Thursday, August 31, 2006

Separated at birth

Jolly Roger, the new Pirates mascot:

And the Burger King King:

Attention Mets clubhouse staff

Secure all laundry carts.

Ollie: seven runs in four innings and a strikeout at the plate with runners on second and third.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Minimalist baseball

I had meetings all afternoon at work today, so I had to give my tickets to a friend. I try to monitor the afternoon games when I can, which I mostly did on my phone today. Bucs bats looking good early, coming back from an unsurprisingly poor outing by Santos. Then watched as the Cubs started chipping away, chipping away, chipping away...

Walked from my office to the CMU campus--about a 25-minute walk--for another meeting at 4:00, following the 7-7 tie on the phone as the game went into extra innings. Put the phone in my pocket during the meeting, keeping it open, figuring I would catch the final score when the meeting was over.

Meeting over...damn, 11th inning, and the Cubs have gone ahead. Walked down to the bus stand on Forbes to wait for a 67. Hmm, looks like we have a little something going on. Cota up again, with a chance to redeem his reputation as Mr. Clutch. Funny how we don't talk about that much anymore. Hey, now it's 9-8.

Bautista. Another key late-game walk. Freddy up with the bases loaded! 1 for 5 today. Even if he gets a hit and goes 2 for 6, his average still drops a little. Come on, Freddy!

Shit, 0 and 2. Come on, damnit, reload. Reload, damnit. Come on, reload. Agh, we probably lost. I know we lost.

At last, the display changes:


Let's pause from other weightier topics for a moment to appreciate the engaging goofiness of last night's game, ably described here by Charlie at Bucs Dugout.

My favorite moment was the reaction by Zambrano after he personally blew his second opportunity to get an inning-ending double play. The always-expressive Zambrano exhibited a perfect amalgam of levity at the absurdity of it all and purple rage, which ended in an outburst of what appeared to be Spanish obscenities. I was wishing I understood Spanish and could read lips.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Escape from the ethical dilemma?

If they fire Littlefield, I could probably renew my tickets in good conscience without exposing my spinelessness to my son.

Perrotto, who floated the first rumor, is not relenting, despite many categorical refutations from Kovacevic (like this one). I consider Kovacevic to be more reliable than Perrotto (great guy, but a bit of a rumor monger). But hope springs eternal in the heart of a baseball fan.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Pirates management's exploitation of the poor downtrodden Pirates fan is shameful, immoral. The evil capitalist owners enrich themselves on the disposable incomes of the fans.

Yet the poor slobs are too dimwitted to know that they are being exploited. Instead, they wander around PNC Park trancelike, hypnotized by its seductive beauty. They cheer, if at all, for their favorite pierogies, while the team on the field bungles its way toward another loss. They patiently wait in line, missing three innings of the "game," for the privilege of eating overpriced soft ice cream or Dippin' Dots ("The Ice Cream of the Future"). The owners give them false hope, bobbleheads, and fireworks, and they think they are happy. Their docile acceptance of their lot is nearly as contemptible as the cynicism of their masters.

To summarize the argument:
  1. Those in power are evil and exploitative.
  2. Those whom they exploit are stupid, gullible, and brutish.
  3. If I, or some other wise blogger like me, could seize the means of production in the society of baseball and allocate them in a wiser and more equitable manner, the great unwashed would be better off (even though they don't know it).
This kind of elitism poisons the soul of the man who expresses it and accomplishes nothing; if this is what I really believe about baseball in Pittsburgh, it would be better for my mental health and that of those around me if I were to find another way to spend my disposable time, which is what I have mostly been doing during the past two weeks.

We used to say, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." There is a small, largely symbolic action that is available to deeply disgruntled Pirates fans like me. My son, the estimable ezekiel2517, has been urging me to show some integrity, to live my principles by giving up my season tickets next year. I have 1/6 of a plan, and I tell myself that I hold on for the day when Littlefield, McClatchy, and Nutting are gone. The seats are great, and I'd hate to lose them.

