Tuesday, July 31, 2007

#74: Matt Morris

Well. That was unexpected.

I don't grieve for the loss of Rajai Davis; I enjoyed watching him fly down the first base line when he'd make contact, but the Pirates have not been an organization that's utilized their speed on the bags. Plus, Davis was just one of about 100 people on the roster who's keeping that center field position warm for Andrew McCutcheon.

However, I am left WTFing over the pickup of veteran right-hander Matt Morris. And not even from the player-for-player aspect...even if you include some middling minor-leaguer as the player to be named later. The fact that the Pirates are picking up a contract with well over $10 million left over the next 2 years.

I mean, is it possible that Dave Littlefield senses his demise at GM from the top and somehow found a way to swing this deal without having it signed off by team owner Bob Nutting? As kind of a "Thanks for making my job more difficult than I already make it?"

Commenter "SteelCity G" on WHYGAVS hit it on the head:

"10 million on Matt Weiters, nope, 10 million on Matt Morris, yes sir."

Of course, the Pirates commentators are praising the deal, putting a spin like this on it: Morris trails only Greg Maddux and Roy Oswalt in wins since 2001. Looking at it like this, Morris is in the company of a sure Hall-of-Famer and a possible Hall-of-Famer.

But consider he was with the perennially playoff-bound St. Louis Cardinals through 2005. Having the offense that they provided during that stretch will improve your odds. Going 9-2 against the Pirates as a Cardinal will pad your stats, too.

I don't think that Morris is mud, but coming to the 'Burgh is not going to help his stats, and his presence won't yield more than 2-3 more wins.

I give points for surrendering what we didn't really need and picking up a piece that we did, but the misallocation of funds in this case is more than equally bad to the talent exchange. I grade it a C-minus.

But what I will give high marks for is what I hope is the tongue-in-cheek comment that Morris said during his interview with Greg Brown on the radio side before today's game against the Cardinals. Brown asked him if he thinks the Pirates are close to being a winning franchise again.

Morris was diplomatic at first saying that the Pirates have a promising young core and have been on the verge for a few years. Then he said this gem, which sounds harmless the first time you hear it:

"But you know, it's funny...when you're pitching against them, they're an unbelievable team." -- Matt Morris

You can only imagine what an opposing clubhouse is saying when it comes to the Pirates. Especially one that's Tony LaRussa-led. "The Pirates are unbelievably bad..."

Thank you, Matt. You brightened my evening considerably.

#73: Fixing Paulino

As promised, I had one final trick up my sleeve to try to fix Ronny Paulino. More on that in a moment.

I am in possession of 2 bobbleheads from this season. Both of which did not require me to purchase a seat at PNC Park with my own money. Or the radio station's money.

The first was Ronny. Again, more on that in a moment.

The second was the two-assed 70's-80's-era Logoman bobblehead. That looks like John Larroquette.

It's totally the eyebrows.
My girlfriend noticed that the crotch looks like an ass.


My other bobblehead is Ronny Paulino. I managed to get that one by asking WMBS Sports Talk Show Host George Von Benko of The Sportsline to pick me up an extra one if he could. At the time, he was writing the wrap ups from the Pirate side for MLB.com, so he'd be in the pressbox.

Paulino was one of my favorites heading into the season and I've been defending his spot on the roster all season. I've acknowledged readily that he needs work and occasionally needs to sit for a while, but this is his first full year in the majors. He's not Mike Piazza and he doesn't have the potential of Matt Weiters.

If you're gonna crucify the guy, make it for lack of effort. I don't see that as cause to give up on him, but I can at least see that argument. Some who pretend to follow baseball more than they really do try to make up statistics that support sending Paulino to Indianapolis, or another team, or the firing squad, whatever.

Paulino is right in the middle in fielding percentage and passed balls of qualified leaders per ESPN.com. Paulino is fourth in the big leagues at throwing out baserunners among qualified leaders. I'm not impressed with a 35% rate at throwing runners out, but there are only 3 catchers doing it better.

