Philadelphia Flyers can relate to Pittsburgh Pirates over title drought

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - FEBRUARY 23: The Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty runs through the infield during the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at the Lincoln Financial Field on February 23, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - FEBRUARY 23: The Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty runs through the infield during the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at the Lincoln Financial Field on February 23, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

They play in different sports, but the decades-long title droughts for these two Pennsylvania clubs begs the question, which of them is the saddest professional sports team in the Keystone State?

As I sat in beautiful, sweltering PNC Park in Pittsburgh on Saturday night to take in a game between my Philadelphia Phillies and the hometown PIttsburgh Pirates, I was struck by the similarities between a pair of organizations, only one of which was on the field.

As the Pirates trotted out members of their 1979 World Series championship team, the most recent one they’ve had, it struck me as a nice tribute, but also a sad one.

These men were old and gray, yet they represented the last time that the team had won it all.

To me, it sounded a lot like the Philadelphia Flyers.

I enjoyed the ceremony and the sweet bobblehead they gave out which you can see in my grammatically incorrect tweet, but I can’t help but think that there were a lot of bitter Pirates fans at the yard that day.

Most of these fans were probably ones that had either never seen the team win in their lifetime or had grown old and weary along with those former players waiting for another title.

Again, the Flyers.

Neither club has won since the disco decade, and they’ve suffered in their towns because of it.

Yes, they both still have a group of loyal supporters, which of course swells when they enjoy periods of success, but they both take a backseat to the other teams in their town, especially when some of those teams lose on purpose and then luck into generational players.

When I compare these organizations, I am going to rule out all of the fine charitable work that they both do for their communities at large. Things like the Flyers Wives Carnival are amazing examples of how sports organizations can do wonderful things even when the team itself might be struggling.

I think that we can all agree on this, and so let’s discount it when we’re discussing how “bad” the Pirates and Flyers might be.

It’s going to be a lot easier for me to critique the Flyers, since I’ve been watching them for over a quarter of a century without anything to show for it. But just think about how long the Pirates have gone without even a modicum of success.

Following their 1979 title, the Pirates went without a single playoff appearance during the 1980’s.

Then, they came alive and won the National League East in three straight seasons from 1990-92, but they would fall in the NLCS each and every time, first to the Cincinnati Reds and then twice to the Atlanta Braves.

The 1991 NLCS had to be particularly painful, as the Pirates lost both Game 6 and Game 7 at home.

The Pirates’ repeated postseason failures also expedited the departure of a svelte, pre-steroid Barry Bonds from town. Following that, they became a laughing stock for decades, as they posted a major league-record twenty consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012.

I realize that it’s much easier to make the playoffs in the NHL than in Major League Baseball, but it’s still hard to believe that the Pirates played two decades without a postseason berth.

In fact, they only came within 13 games of a spot one time during that period. The Flyers didn’t win the big one either, but at least they made the playoffs on 16 occasions during this time frame.

2013 brought sweet relief for the Buccos, as they finally put themselves back on the map, due in large part to an MVP season from Andrew McCutchen and some teammates that hustled. The Pirates won the wild card game before falling in the divisional round.

They’d be a playoff team in each of the next two seasons as well, but they lost the NL Wild Card game both times. And that seemed to close their window as serious contenders, with 2019 looking like it will mark their fourth-straight year of being an also-ran.

One of the main contributing factors to the Pirates’ lack of competitiveness over the years has been their payroll, which routinely comes in near the bottom of the league.

I appreciate how difficult it is to compete in a league where teams like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and others have seemingly unlimited funds to spend big and even poach players from poorer clubs, but it is possible.

The Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays (who absolutely fleeced the Pirates in the Chris Archer trade last year) all have shown that it can be done if you know what you are doing.

But sadly for Pittsburghers, their Pirates have been poorly run in general for a long time, which makes the on-field product suffer.

Speaking of front office problems, the Flyers make this a tight race. Money has never been an issue for the Orange and Black, of course, and the Flyers have no qualms in passing along those costs to their fairly small but insanely loyal fanbase.

The organization gets some credit for trying to reverse course in recent seasons to ice a product that reflects how the NHL game is played, which has not fit the “rough and tumble” Flyer mold for quite some time.

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But alternating seasons of making and missing the playoffs for the last eight seasons is not cutting it in a league where more than half of the teams get a postseason invite.

Both the Flyers and the Pirates have the potential to galvanize their cities if they can hit on the right recipe for success, but to me it feels like a much more dire situation for the Flyers.

Maybe it’s just the nature of baseball, with it being the only game in town for several months and more family-friendly in general, but I think that continued mediocrity for the Pirates is much more tolerated in the Steel City than the Flyers’ maddening inconsistency is in the City of Brotherly Love.

Either way you slice it, both teams would be well-advised to make an addition to their trophy cases for the first time this century to help them reclaim a bigger slice of their cities’ sports pies. It would certainly help their bottom lines, as well.

In the final analysis of who truly is the most inept team, I have to go with the Pirates.

Despite temptations to go with the Flyers because of the last several years, they have had some near-misses along the way in their quest for another championship. And unfortunately that is more than you can say for a Pirates organization that has had two three-year bursts in 40 years, but nothing else.

So, congratulations to the Pittsburgh Pirates. At this time, you are the worst professional sports team in the state (sorry, commonwealth) of Pennsylvania.

As for the Flyers, even when it comes to being the worst at something, they still can’t win.

Typical, right?