But any compromise that includes sending a check to the current incarnation of the Pittsburgh Pirates, says my son, feeds the ravenous beast and perpetuates the outrage. Spewing the kind of venom that I've been spewing online all year and then mailing that check a few months later represents exactly the kind of hypocrisy that I despised and railed against when I was 17 years old. Unlike impotent rage, and unlike wearing a fan-protest t-shirt while munching on an overpriced sandwich in the $25 seats, refraining from writing the check is a tangible action that has some tangible result.

Is he wrong?

The forbearance of the Pirates fan

My keyboard player and I did an unplugged gig at Atria's next to the stadium after Saturday night's game, and after we were finished, I engaged in a friendly but heated discussion with a Pirates fan who disagreed with my propensity for going on the radio and berating Pirates management. To this guy, it seemed patently obvious that the Pirates are now doing things right, that they have finally distanced themselves from the mistakes of the past, and that with the young players now on the field, they are poised to contend in 2007.

I find this point of view startling. It seems that, by now, I should hardly have to verbalize a statement such as "We have the worst general manager in baseball," much less justify it with examples. That we have the worst general manager in baseball should be obvious to anyone paying the least bit of attention. 14 losing seasons. Craig Wilson for Shawn Chacon. Ed Creech. Brian Bullington and B.J. Upton. Tell me when to stop...

I have a sick sense, though, that what is obvious to me and, I suspect, to most everyone who reads this blog, is far from obvious to a lot more people than I would ever imagine. Littlefield bloviates on his show every Sunday, Tracy struts and gushes, Lanny prattles on about Chester A. Arthur and Rutherford B. Hayes to avoid describing the disaster that unfolds in front of him, and many of the consumers of all this hot air are intoxicated by it.

I don't claim any superior intelligence here. At best, what I have is a higher level of interest and engagement with the game of baseball than the average person, which may have as much to do with pathology as it does with intelligence, and the interest and engagement, I daresay, result in my paying closer attention and therefore being better informed than the average fan.

I had a similar experience at a preseason event at Atria's in March, in which KDKA ran a marathon pre-season talkfest in which I was asked to participate. The room was abuzz with optimism resulting, as near as I could tell, from the acquisitions of Burnitz, Randa, and Casey, and the consensus was overwhelmingly in favor of the notion that the Pirates were about to end their long run of futility. When I got up to the microphone, like Tobermory in the short story by Saki, I silenced the room when I said, "If the Pirates play .500 ball this year, I'll walk from here to Philadelphia."

If the Pirates continue their post-All-Star-break run of mediocrity (when compared to abject ineptitude, mediocrity impersonates success), look for the post-season optimism to arise again, defying all sense and reason.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A bracing splash of cold water

From Dejan's Monday chat:
14-years___counting: Are you hearing anything about Jim Tracy's future with the team? Is it safe to say that if Littlefield is fired, Tracy will probably go as well?

Dejan Kovacevic: Safe and sound. Tracy is not going anywhere. And neither is Littlefield, from all I have gathered.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Top of the eighth, Bucs up 6-0, men on second and third, Capps vs. Miles. A hit puts the Cardinals back in the game. Miles fouls off a bunch of pitches, then Capps strikes him out with a fastball outside the plate. "Yeah!" I yell, clapping my hands and irritating my wife who is blogging next to me.

Camera pans to Tracy, watching from the bench as Miles strikes out. Nothing. He sits there chewing his cud. Cerebral guy, that Tracy.

Today's radio gem, from Steve Blass

Re. Mark Prior and Kerry Woods: "It's a double albatross around the neck of the Chicago Cubs."

Greg and Steve also treated listeners to a lengthy discussion about Mike Douglas's hit record, A Song for My Daughter on Her Wedding Day. The KDKA research staff even succeeded in locating a sound clip and playing it on the radio.

The Pittsburgh Pirates: Product on the field notwithstanding, We Will Entertain.

UPDATE: Product on the field isn't too bad the past few days, though. Why can't this team ever play like this on the road?

This is good news

From the Beaver-County Times via a post by Wilbur Miller at
1 A source close to the Nutting family indicates that Pirates ownership is losing patience with General Manager Dave Littlefield and may fire him at the end of the season, even though they extended his contract one year through the 2008 season on opening day. If Littlefield is let go, his waterloo will have been acquiring $18.5-million worth of declining veterans in Sean Casey, Joe Randa and Jeromy Burnitz last winter and getting little production

2 The Pirates' payroll in 2007 almost certainly will be less than this year's opening-day figure of $47 million. Part of that has to do with the fact that the Pirates figure to have a younger team and part stems from ownership realizing the only thing raising the payroll got them this year was a 14th consecutive losing season.
1. This makes sense and seems credible. If it were my money, I'd be unhappy too.

