With the 1-0 Pittsburgh victory tonight over the Rangers, the Pirates won their 82nd game of the season. This is the first time the Bucs have reached such a height since 1992, when they were a Francisco Cabrera single away from the World Series.
Since then, Pittsburgh saw the defection of Barry Bonds, Doug Drabek and Andy Van Slyke and a lot of questionable draft picks (including number one overall selections used on Kris Benson and Bryan Bullington) and a parade of prospects who never panned out.
But despite a generation of losing, some players did contribute their share to turn things around in The Steel City.
This is a 25 man roster of the best players for the Pirates worst years. None of them played in the 1992 NLCS and none are on the current roster.
They all represent the franchise between Sid Bream’s slide and the electric 2013 squad.
The roster includes a starting player for each position, a five man rotation and bullpen and a bench. And only their Pirate years are considered for entry.
So let’s celebrate the Pirates when the fans had little to cheer for except these players’ efforts on a losing squad.
The All 1993-2012 Pittsburgh Pirates Team
Starting Catcher: Jason Kendall
Drafted in 1992, the son of former big leaguer Jason Kendall became a Pirate mainstay from 1996 to 2004. In his nine years with the Pirates, he finished third in the Rookie of the Year vote in 1996 and three times was Pittsburgh’s representative in the All Star Game.
A solid defensive catcher, he also was a consistent .300 hitter, topping the mark 6 times. Never much of a power threat (his home run high with the Pirates was 14 in 2000), he was a steady performer in some of the Pirates darkest years.
Later he appeared in three straight post seasons with three different franchises (2006 A’s, 2007 Cubs and 2008 Brewers) before retiring after the 2010 season.
Starting First Baseman: Kevin Young
He actually played 10 games with the 1992 Pirates, but those 9 plate appearances were not enough to disqualify him. (He wasn’t on the post season roster.)
Young played 11 of his 12 big league seasons with Pittsburgh from 1992 to 2003. He played one season for Kansas City in 1996. He had good power, hitting 20+ homers three straight seasons from 1998 to 2000. He also was 19th in the 1997 NL MVP race when the Pirates made a push for the division before fading below .500. He had a .909 OPS is 1999. That year he also drove in 106 runs and stole 20 bases.
His big league career ended when he was released during the 2003 season.
He was named as a user in the Mitchell Report in 2007.
Starting Second Baseman: Freddy Sanchez
Acquired from the Red Sox in a trade involving Scott Sauerbeck, Sanchez became a productive hitter for the Pirates from 2005 to 2009.
He won the National League Batting Title in 2006 and led the league in doubles with 53 that year.
Sanchez was named to three All Star Squads during his 4 1/2 full seasons in Pittsburgh before being dealt to the Giants midway through the 2009 season.
He played a big part in the Giants 2010 World Series Championship season.
Starting Shortstop: Jack Wilson
The one time Cardinals prospect made his big league debut with the Pirates in 2001. He would spend 9 seasons in Pittsburgh, with his best year being 2004. He hit .308, led the league with 12 triples, won the Silver Slugger and made the All Star Team.
Despite playing on losing team after losing team, he was devastated when the Pirates dealt him to the Seattle Mariners during the 2009 season.
He loved Pittsburgh and expected to be a Pirate for life. He finished his career with the 2012 Braves.
Starting Third Baseman: Aramis Ramirez
The dynamic right handed power hitting third baseman emerged from the Pirates farm system in 1998. By 2001, he had developed into a legitimate star, clubbing 34 homers, driving in 112 and batting .300. He finished that season with an OPS of .885 and an OPS plus of 122.
In 2002 his production dipped to 18 homers and an OPS of .666. The Pirates panicked the next season and sent him packing to the Chicago Cubs in one of the most notorious deals in the losing streak.
Ramirez was sent to Wrigley with Kenny Lofton for Bobby Hill, Jose Hernandez and Mark Bruback. The Cubs got a star and the Pirates got close to nothing back.
Starting Left Fielder: Jason Bay
Probably the most famous of the losing era Pirates, Bay began his career as a Montreal farm hand. After being passed around between the Expos, Mets and Padres, he landed in Pittsburgh as a part of the Brian Giles trade.
He responded by winning the 2004 Rookie of the Year and finishing 12th in the 2005 NL MVP race. A right handed slugging outfielder was good for 25-35 homers a year.
His best season, 2005, he added 21 steals to his .961 OPS production.
In the middle of another productive season in 2008, he was involved in a blockbuster three team deal. The Dodgers received Manny Ramirez, who electrified the team and the fan base as they stampeded to the NLCS. The Red Sox got Bay, who was outstanding in the Division Series and helped get the defending champs to Game 7 of the ALCS.
What did the Pirates get?
Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen.
