How a 33-Year-Old Saved the Pittsburgh Pirates From Relocating to Washington D.C

In another universe, the Pittsburgh Pirates may have moved to Washington instead of the Montreal Expos.

That universe had nothing to do with what video game users can create. In the mid-1990s, the Pirates were without All-Star slugger Barry Bonds — who’d moved to San Francisco — and fielded some of the National League’s worst teams.

This is how a 33-year-old raised the Jolly Roger and kept the Pittsburgh Pirates around for nearly 25 more years — and counting.

Kevin McClatchy bought the Pirates in 1996

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A former minor-league owner, Kevin McClatchy led a group that paid $95 million ($156 million in 2020) for the Pirates in February 1996.

McClatchy was only 33 when he bought the Pirates. That made him one of the youngest owners in American sports history.

The aflable and personable McClatchy often sat behind home plate and vocally supported his team. Even in some of the Pirates’ worst years, he tried inspiring hope in the fanbase and his players.

Eventually, the Pirates’ losing wore McClatchy out. Pittsburgh posted a losing season every year he owned the team and he stepped down in 2007.

The Pirates didn’t make the playoffs until 2013. When they finally returned to the postseason, the team invited McClatchy to throw out the first pitch at PNC Park before a National League Division Series game against the rival Cardinals.

The Pirates could have left Pittsburgh

Kevin McClatchy saved the Pittsburgh Pirates from relocating to Washington.
Kevin McClatchy saved the Pittsburgh Pirates from relocating to Washington. | Sean Brady/Getty Images

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The Washington Senators were a misreable franchise that not even Walter Johnson could save.

There’s a reason why the old joke went, “Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.

But, Major League Baseball wanted to bring a franchise back to Washington D.C. in the 1990s and 2000s. Washington hadn’t fielded a team since the second version of the Senators became the Texas Rangers following the 1971 season.

Enter the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates were up for sale in 1995 and if Washington businessman William Collins bought the team, there was a realistic chance the franchise was headed to D.C.

According to a 1995 article by the Baltimore Sun, Collins intended to buy the Pirates and move them to RFK Stadium “while a stadium is constructed in Northern Virginia.” Although Collins wanted the Pirates to play in Washington by 1996, the Sun theorized a 1997 timeframe made more sense.

Kevin McClatchy saved the Pittsburgh Pirates from relocating

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If not for Kevin McClatchy. Pittsburgh fans would be extra grateful for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers each year.

Not only did McClatchy buy the Pirates in early 1996, but he secured the funding for a new stadium. PNC Park broke ground in April 1999 and opened less than two years later.

Washington still won in the end, though. The Expos moved to Washington after the 2004 season and, after a few rough years, became a perennial playoff team when Bryce Harper debuted in 2012.

Still, it is an interesting alternate history to think about. Could the Expos have moved to Pittsburgh in the 2000s, or would they have stayed in Montreal? Or is the third option that they moved to another area?

Fans in every city should be happy with how things turned out. Except for Expos fans, who are still waiting to see an MLB team not named the Blue Jays return to Canada.