Monday, July 31, 2006

Duffy piles on

This, from Baseball Prospectus, via, is amazing:
How bad is it in Pittsburgh? Chris Duffy, who took a month off after getting sent down, was angry to be called up! He was expecting to be traded. "I don't like it there," he told Pirates officials. "I did all this hoping to get traded."
Duffy is a doofus, an ingrate, a punk, and by the way, not such a good ballplayer. But if this represents the beginning of a player revolt (coupled with an odd earlier report via Honest Wagner that Jack Wilson has demanded to be traded), I say, bring it on!

This reminds me of

the Saturday Night Massacre, when Nixon fired Archibald Cox, Elliott Richardson, and William Ruckelshaus. You watch something like this the way you watch an automobile accident--astonished that what is actually happening is worse than anything you could have imagined in your darkest, most paranoid fantasies. As it happens, you think, "It really is as bad as I feared it was."

Craig Wilson for Shawn Chacon. Just stop and ponder that for a moment.

The only hope: If you really believe that regime change is the only possible hope for the Pirates fan--and I do really believe that--then what happened today can only hasten regime change. This makes the team worse in the short term and worse in the long term.

I am going to start eating sensibly and exercising. I want to be alive in 2008 so I can root for the Pirates when they have a new general manager.

Blogger attacked by baseball announcer!

I was on Pirates Sunday yesterday with Rob Pratte on KDKA and opined that Ryan Doumit, if he were ever able to stay healthy, could potentially contribute more to the Pirates behind the plate than Paulino because of his power (while still acknowledging that Paulino is a huge upgrade over Cota and that Tracy was admirably quick to relegate Cota to a backup role).

Later, half watching the game and half eating a sandwich, I heard Lanny and Walk talking about Paulino and Doumit, and this morning a friend confirmed to me that Lanny had been talking about listening to a "blogger expert" in the car radio on the way to the game saying that Doumit was a better catching package than Paulino, an opinion that Lanny clearly thought was bordering on insanity. Walk was a bit more conciliatory, saying something like, "I guess some people think hitting home runs is the most important thing."

Guilty as charged. I think that the potential difference between the offense we would get from a healthy Doumit (were there such a thing) and Paulino would outweigh whatever advantage Paulino might have over Doumit defensively. The argument is probably moot, though, since (1) it's starting to look like Doumit will never play a full season without being injured, and (2) Paulino has made the sale with everyone in the organization who matters.

I got a kick out of Lanny's dismissive use of the word "blogger" as code for "pointy-headed, pimply geek who has never really seen or played in a baseball game but prefers to crunch numbers in his bedroom on his computer."

Hey Lanny: I'm Billy Price!

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Zach Duke:

Duke Robillard:

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nate McLouth, American Patriot

From the hard-hitting interview by Ed Eagle on the Pirates official site: Who would you most like to meet, past or present?

McLouth: Probably George Washington. He got things going in this great country and I'd just like to chat with him.
I would think that that chat would sooner or later come around to the subject of a certain cherry tree and the importance of not telling a lie. I'd sure like to be a fly on the wall during that conversation.

To find out what Nate's first car was, just follow the link.

America is losing its fascination with bobbleheads

according to this article, which also confirms what you already expected, that the Pirates' 12 bobblehead promotions are more than twice the number held by other teams.

It's been seriously suggested that the Pirates will wait until after Friday night's Sean Casey bobblehead promotion to trade him, and based on the criteria that this team uses to make decisions, I have no doubt that this is true. If Casey is traded between Friday and Monday night, I'm guessing that it will be the quickest change in status from bobblehead honoree to former team member in the history of Major League Baseball.

