Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Harrrr, matey! We're terrible!"

It's that time of year again -- time to give up on the Pittsburgh Pirates and just accept another rotten, stinking season from the Bucs.

I was reading a post earlier at PoemOfQuotes Blog about the pain of being a Kansas City Royals fan. Yes, it's hard rooting for the Royals because they stink. The Pirates, alas, are actually worse.

I've been a Pirates fan since 1977, meaning I've seen a lot of bad baseball over the years. Truth be told, I haven't seen the Pirates play on television for a couple of years, primarily because my wife caught me throwing beer cans at the television screen, standing on a chair and yelling as the lads made idiotic play after idiotic play.

But, I still do read up on them to see what kind of shenanigans are going on and the stats don't lie. This season might not be as bad as most as the team actually could break .500, but it's doubtful given their past history.

My wife and I were supposed to take a trip to St. Louis earlier this year so I could go watch the Pirates lose in person. That trip didn't pan out as she got sick and we stayed home. It was probably just as well.

Yes, baseball season is rough for a Pirates fan, meaning I tend to get mad enough at the boys to start rooting for the Cardinals by around the middle of June. Oddly, however, few people realize how much they stink.

Let's go through a bit of history, shall we? The Pirates haven't won a World Series since 1979 and haven't had a winning season since (get this) 1992. Yes, that's 15 seasons below .500 and the team is gearing up to stink again this year.

That's pretty rotten, indeed, and it reminds me of an old joke about the Pirates:

This man walks into a bar and he's got this feist dog with him. The bartender says, "Hey, you can't bring a dog in here. You'll have to leave him outside."

The man begs, "Please let him stay. He's a Pittsburgh Pirates fan and he just wants to watch the game. If you let him stay, I promise that he won't bother anyone."

"He's a baseball fan? I'd kind of like to see that," the bartender says. "I'll let him come in, but if he bothers anyone, I'm throwing you both out of here."

So, the dog sits on a bar stool and watches the Pirates game. One of the Pirates hits a single and the dog jumps up on the bar and runs up and down it while yipping, wagging his tail and high-fiving the patrons.

"Hey, he really is a Pirates fan," the bar tender says. "Does he do that every time someone gets a hit?"

"Yes he does," the man says.

"What does he do when one of the Pirates hits a home run?"

"I don't know. I've only owned him for five years."

And that, folks, pretty well sums it up. But the team does have an impressive history in that the Pirates played in the first World Series in 1903 (lost to Boston) and won its first World Series in 1909 against the Detroit Tigers. By the way, the 1909 series pitted the Pirates' legendary Honus Wagner against the even more legendary (and at least twice as insane) Ty Cobb. The Bucs also picked up World Series wins in 1925, 1960 and 1971 and have produced a lot of Hall of Famers, including the aforementioned Wagner and the great Roberto Clemente (a player that makes the Pirates ownership wish that cloning was a reality 40 years ago).

Ah, but the team has -- honestly -- been almost uniformly terrible since that 1979 World Series victory. In the 1980s, they were awful until Lim Leyland took over as manager and started to build a club. It appeared in 1992 the Pirates would make it to the World Series, but they blew it against the Braves in the final inning of the last game of the National League Championship game. Yes, I remember it well because there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the Pirates were ahead by one run. They blew that one pretty severely just about the time I was gloating to a Braves friend of mine. As soon as the Pirates lost and that ridicule started to turn around on me, I hung up the phone and threw beer cans at the television screen (a common practice when watching the Pirates play).

So, what's been the problem for Pittsburgh? There are a couple, really. For one thing, the payroll is miserable and that means its hard to keep good players. Apparently, baseball players expect more than a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a 1972 Pinto for a season of work. Barry Bonds (I really do despise that man) was a Pirate, but he took off after the 1992 season for more money as did a lot of the real talent on the team. Sad.

Also, even when Pittsburgh does manage to land a good player, they trade him off for some prospects. Thus, a viscious circle is created in which great players are traded for prospects and those new players are traded for more prospects if they develop their talents and can contribute to the Bucs.

After all this griping, complaining and beer can hurling, you're probably wondering -- why does the Hawg still root for Pittsburgh. Probably for the same reason that I stuck with the Arkansas Razorbacks during the dreadful Danny Ford and Houston Nutt years.

Besides, I do like the underdogs. I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my uncle a few years ago.

"Uncle Don -- dad and granddad are both Yankees fans, so how did you wind up rooting for the Orioles?"

"Ethan, I used to watch the Yankees with your dad and grandfather, but it always seemed liked rooting for the Nazis against Poland in 1939."

Great point, but it doesn't make rooting for a bad team any easier.


PoetBlogger said...

It sounds like how the Royals were during the Baird years. We would get a quality player (Dye, Damon, Beltran, Sweeney, Bird) and get relatively nothing when they near free agency.

In the Dye trade the Royals got Neffie Perez, Damon trade we got Berroa (good for about 1/2 a season), Beltran we got John Buck, Mark Teahen, and Mike Wood. All three were/are OK, but not what you would expect from a star talent like Beltran. Mike Sweeney was gone for nothing even though the Angels offered up Kendrick one year and Aybar another. Before Baird, we lost David Cone for peanuts.

So the two teams are in the same boat. Both now have new GMs as well.

I really don't think money has anything to do with it. There is nothing wrong with trading away star players right before they reach free agency. The problem is when star players are traded away for players that end up being below average players.

Beane has for years traded away his star arms (three this season alone), but everytime he has gotten a haul in return and the next year is able to compete in a tough division. The Twins have done the same thing as of late.

So all the Royals and Pirates have to do now is just turn the corner.

The Pirates have quite a few good players right now:

They will be VERY good soon. If they can somehow make one or two quality trades for grade A prospects, they will be good for a very long time.

The Natural State Hawg said...

Well, here's the problem with having good players -- they tend to get traded away for prospects. The prospects that develop into solid players get traded away for more prospects, while the ones that don't develop quite so well remain on the team. I've watched the "Jason Kendalls" of the world get tossed aside for prospects for at least the past decade and it's sickening.

It's a nasty little cycle that's been churning for years.

PoetBlogger said...

That's why scouting and development are so important to small market teams. It does suck that star players can't stick around for more years, but at least there is a system in place to where the team holds players rights for a few years before arbitration.

I'm use to the idea that Alex Gordon won't be a Royal his whole career and neither will Greinke or even Soria (although he is at least locked up for cheap for a few). I just hope Dayton Moore can make great trades and keep the minors stocked.

As long as small market teams have good drafts and OK trades, they will be fine. The moment that doesn't happen 15 years of disappointment come along.

The Natural State Hawg said...

I do believe Pittsburgh has had some good drafts and OK trades, but the problem with the Bucs is that they just don't hang on to the very good players for any amount of time at all.

Take Jason Schmidt, for example. There was a solid trade from the Braves. He toiled away in Pittsburgh, developed his skills and then he was gone.

As soon as a player emerges in Pittsburgh, that player heads to another team.

Thus, 15 years of rotten seasons...

PoetBlogger said...

Ah, I see what you mean now. Yeah, that really sucks. I'm not sure if that is just due to bad luck over the years or bad player evaluation. Either way though, that definitely needs to stop happening.

Tony said...

Thank goodness for the Pirates.

- Tony, Houston TX.

The Natural State Hawg said...


Heh. I'd expect such sentiments from an Astros fan.

At least Houston fields a good team from time to time. We Pirates fans aren't so lucky...