Sunday, April 30, 2006

Long day at the ballpark

Thanks to the Marquis de Perez, who put us in an early hole that we never came close to digging out of. This is not the same pitcher we saw in 2004.

We had a few chances to get back in the game today, usually involving Jeremy Burnitz, who had a single in the first but then failed in key situations twice later in the game. Craig also looked bad at the plate all day. He's always been a streaky player, and I wonder if he might be going into one of his prolonged bad streaks. He'll be okay as long as he continues to resist chasing that outside slider in the dirt that often eats him up.

Before the game, I was on Pirates Sunday with Rob Pratte, fielding calls from a lot of angry and disgruntled Pirates fans.

Photo by Rebecca.

During the show, we interviewed Burnitz, who stayed on the phone with us as long as we wanted him to and answered all our questions pleasantly and honestly. Despite evidence to the contrary later in the day, he seemed confident that both he and the team were close to breaking out of their season-long slumps. Burnitz is a good guy who has had a fine career, especially in Milwaukee, and after talking with him, I find it impossible to dislike him or blame him personally for his failures. I used to feel the same way whenever I would hear Kevin Young interviewed.

As I said during the break to Rob, "Nice guy. I just wish he was on someone else's team." quotes Pittsburgh bloggers

Charlie from Bucs Dugout and I are quoted in this article at about the possibility of Mark Cuban buying the Pirates and our opinions about the current ownership.

If you've been following the ravings on this site regularly, you'll have seen all of my stuff before. Speaking of strident ravings, I'll be on KDKA radio on Sunday at 11:05 tomorrow with Rob Pratte on Pirates Sunday, right before the Pirates go for a sweep (did I actually just write that?). Luck evens out over time. We were lucky to win that one tonight, but bad luck lost us a few earlier in the season.

We go on right before the Dave Littlefield show, which is something like airing an interview with Michael Moore right before a presidential address by George Bush. It would be great if some readers of this blog would give us a call on Pirates Sunday to, uh, elevate the discussion a bit.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Tracy on Sanchez: this one is familiar too

From this morning's Post-Gazette:
Tracy was asked again yesterday about perhaps getting infielder Freddy Sanchez and his .341 batting average into the lineup more often.

"Obviously, that's the hot topic these days," Tracy said. "I've done everything I possibly can to keep Freddy involved, and he has responded big-time. You have to get Freddy at-bats, but you also have to give those other guys a chance to jump-start themselves."

Tracy paused.

"And," he said, "you also have to consider that maybe Freddy is thriving the way he's thriving because of the niche he has."

This is exactly what McClendon used to say to justify using Craig Wilson as a part-time player before his breakout season in 2004. McClendon's argument was that, by using Wilson judiciously, he was enabling him to succeed. The argument is unproveable, of course, but it works well as a response to the question, "Why don't you put [$fan_favorite] in the lineup and stop playing [$bum] every day?"

I'm imagining that the Pirates have a library that its spokespersons can just pull off the shelf to use with reporters.

"The talk shows are heating up with talk about playing Freddy Sanchez instead of Randa, Jim."

"OK. Before the post-game interviews, I'll go into the library and pull out #38."

UPDATE: Because, as Charlie at Bucs Dugout points out, there is no evidence that Tracy is using Sanchez in any particular way other to use him infrequently, Tracy's comment here amounts to an assertion that Sanchez does better taking one at-bat a game, usually against a good relief pitcher, and playing full games a few times a week, than he would do playing regularly. I can't think of too many guys for whom that would be true. Maybe John Vander Wal. If anything, you'd think that being used in this way would make it harder to perform rather than easier.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Tracy's pregame interview

Listened in the car tonight. Talking about the Wednesday game against St. Louis, he raved about Hernandez's at bat that tied the game and then bemoaned the Pirates' continuing inability to get the big hit. As an illustration, guess what game situation he cited? Yep, Craig Wilson's GIDP. Not a murmer about Wilson's two-run homer, though. The bizarre scapegoating of Craig Wilson by this organization just never ends.

Tracy attributed the Pirates' problems to two causes: the bad starting pitching and the inability to get the big hit in key situations. For a refutation of the latter argument, here's the Stats Geek. Again, not a murmer about the atrocious production from Duffy and McLouth in the leadoff slot or the slow starts from Randa and Burnitz.

If this is the kind of analysis we are going to get from our new manager, we may as well have kept the old one.

Bad Day

This well-done chronicle of the season so far should be watched by every Pirate fan out there. It's good for a laugh, at the very least.

Pirates and Nintendo sharing marketing strategies?

Wii will....


Introducing... Wii.

As in "we."

While the code-name Revolution expressed our direction, Wii represents the answer. Wii will break down that wall that seperates videogame players from everybody else. Wii will put people more in touch with their games... and each other. But you're probably asking: What does the name mean?

Wii sounds like "we," which emphasizes the console is for everyone. Wii can easily be remembered by people around the world, no matter what language they speak. No confusion. No need to abbreviate. Just Wii.

Wii has a distinctive "ii" spelling that symbolizes both the unique controllers and the image of people playing it. And Wii, as a name and a console, brings something revolutionary to the world of videogames that sets it apart from the crowd.

So that's Wii. But now Nintendo needs you. Because it's really not about you or me. It's about Wii. And together, Wii will change everything.

Is this not alarmingly similar to the Buccos' 2006 marketing campaign? The difference is, I expect Nintendo to have much more success than McNutting this year, mostly because the product is far superior to the 2006 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Snell will get shelled tonight, while Wii is going into May's E3 as the most hotly anticipated product of the show.

Oh well. We will always have next season.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Another Romo post

I wonder if there are any old guys out there who will remember this Romo incident.

I was at a game one afternoon in which the starting pitcher--can't remember who he was--was pitching a great game but began to tire, so Tanner came out, spoke the pitcher for a few moments, then waved Romo in from the bullpen. The fans, not wanting Tanner to remove the starter, booed vociferously.

