The Pirates' roots in Pittsburgh actually date back to April 15, 1876, when the Pittsburgh Alleghenys brought professional baseball to the city by playing their first game at Union Park. In 1877, the Alleghenys were accepted into the minor-league International Association, but disbanded the following year.
Baseball returned to Pittsburgh for good in 1882 when the Alleghenys reformed and joined the American Association, a rival of the National League. After the 1886 season, the Kansas City franchise was expelled from the N.L. and Pittsburgh President William A. Nimmick's application for membership was accepted.
On April 30, 1887, the Alleghenys defeated the defending league-champion Chicago White Stockings, 6-2, before a crowd of nearly 10,000 at Recreation Park. The victorious beginning was not an indication of things to come, however, as the team managed to finish higher than fifth only once in the 13 remaining seasons of the century. In 1890, the Alleghenys' roster was demolished when key players jumped to a new rival to the National League - the Players League. They staggered to a club-record 113 losses as the two leagues engaged in a bitter battle over talent.
When the Players League folded after only one season, all players were expected to return to the clubs they played for in 1889. But in 1891 Pittsburgh signed Louis Bierbauer, a second baseman with Brooklyn of the Players League who had spent the previous four seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics. The A's and their American Association brethren immediately accused Pittsburgh of "pirating" Bierbauer away from them. Pittsburgh kept the player and the nickname and became known as the Pirates thereafter.
The fortunes of the Pirates turned in 1900 when the National League reduced its membership from 12 to eight teams. As part of the move, Barney Dreyfuss, owner of the defunct Louisville club, acquired controlling interest of the Pirates. In the largest player transaction in Pirates history, the Hall-of-Fame owner brought 14 players with him from the Louisville roster, including Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke and Rube Waddell - plus standouts Deacon Phillippe, Chief Zimmer, Claude Ritchey and Tommy Leach. All would play significant roles as the Pirates became the league's dominant franchise, winning pennants in 1901, 1902 and 1903 and a World championship in 1909.
Wagner, dubbed "The Flying Dutchman," was the game's premier player during the decade, winning seven batting titles and leading the majors in hits (1,850) and RBI (956) from 1900-1909. One of the pioneers of the game, Dreyfuss is sometimes called "The Father of the World Series" because he challenged Henry Killilea, the owner of the American League champion Boston Americans, to a post-season playoff in 1903 to determine who was baseball's best team. On October 1, 1903, Phillippe defeated the legendary Cy Young, 7-3, in the first World Series game ever played. Boston, however, later emerged as the Series winner, overcoming a three-games-to- one deficit to win the best-of-nine competition, five games to three. In the Series, Phillippe started five of the games.
The Pirates finished as runner-up three times in the next five years before getting another shot at a World Series title in 1909. The Bucs won a club-record 110 games that year with three pitchers - Howie Camnitz (25), Vic Willis (22) and Lefty Leifield (19) combining for 66 victories. The Series pitted the league's batting champions - Wagner and Detroit's Ty Cobb against each other, but rookie pitcher Babe Adams, who was 12-3 during the regular season, emerged as the Series hero for the Pirates.
While Camnitz, Willis and Leifield failed to win a game, Adams won three, including a six-hit shutout in the seventh and deciding game. It was the last of four titles the Pirates would win under Clarke, who managed the club until 1915.