Wisdom from our Buccos

Great day for quotes in this morning's Post-Gazette.
"I think we have a number of players who are very conscious of the things we didn't do well enough in the first half," Tracy said. "There is an awareness of what went awry."
And as we all know, awareness is the first step toward solving a problem. This guy is so positive, he makes Chuck Tanner look like Patti Smith. At least one player, though, professes to have given up on thinking at some time earlier in his life.
"...I realized a while back that the world doesn't make a lot of sense, so trying to understand it doesn't make sense," Burnitz said. "I'm not judging it. It just is what it is."
I would guess that a statement like that would effectively end a conversation with a reporter sticking a microphone in your face. So rather than interpreting Mr. Burnitz's comment as a reflection on the essential inscrutability of reality, I take his odd statement to mean, "Please go away now, Paul."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Royals are leaving us in the lurch

Don't miss this column by the estimable Joe Posnanski about the early tenure of new Royals GM Dayton Moore.
“The important thing is not the system. Lots of different systems work. The important thing is your commitment to your system.”
What is Dave Littlefield's plan? What are his goals for the Pirates? He never says. Dayton Moore can articulate his vision in 19 words:
Power on the corners, speed and defense up the middle, consistent starting pitching and power arms in the bullpen.
More impressively, he is already taking action to realize his vision with a palpable sense of urgency:
“We’ve got to be aggressive,” he says. “We really don’t have a choice … I’ve been careful not to put a timetable on this, but we need to go as fast as we can.”
Compare that to the bizarre aura of complacency that infuses all of Dave Littlefield's public utterances, replete with phrases such as "with where we're at right now," and "that's one of the things you look at going forward," and the like.

I never thought the day would come when I would be envious of a Royals fan, but that day has come.

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Jeopardy answer: What is "masochism"?

Question: Rooting for the Pirates an exercise in this quality.

Gonzalez, whom I once described as my favorite Pirate (I love that conquistador flair he displays on the mound when he has it all working for him), has been lousy this year; lousy but lucky, exactly like Mike Williams was before it all came apart on him. Unlike Williams, Gonzo strikes guys out and doesn't give up a lot of homers, but the walks are killing him, and today the walk to Amezega*, who was something like 1 for 23 batting righthanded so far this year, killed us.

In the first game of the series, Gonzo was awarded a save after loading the bases with one out and then wriggling out of trouble. The fact that he was awarded anything at all for that pitching performance demonstrates how misleading the "save" statistic is as an indicator of effective pitching. Matt Capps, our other untouchable in the bullpen, at least throws strikes. The trouble with throwing too many strikes, though, is that opponents sometimes hit them, as happened today. As everyone else in the Pirates blogosphere has been saying, including my angry and passionate son, a team in a state of ineptitude such as ours should not have any untouchables, particularly not relief pitchers.

Is Gonzo the new Rod Scurry? Nah, not that bad. Scurry was wild, but it was the uncontrollable and frequently uncatchable curve ball that was Scurry's undoing. Scurry was the last lefty reliever I can recall who was christened The Closer by a Pirates manager, with disastrous results. I distinctly remember at least two games blown by the Scurrdog when runners scored from third on game-ending wild pitches--distant echoes of Bob Moose resonating in the caverns at Three Rivers.

RIP, Scurrdog.

* I'm too lazy to look up the spelling of this, so if this is wrong, please blame it on the player, who has no business having a name like that.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Casey's double in the fourth

Casey runs like that now, and we're considering whether to sign him for three more years? In 2009, he will barely be able to walk.

Zen masters

I had the privilege of listening to Vin Scully call the first three innings of the Dodgers-Cardinals game last night on XM, on my way back to Pittsburgh from a gig in Reading. Jeff Suppan eliminated one of the few of the beat-up Dodgers still capable of hitting the ball from the lineup by hitting J.D. Drew on the knee in the first inning. The Cardinals then went on to dominate the Dodgers to the extent that you can dominate another team in a 2-0 game, because despite the closeness of the score, the game never seemed close or even competitive. The Dodgers cannot hit. Garciaparra, the only decent hitter on the team who is still standing, has been in a horrible slump since the All-Star break and no longer threatens Freddy for the batting title lead.

