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Seth88101
05-21-2006, 10:14 AM
By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com
Archive

PITTSBURGH -- There are worse things than being a Pittsburgh Pirate these days. You could be a Kansas City Royal. You could be a pooper scooper for the Budweiser Clydesdales. You could be the guy who updates Larry Brown's r?sum?.

The Pirates can't catch a break. They've got the Adriana Lima of stadiums -- gorgeous PNC Park -- but the worst record in the National League. They've got the All-Star Game coming to town for the first time since 1994, but no player worthy of an All-Star ballot vote. They've got 4? months left in their season, but already this city is fixated on the only gold and black that matters: the Steelers.



"Pittsburgh is a football town," says Pirates outfielder Jeromy Burnitz. "Here, everybody is a Steelers fan first. Or a Pirates fan ? if [we're] any good."

Burnitz, who ends every other sentence with, "But what do I know -- I'm only hitting a buck-eighty something," is absolutely right about the Steelers. Confirmation comes from Pirates first baseman Craig Wilson.

"It's a Steelers town," says Wilson. "I guess the best way to change that is to win."

Wilson says this as he sits in front of his locker, thumbing through the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine. When I mention that I work for the Worldwide Leader, he says, "Oh, really?" and then tosses the magazine to the carpeted floor. Smartass.

Wilson is wearing a T-shirt that reads:

I can only please one person a day.
Today is not your day.
Tommorow's not looking good, either.

You've got to like a ballplayer with a sense of humor. If you're a Pirate, you need one, preferably the size of Will Ferrell's. After all, this franchise hasn't had a winning season since 1992, hasn't won a World Series since 1979, and hasn't put a dent in Steelers mystique since Sister Sledge was belting out, "We Are Family."

"I think it's going to take time," says outfielder Jason Bay, "although no one wants to hear that."

No one wants to hear it because the Pirates have the 26th-lowest payroll in the big leagues. Jim Tracy is their third manager in the last six seasons. And good luck finding a Pirate among the MLB leaders in anything. Entering Tuesday night's games, shortstop Jack Wilson was the only Pittsburgh player ranked in the top 100 (42nd, to be exact) in batting average. No Bucco was in the top 100 in hits, or in pitching victories.

So I ask Bay, who was an All-Star last year (but, sigh, didn't play), who he'd choose to represent the Pirates come July 11. Remember, every team has to have at least one representative.

"Right now, probably Jack Wilson," Bay says.

Wilson's response?

"Right now, I wouldn't send anybody," he says. "None of us are doing that great of a job. None of us really deserve it. I don't think any of us deserve it."

It can't be fun to be a Pirate in a Steelers' town. Part of it is the Pirates' own fault. "We've lost for 13 seasons, is that what it is?" says Wilson.

Yes, that's exactly what it is -- with this season shaping up to be another forgettable Pirates summer. They began Tuesday 13 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central Division. That's even worse than the Florida Marlins, whose payroll is only slightly larger than what Girl Scout Troop 115 grosses in sales of Trefoils.

Meanwhile, the big, beloved Steelers win games. More important, they win championships, most recently, Super Bowl XL. Lombardi Trophy No. 5 will soon have its very own glass case at the team complex, separate from the other glass case that houses the four previous Super Bowl trophies won by the Steelers.

Pittsburgh wants to have the Steelers' love child. When quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned recently from visiting his family's native Switzerland there was a local Pittsburgh TV camera crew waiting at the airport. Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward can't swing a Terrible Towel without hitting a Steelers fan who wants his autograph. And isn't that the just-retired Jerome Bettis doing beer commericals with Burt Reynolds?

"In this town if you're a Steeler, you're a god," says reporter and talk-show co-host John Shumway of Pittsburgh's KDKA radio (which happens to be the Pirates' flagship station) and KDKA TV.

Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor couldn't fill his car tank at a south side Pittsburgh gas station without getting recognized. Steeler autographs signings at a local Wal-Mart produced lines that almost circled the massive building. And don't even get the TV types talking about the impact of the Steelers on their stations' ratings.

"You could show Ben Roethlisberger taking a [pee] and your ratings would go up," says another prominent Pittsburgh TV sports anchor.

Ask the locals what would draw a bigger crowd -- a Steelers' training camp scrimmage at Latrobe, Pa., or a Pirates' regular season game that doesn't feature a bobblehead giveaway -- and it isn't even close. The Steelers win that one, too.

A few days ago I spent the morning at the Steelers' training facility. There were camera crews galore. Editors called reporters with feature ideas. The arrival of Ward caused brief seismic activity.

And this was the day before a May minicamp session started. Just think what will happen when Roethlisberger shows up with a wedge of Swiss cheese.

Then there are the poor Pirates. I drove from the Steelers' complex to PNC Park and found a parking space about 100 feet from the statue of Honus Wagner. One local TV cameraman roamed the Pirates' clubhouse. So quiet was the place you could hear crickets chirp.

The Pirates won that evening. Down, 5-0, to the Marlins after the top of the first, Pittsburgh finished with a 12-9 victory. Burnitz drove in two runs. Bay had four RBI. A crowd of 24,990 attended the game, thanks to the Zach Duke Bobblehead promotion.

Of course, they could have sold out the place had the Pirates' marketing department made one small, but important concession.