Starting Center Fielder: Brian Giles
Giles was an established big leaguer with World Series experience as an outfielder for the Cleveland Indians. He was shipped to Pittsburgh after the 1998 ALCS in a deal for Ricardo Rincon.
A role player with a star studded Indians team, he became the marquee player for the Pirates. He ranked among the top 25 MVP candidates for each of his four full seasons despite not appearing for a single contender.
His 123 RBI in 2000 fell just short of the Pirates record held by Paul Waner.
He became the first Pirate to hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBI in back to back season. That is pretty remarkable when you consider this is the franchise the produced Barry Bonds, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Ralph Kiner and the Waner brothers.
He was dealt to the Padres (bringing back Jason Bay) and helped San Diego reach back to back playoffs in 2005 and 2006.
Starting Right Fielder: Jose Guillen
A product of the Pittsburgh scouting department, he placed 7th in the Rookie of the Year vote in 1997 when the Pirates contended until a late season fade.
He had some power but also a rocket for an arm. His defense made him a highlight film regular with this clip against Colorado still frequently shown on MLB Network.
He was dealt to Tampa Bay during the 1999 season. Since leaving Pittsburgh, he has been passed from organization to organization, often times clashing with management.
Mike Scioscia of the Angels benched him in critical games and he was later found to be using performance enhancing drugs.
A Rookie of the Year candidate in 2005, Duke burst onto the scene going 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA and looked like a potential ace for the struggling Bucs.
He was the National League Pitcher of the Month in July, 2005 as he posted a 0.87 ERA.
In all, Duke pitched for six seasons in Pittsburgh and was named to the 2010 National League All Star Team.
After stints with the Diamondbacks and the Nationals, he is now pitching for the Pirates’ divisional rival Cincinnati Reds.
The 8 year veteran arrived in Pittsburgh for the 2011 campaign. After being a reliever for the Giants and a starter for the Padres, he emerged as a staff leader for the Pirates.
By early July, he had an 11-6 record with a 3.74 ERA for a Pirates team that was only a game and a half out of first place. He made the All Star team in 2011 but faded, along with the Pirates in the second half.
In 2012, he finished with 12 wins and an ERA of 4.21 and then left in the off season for Minnesota.
A veteran of the Mexican Leagues, Cordova made his big league debut in 1996 with the Pirates.
His great highlight came on July 12, 1997 when he pitched 9 no hit innings with 10 strikeouts against the Houston Astros. The game was scoreless after 9 and Ricardo Rincon kept the no hitter alive in the 10th. Pinch hitter Mark Smith homered in the bottom of the 10th to clinch the no no, which is to date the last one in Pirates history.
Cordova’s career was cut short with arm issues, but he has continued to pitch in Mexico.
Stan Belinda threw the pitch that Francisco Cabrera hit and crushed a generation of Pirate fan hearts. Belinda was eventually traded to Kansas City for Leiber.
In 1994, when the losing season streak was at one, he made his big league debut and pitched well for Jim Leyland’s squad. When the strike hit, his ERA was 3.73.
He was the opening day starter in 1995 and 1997 and posted a respectable 3.99 ERA in 1996 and 11 wins in 1997.
He was dealt to the Cubs where he became a 20 game winner and eventually pitched with the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.
A one time top prospect for the Braves, Schmidt joined the Pirates during the 1996 season as the biggest chip in the Denny Neagle trade.
He put up double digit victories on some miserable Pirate teams. He also tossed back to back 200 inning seasons in 1998 and 1999.
Eventually he was dealt to the Giants and pitched for San Francisco in the 2002 World Series.
Williams was a journeyman pitcher with six years of big league experience when he joined the Pirates in 1998. He was sent to the bullpen and posted a 1.94 ERA over 51 relief innings.
By 1999 he was closing games for Pittsburgh, saving 20 or more games in five of six seasons in the Steel City. His career high was 46 saves for an 89 loss squad in 2002.
He was named to the 2002 and 2003 All Star Game, although his ’03 selection was notorious because he finished that year with an ERA over 6.00 and never came back to the majors.
Capps emerged as a solid set up man as a rookie for the 2006 Pirates. The 22 year old posted a 9-1 record and by his second season, he became the closer.
He posted 18 saves in 2007, 21 in 2008 and 27 in 2009.
However in 2009, his ERA ballooned to an eye popping 5.80 and was non tendered at the end of the season.
He became an All Star with the 2010 Nationals before being dealt to the Twins for the stretch run.
A one time Dodger prospect, Hanrahan was struggling as a reliever for the Nationals when he was dealt to the Pirates in the Nyjer Morgan deal during the 2009.
A change of scenery was just what he needed. He posted a 1.72 ERA as a set up man in 33 games in ’09. Another effective season in 2010 made Matt Capps expendable, moving him to the closer role in 2011.
He responded with back to back All Star Seasons. He saved 40 games in 2011 with an ERA of 1.83. He saved 36 with a solid 2.72 ERA for the 2012 team.