Scully is 79 years old and has been announcing Dodgers games for 57 years. He does the first three innings all by himself with no color man, and he effortlessly spins out informative, thoughtful, articulate commentary and background information about the players while describing the game in flawless detail. He was talking about how Tony LaRussa instituted the modern-day use of closers, which began with LaRussa's use of Dennis Eckersley with the As in 1988. So, we can blame Jose Mesa and Mike Williams, among other things, on the arrogant and unpleasant Mr. LaRussa. Only in baseball would the fact that someone is a lawyer be cited as evidence that a guy is a genius. One of the few things I liked about Lloyd McClendon was that LaRussa didn't like him. When Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan referred to Lloyd and Gerald Perry as "thugs," I briefly forgot about what a bad manager Lloyd was and felt defensive. Sure they were thugs, but they were our thugs. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Speaking of wise men, Rick Monday later in the broadcast relayed an amusing anecdote about a wise man who got away from the Pirates, Jim Leyland. He said that he and Leyland were in the dugout talking baseball one day when one of Leyland's players--Monday wouldn't say who--came along and attempted, unsuccessfully, to contribute to the conversation. After the player wandered off, Leyland said to Monday, "The trouble with him is that he ain't smart enough to know that he ain't that smart."

More of the same

The Pittsburgh Pirates are *this* close to losing a fan. Honestly, articles like this one via OnlyBucs make me consider finding a new team to root for. This organization is just clueless from the bottom to the top.
The Dodgers are one of several NL West teams interested in LHP Mike Gonzalez, though the Pirates would have to be blown away by an offer before dealing their closer...
The Pirates likely have fallen from the pack of teams trying to pry 1B Ryan Shealy from Colorado. The Rockies are believed to be seeking a young relief pitcher for Shealy, but the Pirates are unwilling to pay that price, especially in the form of rookie RHP Matt Capps.

When will Littlefield realize that relief pitching is the most expendable part of a team? For him, it's the most precious. I mean, it's obvious we need to DO SOMETHING. The only way we're going to find talent is by trading talent, and it's always better to trade relief pitching talent than other talent. The fact is, relief pitching affects a game much, much less often than the starting lineup, the starting rotation, or the defense does. And relief pitchers are much more erratic than other components of a team-- they're failed starters. So far this year, it looks like we may have plenty of those. So why not trade our talented failed starters (read: Matt Capps and Mike Gonzales) to other teams for talented starting players, and replace them with failed starters inside our system (read: John Van Benschoten, Kip Wells, Oliver Perez), without losing a penny? This is a process that Littlefield shouldn't even think about. Billy Beane has proven that it's how small market teams get ahead. DL has yet to win more than 75 games with his strategy of building from relief. Give it up, you dumb son of a bitch.
The Pirates are thought to be interested in Dodgers SS Cesar Izturis, who could replace Jack Wilson if the current Pirates shortstop is shipped out of Pittsburgh at or before the trade deadline or during the offseason. Izturis was a favorite of manager Jim Tracy when Tracy managed in Los Angeles.

Let me start off by saying that Izturis is three years younger than Jack Wilson. And yes, dad, think of the vast number of times we can do our cheesy,
"Hey, is this guy from around here?"
"No, he Izturis."

dialogue! But his career OBP (.296!) is 8 points lower than Jack Wilson's (.304!). There's no defending that. This is an example of classic Jim Tracy idiocy. He's the most complexly stupid man I've ever studied, and his man-love for players he's managed before is all too familiar to fans of Tracy's teams. But, even with one of the highest payrolls in baseball, he only won one division title in one of the worst in baseball. So why should the Pirates sign players he has managed before? Perhaps if he had some kind of a track record of, let's say, 10 STRAIGHT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, then maybe it would make some shred of sense. But, no, he doesn't have that kind of track record. Once his contract is up with us, with a little luck on his side, he'll have a track record that will ensure him a bullpen coaching spot somewhere.

And all of this aside, if we deal Jack, why wouldn't we just START THE MAN WHO LEADS THE LEAGUE IN BATTING AVERAGE -- AND WHOSE NATURAL POSITION IS SHORTSTOP -- AT SHORTSTOP? *throws chair threw window*
Colorado also remains interested in RHPs Salomon Torres and Roberto Hernandez and LHP Damaso Marte, but any possible dealings with the Pirates have apparently been put on the backburner.

Juxtaposed with stories of the Yankees organization's absolute weariness with Littlfield, this is almost comical. When major league GMs see "Incoming call from David Littlefield" on their cell phones, they send it straight to voice-mail.

