Here's the most surprising thing about the Pittsburgh Pirates being on the brink of clinching a losing season yet again: That fact still makes the papers in Pittsburgh. It's like some kind of tribute to the human spirit.
As Dejan Kovacevic of the Post-Gazette pointed out in his gamer about the Bucs' 81st loss of the season Tuesday, the Pirates' next defeat will give them 15 straight sub-.500 seasons, one shy of the major league record set by the Philadelphia Phillies of 1933-48.
That phamously phutile team had a pitcher who lost so many games -- an average of 19 a year from 1937 to '40 -- that he came to be known as Losing Pitcher Mulcahy.
But here's the really amazing factoid about the Pirates: The next-longest losing-season streak in baseball is 10 years, including this year, by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and -- as of Tuesday, when they chalked up their own 82nd loss -- the Baltimore Orioles.
The Devil Rays and Orioles are complete laughingstocks. Tampa Bay has never had a winning season, and there are people with driver's licenses who are too young to remember the last one by the Orioles. IPods didn't exist the last time the Orioles were a winning team. Forget iPods -- iMacs didn't exist. Google didn't exist. Viagra hadn't been approved for use.
No Google or Viagra? What a world!
So the Devil Rays and Orioles have been losing for as long as the world as some of us know it has existed, and the Pirates have been losing for five years longer than that.
As of their next loss the Pirates will have put together a streak of losing seasons one shy of twice as long as their counterparts in the NBA and NFL, the Atlanta Hawks and Arizona Cardinals. Those two franchises have come to pretty much symbolize losing. Can you even remember them winning? All I have is a dim picture of Dominique Wilkins doing something or other, kind of like the hazy memory I have of this fuzzy Eeyore doll I used to chew on when I was 3.
The Hawks and Cardinals have been losing for a lousy eight years. The NHL team with the longest streak of losing seasons is the Columbus Blue Jackets at six, though to be fair they've only played six seasons. If given more time to work with, they, like the Devil Rays, probably could have had a more impressive run by now.
I think we sometimes take greatness too much for granted, shrugging our shoulders at another amazing season by Albert Pujols or Peyton Manning or Kevin Garnett without really stopping to think what phenomenal feats we're privileged to witness.
It's true at the other end of the spectrum too. There's just something special about a team turning in 15 straight losing seasons.
I'm guilty of mentally throwing in the Pirates with the other sad sacks in baseball, the Orioles, the Devil Rays, the Kansas City Royals (four straight losing seasons but 12 of the last 13), the Cincinnati Reds (six straight, seven in a few days). But the Pirates are way beyond those guys.
They're even beyond the incredibly sad Selig-era Milwaukee Brewers, who only put together 12 straight losing years before going 81-81 two years ago, and whose streak of non-winning seasons is still only at 14.
The Brewers need eight wins in their last 17 games to finish with a winning record. And by the way, a winning record might be all they need to win the N.L. Central.
The Brewers had needed to win eight of 18, but they lost on Wednesday afternoon -- to the Pirates! Who scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth for a 7-4 victory, staving off a losing season for at least two days. They're off Thursday.
It's not too soon to start planning the celebration for 2009, when the Pirates break the Phillies' record with their 17th straight losing season. You have to take your hat off to them. You don't put together a streak like that without trying.
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Michigan's downfall is bad news in Boone, N.C. [PERMALINK]
As you know, Michigan followed its shocking upset loss to Appalachian State last week with another home loss Saturday, this one a blowout at the hands of Oregon. There's been a lot of dancing on the grave of Michigan's season around these Internets, and why not? It's always fun to see a habitual power take it in the shorts.
But hardly anybody's talking about what Oregon's 39-7 pole-axing of Michigan means for Appalachian State. Does it not take some of the sheen off the Division I-AA team's upset of the Division I-A power if it turns out the I-A team was just crappy? We still use the old terms around here, by the way, preferring not to talk about "subdivisions."
The Mountaineers' stunning win was a harbinger of increasing parity, we were told last week. I was ridiculed in this column's letters section for not seeing the Appalachian State win coming. I kid you not. After all, this was the two-time defending I-AA champion.
I'm all for increasing parity. The way to get it isn't to wish for it but to further lower scholarship limits, which would force solid but not elite college prospects to go play at smaller or less prestigious schools rather than being the 40th or 60th or 80th guy at Oklahoma or Florida or USC. But I love a big upset as much as the next guy whether it's a harbinger of anything or not.
That's why I find it curious that people -- other than Ohio State or Michigan State fans, I mean -- piled on Michigan when the Wolverines laid another egg against the Ducks. Just as I've always found it strange that the fans of a team that's closing out a big upset of a powerhouse will start chanting, "Over-rated! Over-rated!"
Well, if they're overrated then you're not accomplishing much, are you? You have to take charge of your schadenfreude, people!
The Associated Press reported that the home fans at Appalachian State's 49-7 shellacking of Lenoir-Rhyne Saturday cheered when the Oregon-Michigan score was announced. I'd have booed. If I'm a Mountaineer, I want Michigan to be the greatest team in college football history.
If Michigan had run the table through the Ohio State game, that Appalachian State win would really have been out of this world. It was still a hell of a thing, let's not forget. The gap between the top of Division I-A and the top of I-AA is still pretty big, notwithstanding the protestations in certain quarters that any idiot could have seen Appalachian State's Sept. 1 win coming.
Filled with cupcakey goodness as the BCS schools' non-conference schedules get, you won't see any of them scheduling Lenoir-Rhyne, a Division II school, anytime soon.
The upset just wasn't quite what it seemed to be when it looked like Michigan was really a top 10 team.
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The dirt section: Isiah Thomas trial [PERMALINK]
Getting tired of reveling in the personal destruction of Britney Spears? Need some new dirt to wallow around in? If you're not already following Isiah Thomas' sexual harassment trial, you might want to tune in.
Anucha Browne Sanders, the former New York Knicks marketing vice president who's suing Thomas, testified Tuesday that he frequently started sentences with the word "bitch" when speaking to her, the New York Post reports, as in, "Bitch, I don't give a f--- about ticket sales. That's your job."
Meanwhile, former Knicks guard Stephon Marbury testified Wednesday that he also called Sanders a bitch, and he recounted the entirety of the conversation he'd had across the street from a nightclub with a female Knicks intern with whom he "had a relationship."
"Are you going to get in the truck?"
Sanders said the intern told her she didn't think saying no was an option because of who Marbury was, the Post reports, and that Sanders' decision to report the incident led directly to her firing.
They're just getting started. Behind the scenes at a famous sports franchise! Get comfortable.
Previous column: Sports catastrophes; Pats "spying"
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