He was dealt to Boston after the 2012 season. Injuries cut his Boston season after 9 disappointing games.
After bouncing around several organizations, Meek made his big league debut with the 2008 Pirates.
In 2009 he became a solid middle reliever and in 2010 was selected to the NL All Star Team, a rarity for a set up man.
He finished with a 2.14 ERA over 80 relief innings.
Meek played the 2012 season with the Pirates but this season has been in the Rangers organization.
Rincon joined the 1997 Pirates after years of pitching in the Mexican League. He was a left handed reliever who compiled a few wins.
His 3rd credited victory of the season was a memorable one in Pirates history. As mentioned above, Francisco Cordova threw 9 no hit innings the game was scoreless after 9.
Instead of going out for the 10th, Rincon came out and pitched a scoreless ninth (Houston’s Derek Bell walked.) With 2 outs in the 10th, Mark Smith pinch hit for Rincon and hit a walk off 3 run homer to win the game and clinch the no hitter.
So the last no hitter in Pirates history, as of this writing, was won by Ricardo Rincon.
Reserve Infielder: Tony Womack
Womack made cameos in the major leagues during the 1993, 1994 and 1996 seasons. But in 1997, he became a Rookie of the Year candidate. He made the most of his first full season, making the All Star team and leading the league with 60 stolen bases.
In 1998, he led the league with 58 stolen bases. That year he also led the National League with 149 singles.
Before the 1999 season he was traded to the Diamondbacks for Jason Boyd and Paul Weichard. Womack led the league in stolen bases for a third straight year and became a post season hero for the 2001 Arizona squad.
Reserve Infielder: Jose Castillo
The Venezuela native made the Pirates squad in 2004 and at age 23 became Pittsburgh’s starting second baseman.
One time the top prospect in Pittsburgh’s system, he struggled to find consistency in the big leagues. Sometimes spectacular in the field and with decent power, he struggled through slumps and injuries before being let go after the 2007 season.
He played with the Giants and Astros before moving to the Taiwanese and Japanese Leagues.
Reserve Outfielder: Al Martin
Martin had 12 plate appearances with the 1992 NL East Champs, but did not appear in the post season. In 1993, he was a Rookie of the Year candidate, giving Pirate fans false hope that rebuilding would be quick.
He slugged 18 homers and stole 16 bases while taking over left field for the departed Barry Bonds. He consistently provided the Pirates with double digit home run totals and 20+ stolen bases throughout the 1990s.
Later he got in trouble with the law when he was married to two women at the same time.
Reserve Outfielder: Nate McLouth
And all around talented outfielder, McLouth made his debut with the 2005 Pirates. He was a 20-20 left handed slugger who led the National League with 46 homers in 2008.
He made the All Star team that year and threw out a potential game winning run at the plate in extra innings.
He won the Gold Glove that season and even earned a few points in the MVP vote.
During the 2010 season he was dealt to Atlanta in a deal that sent Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton to Pittsburgh.
He had a short second stint with the Pirates in 2012 and has been with Baltimore for the past year and a half.
Reserve Outfielder: Jermaine Allensworth
When Doug Drabek left the Pirates for the Houston Astros, Pittsburgh used one of the compensation picks to select Allensworth from Purdue University.
A right handed center fielder with speed, Allensworth made the Pirates big league squad in 1996. He showed flashes of speed and defensive abilities.
Later he was dealt to the Kansas City Royals.
In an episode of Saturday Night Live, Tracy Morgan inexplicably portrayed Allensworth in the underrated recurring sketch “Perspectives.”
He may not have been an All Star but how many ballplayers were portrayed by Tracy Morgan?
Reserve Catcher: Ryan Doumit
A solid if injury prone catcher for seven years in Pittsburgh, Doumit also started several seasons and could play the outfield and first base. He would even DH in interleague games.
He did bring some power to his game, three times hitting double digit homers.
He remains active and has been the Minnesota Twins’ starting catcher for the past two seasons.
Utility OF/INF: Rob Mackowiak
A classic utility player, Mackowiak scrapped his way to the big leagues and did what he needed to stay there.
A 53rd (!) round draft pick out of South Suburban College in Illinois in 1996, he climbed slowly up the Pirates system. After six seasons, he got the call to join the 2001 Pirates.
He showed some power, with a 16 and 17 home run season. He showed some speed, swiping 13 bases in 2004. But most of all he showed resolve and an attitude to stay in the big leagues no matter where he was needed.
In five seasons with the Pirates, he started games in right field, second base, left field, third base and center field.
In a blue collar, hard working town, a player like Mackowiak personified the city better than anyone.
If the Pirates had fielded all 25 of these players at once, maybe they would have had a few more winning seasons.
Congratulations Pirates. Now don’t spent decades getting another winning year!
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