Thursday, April 01, 2004
Since I’ve been here the Pirates have wallowed in mediocrity (no winning season since 1992), the Penguins have declined to be the worst team in hockey (although, starting with the Stars game I went to, they’ve been red-hot of late), and the Steelers lost the Super Bowl and went through the Kordell saga. It’s been sad and disappointing to see the Pittsburgh sports teams struggle. Going to a baseball game is a lot more fun when you are watching a team contending for something.
Which is why the Pirates foibles have been painful for me to watch: the fans here simply don’t care. Pittsburgh sports fans are passionate, but even with the Steelers and their struggles, fans were already looking forward to the Steelers 2004 season rather than the Pirates (and Penguins). With the city’s financial woes and the continuing flight of educated professionals from Western Pennsylvania, people are apathetic and cynical about Pittsburgh’s future. Back during the 1970s, when the steel industry went belly-up, people could root for Bradshaw and the Steelers in the Super Bowl, or Roberto Clemente and the Pirates to take their minds off Pittsburgh’s decline. Today? The failure of the construction of PNC Park to build the Pirates into winners like the Indians or Orioles has made people cynical about the future.
So what’s right with the Pirates? Well, it is a short list:
That’s about it.
PNC is a terrific place to watch baseball: as I’ve said, it offers a spectacular view of the city and the view of the game itself is equally wonderful.
So what’s wrong about the Pirates? Basically everything:
The team’s strategy of signing low-price veterans to field a competitive team is killing fan enthusiasm because people know that these guys aren’t going to be hanging around after this season. Talent, people feel, is just on the payroll until management deals them in July to contenders: e.g. Loften, Ramirez, Simon, et al. in 2003. The team’s veterans fetish, which led to their decision to re-sign Randall Simon to take playing time away this year from a talented player like Craig Wilson at first base, hurts the development of potential future stars. (Click here for an a-typical Post-Gazette article analyzing the Pirates from a Sabermetics POV.) The team’s decision to sign big-time contracts for players that turned out to be lousy players (Derek Bell), or good but not worth the price (Jason Kendall) has crippled the team. They simply cannot make personnel moves because they have too much money tied up in too few players.
My solution is one that every fan of sabermetics baseball would embrace: ditch the vets and build with defense, pitching, and home-grown talent. No long-term contracts. No more veteran players trying to be traded to a contender. (That means you, Raul Mondesi!)
What is sabermetics? I'm glad you asked. This article from Baseball Primer.com outlines what Sabermetrics is.