Hello there weirdos reading a blog about a bad baseball team. Don’t worry, I’m writing a bunch of words about a bad baseball team and the city they play in, so I’m not judging. If you’re here to read about some hope for the future of the Pirates, turn away now. If you’re here to read about how great a fan you are for sticking by the team, turn away now. If you’re here because you enjoy my tweets, welcome. Fair warning, my major in college required me to write two papers TOTAL. So when this reads like a long string of tweets it’s because I haven’t written anything longer than 140 characters at a time in quite awhile. Much of this is based off of just what I’ve seen from twitter and discussions I’ve had and long drives to and from work where I just think about random things. If you want to discuss anything (I said DISCUSS not GET MAD ONLINE ABOUT) I’d love to have you over here at @BloopAndaBlast.
Some of these points are also a problem for MLB as a whole but I’m just focusing on Pittsburgh. An aging demographic is a problem for MLB but I’m just focusing on Pittsburgh because I think it’s a decent microcosm of what is happening to MLB as it puts all its eggs in the big market baskets and lose fans elsewhere across the country.
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So lets jump into it. Pittsburgh is not a good baseball town. It wasn’t a good baseball town before ‘The Streak’ and it is an even worse baseball town thanks to ‘The Streak.’ I’m going to focus mainly on what the streak has done but first have to point out that Pittsburgh wasn’t Pirate crazy even before the streak because the, ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality does not work here. How many people do you think were at the game Roberto Clemente got his 3,000th hit in? A measly 13,117 at a Saturday afternoon game. Keep in mind Clemente didn’t accomplish this while playing on a bad team. The 1972 Pirates were a great team that were also arguably the beginning of the perpetual sadness that the Pirates have become (If you don’t know how they lost the 1972 NLCS look it up, not to mention Clemente passing away a few months later). The Pirates haven’t come higher than sixth in attendance in the NL since finishing fifth in that same 1972 season. During their run in the 90’s they never finished higher than sixth and that was out of just 12 teams at the time. The Pirates are playing at a disadvantage attendance wise, even when good. Don’t believe me? In 2015, a 98 win team that made the playoffs for the third time in a row ranked just ninth out of 15 teams in the National League in attendance.
Now attendance and TV ratings have fallen off a cliff to the levels of years like 2005 and 2006. How has interest fallen so rapidly to the same level as mid streak? The answer to this, in my opinion, is pretty clear. The city lost an entire generation of people who are just not a fan of baseball during ‘The Streak,’ the front office has multiple times insulted the intelligence of even the most hardcore baseball fans in the city, and hope no longer springs eternal regarding potential money to be spent.
First, I’ll cover the front office because I think that’s easiest. I’m not going to discuss the moves they’ve made. I’m going to discuss what they’ve said about the moves. First, the Francisco Liriano trade. It was a salary dump. Was it a bad salary dump? I don’t think so. Liriano was TERRIBLE, the prospects they sent with him appeared to have topped out and they saved millions they could have use elsewhere (and they did use it, just not well but like I said, that’s for another time). Here’s the problem; Huntington tried to sell Drew Hutchison like the trade was anything but a salary dump. How about the wonderful Juan Nicasio debacle? Again Neal Huntington tried to dance around instead of just honestly saying ‘we couldn’t get what we wanted for him and at this point it was easier to dump him and save a few dollars in a year in which attendance has been abysmal because of our own doing.’ Yeah, that would rightfully piss off a bunch of people, but at least we wouldn’t be laughing at the terrible lies we get told instead.
The next is that hope no longer springs eternal and that has caused a great deal of apathy. This is the group that I find myself in. I love the game of baseball and I love the Pirates, but something is missing. I think that something is the realization that even after a few really good years, they won’t go out and sign a guy for even just $20 million a year. During the depths of the streak many of us hoped that if only they could be good for a few years they could go out and sign just one big piece that will help them get to where they need to go, but they never did. Again, this isn’t about what moves they made or didn’t make, as I agree in the last few years the free agent market has been relatively weak in the areas that the Pirates have needed help most. But, let’s look at Edwin Encarnacion’s contract with the Indians. Now imagine he was available in the winter before the 2015 season or before the 2016 season. His contract is only $13 MM in 2017, $17 MM in 18, $20 MM in 19, and a $20 MM club option in 2020. Analyzing what has happened over the last few years do you think the Pirates would have offered that to Encarnacion? I don’t. And operating in this way can make even the biggest baseball fans apathetic to the home town team. Nothing I do will change it, so I watch and try to enjoy and hope they win but I don’t expect them to. I watch and keep track because I enjoy watching baseball but most of my emotions just don’t get involved in the games anymore. An apathetic fan base is worse than an angry fan base.
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The last reason, and I think the biggest, is the fact that the city of Pittsburgh lost a huge number of baseball fans during ‘The Streak.’ Scrolling through twitter these days you can often find people saying that the ‘Pirates killed baseball for me’ or ‘I’m officially done with the Pirates forever.’ Usually, though, those people aren’t picking up new teams to root for because they just don’t care about watching the game of baseball. I think a large swath of Pittsburgh falls into this group. Many of these people wouldn’t care if they never watched another baseball game again. They just don’t enjoy the game and that’s cool for them but terrible for a team in a city full of people like that. And this has repercussions down the road. It forces Huntington and Co. to operate perfectly or they will lose a large portion of the fan base to pure disinterest at the smallest hint of struggle. These people are now raising the next potential generation of Pirates fans. Sure, 90% of those kids will play little league and may even enjoy baseball. But kids (in my experience) don’t get to control what is on the TV or where their parents spend money. If their parents don’t watch the Pirates and don’t want to spend their money taking a kid to game, do you think that kid will grow up a Pirates fan? I don’t. When you have fans that don’t enjoy watching the game that you are playing on the field, you better make sure they are at least celebrating a win when they walk out of the stadium or turning off the TV more often than not. In the small market world the Pirates play in, that is hard to do year in and year out because you just can’t make perfect moves every year. Nobody can.
People will almost always go to support a winning team. Winning is fun and we like to feel like we’re a part of it. The problem for the Pirates is they play in a city that has struggled to support three major sports teams throughout pretty much it’s entire history, and they have now officially become the red headed step child of the three. I think they’re more of a joke now among the local media than they ever were during the streak because of the easy jokes to make about the lies the front office spews. The relationship with fans is worse now thanks to the constant insults to our intelligence and the shown unwillingness to take a leap and make just one potential big signing since they signed Russell Martin ‘out of desperation’ #CircleOfSix knows what’s up. So the team now has a bad relationship with hardcore fans, a media that does nothing but openly joke about them, and plays in a city that has minimal interest in baseball. Do you see the black hole my mind spins down every time I think about the future of this team? Maybe they’ll stay in Pittsburgh past 2030 when the PNC Park lease runs out because they’ll still probably be profitable, but don’t be surprised if they’re where Tampa or Miami are now attendance wise because the city just ran out of enough baseball fans. Sure they could suck them back in for a year or two like the Rays have when they won, but they’d leave just as quickly again at the first sign of struggle and the cycle would start back over.
Thank you for reading and remember, never clap when a plane lands. You look dumb and the pilots can’t hear you anyway you loser. You’re probably the same person that asks where baggage claim is while standing under a sign that points to baggage claim.