I'm thinking about taking my number out of the phonebook.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Attaboy Jeromy

Damn fine pinch hitter that Jeromy Burnitz. Let's detach him from Ramon Hernandez and Craig Wilson so we can actually get something for those guys and let Jeromy keep on pinch hitting.

Update: Not much of a base runner, though.

The Onion is incredible

Hysterical stuff. Be sure to note the obviously intentional use of "Pittsburgh fans were irate."

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Rockies are coming

And it looks like we may be catching them at exactly the right time.

Remember the Nationals last year? Many surprise first-half teams don't sustain their success over 162 games.

The opposite is also true. Sometimes a bad team performs horribly in the first half, then less horribly in the second half, enabling its management, with the help a skilled staff of PR spinmeisters, to claim that the improvement is the result not of a shift in capricious good fortune, but of design. Those who don't watch carefully--the vast majority of the customers of this enterprise--are inclined to believe the spin. This explains the tendency to believe that one- and two-month periods of apparent success (i.e., high batting average) by speedy, free-swinging center fielders during the waning days of a baseball season (A. Brown, T. Redman, C. Duffy) represent just cause for optimism in the subsequent season. It also explains the inevitable disappointment that results when reality confronts fantasy the following April, May, and June.

Because luck and random chance regularly affect the outcomes of individual games, excellence can be inferred only by looking at a number of outcomes that is sufficiently high to normalize the distribution of good and bad luck. 162 is a number that works pretty well in baseball. It's possible that a team that wins 80 games by winning 30 in the first half and 50 in the second half may be no more entitled to optimism than a team that wins 50 in the first half and 30 in the second half.

That this pattern is not widely understood offers a ripe opportunity for exploitation by Marketing. There is nothing particularly wrong with that. There is something wrong, though, when the management team itself regularly gets fooled by small sample sizes and makes decisions accordingly. Observation of the Pirates management during the McClatchy years indicates that that is exactly what has happened.

Friday, July 14, 2006

New look Buccos

If we're going to "shake up the lineup" for the drive toward mediocrity in the second half, how about doing the one thing that might actually help and that clearly needs to be done: move Jack Wilson down in the order?

Abandon all hope

The information reported by VoodooLounger in this thread at, from the Pittsburgh Business Times, effectively kills all hope that there will be an end to the misery any time soon. I wasn't able to find an online version of the story that is referenced, but will keep looking and post an update if I find one.

I don't see any possibility that McClatchy would say any of this to the PBT if he didn't believe it. The most puzzling thing McClatchy says in the article is "We have to finish our plan." Unless the plan is to systematically and utterly destroy the Pittsburgh Pirates, it's hard to comprehend what that plan might be.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ogden sighting at the ASG

Zeke and I were in our seats in Section 114, Row A last night, wearing our official Irate Fans t-shirts--more on that later--when I noticed a bent-spined little old man in the middle of the Hoi Polloi section in front of us who was being treated with a deference befitting royalty. I realized in a flash that it was the Great Man himself, the mysterious, reclusive Mr. Ogden Nutting. His son Bob was in the same section, both last night and during the Home Run Derby, and was in the stands for much of the night, but Ogden appeared in public only briefly during the National Anthem last night before disappearing into his lair beneath the stadium.

It was odd to be no more than 5-10 feet away from the man who has been the source of so much of my animus this season, and the subject of the polemics emblazoned on the backs of both me and my son ("Best Park, Worst Owner"). Had one of us chosen to do the Michael Moore Roger & Me thing with Mr. Nutting, we could easily have done so, and he would certainly have heard us before we were whisked out of the stadium by his goons. It was like wearing a t-shirt that said, "Somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot" and then coming face to face with George Bush. It was positively surreal.

As Nutting headed for the exit directly in front of us, Zeke--younger and more prone to action than I--appeared to be about to say something. I leaned over and gently reminded him that we really didn't want to get thrown out of the All-Star Game. And so we weren't.

