Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates are some of the most resilient baseball fans on earth. Twenty years of losing seasons from 1993 to 2012 didn’t keep fans from PNC Park when the Buccos finally made the playoffs in 2013.
But the 2018 offseason, after two consecutive losing seasons, was an especially hard pill to swallow for Pirates fans. Management traded away the face of the franchise in outfielder Andrew McCutchen, and shipped out arguably the team’s best pitcher, Gerrit Cole. On top of that, Major League Baseball’s players’ union filed a lawsuit against the Pirates and three other MLB teams, accusing them of unfairly benefiting from MLB’s revenue-sharing agreement. In March, the Pirates even upset a large group of fans when Pirates president Frank Coonelly spoke at a Republican Party fundraising event with U.S. Congressional candidate Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth). Even worse, Coonelly brought along the beloved Pirate Parrot to the fundraiser, further enraging fans.
Following these moves and gaffes, calls for boycotts and protests started spreading on social media. Tens of thousands of fans are supporting these efforts, and some members of the sports media expect to see attendance drop off this year as a result. But will the demonstrations by fans actually affect how ownership manages the Pirates?
Fans recognize their protests are unlikely to lead to significant action, like ownership selling the team. But, they are hopeful that if enough fans speak out, Pirates owners will work to rebuild trust with them. Historically, large-scale boycotts and protests by sports fans are rarely followed through with much conviction. Sports journalists understand the frustration from fans, but believe that anger just shows how hard it will be for fans to really quit the Pirates.
“The thing that would hurt this team the most is apathy,” says Chris Mack, pregame/postgame radio host for Pirates baseball on The Fan 93.7 FM. “And I don’t think we are anywhere near that.”