Romo then came in from the bullpen and just stalked back and forth on the mound without taking any warmup pitches. The ump came out, Tanner tried to talk to him--he didn't speak any English at all--and then Steve Nicosia (I think), who served as Romo's interpreter, also tried to talk to him, but nothing seemed to be working. He was obviously furious about something, but no one could figure out what was going on or communicate with him. Sitting in the stands, it was one of the oddest things I've ever seen in a ballgame. It lasted at least five minutes, maybe longer. Eventually they managed to get him settled down, and he took his warmups and finished the inning.

The story in the paper the following day said that, as best anyone could figure out, Romo thought the fans were booing Tanner for bringing him in as opposed to booing Tanner for taking the starter out, and no one could convince him otherwise.

I believe it was the following winter in which he disappeared...

Romo sighting

Littlefield_is_clueless makes a humorous reference to the legendary Enrique Romo at OnlyBucs. I had to share this one.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What do we expect?

5 and 18. That is stunning.

Freddy love is breaking out all over the blogosphere. Typical is this, from Kovacevic's Q&A today:
Q: Since Freddy Sanchez has offensive stats clearly superior to Joe Randa and, since his defensive skills are equal at least, and since we have a crying need to get runners on for Jason Bay and the Wilsons, why, oh, why cannot Sanchez play third base and bat leadoff?

He has speed, hits for a solid average, and has a good eye at the plate. Then, Duffy/MaClouth could hit near the bottom of the order so that they can learn to hit big league pitching without the pressures of leading off.

Why, oh, why?

Dr. Lynn Boyd Hinds of Springfield, Mo.

KOVACEVIC: This was topic No. 1 with a bullet in the inbox.

Here again, Lynn, your logic is irrefutable. And yet, there was Sanchez again last night, back on the bench after going 2 for 4 with one of those outs being a screaming fly ball to the wall in left-center. As Sanchez himself put it when I interviewed him Monday, it would appear there is nothing he can do to start.

Tracy's reasoning is that the Pirates are a stronger team with Sanchez on the bench. That is true, of course, as it pertains to a contending team. But it becomes way out of whack when the player on the bench is clearly illustrating he could help the team more than the starter, and -- this is important -- is doing so over a stretch longer than just a couple of games.

I will say this much: Be certain that there are some in the clubhouse who feel as you do.

The best point I've seen anyone make--and I apologize for not recalling where I saw it and properly attributing it--is that by signing Randa, we're wasting Freddy's 28-year-old season, a season that, if Freddy is like most players, would likely have been one of the most productive of his career.

Tracy's "reasoning," on the other hand, is both illogical and disingenuous, but even he must know that. Unfortunately, when someone sticks a microphone in your face, you have to say something. The real reason that the Pirates continue to play Randa and Burnitz is that despite the team's unbelievably bad start, for which both bear a certain amount of the responsibility, it is way too early for the Pirates to publicly admit that these high-profile acquisitions were a mistake. Their reputation currently hinges on the notion that the money they spent in the off-season proved that they aren't cheap and that they want to win.

Casey is injured and Burnitz and Randa have both had bad months, but as long as it is conceivable that they could bounce back and become productive, I don't expect that we will see them lose their jobs to McLouth, Sanchez, or anyone else. Although many of us knew and complained all winter that these signings were poor ways to allocate the revenue-sharing money, decisions that are this important to an organization on so many different levels are not likely to be easily or casually disavowed.

An organization that makes this many bad decisions needs a healthy appreciation for the concept of sunk cost. This regime of the Pirates has never shown such an appreciation. That's why Kevin Young played first for as long as he did, why McClendon managed almost to the end of his contract, and why, barring a Cuban incursion, Dave Littlefield will be our GM through most if not all of 2008.

A remarkable movement taking place at!

A large group of posters at have begun a movement called Irate Fans, or, (P)irate fans. It is designed to draw attention to the atrocities being committed by the Pirate ownership, and the domain name has already been registered by poster GVuck at OnlyBucs. Shirts are also being made and will be available to purchase in large quantities soon.

Loyal readers of Romo Phone Home will be updated as this revolution develops... who'd've thought my fantasy would actually begin two days after I dreamt it up.


I don't think we'll be making the playoffs this year.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mark Cuban: We want your mind, not your money

The Post-Gazette reignited my flagging interest in the Pirates today. In addition to a solid, well-argued and carefully substantiated column by the Geek--the voice of one sensible man speaking truth in the wilderness of Pittsburgh sports columnists--the usually execrable Ron Cook got out of the way and passed the mike to Internet billionaire Mark Cuban. Here's the money quote (pun intended):
"I think one of the reasons McClatchy won't sell is, that if you can deal with the abuse that goes with losing, you can make $15 million or $20 million a year," he said on Patrick's show, mentioning figures that McClatchy has disputed as the Pirates' profit. "Would you put up with the abuse for $15 million or $20 million a year? ...

"Not me. Oh, no. I'd have to win. Winning vs. losing money, I'd take winning every time."

Cuban said he will lose some money with the Mavericks this season but is getting closer to breaking even.

"It's a simple equation," he wrote in his e-mail. "Running a team to break even vs. running it to make $15 million or $20 million means a lot more money for player development and players."

Well...okay, yes, it would be nice to have an owner who is rich enough to be willing to lose money for a few years in order to build a fan base for the long term.

But what intrigues me most about Cuban is his potential for tranforming the Pirates from charter members of the Flat Earth Society into a team that uses information technology to gain a competitive edge. True, several years after Moneyball introduced the average baseball fan to an information revolution that was already well underway in baseball as in many other industries, this is not exactly a secret anymore. But from what can be discerned from their public statements, the Pirates still operate on principles from a different era compared to more enlightened franchises such as Cleveland, Milwaukee, Oakland (of course), and Boston.