Bill Cowher Spittle Night.

Stlrs4Life
05-21-2006, 10:34 AM
Sad, but true. Nothing will change it either. The Pirates could win the WS and the Steelers could lose every game, and it would stil be a Steeler Town.

Black@Gold Forever32
05-21-2006, 10:43 AM
Sad, but true. Nothing will change it either. The Pirates could win the WS and the Steelers could lose every game, and it would stil be a Steeler Town.

I totally agree. Pittsburgh will always be a football town.

SteelerDan43
05-21-2006, 10:55 AM
Contrary to popular belief Pittsburgh was a Baseball town for over 70 years untill the Steelers dynasty, and even then untill the early 80's it was still pretty even

BlitzburghRockCity
05-21-2006, 12:45 PM
Even when the Steelers were in their down times through most of the 80s they still sold out games and the fans flocked to see them every chance they get.

Pittsburgh is a Steelers first town and always will be. I have nothing against the Pirates or the Pens for that matter. Im not much of a baseball fan but I cheer for the bucs on a novice level of fanship..same with the Pens. I'll support all Pittsburgh teams, but the Steelers are on another level.

RoethlisBURGHer
05-21-2006, 03:24 PM
Pittsburgh is a "Drinking Town with a Football Problem"...I never saw a shirt that said "Baseball Problem".

clevestinks
05-21-2006, 07:03 PM
I love the Pirates though, and I love that all three teams are black & Gold. But the Steelers are my first love.

Black@Gold Forever32
05-21-2006, 07:08 PM
I love the Pirates though, and I love that all three teams are black & Gold. But the Steelers are my first love.

Yep the Steelers are my first love also. But I will always love the Buccos as well. I just keep praying for the Pirates to have a winning season again.

Steeler in Carolina
05-21-2006, 09:13 PM
Pirates need Mark Cuban to buy the team. That is the only way this team will win. They went out and spent a ton of money on Burnitz and he is batting .185. Big payday for Casey and Randa and they are hurt.

BBC
05-21-2006, 09:23 PM
Contrary to popular belief Pittsburgh was a Baseball town for over 70 years untill the Steelers dynasty, and even then untill the early 80's it was still pretty even

It was never really even after the seventies. It was more "Oh, did you hear the Pirates won the World Series?"

Haiku_Dirtt
05-22-2006, 01:04 PM
Pirates need Mark Cuban to buy the team. That is the only way this team will win. They went out and spent a ton of money on Burnitz and he is batting .185. Big payday for Casey and Randa and they are hurt.


Haven't lived there in quite some time but you don't want that circus known as Cuban unless it's tabacco rolled tighter than (fill in the blank)...

Bring on the NFL!!

Mosca
05-22-2006, 01:47 PM
Sorry, I disagree. In the '60s, the Burgh was a baseball town. Clendenon, Maz, Schofield, Bailey, Pagliaroni, Stargell, Virdon, Clemente. Believe me, I couldn't name more than one or two Steelers from the '64 team, but there's the Pirate's '64 starting lineup from memory. I was 10 in '64. I didn't have to look that up at all.

First came Three Rivers Stadium... and the first time you tried to watch baseball there you knew the Bucs were screwed. The place held the heat in, there was no air, the field views were awful (you couldn't see the baseline from behind the dugout), the sound system was horrible, and the upper deck was too far away for baseball. And it was on the North side, hard to get to and hard to get out of. There were maybe 30000 OK baseball seats there, and that's what the Bucs normally averaged. Now for football, Three Rivers was pretty good with the grandstand rotated so that the stands were elliptical, and part or the nature of watching live football is that distance isn't as big a factor as much as being able to see the whole field. A Steelers game 2 rows from the top in the end zone, while not the same as 200 level 40 yard line, was still watchable. Binoculars helped (but they don't help at a baseball game).

Second, there was the rise in popularity of football vs baseball. It isn't so much a Steelers/Pirates as it is a football/baseball.

Third, Pittsburgh is like everywhere else; they love winners. I agree 100% with the poster that wrote that during the '70s and '80s it was close. The Bucs won the Series in '71 and '79, and they were good enough to win it in '72, '74, '75, '77, and '78 (despite only 88 wins in '78, they were only one win away from forcing a divisional playoff game, coming from 16 games back in early August in a season that set the table for '79's championship run). If the Bucs put a real team on the field, with a chance of winning, a ticket to PNC Park will be just as tough a nugget to find as one to Heinz Field. But with a shrinking economy narrowing competition for a less and less avalable entertainment dollar, the idea of spending in excess of $150 to see, lets say Bucs/Brewers, is not near the top of the list. Heck, even the crappy Phillies teams from the '70s had Steve Carlton going out every 4th or 5th turn, to bring fans in. Believe me, I'm not going to spend $150+ to watch Oliver Perez stink out the joint.

I want to go see a Pirates game this year, but it's a 4.5 hour drive for me. I might try to make that St Louis series in mid-June, maybe get to see Pujols. I hope so. But I won't make the drive to watch the Bucs lose to the Brewers.


Tom

Stlrs4Life
05-23-2006, 08:53 PM
I love the Pirates though, and I love that all three teams are black & Gold. But the Steelers are my first love.


Same here, i still enjoy going to Pirate games.