And now that Ronny has fixed his stance, he's making contact more and striking out less. The lower-outside corner of the plate isn't getting him out as much anymore. He is not holding his bat as far back in his stance as he used to so he has more time to get to that pitch. His average is starting to come up, finally.

So, all that said, it's time to fix him for good and all.

I received the bobblehead from Mr. Von Benko. Upon opening the box, I discovered that his left arm was broken off at the sleeve (cheap-ass bobblehead).

Nothing a little KrazyGlue® couldn't fix.


Now he's all better. Maybe a little voodoo is what Ronny needs to come back to at least last year's level.

Trade deadline is today. I have no doubt that whatever gets done today, I will be a little less harsh than the other bloggers.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

#72: Thursday, July 26, 2007

-- Tomlin begins. Troy inks. Timmons hurts.

-- Bucs forgot there were 74 more games to play.

-- By signing Mike Lange, core of Penguins truly secured for '07-'08.

---Special Beginning---

Since my last real entry, the Pittsburgh Steelers opened training camp under a new head coach. The last time that happened, it was almost exactly half my life ago.

Still, I'm trying to view everything that Mike Tomlin does, or seems to do, differently than his predecessor as being good things. Not that I think that Cowher was a bad coach. It just seemed that, for the most part, veterans of Steelers camp pretty much knew what to expect day-in, day-out from The Chin. Anything that deviates from the veterans' comfort zone can't be all bad.

Replacing the movies with two-a-days, dedicating entire practices to special teams, and pretty much saying that training camp is not supposed to be pleasant speaks well of Tomlin. He has three special teams coaches, and, fortunately, Kevin Spencer is not one of these.

I was shocked to see that Spencer was actually the top vote-getter among his peers in 2003 as best special teams coach.

On the one hand, the Steelers posted a 6-10 record, so you'd be seeing a hell of a lot of special teams on the field, so maybe he got the votes for just being omnipresent.

On the other hand, Josh Miller had an better-than-average season. Never had a punt blocked and landed a tidy 27 punts inside the 20, with a net average of 36 yards per kick, which doesn't speak gloom and doom on the coverage. Jeff Reed, however, had a horrible season, kicking south of 72% of field goal attempts. His kickoff coverage was comparable to Miller's, but this was not the stuff of a top special teams coach. Maybe his peers felt sorry for him.

Compared to 2006, though, '03 was a paradise. Reed only did a shave better percentage-wise, but the muffed punts. Over and over. By the same guys!

That falls on the coaches.

Now, there's a clean slate, and a renewed focus on making the third side of the ball as prominent a part of the Steelers as the other two. We'll have to wait and see if those seeds bear fruit.


Strong Safety Troy Polamalu is a Steeler through the 2011 season.

As much as I love the energy he brings to the field, his willingness to put himself out on the line play after play, talking to Coach Cowher during Superbowl XL during the Seahawks challenge of the eventual Ben Roethlisberger touchdown about going in on 4th down if the challenge was upheld...that's what I like to see from the men who don the hypocycloid-ladened logo.

I also know that if an agreement hadn't been reached before training camp, the Rooneys would have waited until after the season when Troy was a free agent. Signing him now, even though the deal makes him the highest-paid safety in the league, was probably cheaper than what it would have taken to keep him here when he was receiving offers from other clubs.

That said, Troy played pretty much all of last season hurt. While professional athletes have the best physical therapy programs in the world, muscle is muscle, bone is bone, and brains are brains. See Kendrell Bell. Except for the brains part. (Bell's Wonderlic: 12. Troy: 24)

I worry about Roethlisberger for the same reason, but we can at least see what happens this season.

If Troy is victimized constantly by injury over the course of this extension, it's a considerable portion of salary cap room that will be eaten up for minimal returns.

Here's to your health, Mr. Polamalu.


Since we're on the subject of the injury bug, first-round draft pick Lawrence Timmons re-injured his groin. Poor kid can't catch a break. What could be even worse is if he was cleared to practice without fully-healing from his rookie mini-camp injury. Of course, we normal folk get no inside information on what exactly is wrong with him. Either way, this only boosts the prediction of those who did not see Timmons becoming a starter this season.


