The date 10/14/1992 has haunted the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans for close to two decades.
On that fateful night almost twenty years ago, the Atlanta Braves staged one of the most dramatic comebacks in the history of professional sports. Down 2-0 as they approached their final at-bats of the 1992 NLCS, the Braves proceeded to score three runs in the bottom of the ninth to shock the Pirates and propel the Pittsburgh franchise into the “dark ages” era. In the end, it came down to a seldom-used backup catcher to deal the final blow to that Pirates team. In the only moment of his career that would ever really matter, Francisco Cabrera laced a Stan Belinda pitch into left field to score the two runs that would send the Braves to the World Series – and send the Pirates into a tailspin.
The baseball gods apparently didn’t think that the heartbreaking Game 7 loss was enough to saddle Pirates fans with. Instead, the team would endure a streak of losing seasons unrivaled in the history of the sport. Bad ownership, bad management, and a list of bad players a mile long have contributed to the losing. Fans watched as the term “rebuilding” became the motto for the franchise, a perpetual merry-go-round of developing big league ballplayers only to trade them away in deals that even the worst fantasy baseball owners would laugh at. A proud organization that had given the sport such names as Honus Wagner, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, and Willie Stargell was reduced to nothing more than the butt of jokes for late-night funnymen. To put it in perspective, consider that the United States has had no less than THREE sitting Presidents since the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates tasted the playoffs. Kids that are graduating from high school in a few months have lived their entire life – from womb to college – without ever seeing the Pirates crack the .500 barrier.
Pirates fans have endured more than any fan base of any team in any sport.
Twenty years later, it seems that the Bucs are finally headed down the road to success. A much-improved major league roster, a “face of the franchise” in Andrew McCutchen, steady leadership in the form of Manager Clint Hurdle, and a farm system that is bursting with top talent have finally given Pirates fans a reason to be optimistic about the immediate future. There is hope – something Pittsburgh baseball fans haven’t had in two decades.
So as we sit here in 2012 and watch the Pirates seemingly come back to life, the time is right to finally put the worst moment in Pittsburgh sports history in its place. It’s time to exorcise the demons of the past.
It is time for “Francisco Cabrera Night” at PNC Park.
In a sport where superstition often rules over common sense, the “Curse of Francisco Cabrera” is our “Curse of the Bambino” or “Curse of the Billy Goat”. The Pirates need to track down Cabrera and invite him to Pittsburgh, along with as many key players as they can find from that horrendous half-inning – Sid Bream, Jose Lind, Stan Belinda, and even Barry Lamar Bonds. Fans can fill the ballpark to the rafters and hold hands as they do something that many have never been able to bring themselves to do – watch the last three minutes of that game. The team could even wear 1992 road throwbacks – at home – for that game. It would be an unparallelled moment in baseball, and would probably get more national media spotlight on the Pirates than the team has had in years. Besides the obvious healing nature of this event, it could also give Pirates fans a long overdue chance to applaud and thank a team that has been largely ignored. The 1990-92 Bucs were a great team even if they never made it to a World Series, an amazing group of players who essentially dominated the National League for three years, winning 289 games over those seasons. Because of how that run ended (Mr. Cabrera), they have never been properly lauded by Pittsburgh or the Pirates franchise – despite being one of the most universally beloved teams in the history of the city.
If ever there was a promotional night that needed to happen, “Francisco Cabrera Night” is it – for the franchise, for the fans, and for the city. With so much riding on the next few years, the time is right to bury the tomahawk once and for all.