Sports Columnist

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

Here we go with the Milwaukee Brewers again.

It seems like every few years when the Brewers have some success, many in the local media decide to proclaim that being in a small market is just a lame excuse for the Pirates.

OK, the Brewers came to town in first place.

It’s July 15. They haven’t won anything yet.

In the last 26 years, the Pirates have had six winning seasons. The Brewers have had eight. In 2015, the Pirates won 98 games. The Brewers lost 94 and finished 32 games out of first place. The Pirates have not won a playoff series in 39 years – If you don’t count a single wild card game as a series.

The Brewers have won one playoff series in 36 years.

We heard the same arguments when the Kansas City Royals caught lightning in a bottle in 2014 and 2015 with back-to-back trips to the World Series and won a championship in 2015.

The Royals have six winning seasons in the last 26 years and went 30 years without making the postseason before making their World Series run in 2015.

They missed the postseason the last two years and came into this weekend 41 games under .500 and 25 games out of first place.

The Cincinnati Reds are a small-market team. They’ve had seven winning seasons in the last 26 years and have won one playoff series in the last 28.

So, the Pirates, Brewers, Reds and Royals, four of the best teams in baseball from 1970 until 1985, before local TV money exploded for the large-market teams, have had 27 winning seasons in the last 104 seasons combined. That’s a lot of losing. And it’s also a major coincidence if they all suddenly got stupid when cable TV money threw everything out of whack in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Here’s what the Pirates are up against in their division:

The Brewers built a new ballpark with a roof. They draw from the entire state of Wisconsin and now the people on the other end of the state know that, if they buy season tickets, they will see a game every time they make the trip to Milwaukee.

They had the 10th-highest attendance in baseball last season at 2,558,632. When they made their last trip to the postseason, in 2011, they drew more than three million.

The Pirates will never draw three million.

When they won 98 games in 2015, they drew 2,498,596.

Three teams in the Pirates’ division finished in the top 10 in MLB attendance last season. Two were in the top five – the St. Louis Cardinals (2nd) and the Chicago Cubs (5th). The Cardinals drew almost a million more people last year than the Pirates did in their best year ever at PNC Park. They played to 98 percent capacity.

That’s never going to happen in Pittsburgh.

It’s ridiculous to compare the TV market sizes of the Cardinals and Pirates. St. Louis is 21st and Pittsburgh is 23rd, but the Cardinals, because of their huge footprint in the Midwest, just signed a 20-year, $1 billion TV contract with Fox Sports Midwest. They were given 30 percent equity in Fox Sports Midwest as part of the deal.

The Pirates will never get a deal that good.

Do you want to know why the Cardinals are a top-10 revenue team? The footprint.

They have 114 stations on their radio network.

The Pirates have 39.

The Cardinals have stations in eight states, including 29 in Illinois, 15 in Arkansas, nine in Tennessee and eight in Kentucky and Oklahoma.

The Pirates are in four states, with eight stations in West Virginia, three in Ohio and one in Maryland.

The Cardinals’ revenue advantage over the Pirates is as great or greater than the Cubs’ and other teams in the mega-markets. The Cubs are stuck in a TV deal that only pays them $65 million a year, but by 2020, they’ll be signing one for Los Angeles Dodgers money – at least $2 billion for 20 years. They drew 3,199,503 fans last season.

And don’t kid yourself, the Brewers can’t compete with the Cardinals and Cubs long term, either. They’ll be sitting at MLB’s little kids table most of the time.

And let’s see where the Brewers finish this season. There’s still a long way to go.

To suggest that the Pirates, Brewers and Reds are not playing against a stacked deck by being in the same division as the Cubs and the Cardinals is idiotic.

And any league that has some teams playing against a stacked deck is a joke.

Scary to think that the Houston Astros also used to be in their division.

  • If baseball fans had been subjected to modern sabremetic numbers in the 1930s, then MLB would have been out of business by 1960.
  • Soccer fans in the UK might take the fortunes of their World Cup team a little too serious. Do you think they realize that the outcome of the games has no real effect on their lives?

John Steigerwald writes a weekly column for the Observer-Reporter. He hosts a radio talk show Monday through Friday on AM 1250

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