and self-centered whore of a mistress that will throw you out seconds after taking your money, only to fool you into coming back for more the next week. We have all fallen for it; we will continue to do so. Hell, the Pirates even managed to get Mark Madden to attend a game this year. Yes, even the Super Genius is not immune to the charms and allure of the Pittsburgh Pirates. That whore is just too beautiful…
I’ve heard for years that Pittsburgh is a “baseball town”. A city that looooves baseball so much that any small amount of success by the Pirates would immediately result in tens of thousands of people flooding the gates of PNC Park on a nightly basis. Which is bullshit. If there is an event that has beer, bratwurst and somebody keeping score, Pittsburghers will come, even when you aren’t trying very hard. If you play “Renegade” loud enough, cook some ribs, the citizens of Allegheny County would fill an arena to watch ladies field hockey.
This isn’t a Baseball town. It isn’t a Hockey town. Pittsburgh isn’t a football town.
It’s a competitive town.
A city with residents that are passionately competitive about lots of things, not just baseball. From Pee-wee to high school to college: every level, male and female, in every sport. BeRecruited.com lists Pennsylvania as 6th in student-athletes recruited out of high school into college and in participation. Competition is simply part of who we are.
Many cities the same size and larger simply do not value that personality trait the way we do. Baltimore is 20% larger than Pittsburgh and has fewer professional sports franchises. Portland, San Antonio and Sacramento are identical to Pittsburgh in population, size and economic strength but yet only have one sports team per city. People in Pittsburgh simply love sports and competition. That’s just the way it is. Even if you have proven yourself to be a selfish, thoughtless whore.
But since I’m that type of nerd, and since this is baseball, let’s go over some stats. Since 1995, the unofficial starts of the steroid era and small ball parks, there have been 20 teams win at least 100 games, slightly more than 1 a season. The top team in MLB has averaged 102.1 wins for the last 17 seasons. If we use 102.1 wins as the standard for what a baseball team can accomplish, agree that 102.1 is the most that a fanbase can reasonably expect a MLB team to accomplish, we can measure how the Pirates have fared against that expectation. For example the 2001 Pirates only won 62 out of a possible 162, for a win% of .383. But if we assume that the best that can be reasonably expected from a fanbase is 102.1 wins, then their Wins Against Expectations (WAE) is .607%. If we look at attendance figures and compare WAE% against % attendance capacity we can get a true value of how a fanbase supports its team vs. how the team supports its fan base.
( The logic here is that if your team wins 102 games, then you should reach 100% capacity the whole season, averaging a sellout every night. Each side, team and fanbase, has expectations for the other. What we are trying to compare is how each side is holding up there end of the unspoken team/fan agreement. Basically, we are measuring team loyalty. Loyalty to a team that compels fans to buy tickets even though they have every reason not to.)
I compiled data from Baseball-Almanac.com, individual team sites and yes…Wikipedia. (Wiki was consulted only when other sources failed to provide details of since demolished stadiums, such as Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Only for seating capacity used to determine Attendance capacity %). The results I found were quite interesting, or confusing, or even perhaps meaningless. Let’s look at them anyways, just because it’s my damn blog….
It shows that despite a total inability to compete at the major league level, the Pirates have only drawn 7.5% fewer fans than there record would warrant, which is 12th best in MLB and 8th in the Natioanl League. Despite having more losses than anyone else in the NL and overall only 9 fewer losses than the Royals over 11 seasons. 7.5% works out to be about 2300 fans per game. By comparison if the Pirates to Pittsburgh fans ratio were applied to the winningest team of the last decade ( the Yankees of course, who also lead the league in attendance) it would indicate that even the Yankees would see an increase of 8.4 million tickets over the last 11 seasons.
Further study suggests that attendance CANNOT be linked to any of the following:
• New Ballparks- Two of the top three (Cubs, Red Sox) teams have been playing in the same park for a century. Two of the Bottom 6 teams have stadiums less than a decade old and the other 4 have parks built since 1993. A new ballpark provides a temporary boost, but not a sustainable one as the trend quickly returns to its regular ratio.
• Championships- Winning a championship provides only a modest and temporary boost to attendance figures. The Marlins, Diamondbacks and White Sox have all won World Series titles within the last decade but all rank in the bottom third of the league in fan loyalty. The Braves were the most successful organization in professional North American sports history, winning a record 14 straight division titles. Yet they played in front of the same capacity (62.8%) every night as the Rockies, a team which has had three winning seasons in 11 years.
• Payroll- Teams that spend more certainly win more. But that doesn’t necessarily lead to fans buying tickets consistently and loyally.
What it shows it that despite an obvious lack of loyalty from the team to its fanbase, or an inexplicable level of incompetence, (probably a little of both) Pirates fans have shown up to games despite the organizations unwillingness to reciprocate with a winning product. The Pirates have averaged 58.6% capacity since PNC park opened in 2001, a percentage that is better than 7 other teams in the league. Four of which have made the playoffs in the last decade and one even won a World Series Title (Marlins, 2003). 5 of those teams also have new ballparks. It shows that Pittsburgh Pirate fans have been every bit as loyal as almost any other fan base in the league, and sometimes more, despite being given every reason not to.
By comparison, over the last 11 years the Braves have a WAE% of .87% to .661%, won 235 more games, 6 playoff appearances and 4 division titles but have only drawn 4.2% more fans to each game (58.6% to 62.8%). If fans of Atlanta attended games at the same rate as they won baseball games they would have drawn an extra 7.5 million fans per season. If they drew fans at the same loyalty rate as the Pirates they would have drawn an extra 9.9 million fans per year. Does this mean that Pittsburgh fans are better or more loyal than Braves fans?
No. Absolutely not.
It means we are idiots who will obediently file into a ballpark just because there is beer, bobbleheads and hot dogs. Because we like pretty fireworks and has-been 80’s bands. Prior to the 2011 season the Pirates actually promoted EVAN MEEK, their 2010 “All-Star” and we bought it. Or more specifically bought tickets to watch a RELIEF PITCHER on the leagues worst team. And we bought it. Because we’re stupid. Because we love competition, even when the outcome is all but decided. Because we are suckers who are constantly willing to believe that maybe, JUST MAYBE, our Kryptonite girl really has changed. But she hasn’t….
And we will all be back next year. They will add bratwurst and hot wings to the all-you-can-eat seats and we will run for tickets like freshman to newly tapped keg of Natty Ice.
We will line up for tickets to see fireworks and Styx. Again.
They will feign attempts at being competitive and we will buy it. Just like an ex-girlfriend showing up with an overnight bag and tears in her eyes, talking about the good ole’ days and promising she has changed and blah-blah-blah. A few days later the PS3 is missing, the chick is nowhere to be found and the drain is clogged with hair.
And in 5 months the Pirates will have some great marketing campaign talking about AJ Burnett and
the reigning NL MVP NL Batting Champion Andrew McCutcheon. They talk about the good ole’ days and that they have changed and blah-blah-blah. We will all dutifully attend Pirates games until we realize that once again we are powerless and stupid suckers.