Unlike what Charlie reported in this comments thread, we did not see many Irate Fans t-shirts in or around the stadium: we saw one guy outside the stadium with a real one, and one guy inside the stadium with a knockoff. But it was amazing how many people noticed the shirts and commented on them favorably, including a lot of people from out of town. We got in about five fairly lengthy conversations with strangers over the course of the evening about the sorry state of the Pirates, including one with a couple from Sacramento who knew the McClatchy family and agreed that young Kevin had made a mess of things in Pittsburgh. The husband, an apparently well-heeled gent, assured me, as if he were revealing privileged insider information, that McClatchy was not the real power in the ownership group. He also counseled resignation: the owners, he said, "aren't going to be selling anytime soon."

The reason I'm so despondent about the Pirates lately, and the reason I haven't been able to bring myself to write a post in a week or so, is that I'm convinced he is right. I sit in helpless, impotent anticipation of the inevitable signing of Sean Casey--sitting with three home runs at the All-Star break--to a three-year, $18M contract, announced with great fanfare at a press conference at which McClatchy, Littlefield, and Tracy enthusiastically catalogue the many intangible assets that Casey will bring to the 2007-2009 Pirates.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

All-Star week

Well, my father and sister went to the Home Run Derby last night, so I'll let BP weigh in on that himself, but from a television viewer's standpoint, the event was pretty sweet. Watching Ortiz and Howard tear the Allegheny up was certainly entertaining. I'm also glad Howard won... it kind of exposes the Pirates' desperate need for a lefthanded slugger that doesn't have a .277 on-base percentage.

BP and I are attending the ASG tonight in our OFFICIAL Irate Fans shirts. We'll boo Tracy, cheer Bay (and Sanchez if he gets an AB), and maybe start some "Cuban, Cuban, Cuban" chants. It's gonna be a blast, no doubt.

And then when the break's over we can go back to our masochistic habit of watching actual Pirates games.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Duke curses the fates

Zach Duke got dinked in the fourth yesterday. "When that happens, you can't get frustrated," Duke said.

This is going to happen to pitchers who rely on finesse and who don't throw hard enough to miss opponents' bats. There's a big difference between Duke and Maholm and the 2004 version of Ollie Perez.

The Pirates talk a lot about their great young pitching, but they don't have young pitchers like Liriano or Verlander who can just blow opposing hitters away. That's why Gorzelanny may be the most promising of the guys currently on the staff.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

No more Mr. Nice Guy

I like the new, angry, feisty, argumentative Sean Casey better than his predecessor. Let's see more of that!

David beats Goliath

From today's New York Post:
There was no shame, or reason for grave concern, when the Mets were swept by the red-hot Red Sox in Boston.

There was no shame, or reason for panic, when the Mets lost two of three to the Yankees in the Bronx.

But when the Pitiful Pittsburgh Pirates came into Shea and punished the Mets as they did last night, there is reason for embarrassment and consternation in Queens.
Ha! Loved those shots of the outraged Mets fan sitting behind the Pirates dugout on the broadcast last night, too.

Monday, July 03, 2006

PNC: the new Wrigley Field

In his previous post, Zeke wrote, The more this team loses, the closer we are to seeing change. It's a common assumption in the Pirate-fan blogosphere that if this team repeats its failure in the second half, the effect would precipitate major changes such as the firing of Littlefield or even, we dare to hope, the sale of the team to more enlightened owners. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that this assumption is incorrect.

After attending last Saturday night's sell-out and listening to the Littlefield show on KDKA the following day, I don't think that anyone in management at the Pirates perceives any serious problem that needs to be solved. With the exception maybe of McClatchy's recent interview, there is no detectable sense of urgency or consternation anywhere to be found except within that small segment of the fan base represented by blogs, message boards, and fan-protest movements.

