I’ve been a Pirates fan for all of my conscience life, it’s never been an easy road if I’m honest. I’ve been angry at times and frustrated almost always, but I always cared. I always held out hope that this owner would get it right. That this GM would understand his market and attack team building the right way.
That wasn’t just the Nutting tenure mind you, that stretches all the way back to the Pittsburgh Associates and on to Kevin McClatchy which blended right into the Ogden/Nutting regime we now have. Through multiple GMs, some who had a transparent plan and others who kept their methods closer to the vest.
For instance, Dave Littlefield told all of us exactly what he planned, the Five Year Plan, and he failed miserably. Huntington actually did get a window open but ownership stopped short of letting it tip over the edge. We have no clue what Cherington will end up doing yet, but the point is we’ve been through a whole bunch in Pittsburgh and through it all we’ve experienced just about every range of emotion.
There is a guy who comments on every story I write with NUTTING HAS ZERO INTEREST IN COMPETING! It’s literally every story, no matter the subject. Remembrance of Clemente, trade rumors, signings, roster construction, robo umps, what the piece is about doesn’t matter in the slightest. Irritates the hell out of me if I’m honest, I work hard on these columns and it’s difficult to take at times personally, but at least he’s mad. At least he still cares enough to be upset that his team isn’t winning. Over time I’ve come to look at his comment as something I wait for and more than that, I wait for the day he stops. Not because I think he’ll just start reading and provide real feedback, no, I wait because he is a barometer for where the fans are. If he stops putting that comment out, I’ll assume he’s passed anger and headed for apathy.
When you just stop caring, that’s something the Pirates won’t easily come back from. You can entice angry fans to come back when the product improves, but once you’ve allowed them to reach apathy, you have a whole new hurdle to jump in regaining their eyes, ears and indeed hearts.
While winning 19 games in 2020 might end up being a good thing for the franchise moving forward as they select the number one overall draft pick in 2021, the Pirates didn’t do themselves any favors by looking so bad doing it. Not having the players to get the job done is one thing, we all knew that before the season started. But I could have told you a week into September JT Riddle would get cut after the season, in fact I did, so did just about everyone. What was to be gained by watching him play? If you want to avoid driving fans into the dangerous territory of not caring, I suggest showing them you don’t care by playing guys like that over the multitude of options they had was a bad move.
How about seemingly purposefully blowing rare good starts by using Miguel Del Pozo to secure a tie. Yeah, I know, injuries right? Sure, but situationally, there were better options. How about showing the fans you still haven’t learned that Dovydas Neverauskas is not someone you can count on? I mean toward the end of the season they certainly made that decision but after watching them trot him to the mound for 40 of the 60 games, who was left to see that you finally stopped forcing him into games with 15 left?
Evaluation is one thing, but let’s take this off of the fans and their apathy and let’s talk about the players themselves. If I’m Trevor Williams and I’m struggling all season to get outs, certainly I have to wear some of that. It’s my right arm after all that isn’t missing bats, but if you put a guy in center field behind me who simply has zero experience and has no command over the position, I might feel a bit more pressure to be something I’m not. I might try to get strikeouts instead of hunting contact. Which leads to picking around the strike zone and walking more. Which leads to traffic on the base paths and pressure situations. It may prevent me from confidently throwing my high fast ball because if I get that pop up to shallow center the probability of it being caught is less than league average.
Trevor isn’t the best guy for this honestly, but insert a faceless, nameless grey figure. As a player, if I don’t feel you’re trying to win by supporting my efforts, how could I be anything but about my individual situation?
Professional athletes will tell you none of that matters. It’s their job and to a certain degree it is, but I’m a fan, if I spend time thinking like that you have to imagine thoughts like that at least creep in on occasion.
Imagine being a rookie with all of 14 MLB starts under your belt and you are tossing a no hitter. Medically you have to leave the game, it’s something you understand and support, after all you’ve been talking to the doctors and trainers too, wasn’t even a shock. Then your coach doesn’t use the strongest pieces he has to at least show you he wants to get the game locked down for you. It’s not about having no options, it’s about having 3 good ones, and 3 less than optimal ones and choosing the first 2 from the less than optimal category.
Maybe this meant nothing to Mitch Keller, as I said, these guys are pros, but as I’m sitting there watching it unfold, I can tell you I certainly felt for him. I at least felt they didn’t care about trying to have this kid who is very much so counted on as part of the future leave with a good taste in his mouth. Joe Musgrove experienced much of the same.
Bad bullpen, I get it. Worse usage, I don’t get it.
The TV ratings for Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball fell this season and as Dejan Kovacevic said in his Daily Shot on Tuesday this was a bit of a shock. It’s a shock because despite being a bad baseball team for the best part of the time every game was broadcast, the Bucs have always pulled strong numbers through the years.
This season should have been no different, if anything it should have gone up. MLB overall did, up 2% as a whole. Here in Pittsburgh not so much, and I can’t help but feel that dreaded apathy started to set in.
There were nights if I didn’t have to watch I can’t say I would have. In fact Craig and I openly felt bad when the other was assigned a game at times. When diehards start to, well, die, there is a problem.
I have no doubt should the team return to relevancy the fans will return by in large, but the situation is not easy to recover from. Even when you do something good like draft a number one overall player, it’s not met with visions of him closing out a playoff series, it’s met with expectations of when he’ll be moved or even the assumption they’ll somehow choose the wrong guy.
Does any of this matter? I mean if they do pick the right guy and they do indeed build a team around him that brings good baseball back to the Burgh the fans will come back right? Yeah, most will, but trust won’t. That’s the part that the club is dangerously toying with. It’s also the part the club needs to prove is part of the past.
Look, this club is never going to spend. Maybe Cherington and Williams have received assurances they can add at some point, I believe they think they have, but even that isn’t going to ensure they can keep a Gerrit Cole or Rocker type beyond original team control for too long. They need to build a strong system and be able to refill the coffers from within more often than not. We won’t know for some time if any of this is going to work, or if they’ve made the right hires, but step one is not losing the fans on the way there.