2. I'd be fine with a lower payroll next year. Let the pitchers build on a year of difficult experience and keep playing the young guys until they clearly establish themselves as either players or pretenders. And hire a general manager who can tell the difference.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

This deserves syndication

This post, from a comments thread at Honest Wagner, deserves whatever additional attention I can give it here:
You know what? All sarcasm and wailing aside, whatever happens in the rest of his career, I hope we always remember Freddy Sanchez' performance this season. 12-0 and he's working Roy Oswalt, and he gets a double out of it. How long do you think Aramis Ramirez would have worked that count?

We have turned Craig Wilson into an icon here. His greatness in our minds has far outgrown his actual performance. Part of that is because his performance is compared to other Pirates, part of that is because he's a goofy, likeable guy, part of that is because he was marginalized by the Littlefied regime. None of this is to say that he shouldn't have gotten loads of at bats, and that Burnitz and Casey should not have blocked his path; just to say that, like Obi-wan Kenobi, having been struck down by Darth Littlefield, Craiggers has become more powerful than DL could have imagined.

The legend of Craig Wilson represents the darkest part of the Dave Littlefield Era. Craig is an unhappy ending for everything awful that this regime is.

So is Freddy Sanchez. Sure, he can flat hit -- but he doesn't have any POWER! How can he be a third baseman? Better to bid against ourselves for Joe Randa. Yeah, well. Freddy Sanchez, too, is a symbol of this regime's malfeasance -- but a happy ending, and maybe even a sign that hope is a good thing, and like all good things, hope never dies.

All hail Freddy.
KPatrick | 08.09.06 - 10:11 pm | #

Tracy and McClendon

I think I like Tracy better than McClendon as a game manager, and I like his decisions about who plays and who sits better too. He bunts less frequently, calls fewer pointless hit and runs, and issues fewer intentional walks (I think)--all of which are positive qualities in a manager, whose team is better off when he does as little as possible to intervene in the natural flow of the game (because most in-game managerial moves are counter-productive).

But--and I can't believe I'm about to write this--McClendon was a better manager. And the reason he was better is because of qualities that are intangible. This is an odd assertion for me to be making, because when it comes to performance on the field, I tend to dismiss the notion of intangibles--if you can't measure it or quantify it, I usually don't want to hear about it.

Managers are different, though, because it is the job of managers to be leaders. The in-game moves they make have little to no effect on the outcomes of games--all managers are basically the same--so the ethereal qualities of leadership are all they have to offer that could be of any value. Confucius said that the people in a kingdom naturally assume and mimic the spiritual qualities of the ruler. With baseball managers, or any other kinds of leaders, people have a natural tendency to look to the person at the top as a model of how to behave and then to behave in a similar way. They don't do this consciously; it just happens.

McClendon didn't have much understanding about how teams actually win baseball games and what skills contribute to wins, and as a result, he frequently made foolish decisions. But what I realize now and didn't realize then is that the consequences of those decisions were less destructive than I thought they were. The more important point is that he was a good leader of men. He had a quality that is important in a baseball manager: passion. And his teams had it too. Other managers who have it or had it are Jim Leyland, Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, and Earl Weaver. Gene Lamont didn't. Neither did Danny Murtaugh; but Murtaugh had the benefit of having an extraordinary collection of great players.

The decision by Tracy not to argue bad calls like the non-homerun last night is important not because arguing would have changed the outcome of the game, but because of what it represents--a passive acceptance of losing that now permeates the Pirates organization from the owners to the general manager to the manager and down to the players. McClendon was one guy who swam against the tide. Now everyone swims in one direction: downward.

