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Pirates 17 Mets 1

We're way out of the race. We're about to be officially eliminated. We're going to finish with a losing record. We're depressed. We're dispirited. We're done.

Yet Nate the profane Pirates fan could not possibly be moved by our plight.

I don't know jack about Nate except for what he posted in this space [1] in response to a Faith and Fear rant on the Mets' unfathomable descent into disaster during the final week of 2007. The Mets had just lost their third consecutive game to the Washington Nationals, their ninth of thirteen overall, and were in the midst of tumbling from a seemingly sturdy perch above the National League East into the historical abyss of baseball ignominy.

Perhaps you remember the Mets doing that.

Anyway, Jason had posted his disgust and frustration — you could call it disgustration — with the 2007 Mets, a perfectly legitimate fistful of gripes given how our boys had given away their lead while professing little bother about their impending failure. It is safe to say, judging from the tone of Mets fan comments on that post and every post that week, we all felt essentially the same way.

Into our den of Met disgustration stumbled Nate the profane Pirates fan with his own equally legitimate perspective:

Waaah, waaah, the Mets have only won 87 games this year. They're one of the best teams in baseball and still in the pennant race, and yet they may not win! And even if they don't, we'll still maintain this fantastic team next year! Oh, woe is me!

Fuck you. I saw this post on Deadspin, and shut the fuck up. You take having a great team for granted. I'm a Pirates fan…I've seen 15 years of horrendous teams and losing seasons. We've had one year where we were relevant in the pennant race and they STILL finished with a losing record. You don't know how good you have it.

Then, because Nate was nothing if not thorough, he added a second comment:

Oh, by the way, you're welcome for Oliver Perez.

Jason tried to talk Nate down by lifting him up with some words of encouragement for recent signs of life at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela. He tried to relate to him by invoking Sid Bream sliding under the tag of Mike LaValliere in the heartstopping final instant of the 1992 NLCS, the last time Pittsburgh's baseball team saw the middle of October. He tried. I doubt he succeeded.

We never heard from Nate again, but I've thought of him now and then since his drive-by tirade. I've thought of him and his kind — Pittsburgh Pirates fans — as our current season has come to resemble what is, sadly for them, their typical season.

Is the Pirate plight as played out across almost two decades worse than the kind of apocalyptic episode to which we've been party the previous two Septembers? Certainly every one of us would love to have the Marlins come in with everything on the line for us and take our chances on another debacle instead of what we've got now, which is nothing at all. It's what we live for as fans. We want our September to pulsate. We want our stadium to pulsate. We don't want our souls to be crushed, but we do want our souls in play.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have received an unusual [2] amount [3] of attention [4] this September as everyone seems to have noticed [5] at once that they lost their 82nd game of the season [6]. Not a big story most seasons. The Pirates losing an 82nd game is the baseball equivalent of a rooster crowing at a sunrise. It's a routine occurrence. It's not news. It's just what happens to those Buccos.

This September, however, it was monumental, for this is the seventeenth consecutive season in which the Pirates have guaranteed themselves a losing record — one more than any franchise has ever endured (1933-48 Phillies, you can rest in peace). Not seventeen years without a world championship or a pennant or a playoff appearance. Seventeen years without once experiencing more W's than L's.

That's depressing. That's dispiriting. That's doom.

To fully comprehend, imagine our lost season of 2009 is repeated in some form or fashion next year. Then the year after that. Then the year after that. And so on, clear out to 2025. Take your age this September and add sixteen years to it (knocking wood we all live that long). You'd be standing there at Now + 16 thinking:

1) Ohmigod, I haven't seen the Mets have a winning season in seventeen years, since 2008, since they played in Shea Stadium, since I was so upset they blew their chance at the playoffs on the final day of the season.

2) Ohmigod, I've spent the past seventeen years rooting for a horrible baseball team that has never gotten any better and gives me no tangible reason to believe they ever will.

3) Ohmigod, I'm seventeen years older than I was the last time the Mets were any good.

