Let’s hop into the time machine and visit the Pittsburgh Pirates as they prepare for Spring Training 1992.
The Pirates have come off two straight division championships are looking to do so again. Despite losing All-Star Bobby Bonilla to free agency, the team looks to have a solid lineup:
- Catcher: Mike LaValliere. Spanky provided consistency behind the plate in 1991 while hitting .289.
- First Base: Orlando Merced. His .275 batting average with 10 home runs and 50 RBI were enough to earn him second place in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in ’91.
- Second Base: Jose Lind. The previous season, Lind logged his fourth consecutive 150-game campaign while hitting a solid .265.
- Shortstop: Jay Bell. Showing plenty of pop for a middle infielder, Bell cracked 16 homers in ’91.
- Third Base: Steve Buechele. Acquired at the trading deadline in ’91 to bolster the offense at the corner, Buechele re-signed with the Pirates as a free agent in December.
- Left Field: Barry Bonds The 1990 National League Most Valuabe Player should have repeated the following year, but the voters opted for the Braves’ Terry Pendleton.
- Center Field: Andy Van Slyke. Posting a bit of an off-season in ’91, Van Slyke still drove in 83 runs.
- Right Field: Kirk Gibson. The NL’s 1988 MVP signed with the Pirates after a 16-homer season for the Royals in ’91.
The starting rotation was missing John Smiley, traded to the Twins, but still looked decent for the long haul:
- Doug Drabek. The 1990 NL Cy Young Award winner compiled a 15-14 record the following year, but led the team with a 3.07 ERA.
- Zane Smith. The lefthander justified his acquisition from Montreal for Moises Alou by winning 16 games and posting a 3.20 ERA in ’91.
- Randy Tomlin. In his first full season, Tomlin led Pirates starters in ’91 with a 2.98 ERA.
- Bob Walk. The future Pirates broadcaster was coming off a 9-2 season.
Returning to anchor the bullpen were Stan Belinda, Bob Patterson and Roger Mason.
Fast-forward to the end of the ’92 season, when the pirates advanced to the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
Bonds carried the offense, leading the team with 34 HR, 107 RBI and 36 stolen bases while batting .311 to win MVP honors. Van Slyke hit a career-high .324, leading the league in hits and doubles. Drabek (15 wins), Tomlin (14) and Walk (10) led the rotation, joined in midseason by Danny Jackson from the Cubs and Tim Wakefield from the minors. Wakefield was particularly impressive, going 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA down the stretch.
On the other hand, Gibson lasted only 16 games before his release. Buechele gave way at third to former No. 1 draft pick Jeff King, who batted .231 with 14 HR, which tied him with Van Slyke for second on the team; only three Pirates hit more than 10 homers.
Whatever the case, the Pirates managed to carry a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning of the seventh game of the National League Championship Series. What happened next … well, everyone in Pittsburgh knows and doesn’t want to remember.
Nor does any Pirates fan want to remember what happened after 1992.