Well with tomorrow being March 1, I am starting to get real excited about baseball season like I always do. Spring training is exciting for a fan that lives in the northeast like myself. Soon everything will turn green and the weather will begin to get warm again. A new baseball season always brings promise and possibilities. Baseball brings upon Yankees/Red Sox, one of the best sport epics EVER. In most cities there's excitement for the next 5 to 6 months. In Pittsburgh though, we're lucky if it lasts until May and depending on the young Penguins, it might not last that long.
The Pirates always seem to have a little bit of promise. They should though, right? Up until 1979, they were one of the greatest franchises in MLB. What a difference almost 30 years can make! A once proud franchise has now become one of the bottom feeders of the league. Eventually the bad luck HAS to turn around right? Eventually the Pirates have to be successful again, don' they? Lately I have wondered if they'll ever turn this thing around.
Now to say the Pirates have not been successful in the past 30 seasons really isn't a fair statement. They made a great run in the early 1990's. Three straight NL East division titles, only to run into the Reds, and the Braves twice. Doug Drabek won the Cy Young and Barry Bonds won the MVP award twice. Those teams in a baseball sense were stacked and had all the potential in the world. Then the Pirates got cheap and refused to pay their best players. Bonilla went to the Mets, Bonds went west, and Drabek went to Houston. It was the Marlins firesale, only worse because they didn't get ANYTHING for these players. Nothing, nada, zilch. Since 1993, not one winning season since.
So what has changed? A lot has changed. The Pirates got new ownership, led by Kevin McClatchy. Pittsburgh has been awarded the all-star game twice, in 1994 and in 2006. Pittsburgh has built one of if not the best ballpark in MLB. 4 different managers. Now those are some huge changes for such a once storied franchise. Most of these changes may actually produce a couple winning seasons in most cities, but not in Pittsburgh.
Each season starts, and most of the time the Pirates are eliminated in the first month. They are out of the pennant race long before July and then they trade away there best players (young and old) before the trade deadline. Lets me review some of the names the Pirates have gotten rid of over this run. These players have either been traded or just walked during free agency. Jason Schmidt, Jon Leiber, Aramis Ramirez, Jason Kendall, Brian Giles, Kris Benson, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Gonzalez, Barry Bonds, Jeff King, Jay Bell, Kenny Lofton, Chris Shelton. These are just some of the names, there's many more but many of these players have been very successful beyond the Pirates. So what's wrong with my team?
There are many things wrong with the Pirates and none are very good. For starters the McClatchy group is a BIG problem. They bought the Pirates in 1996. The first thing on their list of things to do wasn't to field a winning team, it was to blackmail the city and the state. Give the Pirates a new stadium or else. Well the economy was good and McClatchy mentioned that the new stadium would lead to winners, look what if did for the city of Cleveland right? Everyone used the Cleveland example when trying to get a stadium in the 1990's. PNC park got built, opened in 2001. The winning years are right around the corner, right? Not exactly. Pittsburgh set franchise records for attendance in that first season. They also continued to lose. Big offseason free agent signings were jokes. Everyone knew they were just supposed to be trade bait jor July. Reggie Sanders, Kenny Loften, Randall Simon, and Jeff Suppon were all early season rentals. Most teams rent players for the last 3 months of the season, not the Buccos, they do it for the first 3 months. The owners then and now complain of losing money. (I will revisit this)
Another big problem was and still is the General Management. Cam Bonifay was a "GREAT" GM. Who can forget that huge contract he gave to once all-star Derek Bell? His firing ws only about 5 years too late. Then there's current GM Dave Littlefield. I understand baseball and I understand that one of the big chores most GM's have is reloading the farm system. So I have given Littlefield time to do that, to draft the players he sought fit, and as of right now nothing has shown me that he is no better then Bonifay. The Pirates have lists of young prospects that were supposed to have been great. Some have become great. They just no longer play for the Pirates. Littlefield has stocked the minors with young arms, almost copying the Moneyballesque Oakland A's. The problem with this is there seems to be a HUGE problem in the pitching coaching going on in the minor league system, because each year it seems like one if not more of these young stars is having extreme surgery on an elbow or a shoulder. These are no good for the Pirates. They can't trade them and they can't play. Crippling the Pirates growth.
Now McClatchy complains of losing money every season. I have huge problem with that statement. Last season there was a joke about Mark Cuban buying the Pirates. It all came about when Cuban was in town. Someone asked him if he were interested in the team and he said yes. McClatchy almost instantly came out and said the team was not for sale. My big question is why not? Why isn't team that is losing so much money not for sale? If you owned a business, and it was consistently losing money, would you continue to own that business? Factor in that you are not doing any renovations, any upgrades, and you visably are not putting any of your money into the business. That business really does not have much of a chance, especially when other businesses like yours are doing everything they can to get better. Sooner or later you're going to lose more then just seasons.
The Pirates are about to being another season. Once again, there is a lot of hope. Hope that the team can FINALLY get to the .500 mark. The Pirates traded for that big left handed bat they needed. Adam Laroche is supposed to be the pop they need and he's supposed to protect Bay and Sanchez in the lineup. The Pirates also have quite a bit of youth. The Cubs and Cardinals are the cream of the crop in the Central division, but third's up for grabs, and who knows if some players on other teams get injured. It's what I have for being an opitimist. I will always have hope, but I am sure by May or June I will have to be a realist.
Kansas City fans know what i am talking about. I have a good solution for both cities though. You guys can have the Pirates and everything except PNC Park. Heck you can have PNC Park if you can figure out how to move it. I will be glad to give that to Kansas City. All I want in return is that new arena. We can put it right where PNC Park sits. Parking lots are already there, and I will no longer have to worry about the Penguins leaving town. It's really a good deal both ways. Think about my offer and get back to me.