Baseball futility: The Pirates, the Phillies and how to define failure

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Although the Pirates have won four of their last six games, fans who see the big picture feel trapped in another season of futility. With the Bucs eight games behind the division leader and nine games under .500 three weeks before mid-season, fans may be tempted to look for consolation at the other end of Pennsylvania. There, in the City of Brotherly Love, something most unlovable is about to transpire.

Heading into last night's game, the Philadelphia Phillies were a dozen losses from becoming the first professional team in any sport to reach the ugly benchmark of 10,000 defeats. Quintuple-digit losses for a franchise launched in 1883 is not so much a team, as a teams, effort. Like the teams between 1938 and 1942, which lost at least 103 games each season. Or the team in 1964, which blew a 61/2 game lead for the National League pennant in its last 12 games by losing 10 in a row.

Although there are many ways to lose, the Phillies, over time, have found them all. But before the howls of derision roar too loudly from the home crowd that frequents our favorite ballpark on the North Shore, they should look more closely at The New York Times' report last Tuesday on Philadelphia's approaching milestone. The accompanying table featured the Pittsburgh Pirates, in fourth place for total losses at that point with 9,328 (behind Philadelphia, the Atlanta Braves and its forerunners and the Chicago Cubs and its ancestors).

The Pirates have a way to go before cracking 10,000 losses, despite even 15 straight losing seasons (counting 2007). But if the current level of play holds up, the franchise will reach this new depth in only seven more years.

Early this year Pirates board chairman Bob Nutting declared that his ownership group was fully committed to winning. "It's my expectation to win," he said in January. "I think we can win in 2007," he said in February.

But in June the Pirates took their all-too-familiar plunge in the Central Division standings, albeit a month later than usual. Neither the team's lackluster draw in this month's player draft nor Mr. Nutting's rote defense of the Pirates payroll -- 28th lowest of 30 teams -- offers any encouragement.

Philadelphia may be headed for the record books, but its present team, which is having a winning year, has nothing on this. The Pirates' last successful season came in 1992; its last World Series was a generation ago. The people gave the Pirates a winning ballpark, but all that the owners have delivered is losing baseball.


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