Mike Barr, once again, seems to be holding his own in training camp. Except for the fact that the Steelers seem to have drafted a punting wunderkind (is there such a thing?), Barr would be on the team. He probably should have been on it last year. Maybe they can convert Barr to a different kind of special teamer and give him a punt or two if a game is out of reach. He'd make the roster on any other middling team...


I have a confession to make.

I have done very little watching/listening/following games in progress since the All-Star Break. Not something you'd expect a blindly-loyal fan to admit. Some of it has been working evening shifts at my other job, but some of it has also been doing other things with my personal time that would have otherwise been taken up by following a game live.

I really can't say I'm sorry, given the results. From reading box scores and the other stellar Pirate blogs out there, some of the games that ended up being 1- or 2-run losses really weren't that close. And the ones that were (notably the two against Houston that were lost) displayed an offense that couldn't have won a game in AA (take that to mean either Double-A or Alcoholics Anonymous).

They were doing better while I was out in Colorado (5-1 against Milwaukee and Chicago).

One could say, "At least Jason Bay's long slump seems to be over."

Sure. But almost everyone else forgot that there was a second half of the season to play. The team's current On-Base Percentage is the worst in all of baseball by almost 30 points (.273 vs .302). Strangely enough, Bay's OBP is also .302 since the break, despite the surge. Sad that a .302 OBP is keeping the teams OBP as high as it is.

Did I mention that we're in last place? In the entire National League?

Maholm and Youman have been the best two pitchers for the Bucs during the second half.

Ian Snell, as refreshing as it is for some to see someone with life on the team, is becoming a clubhouse cancer. That's just another hole in the boat the organization doesn't need (but if the boat's already on the bottom of the ocean, does it matter?).

Tom Gorzelanny is now showing the strain created from Jim Tracy and Co. electing to keep him in games to consistently throw over 100 pitches per start. "Shoulder irritation." Yeah. A guy named "Bullington" knows something about that...

At least we didn't complete the trifecta of being beaten by former Pirate pitchers with today's win over the Metropolitans. While all of the runs charged against the "resurgent" Oliver Perez (5) were unearned, he was the one who committed the error that allowed those runs to score. Despite losing today, you know Willie Randolph is going to bed tonight thinking, "Thank God I don't work for that organization."

Looking at it this way, I called the season a little more than a week ago. The team truly quit shortly thereafter. Heh. Talk about feeling the pulse.


And finally, I'd like to go on record as submitting the next slogan for the Pirates marketing campaign.

- They'll be able to keep this one for at least two seasons, just like the current "We Will".

- It's one that should simultaneously help the Nuttings sell the "family experience" at PNC Park, while reminding people who actually pay attention to the team that the search for a successful season will be futile. In a sad, snarky kind of way.

Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball:
Making History

---Smiling Like a Butcher's Dog---

I couldn't help but do just that when I read that Mike Lange will be back on the Penguins Radio Network, where he belongs, for at least one more season. Lange has a gift for being able to follow the action coherently, be enough of a homer to make us root for him, while being objective enough to give credit to the other team and assign blame to ours when it's due. Some report he's been able to do this after a few cocktails.

This may be as big of a signing as any of the other players the Shero braintrust has been able to lock up in the last couple of months. If we can't watch these stellar players, Mr. Lange will make it seem like we're there, anyway. As fans, we can't put a pricetag on that.

Welcome back, sir.


Jordan Staal was charged with disorderly conduct and underage drinking.

So what?

I'm not a fan of neighbors being raucous late at night or of underage drinking in general, but it seemed like Staal wasn't going to be driving anywhere. If you're going to have underage drinking (or partake in it), at least know you and your guests are going to be staying put.

Just don't puke on the carpet.

Or poop on the couch.

