#127: The Annual Implosion
With 51 games left in the regular season, the Pittsburgh Pirates have bottomed out.
Losers of eight straight ballgames and depleted of nearly all of their previously established talent, the '09 Bucs are down for the count, and the official coronation as the new Kings of Futility (at least insofar as consecutive losing seasons is concerned) seems likely to happen by Labor Day.
It's interesting to note that the Pirates' slump has coincided with the surge by the other National League laughingstock, the Washington Nationals, winners of their last eight.
Pittsburgh now has the third-worst record in all of baseball, but they're only five-and-a-half games better than the current MLB-worst Nationals (Kansas City is the other team below Pittsburgh).
Some in the media and some bloggers are holding that this losing streak is the kind of thing the Pirates need to suffer through to truly rebound and truly rebuild, much like the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks or the 2006 Detroit Tigers.
The major problem with this thinking is that, not only did these teams bring in a lot of young talent through trades and through the draft, but they supplemented those assets with fairly high-priced free-agent veterans.
Pirates owner Bob Nutting will not do this.
I have heard from a fairly reliable source that Nutting has no interest in upping payroll, breaking the word of Pirate management (figurehead Kevin McClatchy, at the time) after they received the tax-payer funded PNC Park.
So, instead of building a team to a Moneyball-esque $80 million or so before tearing down, it doesn't appear that the team will ever barely exceed $50 million in payroll under Nutting's watch.
Pirate fans need to allow their memories to recall more than a few months in the past in order to get past "disappointment" and enter "resentment" or "betrayal".
New ballpark, no winner.
New general manager (David Littlefield), no winner.
New 5-year rebuilding plan, no winner.
New managers (Jim Tracy, John Russell), no winner.
ANOTHER new general manager (Neal Huntington), no winner.
Same owner, no winner.
If you want to see something interesting, check out a series of press releases compiled by Dutch Wydo, of WMBS' "Saturday Morning Sports Talk" (Saturday, 9:10AM - 10AM, 590-AM or online)
It becomes increasingly apparent that there is no genuine interest in fielding a winning team. Just dumping payroll while pointing to other "bright spots" to distract the fan base and keep them coming through the gates. Now it's "Come see Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones!"
All of the above brings me to my apology.
In June of 2007, I wrote:
I understand if you're not strong enough to handle the constant disappointment. Feel free to leave. Just leave your keys at the door on the way out. If and when the Pirates emerge from the doldrums and start playing competitive baseball, you are not welcome back.
I was recently called a "fair-weather" fan by someone I, in turn, labeled "ignorant" (he took offense for some reason).
This has gone beyond fair-weather fandom. My self-imposed boycott of PNC Park (unless the ticket is already paid for...in which case I still feel kind of dirty) is my way of keeping the current management team from profiting on my misery.
A fair-weather fan would be one who is in a town like Oakland, or even Miami, where things may not be going so well because management has torn the team down, not having the patience to wait three years or so before the team is competitive again.
Three years. Maybe five or six.
My personal maxim, "Twice is not an accident," screams to me that unchecked fandom can only further hurt the franchise.
I love the Pirates. I want very much to see them a respected organization again, but as long as they are a cash cow for a parasitic entity, I know all promises from the top are as empty as the seats of PNC should be.
While I won't quite say, "I'm done with this team," I no longer have any positive expectations.
So, for anyone who saw all this coming before I did, I am sorry that I was so far behind you in my realization. Your keys will be waiting for you if ever someone is able to wrench the franchise from Bob Nutting's clutches and return a winner (heck, a competitor) to the Steel City's baseball diamond.