I’m sitting in my office on the Saturday before the Pirates end spring training in Bradenton, Florida, anticipating 2018 Opening Day, which happens to be tomorrow in Detroit, the not-so-welcoming climate of the “Motor City.” The “AccuWeather” prognosticators project an opening day temp of 55 degrees with a few showers hanging around. Hey, with the weird “Nor’easter” weather dominating current weather patterns, the weather in Detroit will probably be just a few degrees warmer than Bradenton and maybe a tad more hospitable to the Pirates than their fellow competitors will be in the NL Central this year.
The Pirates finished spring training with a losing record; actually, near the bottom of the Grapefruit League. At this rate, what if the Pirates were to finish the 2018 regular season with a win-loss record of around 60-102?
That might seem like a doomsday scenario, but hey, I have seen stranger things happen in my 35-plus years covering the Pirates. It doesn’t get much more puzzling than the 2017 season, taking into account some of the questionable and possibly team destabilizing moves that were made by the Pirates management during the months leading up to this 2018 campaign.
In mid-January, Pirates ace Gerrit Cole was unceremoniously dealt to the world champion Houston Astros. What? As if the Astros didn’t have enough quality players already. Houston was already loaded, that’s why they won the 2017 World Series. In 2017 when Cole was with the Pirates, he was 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA. If the Pirates had a bit more offense, Cole could have possibly been 16-8 or 18-6 even when taking his handful of less-than-stellar outings into consideration.
But even with the Cole sendoff, the Pirates weren’t through “wheeling and dealing.” Less than 72 hours after Pittsburgh committed that serious blunder, the team continued the 2017-2018 “bargain basement sale” by shipping the “face” of the franchise, Andrew McCutchen, to the San Francisco Giants. Pirates management had been attempting to unload McCutchen for the last several seasons to no avail. Let’s hit “rewind” for a moment.
In the past, the Pirates sent outfielder Barry Bonds packing and we all know how that turned out. Bonds hit 176 home runs with a batting average of around .274 for the seven years that he was with the Pirates. Oh, Charley Chan so sorry, forgot to mention that Monsieur Bonds averaged 35 stolen bases per season during those “formative” years as well.
The Pirates haven’t won anything of substance since Bonds departed the northern shores of the Allegheny. Has the curse of the “Bambino” been transferred from the Boston Red Sox to the Pittsburgh Pirates? Much of the Pirates’ fan base have allowed themselves to be “propagandized” into believing all of the negative and dark hype about Bonds needing PEDs to aid him in his quest for baseball immortality as well as his “attitude.” Those assertions may or may not be true, but ponder this next question…Could being the son of Bobby Bonds and the godson of Willie Mays have anything to do with the baseball prowess of Barry Bonds? That’s like being the son of a great scientist being sent to a school to be taught by an even greater scientist. Whew! What a dream scenario for any athlete in any sport. The accusations against Barry Bonds were akin to the ill-fated O.J. Simpson without the “tight fitting gloves” or the social and economic darkness that possibly comes attached to the Simpson legacy.
Back to 2017…
During the past several years and in light of all the attempted trades and trade rumors regarding McCutchen (a former NL MVP), on November 27, 2017, McCutchen became a father and named his son, Steel Stefan McCutchen. He could have named his son Lauderdale or Seminole (McCutchen was born in Florida), but he chose to honor his firstborn by linking him with the place that brought him fame and glory, Pittsburgh, by naming his son “Steel.” Was that honor and respect reciprocal when it came to the ownership of the Pirates? I can’t say for sure that it wasn’t, but I suspect not.
I hope that the Pirates don’t experience the “two-headed dragon curse” of Bonds and McCutchen roaming around the bowels of PNC Park. Many people feel that the Pirates ownership is far more focused on marketing, not winning. The Pirates may not be winning as far as getting to and winning a World Series, but they are winning the marketing game. Most of the time, the Pirates ownership acts like the rich man and his wife (Thurston and Lovey Howell) on Gilligan’s Island. “If not for courage of the fearless crew, (manager Clint Hurdle and GM Neal Huntington) the ‘Minnow’ would be lost.”
Unless the Pirates approach the players market willing to proactively “invest” more in acquiring and maintaining a consistent roster, well, you can only imagine the conclusion of this and any other future season.
Huntington, the Pirates’ General Manager, can only sculpture a personnel roster based on the finances available to him and Hurdle, the manager, can only direct and position players on the diamond that are in the Pirates dugout and bullpen.
Whatever the future holds for the successes or failures of the Pirates, the ownership must provide the navigational tools for winning or losing. However, I would suggest not using ancient seafaring tools like sundials and sandglasses for timing and a quadrant to guide the Pirates ship around the “icebergs of failure” in order to reach the final destination of success in today’s market because as we should all know, it’s easier to sink than swim. Gone are the days that a player was shackled to an owner or team for the length of his career because free agency changed that forever.
“If the Pirates ownership can’t run with the big dogs, they better stop barking and get back on the porch.”
It’s time to change methods of management style because if their management approach isn’t altered, how and why should different results be expected on the field?
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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