Growing up in the 80's, the thought of the Pirates actually having a celebratory scrum in the middle of a baseball diamond after clinching a title was pretty abstract, even more so than now, as a matter of fact.
By the mid-80's, the days of "We are Family" were long gone as the team finished in last place for three straight years. And to make matters even worse, the Pirates clubhouse was the epicenter of the infamous drug trials that rocked Major League Baseball. In addition to that, there were rumors that the Pirates would be sold to out-of-town owners who would move the team to another city.
Things couldn't have been worse.
Thankfully, the City of Pittsburgh stepped in and helped to form a public/private consortium which allowed the Pirates to remain in town.
Syd Thrift was hired to run the baseball side of things as the team's general manager, and one of the best moves any Pittsburgh sports executive ever made occurred when Thrift hired Jim Leyland to manage the club in 1986.
The Pirates still finished in last place that season, but there was at least hope in the form of players such as Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla.
Before the 1987 season, the Pirates acquired outfielder Andy Van Slyke and catcher Mike Lavalliere in the famous April Fool's trade involving All Star catcher Tony Pena.
The Pirates were still struggling and near the bottom of the standings in late 1987, but thanks to the team winning 27 of their final 38 games down the stretch, they finished the season 80-82 and in a tie for fourth place. Not much reason to celebrate, but I remember the players going a little crazy in the clubhouse. Hey, gotta start somewhere.
The Pirates showed the world they were true contenders again in 1988 by finishing in 2nd place to the New York Mets. It was a distant second, but again, you have to crawl before you can learn to walk.
Injuries set the team back a bit in 1989, but 1990 would be the year that the Pirates would rise from the ashes and take their place along the elite teams of MLB.
In April of that year, the Pirates went 10-3 on a weird six-city road swing that was the result of a brief work-stoppage in Spring Training, and this proved to be the catalyst to their run to a division title.
The Pirates were in first place for most of the year, and after sweeping the New York Mets in early September, they were in first place to stay.
With about ten days left in the season, Pittsburgh had a three-game lead over New York. The Mets were the Pirates tormentors for most of the previous decade, and the last thing I wanted to see happen was for New York to come back and grab the title in the final days. The Mets were scheduled to play in Pittsburgh for the final three games of the season, and I was hoping the Bucs could somehow wrap up the division before then.
Fortunately, after losing to the Cardinals at Three Rivers stadium on a Saturday afternoon, the Pirates wouldn't lose another meaningful game the rest of the way.
The Pirates swept the Cubs at Three Rivers and then it was off to St. Louis for a weekend series. The Mets were hanging with Pittsburgh all week and still only three games back. The Pirates defeated the Cardinals on a Friday night, but the Mets won to keep pace.
The next day, however, Pittsburgh won thanks to a complete game shutout by Bob Walk, and the Mets lost to the Cubs. With four games left, the Pirates had clinched at least a tie for the NL East championship.
KDKA sportscaster John Steigerwald (back before he hated baseball) even said "We are in!" during his sports report. Everyone was catching the fever.
"Gotta believe it's our time. Gotta believe it's true!"
The Pirates just needed to take care of business the next day and my long-time abstract thought would finally become a reality.
The Steelers were also playing that day, and even though they've always been my first love, I didn't care one bit about them at that moment. My only thoughts were with the Pirates.
As the Steelers were getting blown out at Three Rivers Stadium by the Miami Dolphins, Doug Drabek was in the process of pitching a complete game masterpiece in St. Louis, and the Pirates won 2-0 to clinch their first division title since 1979.
It had finally happened! The Pirates were celebrating in the middle of the diamond, and I was going nuts in my grandmother's living room.
There haven't been too many times in my life when the result of a game gave me a euphoric feeling, but on September 30th, 1990, I had that feeling, and it stayed with me for days and days.
I'll never forget it.