Just Another Losing Season…or Not

Oops…they did it again. They played with my heart. They lost a lot of games. But hey, I should have known better so I’m not completely innocent.

 

One year ago today I wrote here in this space that there was reason for optimism but that I had very little faith that the front office of the Pittsburgh Pirates is capable of putting together a winning team. I begged them to prove me wrong. They didn’t.

 

Oh sure they had a lot of folks fooled for awhile…even me. On August 8, 2012 the Pirates were 16 games over .500 and in the thick of the hunt for an NL wild card. It looked like the worst case scenario was a 3rd place division finish, narrowly losing out on a playoff berth, and finishing with a winning record for the first time since the Bush 41 administration. I think most fans could have lived with that. I wrote back in the middle of July that “I just hope they don’t fold like a cheap suit like they did in 2011”, but also apprehensively noted that the general consensus seemed to be that that would not happen. The general consensus was wrong. I began to get a bad feeling in the middle of August when the Pirates dropped 2 out of 3 to the San Diego Padres, a team even worse than the Buccos, at PNC Park. Then they lost 3 out of 4 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Less than a week later they were swept by the Padres in San Diego. That’s when I knew it was over. Winners don’t lose games they are supposed to win. That is how quickly it all fell apart…within two weeks. I thought the past 19 years had been painful, but now I am not sure which is worse…knowing for sure that a team is horrible and has no chance to be competitive, or believing there is a chance for some small sliver of success only to see it inexplicably implode.

 

So now even the “worst case scenario” isn’t happening. The Pirates will finish 2012 with a losing record for the 20th straight season. They will finish in 4th place in their division. There are individual bright spots. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen is a star who is going to narrowly lose the National League batting title. The long awaited debut season of young OF Starling Marte has given fans reason for optimism. Pitchers Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole are still in the minors, but I would not be shocked to see them both on the big club sometime in 2013. However, at this point it is difficult to get excited about anything when it comes to the Pirates. There seems to be something systemically wrong. I used to blame owner Kevin McClatchy, but new owner (since 2007) Bob Nutting has been only marginally more successful. I used to blame managers, of which there have been several in the past two decades (Jim Leyland, Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon, Jim Tracy, John Russell, and now Clint Hurdle). But Leyland (who did lead the Pirates to three straight NLCS before Barry Bonds left Pittsburgh and all this futility began) has gone on to be quite successful with the Detroit Tigers (where McClendon and Lamont are on his staff), even leading them to one World Series. He also led the Florida Marlins to the World Series championship in 1997. Jim Tracy now manages the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies are about as good as the Pirates these days, but back in 2009 in Tracy’s first year they were good enough to get him named NL Manager of the Year. The evidence seems to support the idea that it doesn’t matter how good a manager is…he cannot be successful in Pittsburgh. One cannot help but wonder which lucky team will win a World Series with Clint Hurdle at the helm after his inevitable departure from the Pirates.

 

I don’t buy the “small market” excuse either. The Pirates have always been one of the least wealthy teams in MLB, yet they still won World Series in 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, and 1979. They have won multiple division crowns and league pennants. Other small market teams like Oakland, Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Seattle have all been more competitive than  Pittsburgh the past two decades.

 

The question then is…if it isn’t ownership, management, or the economics of baseball, then what the hell is the problem?? Why haven’t the Pittsburgh Pirates been able to put together atleast a couple of successful, winning seasons in the past 20 years?? Dear Lord…even a broken clock is right twice a day for Pete’s sake!!

 

Quite honestly I don’t know the answer, and I am not inclined to waste time & energy trying to figure it out. One of the saddest things I see on TV is the sight of post-game analysts Kent Tekulve (who was one heck of a closer in his day) & Paul Alexander, not to mention game announcers Tim Neverett, Bob Walk, Greg Brown, John Wehner, & Steve Blass, trying to resolutely stay professional & upbeat while continuously having to explain away the latest loss and point out anything remotely positive. Holy cow that job has to totally suck. I mean really…how does one come up with the words to put an optimistic spin on a loss 82+ TIMES?? One of these days when someone asks a goofy question on the Ask Teke segment of the post-game show I half expect Tekulve to go postal, throwing down his microphone and screaming “What the hell do you want me to say?? There’s nothing more I can say!! They suck!! This is not a major league team!!”. That would be the most entertaining thing I’ve seen on a Pirates broadcast since 1992, which of course means it’ll never happen.

 

Unfortunately the Pirates have the nicest baseball stadium in the country and fans keep flocking to it, meaning the owners are making a profit each year despite losing a ton of games. As long as that is the case I doubt very seriously any kind of significant money will be spent for any major upgrades. That means, fellow Pirates fans, that what you see is what you are going to get for the foreseeable future. The only hope we have is that the young players they have drafted develop into legitimate stars. Can a team with McCutchen, Marte, Taillon, & Cole and a bunch of role players right the ship?? I’m not holding my breath. I think they need atleast two more position players who can hit and one additional pitcher, and the powers-that-be have demonstrated an inability to make good trades and an unwillingness to sign anything other than subpar bench warmers in free agency. A pattern is beginning to develop. The PR machine will try to get the fanbase excited in the spring (“This is our year!!”). The team will show signs of life clear thru July and maybe into August. And then the inevitable implosion will happen, complete with lame excuses like “So & so got inured” or “The pitchers arms got tired”. Lather, rinse, repeat. I hate to say this ladies & gentlemen, but after 20 years we might only be halfway thru this losing streak. I hope I am wrong, but I honestly don’t think I am. I’ll say what I said one year ago to the Pirates brass…prove me wrong. I don’t think you can.

 

 

 

 

 

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