Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

You might remember, from back at the beginning of the NFL season, when we previewed each team by having a writer we liked write about their favorite team.

Well, we're less than a month away from the start of baseball — spring training is here! — so it's time to do the same thing in the baseball world. Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.

Today: The Pittsburgh Pirates. Your author is Don Spagnolo.

Don Spagnolo is a freelance writer and editor of Mondesi's House, a Pittsburgh sports comedy blog. He is also the owner of Steelcityauctions.com, a Pittsburgh-based sports memorabilia firm. His words (and pictures) are after the jump.

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79 Reasons Why It's Hard To Be a Pirate Fan

I love the Pittsburgh Pirates. They were my boyhood team, they were my inspiration for playing 14 years of baseball and they're still my favorite team to this day. Some of my fondest childhood memories include coming home from school, making sure all my chores were done and then getting to stay up late to watch Barry, Bobby Bo and company eventually self-destruct in the NLCS each year. But those days seem like a lifetime ago. Actually, they're a generation ago, because I estimate that anyone 21 or younger has no memory of the Pirates as a winning organization.

The team last had a winning season in 1992. We're closing in on 15 consecutive years of losing. I've seen the Clippers and the Bengals in the playoffs in my lifetime, so I know it's at least possible to think that the Pirates have a shot. But getting to that point is a lesson in patience.

What I wanted to talk about today is the plight of the Pirate fan. Save for a few exciting championship runs in the late '80s/early '90s, the franchise has given their followers a whole lot of nothing since that 1979 championship. I know there are fans of other franchises that can sympathize with the cause, but I'm not looking for pity. This is a city that is dying to embrace a winning baseball team, but has a team that refuses to cooperate.

A perception exists that the Pirates have no fans. Totally untrue. In reality, there are still legions of Pirate fans. They are out there on a cold January afternoon attending PirateFest. They are out there running a blogger's roundtable of Pirate issues each week. They are out there to the tune of almost two million in attendance for a 95-loss team last season. If anything, they have very loyal fans.

To steal a line from Hustle and Flow, it's hard out here for a Pirate fan. Despite all the love we have for them, they routinely put us in situations where we question our loyalty. So I decided to outline 79 reasons why it's so hard to be a Pirate fan. Why 79? In honor of 1979, the last Pirate team to appear in the World Series.

So wish us luck in the coming season. But keep in mind that the last Deadspin preview I wrote for a team didn't help their season too much. To Pirate fans, hang in there. Don't give up hope. And try not to choke on your own vomit after reading this.

79. Jabba the Jimmy Anderson. The gut heard round the world.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

78. Welcome to Hell. That's how "team leader" Jason Kendall would welcome new Pirates to town.

77. The pants-less Jose "Chico" Lind. Yes, I know that he was no longer a Pirate when it happened. But the vision of my childhood second base role model sans pants still scars me to this day.

76. The 2006 trade deadline deals. Such high hopes. So many teams in need of a player to put them over the top. Pirate fans were so excited. And what do our "assets" land us? Among others, Shawn Chacon, Brian Rogers and Jesse Chavez.

75. Benito Santiago. One of the many players that the Pirates were about 20 years too late on.

74. Bobbleheads, bobbleheads, bobbleheads. I count nine of them on the 2007 Promotional Schedule. Hey, anything to divert attention from the field.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh PiratesS


possible the worst bobblehead ever created

73. Starting pitcher Ian Snell, who let it be known that he would never be caught living in Pittsburgh . Ironically, this came out the same week as Sienna Miller's famous anti-Pittsburgh rant.

72. The Pirates get to host the All-Star Game in 1994 ... and your Pirate rep is ... Carlos Garcia.

71. SS Jack Wilson calling out underachieving 2B Jose Castillo. Hey, I'm all for ripping a guy if it is deserved. But it helps if said messenger was not a massive disappointment since his career season in 2004.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates


Jose Castillo, 2B, Pittsburgh Pirates

70. Jon Lieber for Brant Brown. The Pirates rescued the ball-dropping Brown from unforgiving Chicago fans, and he responded with a .232 average in 1999. I thought of this trade every time Lieber took the mound for the Yankees in the 2004 playoffs.

69. No rivalries whatsoever. In football, we have Steelers-Bengals, Steelers-Ravens, Steelers-Browns, Steelers-Patriots ... in baseball, we have Pirates-Royals.

