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That 1997 season by the Bucs wasn't so bad

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been taking a lot of heat lately for their string of trades in order to build a winning team.

Many people think it's purely based on saving a buck.

In their criticisms of the franchise, pundits are quick to point out that the Pirates haven't had a winning season since 1992.

They're right, of course. How could any Pirates fan forget?

But it hasn't been a total disaster since '92.

In all of the negative comments about the franchise -- and I've heaped my share in the past -- no one likes to remember the season of 1997.

I like to think of it as the last time the Pirates were competitive, not 1992.

They weren't expected to compete in '97, as their payroll in the neighborhood of $9 million. They proved many people wrong. The Bucs were in first place as late as mid-July and were .500 or better as late as August. They finished in second place in a weak NL Central.

One of the highlights that season was the combined no-hitter from Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon against the Houston Astros in 10 innings. Another bright spot was a three-game sweep against the Chicago White Sox, a team featuring Albert Belle and Frank Thomas, who were getting more money than the entire Pirates roster.

That season included a pennant race, ultimately lost to the Astros. It also featured a trade for Shawon Dunston to help get the team over the hump. Dunston didn't help much, but it was nice having a team buying instead of selling.

I know, I know, it might be trivial to point out a season in which the Bucs finished 79-83. It didn't end a string of losing seasons that goes to this day. And it doesn't say much for a franchise to point toward a losing record as a highlight.

But it wasn't bad, either.

I can't wait for the next pennant chase.

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