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Perrotto: Pirates Could Become Kings of Pittsburgh Sports — Seriously

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Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates, Livvy Dunne

The Pirates used to be the professional sports kings of Pittsburgh.

Seriously.

The Steelers played in only one playoff game in their first 39 seasons from 1933-71. The Penguins did not come into being until 1967 when the NHL expanded for the first time.

However, everything changed in 1972, just a year after the Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles for the fourth of five World Series titles in franchise history.

The Steelers went 11-3 that season and then beat the Oakland Raiders in the Immaculate Reception game in the playoffs. From that point on, the Steelers became the kings of Pittsburgh and justifiably so.

The franchise won four Super Bowls in six years from 1974-79 and added two more titles in 2005 and 2008. The Steelers have also reached the playoffs 33 times in the last 52 seasons. And they haven’t had a losing season since 2003.

The Pirates did keep holding firm at No. 2 until 1991, including winning a World Series title in 1979. That is the year when the Penguins won their first of five Stanley Cups in 26 years and jumped ahead of the Pirates.

So, the Pirates have been No. 3 in the Pittsburgh sports hierarchy for over three decades. They have certainly earned that spot with 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012, no divisions titles since 1992 and a World Series drought that stretches back to 1979.

I’ve covered the Pirates since 1988 so I can attest they are No. 3. Often, the job has been like being placed in the federal witness protection program because of the lack of interest.

I’ve written stories about the Pirates that have won national awards but received more compliments from fans on throwaway sidebars from Steelers games.

However, maybe, just maybe, the Pirates can make a move up the charts in these new few years.

While the Steelers have been consistently competitive, they haven’t been to the Super Bowl in 15 years or won a playoff game since 2016. The Steelers were once again an overmatched one and done in the playoffs with a 31-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills in January.,

It doesn’t feel like the Steelers are even close to a Super Bowl.

They don’t have a credible NFL quarterback on their roster – sorry Kenny Pickett fans – and made an incredibly uninspiring choice by hiring Arthur Smith as offensive coordinator.  The players are unhappy, rating Art Rooney II as the second-worst owner in the league in a recent survey conducted by the National Football League Players Association.

The Penguins face an uphill battle to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight season. The franchise’s run of 16 consecutive playoff appearances that ended in 2022 was impressive but the Penguins stubbornly keep trying to win with the aging trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

It doesn’t feel like the Penguins are even close to winning the Stanley Cup.

Considering the state of the other two franchises, the Pirates have a legitimate opportunity to move up the pecking order in the next few years.

They have signed three franchise cornerstones – right-hander Mitch Keller, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and left fielder Bryan Reynolds – to long-term contract extensions over the last two years. They have shortstop Oneil Cruz, who has as much raw talent as anyone in the game. They have Paul Skenes, the top pitching prospect in baseball.

The Pirates also have plenty of other pitching prospects in the pipeline and a potential star in second base prospect Termarr Johnson.

Whether the Pirates can capitalize on the situation remains to be seen. After all, this is an organization that has screwed up quite a bit for more than three decades.

But the opportunity could very well be there.

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