In Pittsburgh, it takes a Geek to explain, carefully and patiently, the absurdity of tired homilies about "productive outs" and the like. Cuban, let's remember, made his millions and billions from a computer consulting company called MicroSolutions in 1990 and an internet company,, in 1994. I'd expect a guy with his background and resume to find smarter, more daring, more innovative, and more imaginative lieutenants than Littlefield, Graham, and Creech.

Wouldn't it be fun to root for a team whose owner really believes he can compete instead of pleading for corporate welfare and then exploiting it for personal gain when it is provided?

Ollie, you've been told

Albert Pujols:

"I respect this game just like everybody else. When I see a guy like that with the talent he has disrespecting the game ... that might be the way he pitches, I don't care ... but when you start pointing and looking at the player when you strike somebody out, that's disrespecting the player," he said. "I probably shouldn't have taken it to that level where I threw my bat like that. But at that moment I was pretty upset. I don't care what the media said in Pittsburgh last week, because they don't know why I did it. Now I'm glad I got the opportunity to say it."

Monday, April 24, 2006

The State of the Pittsburgh Pirates

Bucs at Cardinals is in progress -- an almost guaranteed loss.

Ollie faces Christopher Carpenter. This Cardinals SP has made the Pirates look like the Royals almost every time we've faced him. And I think we should expect at least one homerun by Albert Pujols off Mini-Perez tonight.

This has just gotten disgusting. I don't know how much more I can take; lately I've been too depressed to even use this blog for cathartic means. Every time I watch this team I just want to go to sleep for a long, long time. I think of how wonderful it would be if I could only fall unconscious during the current era and come to at the height of a fan uprising, in which Kevin McClatchy has been viciously lynched and Mark Cuban has been anointed majority shareholder of the team. But instead I awaken a couple innings later with the opposition having teed off against us while our boys have whiffed and grounded their way to three runs at most.

No one in this city possessing a brain has any respect left for this ownership group and front office. It's now coming into full view that each year the band-aids of Mondesi and Simon and Burnitz and Randa do nothing to improve the team and instead hinder its development. It's also now coming into full view that the owners are not concerned first and foremost with winning, that they are instead concerned first and foremost with the position of the bottom line. It's no longer whispered among more radical groups of Pirate fans; it is shouted and sung through echoing corridors across the cityscape. This team is hopeless until a Revolution is staged, or until the Evil Empire somehow decides to become less Evil and admit their ineptitude, and passes the torch to individuals more worthy.

My whole life I've dreamed of rooting for a competitive baseball team. Unless this ownership group decides to sell, 2006 could be my last season as a Pirate fan. That statement makes me sad and nostalgic, but I will not waver from it.

But in the meantime: Let's Go Bucs!

We Will

embarrass ourselves.

During the local broadcast of the ESPN game last night, they ran the We Will commercial that triumphantly runs through all of the moves the Pirates made over the off season--the Casey, Burnitz, and Randa signings, the hiring of Tracy, the contract extensions for Bay and Wilson, and so on.

Unless there is a dramatic turnaround at some point in the season, somebody in the Pirates marketing department should have sense enough to make sure that one isn't shown again. I can't imagine anyone watching that commercial and not reacting with derision.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Dark thoughts

Evidently, it's not just me who is feeling despondent about the Pirates.

I walked into a meeting at work the other day that was attended by one of the other guys I share a season ticket plan with, and after a little talk about the All-Star Game and what we're going to do with the tickets, we got into some banter about the team--the lousy starting pitching, Craig Wilson's hot start, Casey's injury, and so on. As we continued to talk, I suddenly looked around the room and noticed that everyone else in the room was staring at us like we were conversing in Swedish. Someone said, "I know a little bit about the Stillers, but not the Pirates." Another person in the room was a fanatical Penguins fan with no interest in the Pirates, and she steered the conversation to Sidney Crosby. Everyone else just wanted us to shut up so we could start the meeting.

For the few people left who still do care about the Pirates--and by that I mean the baseball that the Pirates play as opposed to the PNC Park experience--these seem to me to be unusually dark days. There are lots of reasons for this:
  • The poor start

  • The growing realization that Tracy is not much different from McClendon, particularly in his overvaluing of veterans, of defense, and of speed and undervaluing of on-base percentage and power

  • The cynical, public-relations-driven acquisitions of Randa, Burnitz, and Casey

  • Determination of the team to continue following the failed (from a baseball point of view) policy of one-year rentals of veterens on the downside of their careers

  • The increasingly clear signs that the McClatchy-Nutting ownership is not interested in selling the team, no doubt because of their success in fleecing the other owners (via Bucs Dugout)

  • The palpable evidence of the organization's disfunction provided by Chris Shelton, along with clear evidence that the organization has not learned from this mistake (for example, the recent statement by Brian Graham that Adam Boeve "needs to work on his defense"--precisely the rationale given by Graham when we lost Shelton in the Rule Five).

Most depressing of all, though, is the extension granted to Littlefield at the beginning of this year. All of the reasons for despair that I've cited here might be tolerable if there were at least some hope that we were reaching some cataclysmic nadir of failure that would make the need for a cleansing reorganization apparent even to the McClatchy-Nutting ownership group (something like this). But Dave Littlefield is our general manager for the next three years--the owners are happy with his performance. And, given their goals, why wouldn't they be?

OK, I'm going to stop now, this is making me depressed. I will be away for the weekend and will miss the first two Houston games. The pitching is getting better and Craig Wilson is playing every day. I'm passing the baton to Zeke, which he may or may not choose to carry. I'll be back next week.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Joe Starkey on Sol Torres

Great guy.

Nice win tonight, eh? Craig Wilson has been just ridiculous this year.

So now we've had good outings from three of our five pitchers. The next outing for Snell is big. Someone told me tonight that they heard Mark Madden talking about a loss of velocity from both Perez and Snell. I hadn't heard that before about Snell. Anything to it?

