Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Pirates. They’ve officially erased 20 years of losing. Those two decades of sub .500 baseball? They never happened. The last three years of playoff campaigns have rendered that stretch of ineptitude as nothing more than a footnote in history.
If Piratefest at the David L. Lawrence Convention center taught us anything this weekend, it’s that the fans are “all in” on pretty much any decision the Bucco management makes. The event was teaming with bright eyed fans, lapping up merchandise and autographs from players, alumni, and front office types. Lines were deep and enthusiasm was high.
All this despite the fact that the team dumped 1B Pedro Alvarez for nothing, let J.A. Happ go without a fight in free agency, sold off Charlie Morton for a single-A pitcher, and dealt local fan favorite Neil Walker to the defending league champions for a pitcher the Mets won’t miss.
Where was the outrage we saw on line? Where were the boycotts? No negative signs or t-shirts?
Nope. As the Pirate organization molted off layers of its roster which has been to three straight postseasons, there was apparent dissatisfaction on the phone lines of local talk shows and on social media. But it sure didn’t manifest itself in the fan Q&A that took place on Saturday.
Granted, they are playing to what is inherently a favorable audience. But as Clint Hurdle, Neal Huntington, and Frank Coonelly sat on a stage that should have served as a figurative dunking booth, most fans who had a question opened with a giddy preamble about how appreciative they were for the last three years and how happy they were to have witnessed it.
To be fair, they should be. It’s been an enjoyable three years after a generation of darkness. And maybe those asking questions were prescreened.
But this has been a really crappy offseason so far. The Cubs are assembling a super team. The Cardinals at least are appearing to attempt to patch over losses they’ve suffered. Meanwhile the Pirates are practically pushing effective players out the exit door as fast as they can.
And the fan base should be more angry about it. Good stretch or not, Huntington, Coonelly, and Hurdle deserve more criticism for the past few weeks. Teams that win 98 games shouldn’t be having garage sales. “Bridge seasons” shouldn’t be built towards a roster that’ll feature at least four significant players in the first year of Major League experience.
In other markets, that’s called a “rebuilding season.” Here, it’s being portrayed as the destination for a “bridge year.” I also hope Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Nick Kingham, Tyler Glasnow, and Elias Diaz blossom into successful big league players. But they’ll all be rookies or barely into their second years by 2017.
So how can you call that a “bridge season” if the foundation on the other side of the bridge is so very shaky?
Huntington blamed himself for “setting that tone” with comments he made about the team maybe taking a step back this year but still “having the core in tact” for 2017. But let’s be honest. He’s not blaming himself. He’s praising himself for getting this fan base to believe it.
And believe it they do. The second question of Saturday’s fan Q&A was about Walker being dealt for Jon Niese. After Huntington gave some rehearsed answer about how they had this mediocre lefty under cost control for three years, the questioner responded by saying, “Thanks Neal. I hope you’re right. You always are.”
Dear God! Did someone pull a Fisher Price string on this guy’s back..like “What does the sheep say say?” Well apparently it says: “BAHHHHH! Let’s Go Bucs.”
Always? Always? Hey, “more often than not”…sure. But always?!
I see your “always.” And I raise you a Tim Alderson, Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, Gaby Sanchez, Erik Bedard, James McDonald, Andy LaRoche, and Craig Hansen. Oh and how about the Jose Tabata contract too?
But I get it. Jon Niese will be the next Happ. Jung Ho Kang’s knee will be fine. Michael Morse and Jake Goebbert will adequately replace Pedro Alvarez. And the Pirates can afford a “soft spot” (Huntington’s words, not mine) in their rotation.
Uh, who is the soft spot exactly? Niese? Jeff Locke? Pitcher X who becomes the fifth starter?
Whether it’s a t-shirt, a Pirate Parrot plush stocking stuffer, or a new season ticket plan there are enough Pirate fans buying whatever the front office brass is selling. And that includes bogus explanations as to why your winning team is being deconstructed before your very eyes.