With spring training fast approaching, I’m steeling myself for another (nineteenth consecutive) losing season by my hometown Pittsburgh Pirates.
Looking for comfort wherever I can find it, I recall that I have seen worse baseball, or at least as bad, as the Buccos of the last few seasons.
I lived in Seattle during the Mariners’ early years from 1977 to 1986 when the team was as painful to watch as the Pirates. During that ten-year period, the M’s average winning percentage was about .400
The M’s had some good players like Leon Roberts and former two-time All Star Richie Zisk. In 1982, Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry had a cup of coffee with the Mariners. Perry’s stop over was long enough for him to record his 300th career victory over the New York Yankees. I still have my ticket stub to prove that I was one of the 27, 369 fans in a stadium that held 59, 438. As an indication of fan indifference, two nights later the Mariners drew 36,716 for Funny Nose Glasses Night.
Most Mariner players however were rejects with limited skills. A good example is one-time Bucco shortstop Mario Mendoza whose batting ineptitude created the term “Mendoza Line,” a reference to hitting at least .200
A more insurmountable problem for Seattle baseball fans than the Mariners’ pitiful play was the team’s venue, the awful Kingdome.
On beautiful Pacific Northwest summer evenings, when the sun didn’t set until 10:00 PM, a fan’s entertainment choice was between enjoying free of charge Puget Sound’s magnificence, complete with a panoramic Mt. Rainer view or pay to enter the gloomy, empty Kingdome to watch the M’s lose again.
For most of the Mariners’ first 18 years, their inept play (they didn’t have a winning season until 1991) combined with the Kingdome’s design, led to extremely low attendance. Most games I saw had less than 5,000 fans.
At one point the Mariners covered “the Tombs,” the right-center field seats in the upper decks, to make the stadium seem “less empty”. The Kingdome’s acoustics created problems for radio announcers Dave Niehaus and Bill Freehan who had to deal with significant echo issues.
At least Pirates fans don’t have to worry about ambiance when they go to PNC Park. While the Kingdome was the dreariest place I have ever watched baseball (with Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers and Cleveland’s Municipal Stadiums close behind), PNC is at the other end of spectrum.
Despite the Pirates’ epic struggles, a game at PNC—voted “America’s Best Ballpark”— is the best way to enjoy a summer afternoon or evening. Tour PNC Park here, then compare it the Kingdome here and tell me where you’d rather watch a losing team play baseball.