Fan update

Sometimes as an act of survival, I have to take short breaks from full-scale engagement with the fortunes of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I had been despondent since Snell's last outing and found myself uninterested in posting anything. This sort of occasional disengagement has worked well for me over the past several years but, alas, is not compatible with publishing and promoting traffic on a blog. On the other hand, it's our blog, and we can do with it what we wish--I have enough pressures in my life to be unwilling to add another one.

Zeke was at the game last night, which was a good one despite the final result. Obviously, the positives are Maholm's outing and another outstanding performance from Gonzo in relief. Gonzo seems now to be fully healthy, and I love the way he is throwing strikes and going after the hitters. Zeke was embittered by Bay's ninth-innning at bat, but I think we owe Bay a bit of slack.

Despite a few misgivings about some playing-time decisions to date, I still much prefer Jim Tracy to his predecessor. However, this article in today's Post-Gazette identifies what to me is one of Tracy's most significant weaknesses: He gets along with Tony LaRussa.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Until last night, the Pirates' offense has been scoring a lot of runs, and the focus of worry has justifiably been the pitching staff.

But just because the offense as a whole has been successful, Tracy shouldn't be complacent about making it better. Chris Duffy looks nice running down balls in that spacious outfield at PNC Park, and I generally don't get too excited about batting-lineup order, but I do know this: a guy who draws two walks in 50 at-bats should not be batting leadoff. Unless he improves greatly (which is not impossible), he is Omar Moreno without the stolen bases. That's going to hurt when the home run binge ends.


is the new Rob Mackowiak. He'd be an improvement over Mike Edwards.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Humberto Cota

is my least favorite Pirate. I f***ing hate this guy. He has NO approach at the plate, his defense is RIDICULOUSLY OVERRATED (and who gives a **** about defense when he hits .150????!?!?!), he has no speed because he's a catcher. He is a journeyman at best. What a joke.

RELEASE COTA. FOR GOD'S SAKES. This is misery watching this guy hit. I could put up a higher average than this scum.

I realize this a step down from the usual intelligent discussion initiated on this weblog, but I just can't take this anymore. Humberto Cota is a ****ing bum.


SAT test item about our new fifth outfielder

Omar Moreno : Chuck Tanner

Gary Varsho : Jim Leyland

John Wehner : Jim Leyland

Tike Redman : Lloyd McClendon

Rob Mackowiak : Lloyd McClendon

Jose Hernandez : Jim Tracy

______________ : Jim Tracy

Answer: Our new fifth outfielder, Mike Edwards.

My definition of the kind of guy I'm identifying here: a player who is on the team not necessarily for quantifiable, easily identifiable skills, but because, for whatever reason, the manager likes having him around.

Mackowiak is kind of an outlier here because he had more useful skills than the others.

Moreno had the one good year, 1979, and because that was the year we won it all, not many people remember just how bad he was in many other years. And his high stolen base totals distracted people from his dismal on-base skills. He's on the list because Tanner actually brought him in to play for him in Atlanta after Tanner left the Pirates and way after Moreno had anything left. In the Baseball Abstract that year, Bill James named him the worst baseball player in the major leagues.

Meanwhile, on the subject of why we needed to bring Edwards in, Rowdy was right in his post a while back (couldn't find it on his site) stating that the apparent dilemma of Craig Wilson would very likely work itself out in the course of the season.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Randall Simon, stay near your phone

Sean Casey injured in tonight's game.

Batman Redux

The discussion at Baseball Primer reinforces an essential point about the Batman vs. McClatchy debate. Those of us who have suffered under the yoke of the McClatchy regime can only be pleased when our oppressor is publicly humiliated as he was in this instance. But in a perfect world, he would have been humiliated for the right reasons.

To say that McClatchy needs to write more and larger checks isn't quite right, and the assertion plays right into the devious PR strategy of the regime: Our critics, they can argue, don't understand the odious constraints that the structure of baseball places on lowly small-market teams like ours; our failures are the fault of George Steinbrenner and Bud Selig, not us; it's easy for a movie star to ask us to write checks when the checks don't come from his bank account; if we had the money, we would spend it, and if the fans keep coming to the ballpark to eat $7 hot dogs and watch games that are over in the first 15 minutes, maybe we will.

Sure, it would be nice if the owners would write more checks, but the problem isn't the quantity of checks written or the amounts for which they are written; it is the payees to whom they are written. When McClatchy announced that he was challenging Littlefield to increase the payroll in the off season, I shuddered. "I don't trust these guys to spend that money wisely," I said. Was I wrong?

The McClatchy regime uses the Pirates small-market status as an excuse for organizational incompetence. Other teams operate far more successfully within the same constraints that the Pirates face. That's what I wish Batman had said.

World Baseball Classic at PNC Park

"We had a Mexican pitcher, a Puerto Rican catcher and a Korean pitcher all yelling at each other," Dodgers manager Grady Little said. "I couldn't understand what any of them said."

This makes me wonder, could language barriers be contributing to Perez's problems? When he first came up, he spoke no English and had to give interviews with Cota at his side as a translator. He's now had two English-speaking pitching coaches advising him on his mechanics, and the word "confused" is an apt word to describe his recent performances.

Speaking of pitching coaches--I do keep telling myself that it's early, and it's certainly too early to judge our young starters to be failures, but so far, Mr. Colburn's highly touted skills as a pitching coach have not been evident. He got a bit chesty the other day when asked about Duke, so things are going badly enough that he has adopted a defensive posture. Duke said over the winter that the previous regime was hypercritical.
The left-hander was atypical after the season ended, too, disparaging former manager Lloyd McClendon and pitching coach Spin Williams for difficult teaching methods he said began with "barking" and quickly proceeded to yelling. He said new manager Jim Tracy and pitching coach Jim Colborn are far less confrontational and more intent on teaching than preaching.

Duke's words were echoed by fellow rookie pitcher Ian Snell, who said it felt good to be able to go through a spring training workout "without being yelled at."

