Truly Legendary

1-5-21 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

I watched on the edge of my seat. Eyes filled with tears after explaining to my wife this was for me what the Notebook is to her. A man who delivered two championships to my city, and my team, Ben Roethlisberger was always bigger than life, and he gave this team everything he had for 18 seasons.

As the dust settled and I had time to really digest that Ben is just about done, I immediately started thinking about other players who have done the same sort of thing. Mario Lemieux is of course the first name I thought of, Sidney Crosby will be another huge event, but the Pirates for people my age simply can’t provide anyone for the discussion.

In fact it’s one of the few things I can say make Pirates fans different from the other sports in the city. This game, and this system just don’t make for many moments like we watched play out Monday night.

I guess AJ Burnett was the closest I’ve seen. He spent most of his career elsewhere, but we adopted him as a Pittsburgher, and we ignored how short he was actually here relatively speaking. The Batman symbol on the skyline, the crowd showing how much we appreciated his role in simply getting the Pirates back into the post season and the tough as nails attitude our roots hardened in steel identified with so richly.

A sea of STFD shirts and Batman masks cheered as AJ confidently delivered 6 2/3 innings of 1 run ball. When Clint Hurdle came out to get the ball after 107 pitches, the ball park, and the city (since the Clemente Bridge was loaded too) let him have it.

This city loves to show their appreciation, especially to those who understood how special the relationship is and loved us back. The Steelers will have more, Cam Heyward will deserve and receive a hero’s send off to be sure. One day Mike Tomlin will as well. The Penguins will have at least three more, Geno, Sid and Letang, you could even toss Mike Sullivan into that mix.

The Pirates on the other hand, well, I’m not so sure. Baseball is currently not set up to have players reach retirement in one place, instead it’s set up to incentivize timing contracts to the end of usefulness, or peak performance. Add in an owner who watches every cent and it makes me feel the last player to retire who played every game with the Bucs and was worth celebrating might very well be Willie Stargell.

You have to remember when I grew up, that stuff was all behind me already. The Steelers stunk, the Penguins were a distant third in town and Mario hadn’t even debuted yet.

It can be done in baseball, Joey Votto will get that kind of a send off, and I’ll be blunt, I spent the majority of my adult life hating the guy, he’s a Red after all, but if his last game happens to be in Pittsburgh, best believe I’ll stand and appreciate what he’s meant to the rivalry, I can’t even begin to imagine how Reds fans will feel.

It’s just not as big a thing in today’s game unfortunately.

Kyle Seager, Miggy, you can find ’em if you dig, but by in large a major league baseball player can expect to play in at least two places before he hangs them up.

I don’t want this to be a big discussion about the system or a cheap owner, it’s deeper than that. It’s an overall discussion like this, all I’m shooting for is a general acceptance that this simple fact has hurt the game.

When I write about baseball, I try to keep in the back of my mind that things I take as fact today, simply weren’t 40 years ago. Even when I started paying attention, I figured Barry Bonds would be a Pirates player until he was done, but that’s exactly when the game itself changed. I say I keep it in my mind because in order to have some of you identify with what I’m writing, I feel its important you know I may not have seen it, but I know it was different. I know the closure you used to get with guys closing out their careers here. I know they were your champion and you never had to share them with another fan base.

It’s hurt the connection many feel with their ball club. There is nothing to link the generations. There’s no holdover who spans two winning eras. It’s hard to expect the kind of loyalty we want to see when the team itself doesn’t want them past a certain age.

Again, that’s not just a Pirates thing, even Dodgers fans will say goodbye to Clayton Kershaw this season and while I am about the last person who’s going to cry for Dodgers fans, I will say he’s exactly the type of guy who used to retire in the city he played in much more often than today.

Will we ever get that back? I don’t know.

Again, if it was purely economic I’d say yes, the same way I say eventually they’ll get a cap system. Unfortunately it’s more about accepting declining performance as part of the story arc of ones career, and that’s just not in the DNA of the game anymore, at least not with regularity.

When and if we see it again, remember it’s special. Don’t dwell on how they looked after their prime was over. Focus on how special they were to get to this position in the first place. I truly hope we see it again for the Pirates, if not we’ll have to settle for short lived pulp culture players like AJ, and while it’s not quite the same, it still sure feels incredible.

Thank you Ben, and thank all of you all for letting a middle aged dude have a little latitude to write out the emotion that event brought.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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