I often wonder who the Pirate’s real rival is, sure when the team is down its easy to simply hate or envy a plethora of teams, but realignment has probably played the biggest role in the answer than any one other fact.
Rivalries are different too, for instance when I was growing up the Mets were our biggest rival. When the Pirates started ramping up for the early ‘90s run the Mets were the main opposition. I hated them with everything I had, but I could not help to appreciate them at the same time. Doc Gooden, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, David Cone, John Franco, they were just so damn good. Many of these players were polarizing across the league, but you had to respect the hell out of them.
When we hear discussion of realignment for this season, even as a temporary move to potentially get the season going, I keep hearing people talk about destroying these rivalries and how insane these ideas are. Perhaps you don’t recall the Atlanta Braves being in the Western Division. That zany Georgia, apparently the longest state in the union. At least they were nice enough to drag the Reds with them, that’s right folks, Cincinnati also a Western city back in 1990.
I actually like the idea of strictly realigning based on geography. Surely there will be some outliers, like Seattle isn’t going to get closer to anyone they play realistically.
In 1993 the league introduced two expansion teams in the National League, the Florida Marlins and the Colorado Rockies. This brought with it a three-division split rather than two and drastic realignment. 1998 brought in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (still an infinitely better name than Rays) and bucked the Milwaukee Brewers to the NL. After quite some time lobbying for the move 2013 brought the Houston Astros move to the AL balancing all the divisions at 5 apiece.
The Pirates being rivals with the Mets, ancient history isn’t it? Sure, people my age still have flashbacks to beating them down the stretch to clinch in 1990 and talk about how cool it would have been to see Darryl hit at PNC, but by in large they’re just as familiar as any interleague game.
Of course, there would be others, The Cards, Reds and Brewers have all had a turn, greedy Reds took a couple shots at it actually. Its terribly hard to be anyone’s rival if you’ve never bested them, its exactly why until recently the Steelers-Browns rivalry has paled in comparison to the Steelers-Ravens. It’s equally no fun beating up on someone repeatedly. You may hate the Cards, but the Pirates have yet to best them in the modern era. Think about it, our most celebrated success was beating the Reds in the Wild Card game, only to be beaten by the Cards in a best of five.
The Reds of the 70s provided a true rival, even while not in the same division. Simply due to the Pirates and Reds lining up as the two best NL teams in the 70s, battling each other for supremacy most of the decade. In the 80s the Buccos really stunk, but epic, heated games with the Phillies at least made my young mind consider them a rival.
I see MLB believes Detroit makes the most sense as the Pirates designated rival and based on the records of the two recently maybe they have a point. I’d like to think Cleveland would make sense, but I could just be letting football shade my mind’s eye.
In Baseball, the more you play, the more you dislike. The more familiar you are the more you study and understand your opponent. Nothing catches you by surprise because you’ve seen the mix of pitches, you know this team likes to run on 2-1 counts. You know their left fielder looks for fastballs down in the zone once you get count leverage on him. You even start to understand the oddities of their home ballpark dimensions and pitch to effectively make it work for you.
Free agency has hurt rivalries in all sports if I’m honest. Its really hard to get worked up into a lather about that, um, arrogant bas…, I can’t even pretend, Andrew McCutchen. He could have signed with the Cardinals and unless he turned down more money from Pittsburgh to go there, how could I possibly dislike the guy? Even then, how can I begrudge him wanting to win or thinking he has a better chance to do so minimally in St. Louis?
What do you think? Who are the Pirates real rivals today? Who SHOULD it be? I anticipate half the answers being Nutting already.