The Number ’21’ Means More to Pittsburgh than We Thought

The season the Milwaukee Brewers are having is tough on the fans.  Remember, though, it was ‘only’ back in 2005 that the Brewers snapped a nasty streak of 12 consecutive losing seasons with an 81-81 record.  That non-winning, break-even season would be all Brewers fans could hang their hats on until finally the 2007 club finished 83-79.  Since those streaks were broken, the franchise hasn’t looked back, and the fans have begun to forget how hard it was to finish in the losers’ bracket, year after year.  By the same token, Brewers fans can understand more fully than most what the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans are feeling right now.  If they beat the Brewers Wednesday evening in what will be the final matchup of the two teams in 2013, the Pirates will have nailed down that elusive 82nd win for the first time in 20 years. 

What I didn’t know is that the fear and loathing of a 21st-consecutive losing season for the Pirates was tied intimately to that franchise’s hero of heroes: Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.  Maybe I have just missed this, but I don’t think it’s been discussed much.  During this lost season, I have at times fast-forwarded through Brewers games so I can’t say with any certainty whether the Brewers’ broadcasters have mentioned it; I don’t think they have.  I haven’t seen it mentioned by Haudricourt or anyone else.  But the Associated Press’ Joe Totoraitis had an interesting story about how Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had told Clemente’s family that the Pirates would find a way to avoid a 21st-straight losing season because the number ‘21’ is Clemente’s number.  Talk about motivation.  The family didn’t want his number associated with that stain of futility for the storied Pittsburgh franchise, which is understandable.  “The one family I’m happy for is the Clemente family,” Hurdle said.  “I told them we’d find a way to take care of that.  It’s been taken care of.”

Clemente is basically a god in baseball heaven, or however you want to put it, and it’s a bit astonishing that this particular detail has escaped the stories about Pittsburgh’s quest to beat the streak this year.  Clemente’s extraordinary career on the field and his humanitarian efforts off of it, which led to his untimely death, shouldn’t be associated with the Pirates’ failures over two decades and perhaps that’s why there’s been little public word about this association until now.  In any case, congratulations to the Pirates on a non-losing season, and a future congrats to them on breaking on through to a winning one as well.  I’d prefer that didn’t happen tonight because it’d be one more insult for the Brewers.  If it happens, though, I’ll be more happy for the Pirates than I will be upset at the Brewers. 

Pirates fans and players deserve to revel in their accomplishment.  I was at the final game of the 2005 season in Pittsburgh when all the Brewers had to do was win in order to secure a winning season.  But those hopes were dashed, and I was unhappy with that particular loss for quite a while.  It can stick in your craw, and 20 years is an eternity for that kind of suffering.  The Pirates have been close in recent years, only to see it all fade away.  This year, a winning season was a task on “on our to-do list,” as Hurdle said.  The quest was no doubt made more weighty due to the desire to do right by the Clemente family.  Hopefully their to-do list includes ending the season for the St. Louis Cardinals as well.  Best of luck, Pirates; I know many Brewers fans are in your camp this year.


Nick Michalski

About Nick Michalski

Nick Michalski (@MichalskiNick) is a Milwaukee native who enjoys beer and baseball, sometimes one more than the other. What'll ya have? Contact: thebrewersbarblog@gmail. Have your ID ready at the door.