The 5 best seasons in Pirates history

February 23rd, 2021

With nearly a century and a half of Major League history, the Pirates are not lacking in incredible seasons.

Some were defined by their postseason result, some by their regular-season body of work and some by both. One was defined by a crushing streak it broke. Many of them were propelled by Hall of Famers, though with one of our top five selections, it’s too early to tell.

Here are the five best seasons in Pirates history.

1) Wins galore (1909)
Record: 110-42
Postseason result: Won the World Series
This team’s 110 wins are tied for the fifth-most victories by a team in Major League history. It helps when you’re led by one of the greatest players of all time in Honus Wagner, who won one of his eight batting titles by hitting .339, as well as a Hall of Fame player-manager in Fred Clarke. But the pitching staff was also particularly fearsome, carried not only by Hall of Famer Vic Miller, but by emerging arms Howie Camnitz, who was the league leader in winning percentage, and Babe Adams, who pitched a complete game shutout in Game 7 of the World Series to beat the Tigers.

2) We are Fam-a-lee! (1979)
Record: 98-64
Postseason result: Won the World Series
With Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” blaring around town, the 1979 Pirates were one of the most exciting teams in Pittsburgh history, but they were also one of the best of all time. Willie Stargell cranked 32 homers, Bert Blyleven pitched 237 1/3 innings and Dave Parker came off his NL MVP Award-winning season to smash 25 homers and swipe 20 bases. Led by manager Chuck Tanner, the “Fam-a-lee” went on to win 98 games and win the World Series in seven games over the Orioles.

3) David and Goliath (1960)
Record: 95-59
Postseason result: Won the World Series
It was the first of eight consecutive seasons in which Roberto Clemente would earn NL MVP Award votes. Fellow Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski won his second of eight Gold Glove Awards in 1960. Bob Friend and Vern Law combined to pitch 547 1/3 innings to carry the load that season, leading the Pirates to first place in the National League. The team’s biggest challenge came in the World Series, as it took on a Yankees team that had won six World Series titles in the 1950s. Though they were outscored by 28 runs in the seven-game series, the Pirates won four tight games, the final of which was sealed by Maz’s famous walk-off homer in Game 7 that sent Forbes Field into pandemonium.

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4) Hope springs eternal (2013)
Record: 94-68
Postseason result: Lost the NL Division Series
Nothing is so captivating and entrancing as hope. In 2013, after 20 consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates faithful finally found it with a memorable team. Andrew McCutchen cemented himself as synonymous with the Pirates by winning the NL MVP Award, posting a .911 OPS with 21 homers and 27 steals. At age 36, AJ Burnett led the team in innings, and 22-year-old Gerrit Cole emerged as a pitcher to watch with a 3.22 ERA in his debut season. Mark Melancon broke out with a 1.39 ERA, challenging Jason Grilli for the closer’s role. All of these parts led Pittsburgh back to the playoffs, where they downed the Reds in the NL Wild Card Game before falling to the Cardinals in the NLDS. But the energy was back.

5) A Hall of Fame faction (1925)
Record: 95-58
Postseason result: Won the World Series
Like the other teams on this list from the 1900s, the ‘25 squad was not lacking in Hall of Fame talent: Three players -- Max Carey, Kiki Cuyler and Pie Traynor -- as well as manager Bill McKechnie were all enshrined in Cooperstown. Cuyler was particularly dominant that season, finishing runner-up for the NL MVP Award with a .357 average and 26 triples, which is the ninth most in a single season by an MLB player. He also hit the two-run double that won Game 7 of the World Series over the Washington Senators.

Honorable mentions
1902: This team won 103 games and never lost more than two in a row, but it came a year shy of the creation of the World Series.

1991: A team that featured a young Barry Bonds fell one game short of a World Series trip.

1971: A World Series winner with all the Pirates greats of the 1970s -- Clemente, Maz and Stargell, to name a few.