At least he wasn't arraigned on federal dogfighting charges. Or defecting to Russia.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

#71: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 (quick)

I've been busy with work big time the last couple of months, so this blog has truly fallen by the wayside. I just wanted to share a comic I saw in an edition of the Herald-Standard (Uniontown paper) last week. Its artist is Tim Hartman, a political cartoonist for several Pittsburgh-area papers.

In addition to work, I also went to Colorado earlier this month. It's pretty.

Monday, July 16, 2007

#70: Monday, July 16, 2007

-- Pirates fizzle out of the 2nd-half gate.

-- Penguins core intact.

-- Camp Tomlin opens a week from today.

-- Random.

---No-Win Situation---

It's that time of year where I officially resign the season. No playoffs (I gave that a .5% chance from the get-go anyway), no contention, no .500 season.

This happens after I watch a string of baseball where I see no execution, no desire, and no hope in the boys playing on the field.

Last year, I'd called the season before I even started this blog following a particularly embarrassing loss to the D'backs in June of '06.

Some might argue that I should have called the season with the reading of the starting lineups on April 2nd, but sports are all about miracles and feel-good stories. Teams you never expect to hang around and making a playoff push in September.

Baseball's Black and Gold never seem to be a part of that parade.

The Pirates have started the 2nd half like the team that started the first half of 2006, dropping them from a faintly hopeful 8 games under .500 to an insurmountable 12 games below.

They've committed at least one error in 3 of the 4 games since the break en route to surrendering at least 5 runs in each contest. They've managed to spread their hits as widely as the legs of many an aspiring actress while allowing an average of almost two opposing baserunners per inning. They've lost a decent defensive third baseman with one of the better On-Base Percentages on the team to the disabled list in a rematch of "When Third Basemen Collide." (Count the prepositions in that sentence.)

And the worst part of all is, even if you accept that the Pirates will be sellers without reservation, the talent pool is even weaker this year than last. This translates to an even more depressed chance of working out some kind deal for a promising player for next year.

I remember reading a commenter on another blog say that the window for a .500 season is as wide as it's going to be either this season or next season. After that, it would take another Freak Show (but a few games better) to keep the Pirates from making history, instead of just tying it.


In other news, I am the last man standing on the "Ronny Paulino Bandwagon." While I've written that I believe that Ronny needs to be benched for a week or two because of his lack of hustle, others want to hang him upside down with piano wire. One statement of Jim Tracy's I've actually agreed with is that you can't take his .310 batting average last year as an accident. His bat has begun to heat up, but it seems like his glove is loaded with holes, his technique is non-existant, and he runs the bases with Diamond Dry. A reminder of how much he has yet to grow is sorely needed. Of course, if your team demoted the only other full-time catcher to the minors, then passed on a stud catcher in the draft, you might think you've got it made.

I have another, far sillier theory why Paulino is doing so poorly. More on that after I acquire some superglue and take a couple pictures.

---How to Run a Franchise---

Ray Shero should hold a seminar on how to build a franchise for any general manager in sports who's interested. He helped turn the expansion Nashville Predators into a playoff team in a relatively short amount of time in a non-salary capped NHL. Then, a cap was installed and he came to Pittsburgh. With the help of a couple of star draft picks who preceded him, has helped turn the Penguins into a team that more than a few will pick to win the Atlantic Division and go deep into the 2008 Playoffs.

Since my last entry, Shero has re-signed short-handed goal specialist Max Talbot, and shoot-out sniper Erik Christensen, the Saviour Sidney Crosby (hence the Canadian spelling of "Savior") at a discount, wingman Colby Armstrong, and head coach Michel Therrien.

At left, Colby Armstrong. At right, Falco from Starfox. No relation.

All Shero really needs to do is get a reliable veteran backup goaltender to give Marc-Andre Fleury a breather, especially down the stretch.

It's nice to truly look forward to a training camp other than the Steelers.

---T-minus One Week---

That is all.


-- New addition to the Pittsburgh blogosphere: Matt from the Pittsburgh Pro Sports Report.

