With yesterday's loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates clinched their 19th straight season with a losing (i.e., sub-.500) record. Among major North American sports leagues, the Pirates franchise holds the record for consecutive losing seasons and has for some time.
As discussed here, the NFL futility record (at least for the modern, Super Bowl era) is held by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who went 14 years (1983-1996) without a winning season, whereas the NBA mark belongs to the Kansas City/Sacramento Kings franchise (15 years, 1983-84 through 1997-98). In the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks hold the record at 15 straight years of losing (1976-77 through 1990-91).*
Going back to the 2011 Pirates, it looked for a while this season that the team might finally end the streak. As this game article from the loss to St. Louis summarized: "...the Pirates were 51-44 and led the NL Central by a half-game before play on July 20. But they have gone 16-38 since, leaving them at 67-82."
In fact, as the August 1 trading deadline approached, the Pirates became "buyers" (teams within striking distance of the playoffs who trade for players who could put the team over the top) rather than "sellers" (teams that are hopelessly out of contention and trade their veterans to the buyers for young prospects) for the first time in a long while, acquiring veterans Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick.
Pittsburgh's trade-deadline moves obviously didn't have the desired effect, but at least they showed the team's fans (all three of them; just kidding) that management was willing to take some initiative when a winning season seemed within reach. Assuming the Pirates end the season with a win total in the low 70s, will they be able to win an extra 10 games or so next year to finally exceed the 81-81 break-even point? I'm skeptical.
*Vancouver fans didn't exactly go through 15 years of suffering, however. Through the NHL's policy of letting a large percentage of its teams into the playoffs and the historically high upset rate once the postseason begins, the 1981-82 Canuck squad actually made the Stanley Cup finals. This, despite the team's regular-season ledger of 30 wins, 33 losses, and 17 ties.