Here's what I think the bad guys think:
  1. We're making a profit.
  2. We have a very young starting rotation. Teams that have young starting rotations often struggle but eventually improve.
  3. We have a lot of other young players--Paulino, Doumit, Castillo, Sanchez, Duffy, Eldred, Bautista, McLouth--who are going to get better, and when they do, we will too.
  4. Because of (1), the worst thing we can do is to panic. We need to stay the course and be patient.
  5. Our new manager is the perfect leader to implement a strategy of patience. (UPDATE: Tracy articulates his philosophy, such as it is, here. Via Bucs Dugout.)
  6. We have a great PR/marketing staff that is adept at accentuating the positive.
  7. While the signings of Burnitz, Randa, and Casey may not have worked out, they did show the fans that we are willing to spend money and are not simply shameless profiteers.
  8. Our success and profitability don't depend on wins and losses. We have the best stadium in baseball, and the fans love coming to it. We are selling something larger and more sustainable than just the fortunes of one baseball team; we are selling The Baseball Experience in Pittsburgh's Field of Dreams.
  9. This strategy is working, and there is no need to change it, because
  10. We're making a profit.
The Cubs have been failing forever. They're Chicago's lovable losers. The fans still love to go to Wrigley, and they love their Cubbies. As a business plan, owning a team of lovable losers that plays in a beautiful facility is every bit as viable as a plan that is built around on-field success. Maybe more so, because it is more predictable.

Should the fates ever allow the Pirates to blunder their way into a post-season, all who read this are reminded not to be too quick to lunge for souvenirs and not to interfere with foul balls while they are still in play. Chances in the post-season for lovable losers are extremely rare.

The accolades continue

Congratulations to Jeromy Burnitz for being named to the "Baseball's Worst of the Worst" team (via
OF: Jeromy Burnitz, Pirates (.226/.274/.426)

In his first full major league season last year, Freddy Sanchez hit a promising .291. Craig Wilson missed most of the 2005 season but hit as well as ever when he played, posting a .387 OBP. Coming off a 95-loss season, the Pirates needed to give their young, cheap, talented players a clean shot. Instead, they spent $10 million on Joe Randa and Burnitz. Randa has been both injured and terrible; Burnitz has simply been terrible. It's not as if the Bucs couldn't see that coming -- Burnitz was a below-average player last year, and he's now one year closer to 40. Meanwhile, Sanchez is tearing up the league in place of Randa and Wilson is crushing the ball on the rare occasions when the Pirates let him play. Just another example of a team that equates signing bottom-of-the-barrel free agents to showing a commitment to the fans.
Well stated.

The path of the righteous man...

Hey guys.

I realize I haven't posted in over a month, so I thought I'd check in with a few thoughts on recent events.

Obviously, this team is in the shitter. But in some ways, I'm not complaining. The more this team loses, the closer we are to seeing change.

However, I couldn't be happier for Bay and Sanchez. Despite Bay's suspicious rise to the top of the OF charts, he really did deserve to start. He's been one of the best offensive players in the game since last year, and no one has really given him due credit.

And Sanchez has to just feel so good right now. For one, he's on the All-Star team. But more importantly, he showed everyone in this organization who doubted him that he can play at an All-Star level. As Jules from Pulp Fiction loves to recite, "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men" (Ezekiel 25:17). For Sanchez to reach his current level of stardom and success, he had to withstand the doubt of coaches like McClendon and Tracy. These are the "evil men." But now Sanchez "shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness", delivering key hit after key hit, or hell, we might as well say hit after hit (the man can hit, I don't care what they say about him). He's keeping us in games against incredible opponents, though the bullpen and select lineup-mates aren't making it easy for him.

Anyway, congratulations to both guys. You are "truly your brother's keeper and the finder of lost children".

I've been taking classes at CMU this summer and unless I get in the shower I'm gonna be late for my first one of the day. So, Buccos keep losing. Sanchez and Bay keep fighting the good fight. Castillo, grow the f*** up.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Man bites dog

Reacting to Freddy Sanchez being named to the All-Star team, Jim Tracy admits fallability:
"Shame on me for saying Freddy Sanchez is a utility player for what this guy has done," said Jim Tracy. "Freddy Sanchez is a winner."
Welcome to the human race, Jim. And congratulations to Freddy!

The legacy of Rusty Staub

Chris Shelton, Brandon Inge, and Jeremy Bonderman look like they could be Rusty Staub's three sons.

Notes from last night's 9-2 win

We were surprised by the sellout crowd. The first tipoff was that almost all the spaces were taken by 6:15 in the lot on Stanwix across from Max & Erma's. The next was the large number of Tigers fans on Ft. Duquesne Blvd. and the Clemente Bridge on the way into the stadium.

