Thursday, June 17, 2010

#153: The Element of Surprise

---Fooling a Cynic is Tough---

Just when I think I have the motives and the strategies of the Pittsburgh Pirates upper management figured...

...the general manager calls up pretty much their last ace in the hole to get butts in seats in the middle of a season-long losing streak.

...the general manager announces he's actively trying to trade a player a lot of high school teams wouldn't want right now.

...the general manager gets his option for 2011 picked up.

Yes, Pirate fans (and fans of other teams who like to stop in for a laugh), welcome to Bob Nutting Land - where the well-intentioned get punished, the undeserving get rewarded, and everyone gets taken for a ride.

Less than a week ago, I posted my prediction that the Pirates were going to wait until the season was officially kaput (late July at the earliest) before calling up prized 2008 draftee Pedro Alvarez.

I can't help but think that if the Pirates had won at least two games in the last eleven (as of this writing, the Bucs have lost eleven straight after being swept by the Chicago White Sox), Alvarez would still be down at Indianapolis.

So, as the emergency brakes have been virtually blown off of the team's downward-sliding elevator, the Pirate brass must have had no choice but to try to fashion some sort of financial parachute to keep a large contingent of fans from jumping ship before summer officially arrives.

To the second point: Neal Huntington is now actively seeking to trade Akinori Iwamura, the $4.8 million dollar trade acquisition from the Tampa Bay Rays - who were going to let him go, anyway (tell me that the Rays don't have guys who know what they're doing). Raise your hand if you thought the Pirates already got rid of David Littlefield.

Trying to trade a player (and an expensive one, at that, for all his liabilities) when his stock is absolutely nil, is asinine. Announcing that you're trying to trade him is that much worse. All that laughing we're hearing across Major League Baseball isn't at Aki. It's at the franchise.

And finally, it was announced that both Huntington and manager John Russell had their contract options for 2011 picked up.

Ok. That one wasn't a shock. They're the perfect lapdogs for Bob Nutting's Syndicate, so why would he jettison them? They're the perfect cannon fodder, even though their predecessors received the same criticism, to help protect the man behind the curtain. The faces have changed, but their roles are identical.

At this point, I wish the Pirates would stop surprising me, because all of genuine surprises have been to the detriment of a team I thought had already hit bottom.


That's right.

We're in Nutting Land.

Well, in that case...



Some other thoughts -

- Poor Jose Tabata. It's almost like he's the hex. He's played in seven games in while up top (eight have been played), and still not a win to show for it. He's been playing well, though, and you can tell he's playing to win. Can he pitch? Maybe someone should ask...

- During these eleven losses, the Pirates have hit seven home runs - four solo shots and three two-run homers. Delwyn Young has two of those multi-run blasts (Garrett Jones, the other). The Bucs have been outscored 60-33, and they've committed 13 errors. Yeah, they committed six in one game, but that still leaves seven errors spread across the remaining ten losses.

- For years, I had tried to encourage my small, but loyal fan base to stop buying tickets to games. Maybe they have. But I may have figured out why season ticket packages continue to be sold (and re-upped).

If someone has kick-ass seats in the best ballpark in America, they're going to want to have those seats when the time comes that the Pirates are back in the postseason (or even the postseason hunt). They're willing to keep paying the price so that they can laugh at all of us doubters when the time comes.

The best they can hope for is that this Forbes article from early last month is true, that Bob Nutting will sell the team.

If not, they'd better be prepared to spend a lot of dough on a lot more heartbreak. The only ones laughing will be those with the Syndicate.

On the other hand, if those blindly loyal fans would give up their seats, some ticket broker who lives outside of the 'Burgh would snatch them up and sell them on a game-by-game basis.

You can't win here, team and fan alike. Thanks, Bob.

- Speaking of the Syndicate, while watching the Bucs lose the final game to the Sox tonight, I couldn't help but notice that the entire broadcast was more like a pledge break on PBS. It just so happened there was a game going on in the background. I'm pretty sure FSN reporter Rob King got more airtime than Pedro Alvarez.

To the charity auction itself, I'm even skeptical that the money being raised was for any genuine philanthropy. In the fine print, I almost expect to see proceeds from these packages go to things like, "Starving Children for the Construction of a New Ski Lift at Seven Springs" and "Disabled Veterans for Increased Circulation of The Herb Companion Magazine".

But even if the money does go to a good cause (or several), I still think that some of the items contain a bunch of "things they left out of the description on purpose."

My favorite one was something like "Kids Take the Field." The winning bidder has his kid bring eight friends to a home game, where they get to be announced on the field next to a starter on that team's roster. Then they get an autographed ball from that position player (or pitcher) that they got announced with (wanna bet they fight amongst themselves on who gets announced with Andrew McCutchen...if he's even in the line up that day?). Each kid gets two tickets. One for him/her, and one for a parent.

The corporate sleight of hand is that, if their kids are going to be down on the field, more than just one parent is going to show up.

Like, the whole damn family's coming.

So, nine kids times five friends and relatives (on average) is 45 more people than were going to come to the game in the first place. Add souvenirs and refreshments, as well as tickets...well, the Syndicate is going to eat well again.

I suppose if the winning bidder is shelling out between $2,000 and $3,000 for that package, the rest is just a drop in the bucket to them. But the Syndicate profits from it.

Even in charity work, there's mega-promotion going on.



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