-- I have this superstition that when the Pirates are doing well, I don't blog or write anything about them, so, if you ever notice I haven't blogged for a while and the Bucs are playing a stretch of better-than-.500 ball, that's why. ... As if my attention to the team is directly affecting their (mis)fortunes.

-- I was mistaken about how many visits I've been getting. The hit meter does indeed now read 11,000, but many of these hits have been coming by way of a couple of pictures I linked to in my November archive. A LOT of people have been coming to this page that way. Does anyone think giving away free "Steeltown Sports" t-shirts would help boost the genuine traffic? It's something I've been considering for a few months, but currently lack the capital to make it happen. Leave a comment if you'd be interested in one (or why you think that wouldn't be a good idea).

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

-- Protest Aftermath.

-- Shero continues to make improvements.

---Mixed Message---

There was plenty of coverage on the walkout at PNC Park on June 30th, from blogs as low down the totem pole as mine, to the Worldwide Leader in Sports (except hockey).

The estimates of the number of people who left their seats ranged from 1,000 to 7,000. The number who actually left the stadium were in the low triple digits.

I have so much to say on this topic, none of it relevant (but that's par for the course, so here we go).

1) First, the purpose of the walkout was to demonstrate that fans are tired of padding the pockets of the McNutting Syndicate since most of that money does not go toward improving the on-field product or even beefing up the farm system. We are not getting any long-term bang for our hard-earned buck.

Most of the people who did leave the seats and just hung out in the concourse for the 4th inning, by many reports, bought snacks and drinks and souveniers.


Some folks must have missed the reasoning somewhere along the lines. They must have took it as a "Hey! Let's wear green shirts to a Pirate game and look all rebellious by getting up in the middle of the game."

Or maybe it was that people thought they were there to protest the Pirate players and don't have the foggiest idea about the front office and management of the team. That would be a tragedy, indeed.

In the end, it's just a matter of thinking long-term. As I mentioned in my last entry, I referred to this protest as a "one-day, flash-in-the-pan" event. It does appear that it will be largely forgotten by the end of the Big'n'Rich concert tomorrow night.

I feel a lot of the fans who did participate in the walkout were not envisioning the state of the franchise in two, five, or ten years.

2) Obviously, I feel this round went to the Syndicate, despite the media coverage it received. This is mainly because the national audience saw a fan base whose majority favor the status quo over trying to defeat a parasitic ownership. Then they went back to following their own teams.

There are varying opinions on who won Saturday night.

Pat at WHYGAVS concedes the victory to the Syndicate.

Bones at Honest Wagner chalks one up for the protest.

It makes for a decent debate, but if the ownership is still making more money instead of less, a national spotlight on something that most people who follow baseball were already aware of takes the backseat.

3) In Dejan Kovacevic's Q&A today, he posted a letter he received from a season-ticket holder which reads:

"Hi, Dejan. I am a 20-game-plan holder who did not walk out Saturday night. I realize why some folks chose to protest, and I respect their intentions. However, I heard comments from some of the protesters who called in to a radio talk show after the game who said that it was the real diehard fans who walked out, but it was the casual fans just there for the bobbleheads who stayed seated. I also heard the comment that not many season-ticket holders participated in the protest. To me, the true diehard fans, the ones who really care, aren't the ones that walk out of a meaningless game in June. It's the ones who plop down their hard-earned money in December or January and commit to attending a set number of games. If we, the season-ticket holders, do not like how things are run, we can always cancel our plans, an action that hurts management in a far greater way than a glorified bathroom run does." -- Peter Selednik, Plum

He's right, but he's also foolish in his own way.

A die-hard is one who sticks to his beliefs despite any and all evidence that he's supporting a losing cause. Usually, there is some partial reinforcement packed in there to keep the die-hard feeling justified.

I know it's hard to leave a game when your team has a big lead, but this would have made an even bigger statement. Not to mention that the game, pretty much, was already over. How often does that happen? Golden opportunity missed.

However, in this case, the losing cause is supporting the owners of the franchise. I am a die-hard fan of the team. If the protest had not been organized, I would not have walked out, regardless of the score. I wouldn't have known what it was about.

