In its early days, the club benefitted three times from mergers with defunct clubs. The AA club picked up a number of players from a defunct Columbus, Ohio team in 1885. In 1890, they merged with the Pittsburgh team from the Players League after that league folded. In 1900, the Pirates picked up star players from the defunct Louisville, Kentucky club, including greats like Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke (who also served as the team's manager from 1900 to 1915), triggering a long string of pennants.
The 1901-1903 Pirates completely dominated the National League, in part because they lost few star players to the rival American League. However, owing to injuries to their starting pitchers, they lost the first World Series ever played, in 1903 to Boston. Deacon Phillippe pitched five complete games, winning three of them; but it was not enough. With largely the same star players, the Pirates would continue to be a strong team over the next few years and got their first World Series title in 1909, defeating the Detroit Tigers in seven games.
The decline of Honus Wagner, considered by some to be the greatest shortstop ever, led to a number of losing seasons, culminating in a disastrous 51-103 record in 1917, Wagner's last season. However, veteran outfielder Max Carey and young players Pie Traynor and Kiki Cuyler, along with a steady if unspectacular pitching staff, brought the Pirates back into the spotlight. The Pirates recovered from a 3-1 deficit to win the 1925 World Series over the Washington Senators, and reached the 1927 World Series before losing in a sweep to the New York Yankees, who at that time had built the most dominant team in baseball. The 1927 season was the first for the sharp-hitting combination of brothers Lloyd Waner and Paul Waner, who along with shortstop Arky Vaughan ensured that the Pirates had plenty of Hall of Fame-caliber position players through 1941.
The post-World War II years were not kind to the Pirates, despite the presence of a genuine superstar in Ralph Kiner. The Pirates would have only one winning season until 1958, when Danny Murtaugh took over as manager. Murtaugh is widely credited for inventing the concept of the closer by frequently playing pitcher Roy Face late in close games. The 1960 team featured eight All-Stars, but was widely predicted to lose the World Series to a powerful New York Yankees team. In arguably the most memorable World Series in history, the Pirates were defeated by more than ten runs in three games, won three close games, then recovering from a 7-4 deficit late in Game 7 to eventually win on a walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski.
The 1960s would continue with extremely solid defensive play by Mazeroski and the first Puerto Rican superstar, Roberto Clemente. Clemente was regarded as both one of the game's best all-time hitters and right fielders. However, the Pirates struggled for the remainder of the decade, and Murtaugh was replaced by Harry Walker in 1965. Slugger Willie Stargell became a fixture in the Pittsburgh lineup, and the Pirates would return to prominence in 1970 when Murtaugh returned as manager and the Pirates' home field, Forbes Field, was demolished in favor of the multi-purpose Three Rivers Stadium. The Pirates won their first of five division titles over the next six years, and won their fourth World Series the next year behind a .414 batting average by Clemente. They also thought they had a genuine superstar pitcher (historically rare for the Pirates) in Steve Blass, who pitched two excellent games in the World Series and put together excellent seasons in 1968 and 1972. However, in 1973, Blass suffered a mysterious breakdown in his pitching abilities and posted an outrageous 9.85 ERA. He retired soon afterwards.
Clemente died tragically in a plane crash in 1972 while attempting to ship supplies to the victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua, and is today regarded as the most prominent figure in Pirates history, with a riverfront park and suspension bridge named for him.
Stargell, speedy Omar Moreno and power-hitting but ostentatious and unpopular Dave Parker became the cornerstones of the Pirates as Murtaugh left and Chuck Tanner took over as manager in 1977. Adopting the then-popular disco anthem "We Are Family" as their theme song, the Pirates won a fifth World Series, again in seven games, in 1979. Following was a period of decline until the Pirates were regarded as the worst team in baseball during the mid-1980s. Jim Leyland took over as manager, and the Pirates gradually climbed out of the cellar behind young and exciting players such as Bobby Bonilla, Barry Bonds, Jay Bell, and Andy Van Slyke.
The Pirates would win the first three division titles of the 1990s, but failed to advance to the World Series each time, the second two losing closely contested seven-game series to the Atlanta Braves on questionable calls at the end of the final game.
Before the 1993 season, Bonilla and Bonds would leave for more lucrative contracts elsewhere. Both players complained about the preferential treatment given to Van Slyke, leading some to believe that racism was well-ingrained in Pittsburgh sports. Since then, the Pirates have not had a winning season. This is blamed partly on former General Manager Cam Bonifay, who gave large contracts to players such as Derek Bell and Jason Kendall while failing to identify, develop, and retain numerous young potential star players. Despite poor play in 2001, Bell announced that he would begin "Operation Shutdown", a passive-aggressive ploy in which he would fail to play effectively in response to losing his role as a starter. No such incident has occurred with Kendall, but he is regarded as a poor clubhouse influence and has lost most of his speed following a broken leg in 1999. (Interestingly, video footage of Kendall's leg breaking from under him has been circulated on shock sites.) Brian Giles was one of the National League's best hitters for several years, but he left in 2003.
However, the failure of the Pirates to compete in recent years has been blamed on "small market syndrome"; teams located in small cities such as Pittsburgh and Kansas City cannot compete with New York and Boston without a salary cap or similar agreement, as the better players tend to gravitate towards cities where teams generate more revenue, meaning larger salaries.
The Pirates opened a new stadium, PNC Park, in 2001. Due to its simple, unpretentious concept and strategic usage of the remarkably beautiful Pittsburgh skyline, it is frequently regarded (as in a recent ESPN article) as currently the best park in baseball. Despite this, the Pirates' mediocre performance has translated to subpar attendance figures.
Players of note
Not to be forgotten
Minor league affiliates
ja:ピッツバーグ・パイレーツ sv:Pittsburgh Pirates