Pirates put their own spin on history, records

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Pittsburgh's major league baseball team could win its 10,000th game later this week.

But there won't be any fanfare or celebration at PNC Park should the Pirates win two games this week. That's because the Pirates don't count any franchise wins or records that were set when the team played in the American Association from 1882-86.

The Pirates are one of four National League teams that started playing baseball in the American Association. None of the others count those wins toward their franchise totals, though Major League Baseball's official historian, John Thorn, called it puzzling that they don't.

"My bet would be they think the American Association is not a major league, which flies in the face of MLB policy," Thorn said.

Today's game

• Game: Pirates (Cole 0-0) vs. San Francisco Giants (Lincecum, 4-5), 7:05 p.m.

• Where: PNC Park.

• TV: Root Sports.

In 1969, MLB's special records committee determined the American Association of the 1880s and other leagues -- the Union Association, the Players' League and the Federal League -- should be considered major leagues, like the American and National leagues.

Gary Gillette, an author and editor who co-edited ESPN's Baseball Encyclopedia and co-edits SABR's annual Emerald Guide to Baseball, said the league in 1969 merely was ratifying a practice that had gone on for more than 70 years.

"Because the American Association is a major league, I don't see why those records shouldn't be counted by the Pirates or anyone else," Gillette said.

The Pittsburgh Alleghenys went 236-296 in five seasons in the American Association. According to the Pirates, two more victories would give them only franchise wins 9,763 and 9,764, not 9,999 and 10,000.

Team president Frank Coonelly said the Pirates were informed by their official statistician at the Elias Sports Bureau before the season that the Pirates and none of the other teams from the American Association -- the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds -- count those wins among their franchise totals.

Additionally, said Steve Hirdt, executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau, the Pirates always have considered their entrance into the National League in 1887 as the start of their franchise. They celebrated their golden anniversary in 1937, their centennial in 1987 and, just two years ago, 125 years of existence.

"Historically, they had always counted their history from when they had arrived in the National League," Hirdt said.

The Pirates don't have much interest in suddenly embracing those five years as part of their heritage when they had never done so before.

Gillette likened the scenario to when the Baseball Hall of Fame opened in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1939, on what was then believed the centennial anniversary of the game's invention. When the Hall later found out such wasn't the case, they didn't stick to that original story.

"It's basically just a decision somebody made," Gillette said. "And the fact that the other clubs do it doesn't make it any more sensible. It just makes it an accepted version of history."

Hirdt said Elias simply informed the Pirates that no other American Association team counted those wins as part of their franchise totals.

"We took our guidance from the teams on this," he said.

Hirdt said he personally has no opinion on whether those American Association teams should count toward these franchise totals.

But Thorn said the Pirates and the other teams are doing a disservice to the American Association, which helped the sport grow in the late 1800s. The league was created to cater to the river towns of the time and its blue-collar fan base. It was the first league to permit alcohol sales at games, and where would baseball be without that?

Additionally, the Alleghenys franchise remained virtually unchanged when it moved from the American Association to the NL. Team management remained intact, and most of the players from the 1886 squad were a part of the 1887 squad. The only differences were the opposing teams and the sanctioning league.

The American Association actually outdrew the National League in attendance for a few years, Thorn said. And though most people recognize the first World Series as the 1903 contest between the National League champion Pirates and the American League champion Boston Americans, the NL and the American Association actually played a world series more than a decade before that, which they called the "World's Series."

The American Association beat the NL in one of those contests.

"There are no people around to start picketing or protesting," Thorn said. "They're all dead. But there is no historian to my knowledge that would argue that the American Association on its merits was not a major league."

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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published June 11, 2013 4:00 AM


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