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Here's to the losers

Now that the Pirates have sailed into the annals of ignominy with their record-breaking 17th straight losing season, this space would like to take a little stroll down memory lane. Having been through a pair of fallow eras with our own rooting interest -- hence this space's rueful fondness for such pinstriped, ahem, luminaries as Stump Merrill, Andy Stankiewicz, Eric Plunk, Porky Reniff, Thad Tillotson, Celerino Sanchez, Horace Clarke and Jake Gibbs -- we know sometime before the sun burns out that Pirates fans will look back on this miserable stretch and chuckle over names such as these that have graced their team's roster since its last winning campaign in 1992:

GREAT HOPES: Midre Cummings, Paul Wagner, Jermaine Allensworth, Jason Schmidt, Jason Kendall, Brian Giles, Josh Fogg, Kip Wells, Kris Benson, Denny Neagle, Tike Redman, Jason Bay, Zach Duke, Nate McLouth

LONG-SUFFERING INMATES: John Wehner (1991-96, '99-01), Al Martin (1992-2000), Kevin Young (1992-03), Tony Womack (1993-99), Rich Loiselle (1996-01), Keith Osik (1996-02), Abraham O. Nunez (1997-04), Mike Williams (1997-03), Adrian Brown (1997-02), Aramis Ramirez ('1998-03), Jack Wilson (2001-09), Craig Wilson (2001-06), Humberto Cota (2001-07), John Grabow (2003-09), Freddy Sanchez (2004-09), Ian Snell (2004-09)

IMMORTAL NAMES:Travis Baptist, Adam Hyzdu, Brad Clontz, Chris Bootcheck, Gookie Dawkins, Pokey Reese, Larry Broadway, Brian Friday, Simon Pond, Will Pennyfeather, John Hope, Evan Meek, Blas Minor, Elmer Dessens, Brandon Duckworth, Henry Henry, David Davidson, Tripper Johnson, Lastings Milledge, Gift Ngoepe

PASSING SHIPS: Bronson Arroyo, Jeromy Burnitz, Kenny Lofton, Shawn Chacon, Sean Casey, Casey Fossum, Benito Santiago, Esteban Loaiza, Jose Guillen, Raul Mondesi, Jose Mesa, Matt Morris, Matt Stairs, Eric Hinske, Doug Mientkewicz

Speaking of losers, it's getting damned hard these days to find reliable help in wagering a little hard-earned scratch on sporting events. Just as the world is starting to recover from the retirement of Maggie The Monkey, whose NHL picks for TSN famously embarrassed a panel of experts that included Bob McKenzie and SI's own Pierre McGuire, there comes word that Princess the pigskin-prognosticating camel at the Popcorn Park Zoo in New Jersey is refusing to offer opinions on the outcome of Philadelphia Eagles games. It appears Princess is protesting the team's signing of Michael Vick, who the camel seems to think spent time in the pokey for running an illicit camel racing ring. Or maybe it's because she heard Vick used to smoke Camels.

Try as we might to keep up with the bountiful cornucopia that is the wonderful world of sports, some events elude our radar, such as the rhythmic gymnastics world championships in Mie, Japan. A total of 156 competitors -- including at least one remarkable entry who apparently does not have a right leg or a head -- from 50 countries are battling it out in individual rope, hoop, ball and ribbon events as well as team and individual all-around competitions. Yes, it's never too late to discover a riveting new sport, and perhaps this one can help Pirates fans while away their time until their team's fortunes improve.

Almost lost amid the avalanche of analysis and forecasts for the impending 2009 NFL season is the annual Kickoff Concert, this one featuring country crooner Tim McGraw and those hep and happenin' Black Eyed Peas coming to you live from Pittsburgh's Point State Park with sets at 5:30 PM and again at 8 for NBC's benefit. Harry Connick Jr. will warble the national anthem. These kind of sendoffs now feel like a part of the scenery although the NHL has apparently gotten out of the music biz after last year's inglorious Face-Off faux pas in Detroit by Def Leppard that almost earned lead singer Joe Elliott a beat-down for messing with the sacred silverware.