The early results suggest that at least a small dose of the sort of tough love previously dispensed by Spin Williams might now be therapeutic.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dilemma for the Pirates: What to do with Craig Wilson

Craig is off to a great start, with two homers in last night's game. He's back in the lineup today at first base as Casey continues to nurse his ribcage injury.

Let's assume that Craig will stay healthy this year, that the hand injuries of last year are fully healed and won't hamper him at all, and that any lingering doubts about a significant dropoff in production, based on his poor second half in 2004, prove to be groundless. If all of those things are true, then he would undoubtedly outperform Jeromy Burnitz or Sean Casey, at least in the most important offensive part of his game, and any difference in the defensive part of the game is unimportant.

It's clear, though, that the Pirates don't have plans to resign Wilson after this year. So what do they do? The situation presents the Pirates with a number of equally unpleasant scenarios:
  • They hold onto him until mid-year or until just before the trading deadline at the end of the season. The risk here is that he continues to outproduce players who get more playing time than he does while he remains on the team, and the escalating rhetoric from the increasingly angry fan base, which has already begun, becomes deafening.

  • They trade him now for a starting pitcher. This scenario is a public-relations minefield for the Pirates. Among the possibilities are that Wilson has a terrific year with the team we trade him to, putting up stats that greatly exceed those of Casey and Burnitz, and the Pirates have to deal with two productive players who got away: Wilson in addition to Shelton; that the pitcher we acquire for Wilson has a lousy year, always a possibility with pitchers; or a combination of the two, which makes the PR damage exponentially worse.

  • They keep him all year and get nothing for him before he enters into free agency. This then becomes another data point (along with Sanders, Stairs, Lofton, and many others) for the argument that Littlefield doesn't know how to turn existing talent into talent that can be used in the future.

That the Pirates find themselves in this situation at all is another example of the strategic disarray of the franchise. What's the plan here, and how do the acquisitions of Casey, Burnitz, and Randa fit into whatever the plan is? The owner seems to have directed the general manager to throw money at a short-term problem--convince the more gullible members of the fan base that we are not pocketing all of the revenue-sharing money by acquiring a few players that they have heard of and, in the process, help to promote season tickets in the year that Pittsburgh is hosting the All-Star Game. What does this do to the future of the franchise, and how does this fit into achievement of some long-term goal? No one seems to know or care.

So if the Craig Wilson dilemma does cause the owner and general manager to squirm this year, they will have richly earned the privilege.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Samson is back!

Ladies and gentlemen: Mr. Craig Wilson.

On the Internet, we can fact-check your ass

Today's Pirates Q&A from Kovacevic is a must-read. The level of rage among Pirates fans is extraordinary.

One reason for the rage is that all of us now have instant access to the source documents that indict Pirates management. Take this one, which Kovacevic links to in answering the Chris Shelton question. I understand that it is always possible, and not always fair, to second-guess decisions in hindsight. But the logic and rationale behind these decisions sits on the Internet now for examination by anyone with a computer. And the evidence, to me at least, leads to the inescapable conclusion that Dave Littlefield and Brian Graham aren't qualified to build a winning baseball team. You can see clearly that, in this instance as in many others, they choose to mortgage the future to meet short-term "needs." They're doing the same thing today, and Littlefield was just rewarded with another year on his contract.

They have no plan, and they have no vision. It's out there to see for anyone who cares to look.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Hot Damn!

That was a nice win.

That's what a good closer looks like.

Let's end the Humberto Cota experiment today.

Kevin McClatchy: Evil or Just Stupid?

Putting aside for the moment the concept of the banality of evil, which would obviate the question, there are two alternative views about Mr. McClatchy. The first view, to the delight of just about every true baseball fan in Pittsburgh, was advanced yesterday by True Pittsburgh Guy Michael Keaton. That Keaton was biting the hand that fed him the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at yesterday's Opening Day debacle is not so much an example of Keaton's courage as it is an example of the license that movie stars enjoy, due to their vast wealth, to say whatever the hell they want to say whenever the hell they want to say it.

This view, favored by conspiracy theorists, holds that McClatchy and his evil puppetmasters in the Dark Tower in West Virginia, exploiting the naivete and gullibility of both the Pittsburgh populace and Major League Baseball, have devised a successful strategy for enriching themselves as baseball team owners without need for the one commodity that all baseball team owners have heretofore required: victories in baseball games. Instead of concentrating on victories, the owners of the Pirates have succeeded in leveraging the jewel of a baseball park that the taxpayers of Pittsburgh bought for them to create a profitable enterprise, with the help of savvy marketing and public relations.

A friend of mine told me once that you should never attribute to malice what could just as easily be attributed to ignorance. This more benign view of Pirates ownership hinges on the unlikely possibility that McClatchy actually believes this. (via Van Slyke)

The same questions could be posed about General Manager Littlefield, of course. I was listening to the weekly Baseball Prospectus podcast this morning and was amused to hear guest Sam Walker, author of Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe, joke that he approached Dave Littlefield last year and tried to convince him to acquire Doug Mientkiewicz because Walker had Mientkiewicz on his fantasy team, and Littlefield was the only GM dumb enough to play Mientkiewicz regularly at first base because of his superior defense. (The same arguments in favor of defense are now being used to justify playing time for Duffy and Cota over McLouth and Doumit, so Walker was clearly onto something.)

I can't offer a resolution to the evil-or-stupidity question other than to suggest that the Pirates front office seems to be amply supplied with both.

I am writing all of this philosophy today to distract myself from the necessity of describing yesterday's game, which I had the misfortune of attending with Zeke and Mrs. Price. It was an awful game, of course, but what I found more depressing than the events on the field was the passivity of the near-record crowd.

The Pirates are not even compellingly awful like the Royals. They are to baseball what Michael Bolton is to soul music, what Pizza Hut is to pizza, what Hormel is to chili. Zeke and I scream sarcastic epithets from Section 114--"Hey Kevin, sell!" "Mark Cuban!" "Free Craig Wilson!"--and people look at us as if we are insane.