68. National TV...a pipe dream. The Pirates are never on national TV. I'm surprised they even broadcast the All-Star Game last year, considering it was being played in Pittsburgh. So imagine my surprise when I heard on the radio that ESPN was going to broadcast a Sunday nighter between the Pirates and Mets last August. I thought hell froze over. Turns out that ESPN made a mistake, because the game was actually the Phillies versus the Mets.

67. Willie Stargell falling 25 home runs short of 500. Yet Rafael Palmeiro sits at 569. Just doesn't seem fair.

66. The best stadium in the country, soiled by the worst team. 415-555 since the opening in 2001.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

65. "It's a freak show!" That's the catchphrase of Pirate announcer Greg Brown, most notably announced after a walk-off home run by Mark Smith in 1997 to cap an extra-inning no hitter. Considering the team, actually a very appropriate catchphrase.

64. Chad Hermansen. A Pirate minor league manager named Woody Huyke once said the Bucco prospect "could walk on water." Six seasons, 13 homers and a .195 career average. Kinda missed the mark on that one, Woody.

63. The 12 inning perfect game loss. Only a Pirate could throw 12 perfect innings against a lineup featuring Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, but Harvey Haddix did exactly that in 1959. See, the Pirates couldn't score runs then, either.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh PiratesS

62. The Anna Benson for Ty Wigginton trade. The rare trade situation where both teams lose. And to think the Pirates originally asked for DAVID WRIGHT!

61. They have a pitcher named Bayliss. Does he start nonsensical arguments with teammates?

60. Their big free agent splurge of 1996: Mike Kingery.

59. The self-destruction of Tim Wakefield. This is an example of Pirate luck: Wakefield goes 8-1, 2.15 as a rookie, helping the Pirates within an eyelash short of the 1992 World Series. In his second year, he implodes to a 6-11, 5.61 mark, and he was ultimately released in 1995. He was signed by the Red Sox and has won 137 games since then.

58. Waiving Bronson Arroyo. Another waiver move by the Pirates to make room for their overabundance of talent, Arrroyo was let go in 2003 and scooped up by the BoSox. He periodically checks in with the Pirates to show them his 2004 World Series ring that he won alongside Tim Wakefield.

57. Jason Kendall's broken ankle. Nothing like a compound fracture to ruin countless Fourth of July picnics in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

56. Jim Leyland. Managed the Pirates to three straight NLCS disappointments, as well as four 5th-place finishes and one 6th-place finish. Still a beloved person in Pittsburgh. I can't figure it out either.

55. Oliver Perez committing hate crimes on laundry carts. He's your problem now, New York.

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54. The legend of John Wehner.
This guy is amazing. Consider some of these facts on the current Bucco broadcaster:
— In 11 major league seasons, he had only 804 plate appearances, approximately once every other game.
—He was released four times (Pirates '96, Dodgers '97, Marlins '97, Pirates '01)
—He was signed by the Pirates on five separate occasions (1988, 1999, 2000, January 2001, August 2001)
—He earned a little more than $1.5 million dollars in his career. Remarkable for a player with so many years of experience.
—He appeared in the playoffs twice. With the 1992 Pirates, he struck out in both at bats. With the 1997 Marlins, he was brought into one game as a defensive replacement.
—He has played every position except pitcher at least 3 times
—He looks like Bill Cowher
—He hit the last home run in Three Rivers Stadium.
—He also made the final out in the stadium, as the team was rallying against the Cubs and he popped out.
—His years of perseverence paid off in 1997. After signing with the Florida Marlins in March to reunite with former Pirates manager Jim Leyland, he actually won a World Series ring with the fish.

53. The end of the KDKA radio era . 1920-2006. Rest in peace.

52. The Pirates... where careers come to die.

51. Lee Tunnell. I once said of him "imagine Roger Clemens, only more intimidating."

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

50. Fireworks. And lots of them.

49. They have to be the only team to host two All-Star games (1994 and 2006) without having a winning season in any year in between.

48. Jose Hernandez. Our version of Morris the Cat. He's now been signed three times by the team, despite averaging 183 strikeouts a game from 2001-2003. He just won't go away. Why can't we fall for a guy like Ichiro?

