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Monday, September 21, 2009

But We're Rebuilding: 17 Losing Seasons of Baseball In Pittsburgh

17 years. 17 years. Do you realize Pittsburgh, that our battling Buccos haven’t had a winning year since 1993? Does it bother you that there are kids who will be attending college who have no idea what a winning baseball team in Pittsburgh looks like unless they are looking at the visitors? Do you think that “rebuilding mode” is a poor excuse for why the team has fallen below .500 for another year? I was born in 1975. That means I was four years old the last time they won the World Series and graduated high school the last time they had a winning season. From then on it’s been downhill ever since. As always, I love to offer my opinions where I have no expertise. It makes for me being a complete and utter a-hole. I welcome any comments, criticisms, or snide remarks. Please contribute.

Truthfully, I was a big fan of the Pirates growing up. I loved going to Three Rivers Stadium and sitting there with my glove ready for my chance to catch a home run or foul ball. At first, I was a little peeved that they were razing Three Rivers in order to build Heinz Field and PNC Park. However, after seeing PNC Park, I was impressed. It is a great field, but not deserving of the team that plays there. In fact, I really don’t remember ever paying to see a game there. I’ve been to the park a number of times because of tickets that I had acquired through work or from a friend of a friend. I pretty much go for the food and the chance to enjoy the view of the city. I also have a long standing bet with a few bookies over the pierogi races. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the over/under on the chance that a pierogi would do a flying tackle on a dead Ex President.
So, what gives? How can a team that has in a built in attendance of over 9000 in season ticket holders not have the money to bring in some good players? Granted, that’s a shrinking number since 2007 was listed as 11,000, but that’s still instant capital. Additionally, gimmicks like all you can eat for $35 tickets get another few thousand people in the seats.

A lot of Pittsburghers consider the Pittsburgh club a farm team for the rest of the league. They groom players to be good and then they trade them. If you plan on being with the team for awhile, it almost seems like a punishment for someone to do well because you won’t stay there into the post season…not that there is one. On the surface it doesn’t seem like a bad idea, to the player. We’ve had some players go to some top contender teams in exchange for some guy named Toby Namedlater. I don’t know who he is, but I hope he shows up soon.

If the Pirates dealings seem a little suspect consider this. Major League Baseball requires revenue sharing from its top teams. Think of it like TARP funds for flailing teams. The money that is pumped from big market teams to mid and small market teams is supposed to be used to increase the payroll of the team and allow for better players to be brought into a club, giving a more balanced playing field among the league. However, when you grow your own players and they do well, you bank on that money to bring in late season prospects for pennant runs. You begin banking on your utility players being able to shift to vacant positions as the big guns fill up their primary ones. You also add more bats and arms to your arsenal in order to make the run. That money gets used in both aspects very well like the Colorado Rockies a couple of years back.

The problem with this ball club, and this is an amateur opinion from an outside observer, they build up the players and then trade them for a premium. Usually, the Pirates get two to three seasoned players who aren’t exactly the same level of ability and then they get pushed into the rotation or built up and traded again. Look at last season. Jason Bay was a Chuck Tanner award winner and an all around good player. Nate McLouth made the All Star Team and received the Roberto Clemente award. Xavier Nady was a great player and named Player of the Week at the open of the season. This year, Nady plays for the Yankees, Bay plays for the Red Sox and McLouth plays for Atlanta. While the Braves aren’t exactly the best team in the league right now, looking to be third in their division, they are above .500 and are trying to get a pennant. You see my point, though.

From this outside observer’s opinion, it looks as if the Pirates are turning a profit by keeping the payroll low and trading for more players that can share the salary of the ones they trade and then build and trade, build and trade, keeping the profits in the front office instead of out on the field. Now, a few years ago when the Steelers played for and won their fifth Super Bowl title, they did it on the road. That meant no money came into the club, or the city by means of Heinz Field. Paul Brown Stadium, The RCA Dome, and Mile High Stadium saw those profits plus more as The Steelers bring in a huge crowd of displaced fans and admirers no matter where and what time a year they play. Yet, the return of that on the road investment was seen over the next years. The Pirates are steadily losing fans, ticket holders, and what little patience the city has with them. Of course, can you fire the owners? The blame gets thrown down the hill towards the middle management.

“We’re rebuilding,” they say. So is New Orleans, and there has been improvement there. Anyone who is from Pennsylvania or knows the area real well has a love/hate relationship with PENNDOT. It seems as if construction projects take place year round on the same road and end up being restarted once they are finished. The Pirates appear to be the same type of organization. They never fix the problems, they just patch it instead, hoping to be able to get through another season without it completely falling apart. Unfortunately, the winter months are like trade deadlines for the Pirates. Every year, plows and salt trucks degrade the road by scraping the patches and the freezing and thawing, that it especially rough on PA roads, makes things worse. For the Pirates, as the players get better, the trades degrade the overall cohesion of the team.

If you really want to affect competition among the teams in the League, instead of revenue sharing, how about a salary cap or a better restriction on how revenue sharing is to be allocated? A salary cap would improve the chances for great players to be employed by teams that can afford to have them but not break the payroll in the process. It also means that big ticket players could go, not where the money is, but where they could do more good and have more fun. If the Yankees want a better team, they have to grow it from the ground up, not buy it by outspending other teams. If the Pirates want a better team, they can spend the same amount of money the Yankees can. Still, they probably won’t because they will chose to keep under the cap and employ mediocre players while trading away top notch talent for second rate prospects. If you reform the revenue sharing, you can cut them to the quick and ensure that any revenue that comes in from other teams needs to be earmarked for player development or salaries. Give them an ultimatum of “Use it or Lose it.”

At any rate, a new generation of kids are growing up never knowing that their home team has four World Series Titles to their credit. They only know that the team is rebuilding. Coming soon, a new Pirates Team will take the field. Each year a new slogan touts the efforts of this aspect. “We Will.” We will, what? Suck? Lose? Trade? How about, “Better Bucs for your Bucks?” I will say that I still get a chill watching the opening cinematics at the field. It’s the one with the pirate ships flying the different teams’ banners before settling on the Pirates’ ship and the team they are playing. In the end, the Pirates are the only ship left floating. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the actual team on the field. They are a ship in trouble and the owners are like Captain Bligh.


Diane T said...

Oh, I can so relate. {Takes bag off head.} Hi, my name is Diane and I'm a Lions fan. They've only won one playoff game in my lifetime, and I turned 44 yesterday. That last playoff win was three years before my son was born, and he's a sophomore in high school now. I think he's rooting for another 0-16 season this year.

We know what will fix things here in Detroit: sell to an owner who wants to win, will spend to win, and doesn't interfere with how the team is run. Unfortunately, I do not have the spare bucks to buy the team, nor do many people here in Michigan. And with our luck, the team would get sold, moved to the South, and THEN start winning.

Oh well, at least there's hockey, right?

Mongo said...

So long Hossa, we hardly knew ya. Sorry, I had to add that in there.

Mongo said...

And to add another hillarious statistic from a football perspective, Jacksonville is becoming a lost cause in the NFL.

After having to slash ticket prices and cover seats to bring down their 76,000+ capacity to around 66,000 in order to try and sell out or risk being blacked out, they still can't do it.

They blame the economy. But that doesn't explain Detroit selling out Ford Field for its home opener, despite not winning a single game last year or any this year, so far. Granted, they had blackouts last year due to non sell out crowds. But having an unemployment rate of nearly 27% and a piss poor record, they managed to out sell the Jaguars. Clearly, it's not the economy, it's the location.

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