We've become used to this by now. It has been so long since the Pirates played a meaningful game that Pittsburgh baseball fans--or at least most of the ones who attended Opening Day--have forgotten how to care. If an owner of a baseball team can neutralize caring and still draw people to the ballpark, he has indeed discovered the Rosetta Stone.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Avast there, mates! Ye come here seeking adventure in salty old Pirates, eh? Sure, ye've come to the proper place, but keep ye weather-eye open, and hold on tight! There'll be squalls ahead! With Pirates lurking in every cove, and Davy Jones' Locker waiting for those that don't obey. No fear have ye of Pirates, says ya? Properly warned, says I! Proceed at your own risk, as these be the last friendly words ye hear. And remember: dead men tell no tales.

See you tomorrow at 1:35 PM, my 1-6 hometown heroes.

Human logic trumps machine logic

If Tracy's use of the bullpen in today's win means that he intends to use human logic rather than machine logic when making late-inning decisions, I'm happy.

Lloyd McClendon's use of the closer went something like this:
If [inning=9] and [Pirates_lead=yes]
then [Pitcher=closer]
else not[Pitcher=closer]

A corollary to this algorithm last year was
If [closer=Mesa]
then [Pirates=stink]

I didn't watch today's game--just followed it on my cell phone while doing something else--but it looks like Tracy used Gonzo in the most important situation in the game rather than algorithmically saving him for the ninth. This is good.

Humor from Smizik: Intentional?

Bob Smizik is not known for humor--he is better known for being irritating--but I did get a chuckle out of his column today, entitled "Will contract extension be Littlefield's last?"

Set up ostensibly as a kind of Time-Magazine-style forced-objectivity exercise examining the low and high points of Littlefield's accomplishments to date, the column begins to get funny, not surprisingly, when after going through the standard and well-known list of Littlefield blunders, it attempts to make a case for extending his contract:
Considering this litany of failure and mistake, why does this extension feel good?

Because there are lots of positives in Littlefield's record, too.

The data points, such as they are:
  • He inherited bad contracts from Bonifay and managed to extricate the Pirates from them.

  • He has built a good farm system (at best, this is arguable)

  • "He has an air about him that inspires confidence. He seems to know what he's doing." (Uhh...what?)

  • "He has brought in good people to assist him." (again, arguable)

  • "...there's something to be said for continuity, a vastly underrated part of success."

Not much of an argument, I would say.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Um, well...

okay, maybe they are this bad.

They're not this bad

They're going to win one, maybe today with Ollie pitching, and then I expect them to go on a hot streak that gets them close to .500. There is certainly a lot to complain and worry about--the leadoff spot, the bullpen (especially Grabow), the erratic starting pitching, and the continuing persecution of Craig Wilson (more about that below)--but this is a mediocre team, not a terrible team, and mediocre teams have streaks, usually a few more bad ones than good ones. Over time, luck tends to even out, and ours has been relentlessly bad. It may go on a bit longer, but sooner or later, it will change.

The Post-Gazette says that Tracy is looking for a leading man:
Tracy would love for one of the young center fielders to get hot. That probably would earn a run of playing time for that person.

"I'm very in tune with that," Tracy said. "When a guy gets on a roll and stays on a roll for a little while, you ride that out."

I'd say he found that man last night. If Tracy is true to his word--and so far I can think of no egregious untruths uttered by Tracy to rival McClendon's "I don't make out the lineups, the players make out the lineups" idiocy--then we should see McLouth for a few games in a row. This could be his opportunity to win the job for a while.

Observing McClendon for several years made me appreciate how important the spokesperson role is for a manager. In that role, Tracy has been an improvement (Of course, you could say the same thing about Meher Baba. -ed.). There has been a lot of grousing and second-guessing of Tracy's lineups and game decisions this year, much of it by me, but I do appreciate his candor about the right-field decision, even though I don't agree with it. Early in the season, he stated that Burnitz is his right fielder and that right field is not a platoon with Craig facing all the lefties. Again, I don't agree with it, but I like that Tracy is making a clear decision and communicating clearly about it. I think it is too soon to criticize his lineup decisions too vigorously--he deserves at least a dozen games to look at his team as he conceives it and to see what he has.

Craig Wilson is my favorite player and has been for many years, during which he has been consistently undervalued, miscast, and disrespected. I blame Dave Littlefield and his minions for that, though; I don't blame Jim Tracy.

Famous Predictions

"Can't act. Can't sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little."

- A film company's verdict on Fred Astaire's 1928 screen test.

Add this one to the list of famous predictions (via Bucs Dugout):
"Shelton fits the new wave of evaluation -- on-base percentage, slugging percentage," Pirates director of player development Brian Graham said. "Does that play on the Major League level with a player who had a month and a half in Double-A? We'll see."

Yep, we'll see. Five homers now and counting. One question for Mr. Graham: What wave of evaluation was it that led to a decision to hold on to Mike Lincoln and Joe Beimel?

Friday, April 07, 2006


Main Entry: scha·den·freu·de
Pronunciation: 'shä-d&n-"froi-d&
Function: noun
Usage: often capitalized
Etymology: German, from Schaden damage + Freude joy: enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others

So far, the team looks as bad as it has ever looked. The lower minor leagues are in disarray. The key player given away in the Rule Five debacle a few years ago has hit four homers so far this year. The owner, seemingly oblivious to the team's ineptitude on the field, has rewarded his general manager by tacking on another year to his contract. To safeguard its public relations, the team went out and wasted money this spring on three overpriced veterans who are no longer as good as they once were, hoping that this would create the perception among the populace that the team is making a good-faith effort to improve performance. The PR tactic has worked spectacularly well, and the team has sold 11,000 season tickets. Rumors that the owners plan to sell the team appear to have been false. There is no end in sight to the misery, and all hope is lost.

