Monday, March 24, 2008

Cheering for a loser...

As we approach another baseball season, I feel a certain optimistic gloom. You would think after 15 years of feeling the same thing every April 1st, I would learn to cope, but hope is a strange thing…and at the start of every MLB season the Pittsburgh Pirates are tied for first in the division.

This season is particularly depressing. The Pirates are on the verge of accomplishing something no one else in MLB history has ever done; they are about to embark on their 16th consecutive losing season (tying the Philadelphia Philles). Consider that for a second. In the last 15 years, even the Kansas City Royals (the MLB's other poster child for a losing franchise) managed a winning season.

The closest thing to a happy baseball memory I have had in the last 15 years was when the 1999 Pirates were actually in the division race in September (they had the lead at the break). That team finished 78-83, third in the division, despite having a payroll of $ 24 mil, and a "star" in Tony Womack.

After that season, there was hope. Then things fell apart. From the previous link, I give you: “First off, the Pirates must decide if Aramis Ramirez is ready to be the everyday third baseman next season. If they decide he is, case closed.” They decided he wasn’t. A series of inexplicable moves, and horrible drafts later, and we find the Pirates where they are now, starting from scratch again, hoping to rebuild the teams from the early 90’s.

Not since Francesco Cabrera broke my heart in 1992, have the Pirates tasted the post-season. The last championship was in 1979 (much to my satisfaction, given my fellow bloggers' allegiances, the win came against the Orioles, so at least I have that going for me). Gone are the days of Stargell, Bonds, Clemente, Van Slyke, and even Spanky Lavalier. Replaced with the fantastic mediocrity of Jason Bay, Adam Laroche, and Freddy Sanchez.

The worst part is, the fans are still coming to watch the games, as Pirate tickets are going like hot cakes. From Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, in Fans waging fight against way Nuttings do business:

“What will be remembered as a six-day perfect storm of Pirates ineptitude, on and off the field, began the first full week of this month. On June 5, clearly for financial reasons, the Pirates passed in the draft on switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters, the best player available for them. The following Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they played amateurish baseball in losing three in a row to the New York Yankees, embarrassing themselves and the game on the sport’s grandest stage.

The organization and the players had come close to hitting rock bottom, and the reaction was predictable. Media outlets were deluged with e-mails, phone calls and letters from outraged and/or frustrated fans. Some outlets said they had never seen the likes of it.

But back home the following Tuesday, the Pirates, facing the last-place Texas Rangers, played to a crowd of 21,158, an increase of 34 percent over their previous largest Tuesday crowd this season. On Friday, 26,647 paying customers came out to watch the next-to-last-place Chicago White Sox. It was the second-best Friday crowd of the season. The next night, they played to their best Saturday crowd of the season, 36,610, which was a sellout. The next afternoon the attendance was 26,830, 11 percent higher than their previous Sunday best.

So much for outrage and frustration. It certainly gives credence to the belief of John Steigerwald, a KDKA sports anchor who long has called Pirates fans suckers for blindly supporting what has been a bad product for 15 seasons.

We can only imagine Bob Nutting, the team’s principal owner, rubbing his hands in glee as the turnstiles clicked furiously for his bad team and profits continued to pour in.”

Believe it or not, the Pirates were rated the third most profitable franchise according to a Forbes study realeased in 2007 (based on 2006). Here was the Pirates response. The study stated that the Pirates operating income -- earnings before interest, debt and taxes -- was $25.3 million. No doubt, the product of having the third lowest payroll in baseball, and a brand new park to which fans flock.

It will be a sad day for me on April 30th, when the Pirates are 10 games out of first and mired in a 5 game losing streak, and hope once again is gone. But in the words of Barney Gumble, “Don’t cry for me …I am already dead…”, well at least until next April.


Ryan Smith said...

Great post. 16 consecutive losing seasons??? Wow. Wow. And I thought I had it bad as an Oriole fan. Nevertheless, O/U for wins by the Orioles this season is set at 66, whereas the O/U for the Pirates is set at 68.5. My favorite team could be marginally worse than your favorite team. Bring it!

Srikant Narasimhan said...

oh but there is always hope...maybe the young pitching staff reaches its potential. maybe nady, bay, sanchez, and laroche have career years...maybe the pirates win a bunch of 1 run games...i want to live in that world ryan. i want to live there...