Our usher told us that there was an unusually large walk-up crowd last night. We know that the fans aren't motivated by the competitiveness of the team. Could it really have been the bobbleheads that were given away last night, a triumverate of Duke, Doumit, and Duffy? Really, who would want that thing? One of the problems with the need to get these giveaway items made in advance in China or wherever is that doing so doesn't allow for late-stage contingencies, such as when one of member of the triumverate rips his hamstring or another fails to perform and disqualifies himself from competition for a month (the bobbling head taking on an unintended irony in this case).

Speaking of Tigers fans and bobbleheads, we were with my stepson and his friend from New York, and as we were filing in, I told them to hang on to their bobbleheads even if they didn't want them because they could be sold on eBay. A Tigers fan standing near us overheard us and said, "You mean Pirates stuff is actually worth money?" Had I not been with my family, I might have gotten chesty with him, but I managed to control myself. My irritation was built on a similar experience I had at Thursday's game, when a White Sox fan in the seat directly behind mine spent the entire game loudly cheering on his White Sox heros and insulting the Pirates ("Hey Castillo, you stink!"), not seeing any reason to behave any differently than if he were sitting at U.S. Cellular Field.

Would a Browns fan ever dare to act like this at Heinz Field? No--because their team is competitive, Steelers fans have something that most Pirates fans don't have: passion. It was more of the same during the early innings of last night's terrific ballgame--Tigers fans starting "Let's Go Tigers" chants and strutting through the stadium with an aura befitting the fans of a first-place team playing the worst team in baseball.

The Pirates in general were lucky in the early innings, with lots of their hits coming on bleeders through the infield. Gorzelanny was okay. The rader hit 97 a few times in the early innings, and he escaped serious trouble by striking out the side in the second. His control was a little off, probably due to jitters, but he put in a credible five innings.

Bay and Jack Wilson are both in horrendous slumps. The worst moment in the game was when Leyland chose to walk Casey in the fifth and load the bases for Bay, who promptly struck out. Bay will be all right; like many great run producers, he is streaky, and his streakiness is magnified by the scarcity of other run producers in the lineup who might mitigate the effect of his bad streaks on wins and losses. Wilson, on the other hand, is reverting to what he always has been, a poor offensive player who doesn't get on base. On a team whose first baseman has three home runs and whose third baseman has five, a defensive specialist at shortstop or center field who contributes little to the offense is an unaffordable luxury, and batting him second in the lineup is madness. It was also madness to extend his contract unnecessarily before making a sober assessment of just what sort of an offensive player he is likely to be for the next three years.

The at-bat of the game, and for me, maybe the most entertaining at-bat of the season, was the battle between Marcus Thames and Matt Capps in the top of the seventh. Despite the final score, this was a taught nail-biter until our breakthrough--or rather, the Tigers breakdown--in the bottom of the seventh. But everything hinged on Thames vs. Capps. The Tigers had men on second and third with two out after another lucky break for the Pirates when Carlos Guillen's double went into the seats, preventing I-Rod from scoring from first (maybe things are starting to turn). After going 2-2 on Thames, Capps threw strike after strike as Thames kept fouling them off, 11 pitches in all, never allowing himself to lose the advantage by going 3-2, and finally retiring him on a long fly to center.

Whatever else has happened this year, we've found two players: Freddy Sanchez and Matt Capps.

When the Tigers coughed the game up in the seventh, I was able to successfully start a "Let's go Tigers" chant in our section immediately following the third error, and the appearance of the stands in the eighth--much more like what you normally see when you scan the stadium--was evidence of just how many Tigers fans had contributed to this sellout, and just how many had left with their tiger tails firmly tucked between their legs.

The Pirates fans who were there, on the other hand, had a ball. It really is a great stadium and yes, it's fun to be there even when the team plays poorly. This may be the reason that the fan base continues to support the team and to be remarkably forgiving despite the egregious mismanagement of recent years.

Pirates fans deserve better than what these owners are giving them. Maybe in my lifetime, they will be rewarded with a decent ballclub on the field, and maybe then, fans of opposing teams will think twice before openly disrespecting them.