Under these circumstances, schadenfreude sometimes seems the only consolation. But enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others means, in this case, rooting against the team--taking joy in their failures. And for a baseball fan to root against their team is an abomination. It would be nobler to root for another team or find another obsession.

You could make a case that the best thing for the team in the long run would be not another 65-to-75-win season, but a season like the one the Royals had last year: abject failure, embarrassment, and mayhem. After such a season, PR would no longer be effective, and the team would have no choice but to face its failures and change the way it operates. Like alcoholism--you don't begin to get better until you fully admit and face the problem. We are powerless over baseball, and our lives have become unmanageable.

But that's the dilemma--I can't quite bring myself to actively hope for the Pirates failure. So I keep my schadenfreude to myself mostly, and am somewhat ashamed of it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

6-5 Reds over Pirates

This one made me want to throw a Mike Gonzales fastball through my television screen.

Duffy. can't. hit. His offense last year was a mirage. And his highly-touted defense failed to come through when we needed it. This is a case where I think defense is nowhere near as important as offense because there are around 4 balls hit to a centerfielder on a given day; if McLouth is a butcher out there (which I'm sure he won't be), his offensive talents will overshadow it. Duffy so far has looked like a deer in the headlights every time he's been pitched to, and in the field he's done nothing but haul in routine fly balls that McLouth would have no problems with.

Defense is an overrated aspect of the game because it is largely based on selective memory. Probably what separates Duffy from McLouth defensively since their promotions last year was the show Chris put on for the PNC Park fans. Perhaps McLouth didn't dazzle, but he got the job done, and only had one more error than Duffy.

With all this in mind, I think it's a joke to consider Chris Duffy a major league center fielder. As I've said before, he will be lucky to hit .275 with a .300 OBP. In the leadoff spot, that is pitiful. I hope he makes me a liar. Afterall, it's only four games. But Tracy better damn well give Nate a start tomorrow.

Still, Randa and Doumit both going yard was pleasurable. But this loss came down to offensive ineptitude from Duffy, Casey, and Burnitz. Cincinnatti leaving that many on base and still winning is a crying shame.

Boys, if you can't hit off of Eric Milton tomorrow, you're utterly hopeless.

Brewers series

It's pointless to draw any lasting conclusions from this series--there's still way too little data for that. But...
  • Duffy will have to show something within the first month, or he is on his way back to AAA. Obviously, swinging at the first pitch against Turnbow in the 9th last night was a rookie mistake. But he has not looked good since spring training. I have more hope for McLouth, but if he also struggles, we may be talking to Tike Redman's agent by mid-May. Or thinking about Bay in center and Wilson in left.

  • Speaking of Wilson, he's looked good so far, and thinking about having an effective Craig Wilson in the lineup every day makes me angry about the Burnitz signing all over again. Burnitz did well in the Brewers series, but even an average Burnitz year is a luxury this team can't afford when it has a better and younger option occupying the bench. Similarly, our improved bench--and it is now an improved bench--is something that is needed more by a finished team that is close to contention than by our team.

  • I think Torres will be okay--he looked great last night--and I like Hernandez despite the key walk last night. You can't fault Hernandez for Fielder's bloop, which was pure luck, but you can fault him for putting us in a position that the bloop hurt us. Marte worries me. He was worse for the White Sox last year than in previous years, and the issue was control. So far (and again, it's too early to say this), control still seems to be an issue. Grabow also worries me a little, and Vogelsong is just awful and should not be on this team. Assessment of the bullpen is incomplete, though, until we've seen Gonzo and until the starters begin to go deeper in games.

  • There's reason to be optimistic from the performances of Perez and Duke.

  • As advertised, Casey can hit and get on base but hits into way too many double plays. His highly touted defense so far has not been evident. A couple of the infield errors might have been saved by exceptional plays at first.

  • If Jack develops Steve Sax syndrome, we're in big trouble.

  • Nothing I've seen so far diverts me from my earlier conclusion that the Randa signing was unnecessary. How much of an upgrade is he over Sanchez, if at all?

  • The influence of luck on a short series like this one is exaggerated; it's only over the long term that the influence of luck begins to recede and patterns emerge on which real conclusions can be drawn. We easily could have won all of these games if we had been more lucky than the Brewers, and if we had, most of the despair that is now engulfing serious Pirates fans would not exist. But the source of the despair is not bad luck, it's performance--meaningful patterns are discernable from 13 years of data, and those of us who have been watching have learned to expect the worst.

  • I'm looking forward to seeing Snell and Maholm

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Advice for Mac users of

Spent two miserable evenings trying to get to work on my Macs, so I may as well share what I've learned as I try not to think too much about this Brewers series (that was some at bat by Craig Wilson, though).

Despite what the online FAQ at says, now supports only one video player for Macs, Windows Media Player (WMP) Series 9. Real Player is no longer supported. Getting WMP to work is extremely difficult, and getting through at mlb tech support is virtually impossible. If you do succeed through a pathological willingness to stay on the line for an hour or more--yes, I did--the person you finally talk to will have almost no knowledge of Macs. But by interviewing the guy I spoke to for a few minutes, in addition to looking around on some Mac support sites where people were discussing these problems, I was able to piece together some advice that I believe will work for Mac OS X users:

  • With Safari closed, open the standalone Windows Media Player from Applications and select "Preferences" from the "Windows Media Player" menu. Under Network Settings/Protocols/, deselect Multicast, UDP, and TCP, so that HTTP is the only protocol selected. Choose "No proxy." Under "Connection" in Preferences, make sure that your connection speed selection is accurate. Click OK to save the preferences.

  • Assuming that you're going to want to watch in full screen mode rather than in the tiny window in the embedded browser application, you can make this happen by deleting the Windows Media Player internet plug-in from your Library. Go to your hard drive and navigate to Library/Internet plug-ins/. Find the Windows Media Player plug-in and drag it to the Trash.