47. Rich Loiselle, Freddy Garcia, Chris Stynes, Ivan Cruz, J.J. Davis, William Pennyfeather, Adrian Brown, Turner Ward, Lou Collier, Doug Strange, Chris Peters, Todd Van Poppel, Mike Benjamin, Wil Cordero, Emil Brown, Adam Hyzdu, Omar Olivares, Tony Alvarez, Jeff Reboulet, Matt Stairs ... just a few players we tried to talk ourselves into rooting for over the past decade and a half.

46. The Pirates can't get a drink. Through the first six years of PNC Park, not one Pirate has hit a home run into the river on a fly. Imagine watching my joy as I endured slugger after slugger knocking them in at the Home Run Derby in July.

45. Doug Frobel. Have you ever seen a more pathetic looking Rated Rookie?

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

44. Six million dollars, 16 homers and a .230 average. That's what one season of Jeromy Burnitz will buy you.

43. The Cobra. Dave Parker, the tragic figure of the We Are Family Pirates, who preferred cocaine to steroids. He also preferred Jason Voorhees masks when batting.

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42. The Mendoza Line, baseball's universal symbol of incompetence at the plate, comes from the below-average batting skills of former Pirate Mario Mendoza.

41. Pirate employees stuffed the ballot box on behalf of Pirate players for the 2006 All Star Game.

40. Interchangeable management. Cam Bonifay, Dave Littlefield, Jim Tracy, Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon ... the names change, the results stay the same.

39. Matt Lawton. In typical Pirate fashion, they sign the one of the few known steroid users whose performance wasn't enhanced.

38. One of the rumored reasons they disliked slugging outfielder Craig Wilson: he drank too much Pepsi.

37. Kris Benson, not a Cy Young winner. Let's just say Peter Gammons was a little off in his 2000 predictions.

36. The 1980 trade of Bert Blyleven and Manny Sanguillen to Cleveland for Gary Alexander, Victor Cruz, Rafael Vasquez, and Bob Owchinko. I didn't realize Dave Littlefield was the GM back then, but apparently he was.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

35. Jody Gerut. The coveted 2005 deadline-deal power bat who can't even run.

34. Dock Ellis throws a no hitter...on LSD. Pirates pitchers can't just throw nine-inning no-hitters without an asterisk. They throw 12 innings and lose, they throw 10 innings and need a walk-off home run to win, they throw them on LSD...

33. Tabaka-Wilkins '98 . This alcohol-fueled brawl between two pitchers was the most fight the Pirates showed the entire season.

32. Their greatest base-stealing threat? Former manager Lloyd McClendon.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

31. Yuslan Herrera. The Pirates finally sign a Cuban defector in 2007, and who is it? A guy whose opponents batted .340 against him last year. Jose Contreras he is not.

30. Mike Williams' 2003 season. 1-7, 6.14 ERA, 28 saves, and the Pirates' lone All-Star rep.

29. Listening to Yankee fans saying they can't get rid of A-Rod fast enough. I know, he can't win the big one. Of course, neither could Peyton Manning. But I digress. Guys, I appreciate your high expectations of your team, but as a Pirate fan I just can't relate. Of course, as a Steeler fan I can totally relate.

28. Kevin Polcovich. Looked like a paperboy. Played like one too, with his .189 average for a half season of work in 1998.

27. The Raul Mondesi Era. For obvious reasons, my favorite. Arguably the most intelligent player in Pirate history for the scheme he concocted that rescued him from the Baseball Bermuda Triangle in 2004.

26. Steeler camp doesn't start soon enough. I'm sending Dan Rooney a letter to petition a May 1start to camp this year.

25. They even screw up Opening Day, as evidenced by their 2006 choice of actor Michael Keaton to throw out the first pitch. Batman bashed them in a press conference earlier in the day.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

24. Al Martin. Al can best be summed up with that crazy story he told about when he played college football at USC, going so in depth that he talked about tackling Leroy Hoard and his tree trunk legs. Unfortunately, that never happened. Folks, your seven-year starter in the outfield.

23. Kevin Young's contract. Possibly the biggest waste of $24 million you could ever make, unless you consider nearly every other Pirate contract.

22. The 1995 lineup: Mark Parent, Mark Johnson, Carlos Garcia, Jeff King, Jay Bell, Al Martin, Orlando Merced, and Jacob Brumfield. I get nightmares just blogging about it.

21. Roberto Clemente taken before his time. Just not fair.

20. The Jason Schmidt trade. The Giants get a Cy Young runner-up and three-time All-Star. The Pirates get Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong. Boo-ya!

