Everyone wants to see their favorite team win. It’s as simple as that. If the team wins, the fans will come out and cheer. For the Pittsburgh Pirates, they have had a problem with that simple formula for the past 18 seasons, as it is well known that they have endured losing seasons over each of those years. There are people in college right now that have never experienced a winning season from their baseball team. To put it in perspective, the last time the Pirates had a winning season, the number one song in America was Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, gas prices averaged $1.13, there have been 4 presidents, Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo were competing for top video game console, and current Pirates superstar Andrew McCutchen was 6 years old. Take a moment and let that sink in.
It’s no wonder that people are fed up with this franchise and that they are the laughing stock of baseball. They are the Los Angeles Clippers, Detroit Lions and Edmonton Oilers of baseball. Is there still time for this franchise to be saved? In what is the fourth – five year plan since they last won, this time around seems more promising than the others. People of Pittsburgh do like the Pirates and baseball – whether they want to admit it or not – and if the Pirates win, we will start to see more of that. People around my age range, will jump on whatever is hot at the time. Look at the Penguins10 years ago. No one was a Penguins fan then. They almost relocated, the tickets were dirt cheap, and no one wanted to come see Robert Lang, Milan Kraft and Ramzi Abid each night. Once Sidney Crosby came to town and the team started to win, lifetime Penguins fans and new Penguins fans came out of the woodwork. I had a discussion recently about this with my, well, more experienced – because “old” is just mean – Uncle. He said he has earned the right to be a fair weather fan with the Pirates. He watched great teams and great players – such as Dave Parker, Willie Stargell and even Roberto Clemente – each and every year while growing up and until he was about my age now. He says now the team loses him each year by Memorial Day and that between Pirates management and those in charge of the economics of Major League Baseball, the team embarrasses him as a joke. I couldn’t agree more with him. Since we can’t really identify the Pirates as a winning franchise, people my age have come to expect the losing. If the Steelers all of the sudden turned out 18 years straight of sub .500 football, then we would be able to relate to my Uncle’s point of view.
There are many reasons that people point to when criticizing the Pirates and their lack of success. A lot of the fingers point to Bob Nutting, saying he won’t spend money. Some also blame the general managers over the years in Cam Bonifay, Dave Littlefield and currently, Neil Huntington. I feel it is unfair to criticize the current brass for the 18 years since they haven’t been around for all of them. Outside of the signing of Aki Iwamura last season, Huntington hasn’t done a bad job in my book. They spent big money in the draft last season on the top two pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, an in signing 16-year old, Luis Heredia. These signings would suggest that the Pirates are making the moves the way they need to.
Baseball is a different monster than the other sports, in that there is no salary cap and never will be. Teams like the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox are able to build all-star teams each year, leaving the small market teams like the Pirates struggling to compete. The league just gives money to the small-market teams via the revenue sharing as a sort of hush money. Like it or not, that’s how it is. However, it isn’t a good excuse for not winning. Teams like the Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins (who have turned into a big payroll team), Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays, have all proved that you don’t have to have a $100 million plus payroll to compete. Last year, the San Diego Padres, who had a lower payroll than the Pirates, came down to the last week of the regular season and just missed the playoffs. Teams like the Pirates have to build through the draft and sign marginal free-agents to compete.
Fans want the Pirates to spend money and get good free-agents. Here’s the thing with that wish that people don’t seem to get. Why would Cliff Lee or Adam Dunn want to come to Pittsburgh? If they can get more money or just as much from a winning team, why would they choose to come here? You have to build up a winning program before players will want to come here. Spending money just to spend money is not the way to go. During the Littlefield years, the Pirates spent money on Derek Bell, Raul Mondesi, Jeromy Burnitz, Jose Mesa and Kenny Lofton. How well did that work out? Look at the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers. Spending money doesn’t mean instant success.
Lastly, fans say once the players get good, the Pirates trade them all away. The Pirates don’t have a chance to resign these players, so trading them away for prospects is how they have to go about business. The Marlins do it better than anyone in baseball. While the return the team gets is the way to judge a trade, I feel it is just as important to evaluate what the players the Pirates gave up in a trade have done for their new team. Some notable players the Pirates got rid of that the fans were furious about were Aramis Ramirez, Jason Bay, Nate McClouth, Xavier Nady, Jason Schmidt, Jason Kendall, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson and Brian Giles. Ramirez was the worst trade the Pirates made as Bobby Hill (isn’t he on King of the Hill), is who the Pirates got in return. Ramirez has enjoyed a very good career in Chicago while Hill hasn’t touched a baseball in years. Besides that, none of the other trades were all that bad. Bay had a decent, short tenure in Boston, but had a dismal season in New York last year. McClouth hit under .200 and was demoted by the Braves last season. Nady hasn’t stayed healthy or been the same since he was with the Pirates. Schmidt had a good run for the Giants and Dodgers, but nothing to write home about. Kendall was a fan favorite who only hit singles and has had an average career since the trade. Sanchez won the World Series with the Giants last year, but always struggles with injuries. Wilson lost his job in Seattle last season to Josh Wilson, and is close to being out of baseball. Giles brought the Pirates Oliver Perez and Bay, and was nowhere near the player he was in Pittsburgh since the trade. The Pirates are so bad that they make these players seem better than they are when they are here.
I have faith in the Pirates and think this is the beginning of the turnaround. If they lock up three of their four core players in Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata, to buy out their arbitration years, and continue to build through the draft, then the fans will have reason to believe in the Pirates once again.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com