Skip to content

The Fascinating History Behind The Naming of the Pittsburgh Pirates

February 19, 2014
Here’s a joke for you: What do you call a team that signs players away from other teams by offering them more money than what is socially acceptable? The Yankees (insert courtesy laugh). 
 
That joke warrants a fake laugh now, but over 100 years ago, that method of building a team actually earned one of baseball’s longest standing franchises its nickname. Pittsburgh’s professional baseball history dates back to 1882…kind of. Back in the late 1800’s, Pittsburgh was considered a separate city from Allegheny, named for the Allegheny River. The standings identified “Allegheny,” and not Pittsburgh. The Alleghenys (note: stylistically, it was “-ys” and not “-ies”) played in the American Association until 1886, when the team moved to the National League before the start of the 1887 season. Three years later, the Alleghenys made a decision that would shape the course of its franchise’s history. 
 
Prior to the start of the 1890 season, the franchise re-identified itself as “Pittsburg,”—at that time the ever-so-important “h” was not a part of the name—and acquired Lou Bierbauer, arguably the team’s most significant transaction of all-time. Bierbauer was a good second baseman, but nothing crazy. A career .267 hitter, Bierbauer collected 1,521 hits and 835 runs batted in during his 13-year career. Why so significant? [read as “The Joker” in the Batman series]. Let me introduce you to the “steroids” of the late-19th century.
 
In 2014, a pitcher with zero MLB experience gets paid more than $20 million in annual salary. In 1888, owners established rules that—get this craziness—paid players according to their production by categorizing them and ranking them. The problem is that, because this was orchestrated by the owners, they eventually froze players’ salaries. Fortunately for the ballplayers, Columbia Law School graduate, John Montgomery Ward, who played in the Majors in the late-1800’s, founded the “Brotherhood of Base Ball Players,” the MLBPA before the MLBPA existed. The BoBBB’s intentions were to protect the interests of the players. Since the owners never consulted the players about their new ranking system, the players not only were not happy, but they had a voice to express their feelings through Ward’s creation. 
 
Despite their efforts to work with the owners, the players ended up revolting and formed the “Players League” in 1890. With financial backing, the league thrived in attendance, easily besting its competing leagues. In spite of this, the league lasted just one year. Upon the league’s disbanding, its players were supposed to return to their previous teams. In order for this to happen, however, their teams were supposed to “reserve” each player, a process that was a mere formality. See where this is going? No? Not yet?
 
The Philadelphia Athletics failed to reserve Bierbauer (and Harry Stover) so Pittsburg jumped at the chance to sign them. Despite Philadelphia’s protests, the board ruled in Pittsburg’s favor, allowing their in-state rivals to keep the second baseman. Unhappy with the end-result, the Athletics resorted to everyone’s favorite mode of redemption: name-calling. They cited the Pittsburg organization as “Pirates” because they “stole” their players. Well, name-calling is an unsung hero in this case because the name stuck and we are thankfully calling Pittsburg the Pirates and not the “Rivers” or something weird because of it. 
 
 
 
So, while the Texas Rangers weren’t run by actual law enforcers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are only partially run by real angels, the Pittsburgh Pirates were, in fact, run by Pirates…in a weird way. 
 
Did you know? The Pittsburgh Steelers, who rented out the Pirates’ Forbes Field when they came into existence, were originally known as the Pirates. And that’s not all…the short-lived NHL franchise, the Pittsburgh Pirates, existed in the 1920’s and 1930’s. 
 
We wish we had a Pittsburgh t-shirt to showcase and we eventually weill because we absolutely love “The Steel City”. We do feature an interesting Pennsylvania team, the Intercourse Witnesses. Intercourse is the home of the Amish and that is also where they filmed the movie “Witness” with Harrison Ford which was nominated for multiple Academy Awards. Thus the Intercourse Witnesses awesome t-shirt was born.  
 
 Intercourse Witnesses
 
As always, thanks for reading!
 
Jared Sandler
Awesome Sports Logos Columnist 
Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: