In the urban rivalry explored in this week’s City Paper, it’s too easy to tout Pittsburgh’s superiority over Cleveland in football. That’s like comparing the awards and accolades of Mork (Robin Williams) to the awards and accolades of Mindy (Pam Dawber). So let’s look at baseball. The Pirates have not won a World Series since 1979, yet when they won their fifth World Series that year, it had still been 31 years since Cleveland’s politically incorrect baseball team won its most recent trophy. And Cleveland is still waiting.
Yes, two years ago the Cavaliers won it all, to bring their grand total to one championship in 47 years of professional basketball — and their city’s total to one championship in the previous 52 years of professional sports. Pittsburgh had a basketball team, the Pipers (later the Condors), that also won one championship (an ABA title) in four seasons of hoops. In hockey, the Penguins are the reigning champs, with their fifth Stanley Cup. Cleveland had a hockey team, the Barons, and they were the last pro franchise in any of the four major sports to go completely defunct. They merged with the Minnesota North Stars after two highly forgettable seasons in the NHL.
But the dominance doesn’t end there.
In women’s football, the Pittsburgh Passion has won three championships. The Passion’s counterpart, the Cleveland Fusion — guess how many? That’s right, zero. Even in the short-lived 1970s phenomena of team tennis, The Pittsburgh Triangles won one championship while the Cleveland Nets won nothing. One city is routinely on Best Cities to Live In lists while the other isn’t even the best city to live in within its own state. Poor Cleveland.
Pittsburgh even has better boxing promoters. Along with owning a certain well-known football team, Art Rooney dabbled in promoting fights. Rooney and McGinley promotions brought to the Smoky City such pugilist luminaries as Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore and Jake La Motta, to the delight of fans of the sweet science. Rooney went on to become one of the most unquestionably beloved figures in Western Pennsylvania. A statue outside Heinz Field reminds the young people who founded this historic franchise. In Cleveland, the most famous boxing promoter is Don King. Nobody will ever build a statue to honor him. King is a legendary sleaze merchant even by professional boxing standards. After The Don promoted Mike Tyson, Iron Mike sued King for cheating him out of $100 million (a suit settled out of court for $14 million). King’s is a career plagued with jail time and lawsuits. Even the mob that runs boxing finds him unscrupulous.
One of the most intensely disliked sports owners hails from The Cleve. George Steinbrenner, who had an uncontrollable temper and a penchant for constantly firing employees (before it was cool), was from Cleveland. He was successful as owner of the Yankees, although the franchise had already won 20 world titles before he took over, in 1973. Compare that to Pittsburgh’s Mark Cuban. He took a nothing franchise, the Dallas Mavericks, and turned it into champions in 2011. The list is endless. Even the stadiums in Pittsburgh are better than the ones by the lake.
And it goes beyond sports. Pittsburgh invented the Ferris wheel, the Big Mac and the polio vaccine. Ferris wheels are still a part of almost every fair and carnival. Big Macs have stood the test of time, and the polio vaccine saved countless people worldwide from suffering. Cleveland boasts about inventing gas masks, shopping malls and Life Savers Candy. Gas masks would’ve been invented anyway, malls are on the verge of extinction, and Life Savers are probably the 639th best candy you can buy. Thanks for the contributions, Cleveland.
In Pittsburgh the old robber barons were horrible to their employees. But at least they left parks, libraries and universities for the people. Even if it was to assuage their guilt, their contributions are still in use today. You see the names of Carnegie, Frick and Mellon throughout the city. But in Cleveland there is no Rockefeller University, or Steinbrenner Park, or Don King Center for Youth. They all got out of Cleveland and never came back.
As the football season begins, the dominance over Cleveland will continue. The Steelers open the season against the Browns. Steelers cornerback Joe Haden, an ex-Brown, will finally get to see how the other half lives. The Stanley Cup is still in Pittsburgh and people are still celebrating. Meanwhile in Cleveland, the Indians and the Cavaliers are both defending runners-up. In Cleveland, that’s a pretty good year.