Until now you could only raise it, but now you can praise it as well, because the tattered and battered Jolly Roger flies over a winning franchise and an ever-resilient city where baseball pride is again validated at long last.
That any franchise in any major sport could erect the kind of futility infrastructure that spanned two full decades of uninterrupted failure was almost incomprehensible, but there was nothing in any way unpredictable about this town's reaction to all that losing.
Pittsburgh hated it.
The Pirates, such as they've been for the 20 consecutive summers leading to this one, were never considered lovable losers around here, were never given even a temporary license to stink with impunity like the long-suffering Chicago Cubs and their insufferable "We Wubs Da Cubs," audience or the 120-loss New York Mets of 1962, who were at least comical.
Not here buddy.
This town finds losing about as cuddly as a wharf rat.
What various ownership groups pushed onto the field here beginning in 1993 was never considered anything but tremendously annoying, completely embarrassing, and shamefully unworthy of a baseball stage erected by Honus Wagner and the Waners, a baseball stage polished to an ornate majesty by Clemente and Stargell, a baseball stage that once delivered performances that solidified Pittsburgh's station in baseball's pantheon.
Even after an uninterrupted two-decade nosedive unmatched in sports history, the Pirates were winners still in the city where they won nine pennants and five World Series and produced 40 Hall of Famers.
Then, somehow, they produced something else: a lost generation of fans who never felt any kind of Pirates pride, at least not authentically, not firsthand. Those poor kids. Even when a sort-of pennant race got whipped up by the 1997 "Freak Show" Pirates, working within the seriously terrible National League Central on a total team payroll of $9 million, they finished second with a record of 79-83, five games behind the wholly forgettable Houston Astros.
How they did all that isn't the kind of thing that can be explained in a sports column. That takes a novella at the minimum, perhaps a doctoral thesis or a feature length slasher film, but regardless of the platform, it starts with the coin of the realm: talent.
The Pirates didn't wade into this; they threw themselves off a cliff. There were winners of three consecutive division titles and were standing a single out from the 1992 World Series when they decided they couldn't or wouldn't or shouldn't compete financially with the clubs who would be sweet-talking their talented free agents.
So once upon a time you watched a prodigy, a wisp of a leftfielder named Barry Bonds, playing left and crushing baseballs, and suddenly you were staring at Orlando Merced, then Orlando Merced and Dave Clark, then Dave Clark and Will Pennyfeather, then Jermaine Allensworth and Keith Osik and Mike Benjamin and Brant Brown, then Kris Benson and Jimmy Anderson and Pat Meares and John Vander Wal, then Tike Redman and Adam Hyzdu, and there goes Ramon Martinez running straight from the PNC Park mound into retirement without so much as a change of clothes, then you were looking at Raul Mondesi disappearing into thin air on a bereavement mission, then it was Jose Castillo and wiener wacking Randall Simon and Ian Snell, and then, the 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates were led by RBI machine Andy LaRoche.
Not Adam LaRoche, Andy LaRoche.
He drove in 64.
A year later, the so-called first season of the new Pirates dynasty ended with a record of 57-105.
But for every combination of player personnel management threw the dice on for two decades, the larger issue was that the dice weren't as faulty as the shooters. Pittsburgh earned its tawdry loser stripes from the top down, failing spectacularly at drafting, scouting, player development, hiring, firing, public relations, etc.
They failed spectacularly at just about everything but ballpark building, providing the oft-acknowledged best ballpark in baseball as the breathtaking theater for a brand of baseball that was consistently bad except for those times when it was all but irredeemably bad.
The 2013 Pirates never acknowledged a winning season as their primary mission. They never accepted 20 consecutive losing seasons as primarily their burden. But Neil Walker lived it and plenty of others have heard way too much of this history lesson.
That they eventually changed the course of franchise history isn't something that will soon be forgotten. They didn't just raise the Jolly Roger. They honored it.
Gene Collier: email@example.com.