  • Open Safari and clear your cache by choosing "Empty Cache..." from the Safari menu.

  • Get to by typing "" into the address bar directly--don't go to it using a bookmark or any other way--and then choose the Audio/Video menu item on the top navigation bar to log in. When you log in and click on a game that you want to watch, will look for the WMP plug-in and fail to find it. It will then ask if you want to open the standalone WMP. When you answer affirmatively, WMP will open the game you've chosen in standalone mode, which you then can expand to full screen.

Tike released!

The Mets already had Carlos Beltran and didn't think they needed a #3 hitter.

Via Bucs Dugout.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

bottom first, 2-0 Bucs

Santos sounding shaky, though. He gave up a single to Clark and has run it to 3-0 on Hardy.

Methinks this will be a shootout. Casey's done his part so far.

Monday, April 03, 2006

David Littlefield extended


In a nauseating move, Kevin McClatchy has extended David Littlefield's contract through the 2008 season. This is wrong on so many levels. At LEAST, KM should've waited until mid-season to see how the team looks.

This is also depressing because it indicates that the current ownership group does not plan to sell.

Heaven help us.


The joy that usually accompanies opening day is tempered today by this unfortunate announcement.

I had hoped that, with McClendon gone as a scapegoat for all that has ailed the Pirates the past few years, the pressure would now be squarely on Dave Littlefield to deliver this year or to follow McClendon off the plank. But the announcement of Littlefied's extension makes me realize that the real question is, to deliver what?

We the fans, and more specifically the tiny minority of fans who care enough about the Pirates to write about them almost every day on blogs and message boards, are what would be called "stakeholders" in business terms. We are a group of people who hold a stake in the enterprise. We care almost exclusively about one thing: the team's won-lost record. We want them to win so that we can experience a real baseball pennant race and post season. Our mistake is to assume that all stakeholders have the same goals. It's simply not true.

Presumably, the men who own the team--principally the Nutting family of West Virginia--want the team to improve its won-lost record too, but that is by no means their only goal, and other goals, such as profitability, are no doubt as important or more important to them. The Nuttings are not Mark Cuban, and the Pirates are not their plaything; the Pirates are a part of their business portfolio, and they expect all of their holdings to perform profitably.

So what does a successful general manager need to do to satisfy his employers? What constitutes success for Dave Littlefield? It's more than just to improve the won-lost record; a big part of Littlefield's job is public relations--successfully convincing the large majority of the populace that the team and its ownership also care about improving the won-lost record, even when there is credible evidence to the contrary. That Littlefied has largely succeeded in this important part of his job--save for the rantings of a handful of disgruntled fans like me, Zeke, and those of you who are reading this--is, when you think of it, remarkable in light of our now 13-season run of futility. I would say that this constitutes some form of success for Dave Littlefield, just not the form that I would like.

Hence, the contract extension.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ed Creech, and how we lost Chris Shelton

In Dejan Kovacevic's great Pirates preview today in the Post-Gazette, this quote from Pirates Scouting Director Ed Creech was as clear a statement of organizational philosophy as any I've seen:

"Obviously, the No. 1 thing is tools," Creech said. "You do look at numbers. If a guy performs, that's fine. You like that. But he has to have the ability to translate that to the major-league level, or it doesn't matter."

In one case at least--Chris Shelton--this emphasis on tools over performance was a big mistake, one that even Littlefield now acknowledges. Shelton, like Craig Wilson and now Jeff Keppinger, whom we gave away to the Mets and who is now fighting for recognition within a similarly tools-oriented organization, are guys who do nothing right other than to perform. Of course, there are obvious counter examples--Hermansen, Froebel, and arguably, J.J. Davis (although he never had a real chance with the Pirates), performance in the minors is usually a pretty reliable predictor of performance in the majors. And performance is what we care about, right? I wonder if we will one day also come to regret our failure to give at bats to Michael Restovich in 2005, another guy who seems to fall in the category of players who are underappreciated because they aren't "toolsy."

The fallacy in Creech's argument, I think, is that it is the presence or absence of tools that is the key predictor of success in the major leagues. It may be true that, given two players who perform comparably in the minors, the one with superior tools is more likely to succeed in the majors. But given two players, one with superior tools that make scouts salivate and the other with a superior performance record, I'd take the latter every time.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Extension for Torres: bad idea

Via Bucs Dugout, where Charlie says it better than I could.

Spending money unnecessarily on the most fungible commodity in baseball--relievers over 30 years old--is simply a bad idea. We did the identical thing a few years ago with Brian Boehringer, and it turned out badly.

The Pirates should buck up, live with the uncertainty that building a bullpen inevitably entails, and trust their ability to cobble one together with Rick White and Solomon Torres equivilents each year. They have actually been pretty good at this over the past few years.

Brian Graham believes in slow cooking

Sometimes it seems that Pirate management has built a strategy in reaction to Chad Hermansen's inability to walk on water. And then there was Doug Froebel.

A lot of this is self-serving spin, of course--not surprising from an organization that issues the slogan "We Will" and then interprets it publicly as some vague paean to organizational excellence instead of, you know, we baseball games. But I digress...

A few points about all of this:
  • It's absurd to assert that improvement at the major league level and more capable major league players now provide the opportunity to cook minor leaguers more slowly. If this were true, would we not see some improvement in the won-lost record of the major league team?

  • It's absurd to generalize in the way that Graham is generalizing here. Matt Capps is 22, and Tracy has decided that he is ready. Are we cooking him too fast? Who knows? Ramirez was probably undercooked when he played for the Pirates at age 19, but he became a franchise player according to our former manager. So do the exceptions disprove the rule? There is no rule--as with many things, it all depends.

  • We can cook the guys at the lower levels of the minors all day in the crockpot, but the meal is still likely to taste lousy. The quality of the ingredients is more important than the length of time the ingredients are cooked.

For more on slow cooking, see my lovely wife Rebecca's great food blog.