You can have the next sixteen years of your life back now (I'm in no rush to turn 62 that fast myself). But you can wonder how you as a Mets fan, who has certainly absorbed your share of downs, would deal with having absolutely no ups for a veritable eternity. Not a Wild Card, not a division title, not a hint of a race for anything but the sweet mercy of Closing Day. Would you still be a Mets fan if well after three, five, seven, nine years you'd watched rebuilding programs crumble, phenoms flame out, budding stars blossom for other teams and all your rivals progress at some point while your club goes only backwards?

It's not a question for which I'd ever want to discover an answer. Seven straight losing seasons from 1977 through 1983 were bad enough. Six straight losing seasons from 1991 through 1996 were bad enough. Three straight losing seasons of the particularly embarrassing kind were bad enough from 2002 through 2004. And yes, this thing we call 2009 continues to stink on ice [7]. Every one of these losing seasons has been hell.

If you add them up and string them together, you have seventeen losing seasons in a row. Seventeen awful losing seasons in a row, though I suppose that might be redundant. While I've occasionally derived a bit of fleeting and even lingering happiness from a couple of losing seasons, they're still awful. They can't help but be.

That's life as a Pirates fan. Our September now is their September always, at least dating back to 1993. If Pirates fans go to their brilliant little ballpark the last month of the season, they go with nothing to anticipate in the way of meaningful games. They go with nothing to play for, nothing to root for except what they invent in their minds. Maybe they can get behind a rookie who they think will turn things around eventually. Maybe there's a milestone nobody outside of their section at PNC knows or cares about. Maybe it's just the hope that their team will lose 89 games instead of 90, 94 games instead of 95, 99 games instead of a hundred. Maybe they can take simple pleasure in the beauty and joy of baseball, though after the first sixteen losing seasons, I imagine the beauty and the joy are pretty well obscured, the mind games cause headaches and that even charming PNC Park isn't much to look at.

Teams' fortunes change over time. Consider that the Rays were born dead on arrival and resisted resuscitation from there; the Brewers wallowed in stale Meister Bräu for ages; the Tigers' roar was long reduced to a whimper. But they each shook off their lousiness in the last few years and rewarded their fans with a trip to the postseason. The Reds are about as perennially punchless as the Pirates, but they went to a Wild Card play-in game (heh-heh) in 1999 and won 85 games in 2000. The Royals have been royally screwed since the 1994 players strike, but they managed to sneak a winning season into their stew of perpetual futility in 2003. The Orioles are subpar regularly, but they were a division champion in 1997. The Nationals finished 2005 at .500 if you can believe that. Hell, the Expos, who no longer exist, finished 2003 over .500, and that was with home games divided among Montreal, San Juan and absolute purgatory.

Everybody's gotten a little something out of life since 1993. We've been in the playoffs three times and contended for the same a bunch of other times. There have been disappointments and devastations intertwined with our successes — and rooting for whom we root in New York carries its own special burdens — but we haven't had to give ourselves a pep talk every single day for seventeen years in order to let loose with a “Let's Go Mets!” There are times when the Mets actually do go and go far.

This month is not one of those times, and knowing somebody has it worse doesn't really help. But somebody does have it worse. Being a Mets fan at this moment is no picnic. Being a Pirates fan for the past seventeen years is a blindfold and a cigarette.

Oh, and Nate, if you're still out there — you can have Oliver Perez back any time you like.

Even if we're now bound by the brotherhood of losing records, one thing Mets fans have that Pirates fans don't is AMAZIN' TUESDAY, the final 2009 edition of which is coming to Two Boots Tavern [8] on the Lower East Side, 7:00 P.M., September 15. Please join Mets By The Numbers [9]' Jon Springer and me as we welcome our special guests The Bad Guys Won author Jeff Pearlman [10] and Metstradamus [11] mastermind John Coppinger. There'll be great pizza, cold beer, loads of baseball talk…and a Mets game from Turner Field on TV just to make sure the evening isn't too perfect.