As Ichiro Suzuki inches closer to breaking the big league mark of eight consecutive 200-hit seasons that he shares with the immortal Wee Willie Keeler, this space figured it's as good a time as any to roll out some enlightenment about the man who famously said, "Keep your eye on the ball and hit 'em where they ain't." That would be Wee Willie, not Ichiro, who said, "I love baseball, but being here (in the United States), I've been able to play golf every day. I can't play in Japan because every course has caddies, and the caddies all want autographs and don't want to let me golf."

Wee Willie's actual name was William Henry. He was a lifelong bachelor, which may explain his nickname as he wasn't all that wee at 5-4 and 140 pounds, at least compared to a jockey. He was the son of a trolley switchman. Hall of Famer Wahoo Sam Crawford once said, "He only used half of his bat." What Keeler did with the other half is still open to conjecture, but The Sporting News noted, "He swears by the teeth of his mask-carved horse chestnut that he always carries with him as a talisman that he inevitably dreams of it in the night before he is going to boot one -- muff an easy fly ball, that is to say, in the meadow on the morrow." After departing the game in 1910, Keeler did not, as popular lore would have it, become a Keebler Elf. He went into real estate and can now be located at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York.

Quick. How much you got on you? Wanna buy a hockey team? One's going up for auction on Thursday Sept 10 in Phoenix where the NHL and Jim "Money Bags" Balsillie will be throwing copper for the bankrupt, woebegone Coyotes. Two bidders -- Jerry Reinsdorf and a group working with a current Yotes minority owner by the name of Gretzky -- dropped out, so perhaps you can elbow your way into the action. The NHL would surely welcome someone who is willing to save it some serious coin while keeping the team in town and denying boogeyman Balsillie's attempt to haul it to Hamilton. And you can't be any more unsavory than the usual ownership timber that now includesBoots Del Biaggio among its jailbird contingent. Ol' Boots will be cooling his heels for eight years after a little fraud conviction.

As the season wanes and teams bite the dust, you may need a little incentive to haul your carcass out to the ballpark. The Atlanta Braves -- currently 7.5 games out of the NL Wild Card race and apparently deader than health care reform -- will help you out on Sat. Sept. 19 with Lawn & Garden Night. A pre-game program by Braves Field Director Ed Mangan and Master Gardener Ashton Ritchie will provide lucky fans with lessons, tips, and trivia for battling the kind of chickweed and crabgrass that even hardened Al-Qaeda terrorists won't go near. Young fans can make their own wheelbarrow planters to take home -- can't wait to see that procession as it leaves the stadium. Meanwhile, the Yankees were using their runaway of the AL East to lure unsuspecting (male) fans into prostate exams before their Sept. 9 game vs. Tampa Bay.

This just in: our ordinarily reliable sauce over there in the Doo-Dah Room in Bristol, Connecticut has confirmed that ESPN has confirmed that it has celebrated its 30th anniversary this past weekend.

Our sauce tells us with good authority that along with dewy-eyed reminiscences by broadcasters and other on-air notables of past and present, the highlight of highlights may very well have been the confirmation of the 2008 confirmation that the sun would indeed rise in the west. Also touching was the archival footage of a young Chris Mortensen's confirmation. "There wasn't a dry eye in the house after they rolled that one out," says our ever-wily man in-the-know. "Tissues, confetti and slowly deflating balloons still litter the floor over here. It was one hell of a shindig."

Well, here we are again. Anyone got a letter for the box on your right (our left)? If you want a sample of what's possible, check out this week's Epistle of the Week, which came in from reader Mark in Spain, who notes:

A partir del 17 de septiembre, se celebran grupos de conversación de inglés y castellano en el Restaurante El Flamenco en Alicante. Entrada libre, una consumición y ración/tapa por 6 Euros. Más información en esta página web. Rogamos, si posible, la imprimen y la distribuyen. ¡Gracias de antemano!

Certainly, sir! While we fetch our Spanish-English dictionary, we'll leave it to you to come up with something equally pithy.

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