I don't leave games, ever, regardless of how bad it seems (in fact, today is the 2nd anniversary of my trip to Miller Park where the Pirates were in an 8-2 hole at one point...and won). Refer to the bottom of this post where I call out supposed die-hards.

With respect to Mr. Selednik, willingly putting more money in the Syndicate's pocket is defeating his own purpose. If we were just looking at a 5-year losing streak with the promise of some big free-agent signings or a few studs ready to come up to the mothership in a year or two, I'd be 100% on his side.

But 15 consecutive losing seasons (let's not kid ourselves...they won't rebound in the 2nd half) with the chances to break that streak growing dimmer year by year is something else entirely. Two promises to rebuild the team, only to dump salaries of solid everyday players (Aramis Ramirez) while signing slightly above-average players to ridiculous contracts that we continue to pay for when they haven't been on the team for 3 seasons (Jason Kendall) shows that the judgement and direction of the club is still wildly off course.

And this isn't mentioning when the front office trades away people when their stocks really couldn't be much lower, or drafting the economical choices over potential franchise cornerstones.

4) Finally, to those people at the game who did not participate in the walkout (for whatever reason) and actually had the gall to boo those who did, go play in traffic. This also applies to anyone who was going to walk out but allowed those imbeciles to pressure you back into your seat.

I know my overall goal when I entered sports talk was to eliminate the controversial and confrontational approaches taken by some in the Pittsburgh sports talk media, but this is a grand exception.

Bottom line: The Nuttings are destroying this franchise. The vehicle had already started rolling in the wrong direction by the time they got here, but they've planted their foot down firmly on the gas, keeping the wheel straight. If you don't think that a one-time protest is worth at least trying to send a message, what are you getting out of this Pirates franchise that the rest of us don't know about?

If the Nuttings were using the money to support local charities and youth baseball and things of that nature, there could be some room for argument. But they're spending it on newspapers you likely don't read, upscale resorts you seldom visit, and otherwise using it to create a bigger funnel for themselves.

They are P.T. Barnum, and you, we, are the suckers.

(on a non-rant note, Barnum may not have actually uttered that famous phrase)


Quick hits -

I am officially the last man standing on the Ronny Paulino bandwagon. I asked a question over at WHYGAVS in the comments section...what would it take for Paulino to get back in Pirate fans' good graces. He wittily (and true-ily) said, "Transmogrify himself into Matt Wieters". Extra points for using a 12-letter word.

And there's some crazy rumor that the Mets want Paulino and are willing to part with Paul Lo Duca for him. Old catcher for new catcher? Something on Lo Duca's about to break. Littlefield: Beware ... oh, never mind.

If you look at the sidebar on the Yahoo! Rumors page, the Pirates, are one of 4 teams that does not appear. The others? Kansas City, Houston, and Arizona. As usual, DL is going to wait until the 11th hour to pull whatever moves will draw the ire of the Pirate faithful (that are still left).

---Scoring Free Agents---

Frequent commenter (and Steeltown Angel) Karri, dropped a note just a few minutes after I'd read about it myself about the incredibly productive signings Penguins General Manager Ray Shero.

I mean, Right winger Petr Sykora? VETERAN defenseman Darryl Sydor?

Holy cow.

I'm not completely convinced that Ryan Whitney is worth a 6-year deal, $24 million deal, but even if he's only average, there might be some teams during that time span that wouldn't mind picking him up in a trade deal if they were starving for a blue-liner. If Whitney continues to improve, though, this may be the best move of the three.

Rob Scuderi re-ups, too. He's hit and miss from game to game, but between him and Joe Melichar, I'd take Scuds.

Now, if only Ray Shero would be able to work a deal where we could sell off a relatively expendable player for cash to help move this arena thing along.

I've gotta learn to write down everything I'm thinking during major events like this. I neglected to mention back in March when Mario announced the deal that I still wasn't going to feel completely relaxed on this issue until ground was actually broken.