19. Their 2006 starting center fielder, Chris Duffy, goes AWOL. Apparently Mr. Duffy did not watch the Raul Mondesi "How to Get Out of Pittsburgh...FAST!" instructional video.

18. Salomon Torres' beaning of Sammy Sosa in the head. Actually, this was kind of entertaining.

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17. The Pat Meares signing. When I think that Meares had a lifetime average of .258, never played a full season, and made almost $21 million as a result, I'm reminded that America is the land of opportunity.

16. The Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Concert. Nice job by the Pirate event planners, who booked a San Francisco-based punk rock cover band to play a postgame concert (featuring fireworks, of course). Styx would've been a better choice for this crowd. That's why they're scheduled for August 16 this year, followed by Smash Mouth on the 17th and the Povertyneck Hillbillies on the 18th. Stay cutting edge, Pittsburgh.

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15. Bill Mazeroski's home run being constantly overshadowed by the Shot Heard Round the World. Maz hits the first walk-off, series-ending homer in MLB history, and we're supposed to believe that Bobby Thomson's home run in a pennant game is bigger? Let's connect the dots...Thomson's home run was FOR New York...Maz's home run was AGAINST New York...hmmm...

14. The only MLB lineup ever filled out by a computer program .

13. Raising ticket prices after a 100-loss season in 2001. Seriously, do they ever weigh the pros and cons of some of these ideas?

12. Jason Kendall's contract. The $60 million singles hitter.

11. Simply awful drafting. The Pirates always stink, so they always get a high draft pick. The problem is that their draft picks rarely pan out. Since 1979, the Pirates have had three players who they developed who hit 30 or more HR in a season in a Pirate uniform: Aramis Ramirez in 2001 and Barry Bonds in 1992 and 1990. Before you write to correct me, they didn't develop Jason Bay or Brian Giles. You would think at some point they would at least stumble upon a slugger by accident.

10. The recent arrival of Adam LaRoche. LaRoche was celebrated as if the Pirates traded for a combination of Albert Pujols Babe Ruth, and Roberto Clemente times 100. Anything less than 82 home runs and 195 RBI this year would be considered a disappointing season.

9. Randall Simon...weiner whacker.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

8. The Aramis Ramirez Trade. Seen by many as the ultimate waving of the white flag by the Pirates as a legitimate franchise. They dealt the promising 3B, who had a reasonable contract, to the Cubs at the 2003 deadline, throwing in Kenny Lofton to boot. The Pirates received strikeout machine/3B Jose Hernandez, backup IF Bobby Hill, and minor league Matt Bruack. A sad day in PirateLand.

7. Francisco Cabrera and Sid Bream, Atlanta Braves 1992 NLCS heroes. I hate you both.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh PiratesS

6. A serious lack of development. Players don't get better when they are drafted by the Pirates, they get worse. Their 1st-round picks in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002, all pitchers, all blew out their arms. After a few years of drafting positions players who probably won't pan out, the Pirates selected pitcher Brad Lincoln in the 1st round of the 2006 draft. As expected, Lincoln was promptly shut down for the year shortly thereafter. Direct your ire at Senior Director of Scouting Ed Creech and Senior Director of Player Development Brian Graham, who are clearly stealing paychecks.

5. The McNutting Era. The Pirates' ownership group, headed by Kevin McClatchy and the Nutting family, has resulted in a combined record of 783-996 since 1996 (an average of 72-90). They're the anti-Steinbrenners.

4. The Pittsburgh Drug Trials. I'm always proud to be a Pittsburgher when I see Bryant Gumbel interviewing our old mascot about how he sold drugs to Dale Berra.

3. Operation Shutdown. I know it's been talked about for years, but the nerve of Derek Bell to threaten a shutdown still amazes me. He was coming off of a .173 season, and to that point in spring ball he was hitting .148. The defining moment of a generation of Pirate jokes. By the way, this is Bell's 2006 booking photo for getting caught with a warm crack pipe at a traffic stop.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

2. Barry Lamar Bonds. We don't remember the Balco Barry that you see today. We remember a different Barry. The one that threw a hot pizza on the head of R.J. Reynolds during a team flight.

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

1. 14 consecutive losing seasons and a total of just seven winning seasons since 1979. This is a franchise that went from 1927-1960 between postseason appearances, so there's some history of long droughts. Although as droughts go, we may be in for the baseball version of " The Dust Bowl."

Baseball Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates