For 20 straight years after Sid Bream scored that infamous run, there were almost zero reasons to find joy being a Pirates fan. For 20 straight years, there was not one winning season. For 20 straight years, we saw good prospects come up just to be traded away for pennies. For 20 straight years, it was all about the Steelers, Penguins, and even Pitt athletics over the Pirates. In 2013, that changed when with the help of a new regime and star player, Andrew McCutchen, when they would break the losing streak curse and win 98 games.
I say 2013, because that’s officially when the curse itself was broken, but the foundation of this effort actually began in 2007 when Neil Huntington took over. It was clear to him that this organization was absurdly mismanaged. This wasn’t going to be a task where picking up where the team left off would succeed. No, Neil knew this was going to be a complete rebuild and would require all hands on deck to take new shape of this organization. Knowing that it would take a full rebuild, he knew he had to trade off many assets to acquire the youth needed. To many, they saw this is the same old Pirates. To few, they held onto hope and patiently awaited to see what this man could do.
Fast forward a few years later in 2009, and a young man by the name of Andrew McCutchen is getting the call for his major league debut. All-Star outfielder, Nate McClouth, was traded off for a mixed bag of unknowns around the ‘Burgh that included Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Locke. Again, Pirates Nation was quick to boo the efforts of the team, but Andrew McCutchen was a young and poised individual who was very supportive and ready to take this regime to a new level. He would soon find old teammates from the minors joining him in PNC.
The culture around the team was quick to change. There was one goal ahead of them, but it was not to break the curse. No, their goal was much higher than that. They knew they wanted to do more and reach the playoffs. In 2012, the Pirates were generating a buzz. National Media even mentioned them a few times at the top of their show. Though of course, there still wasn’t any national games being televised. But the biggest news came near the MLB trade deadline. The Pittsburgh Pirates made another trade, but this time they traded FOR an established player.
Wandy Rodriguez was acquired from Houston for minor leaguers, Robbie Grossman and Rudy Owings. For the first time in 20 years, people in Pittsburgh started having hope. Could this be the year? Unfortunately, as many could have seen coming, it wasn’t. It was a bit premature, as the Pirates were overachieving. 2012 did draw some attention to this new refined steel town and the critics were keeping a closer eye.
We all know how the story went from there. It has been three straight seasons of the Pirates making the post season where they averaged 93 1/3 wins per season. What you may find is how that story is told depending on who you talk to. It clearly seems as if the local media doesn’t give as much love to the Pirates as they get nationally. When the likes of ESPN, FOX, MLB, or any other media is praising what the Pirates are doing, you’ll be sure to find John Steigerwald, Mark Madden, Ron Cook, Rob Rossi, quick to bash it and point out how terrible this organization is. Terrible? But, the Pirates just had the second most wins in baseball.
Just about a year ago, Buster Olney, made his World Series prediction that included the Seattle Mariners playing the Pittsburgh Pirates. Olney, among many other critics, have seen the progression from Pittsburgh and while understanding the game, find what they are doing to be very effective. Pittsburgh is in a small market, and doesn’t have the resources you find with the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, etc. Neil Huntington knows this. Everyone should understand when you are at a disadvantage in a game, you must find a way to play it differently to negate it. While teams are throwing money out at aged players who are past their prime, Neil has decided to invest in the young current players that haven’t peaked. He has also spent the most money in the draft than ever before. The way he plays the game isn’t the same way the Dodgers play the game, and this is what causes the hysteria with the locals.
When the Pirates don’t resign a free agent like Russell Martin, Mark Madden will be quick to tell you how Nutting loves putting all that money into Seven Springs. However, when the Pirates find a replacement in Cervelli for $78 million cheaper who was even more productive, no credit is ultimately given. Why is it that the local media is so hard on this regime? Is it because of the 20 straight years of losing? Why, when this regime has taken a pathetic organization and turned it into a model other teams are trying to mimic, do they not get the benefit of the doubt? On one hand you can count the number of times a move backfired and didn’t help the team, but you would need a couple of Giant Eagle grocery bags to fill the moves that did work out to their favor.
Baseball is proving that spending money isn’t ultimately going to win anything. The L.A. Dodgers had a payroll of $271 million last year, and what have they won? The funny thing about this entire situation is the fact that the big bad New York Yankees are actually following the Pirates model more than they are the free spending Dodgers. This offseason, the Yankees didn’t sign any free agents to a major league contract. NOT ONE! They have identified that throwing money around in free agency leads to bad contracts and is the reason their current situation is preventing them from winning.
When you go to CBS Sports or MLB right now, you will find they both rank Pittsburgh as #7. If you were to ask many people in the Pittsburgh Media, you would probably find them to tell you their 6th in their division, and that should tell you a lot. No longer does the NL Central have six teams, but by the intelligence I see from these local critics I am not sure they even know that. What I find extremely funny as well is how butt hurt Mark Madden gets when you call him out on social media. This man cannot critique Neil Huntington enough and bash every move he makes, but the second you point out how wrong he was, he reverts to second grade bullying tactics to make fun of you. Even John Steigerwald is laughable on social media.
The Pirates have shown that they will not go out and spend big money on pitching. They have a model they look for in pitching and lean on Ray Searage to work on these reclamation projects and make them valuable pieces. It has been done with Burnett, Liriano, Volquez, Happ, Worley, and each time Huntington adds another one, it is met with great pushback by Pittsburgh media. Almost every time, they all are made to look like idiots because it worked out. Sadly, this doesn’t deter their mindset for the next time it happens. How can the Pittsburgh media be this insane?
After we endured the 20 straight years of losing, shouldn’t we all be more welcome to the success this team is driving? As if we haven’t been pained enough, why are we creating reasons to fill that void in our hearts? Isn’t it time we replace that with joy? The Pirates literally just ended the season with the 2nd best record in baseball, and instead of embracing it, we do the only thing we’ve known how to do since 1992 – bash management. It is time we as Pirates fans get on board with the rest of the nation and look at this team for what it is now, and now what it used to be. We are a model franchise that is sustaining success and providing a World Series opportunity each and every year. Let’s make 2016 the year we all finally come together and give the proper support, focus, and determination, that Andrew McCutchen has fueled himself with since 2009. As always, let’s go Bucs!