McClatchy apologists often make statements such as, "Oh, Kevin hates to lose, believe me." Well, I don't believe them, because I have never once heard him evince passion about anything. Littlefield either--he lies, spins, and obfuscates, but he never loses his temper or expresses genuine, recognizable emotion about anything. Littlefield inherited McClendon, but he now has his man in place. The results speak for themselves. The McClendon teams were bad, but they were never this hopeless, this spineless, this pathetic.

Jeffrey Loria is hardly a guy I would hold up as a positive example of anything, but I invite you to look at the recent friction between Loria and manager Joe Girardi and realize that this passion erupted on a team that had, in effect, given up on this season by trading away most of its established players and making the decision to field a team of guys most of whom had no business being in the major leagues. Such a team could be excused for not caring much about winning games--this was declared to be a year dedicated to experience and growth, not to winning. And yet, this team is engaged in a real baseball season while the Pirates barely go through the motions.

Truth in advertising

Yes, it's true.

Chacon stinks.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Artificially sweetened cotton candy

from our general manager, Dave Littlefield, at the Baseball Digest audioblog, in which he provide "rationale" for most of the bizarre, indefensible moves he has made since the end of last season.

Littlefield is an awful general manager, but he is one of the most skilled interview subjects I have ever heard--he is an absolute master of evasion with an uncanny skill at crafting reasonable-sounding explanations for indefensible actions. It is this skill above all others that has enabled him to keep his job for as long as he has.

But let's remember...he is an awful general manager, and every year that the team continues to lose is going to make his act harder and harder to sustain. He will be gone one day.

News flash: Confidence Grows in Clubhouse

I'm glad to read that confidence is growing in the clubhouse, because it sure as hell isn't growing anywhere else. The source of this growing confidence is the increased ability of the young, inexperienced Pirates finally to understand the subtle, advanced baseball concepts that their new manager, Jim Tracy, has been working all year to convey.
"Today is an interesting day because we've been here a number of times this year, where the series is 1-1 and here you go with the rubber game," Tracy said. "There has to be an understanding that these games here, in series like this, this makes the difference in your season right here."
Of course young and inexperienced players will naturally have a hard time grasping the concept that, when you win one game in a series and lose another, it's important to try to win the third. But Tracy perseveres.

Failure to grasp his advanced teachings is a common theme of Tracy's when he is interviewed.
"There was newness all over the place, and then the season begins and they find themselves involved in a game where they have a chance to win virtually every day, and they just weren't quite prepared from an understanding standpoint, to carry that completely through," Tracy said.
To the untrained eye, the problem appears to be more one of talent and skill than of understanding; but those of us who have never played the game should know enough not to trust the evidence of our senses.

As we know, the biggest problem this year has been the performance of our young starting pitchers, particularly Snell, Maholm, and Duke. It's not easy for young pitchers to understand that their job is to pitch well and to prevent the opposition from scoring runs whenever they take the mound, even in September. Fortunately, Dave Littlefield has hired a wise and patient man to instill this understanding into their young, impressionable minds.
"I'd like to see all three of them get that done, so that they know what that feels like," Tracy said. "So that they understand that, 'Hey, I've got to take a start here in the mid- to later-part of September and keep going and keep pushing,' because you're very hopeful that September of 2007 is going to be a very special month for the Pirates."
I can barely wait for the arrival of September 1! What a special month that is going to be!


I think it would be a good idea for someone to work with Chris Duffy and try to improve his approach at the plate--take more pitches, try to get more walks, hit the ball on the ground to take advantage of that speed--that kind of thing.

Oh wait...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Epitaph for the dearly departed

First, go right over to Bucs Dugout and read Charlie's finely detailed summary of the Pirates career of Craig Wilson. Charlie's tribute chronicles the Pirates' systematic mishandling and failure to appreciate and utilize Wilson's skills from the day he came to the Pirates organization from Toronto in 1996.

It seems that nearly every truly awful decision that the Pirates have made during the past 5+ years has somehow intersected with the mishandling of Wilson:
  • playing Kevin Young at first base long after his skills had obviously atrophied;
  • the first acquisition of Randall Simon (bad enough);
  • the second acquisition of Randall Simon, which was as baffling as, say, trading Craig Wilson for Shawn Chacon (the day that Simon was reacquired was the day that I lost all faith in Dave Littlefield);
  • Mondesi; and
  • the winter just past, in which the only purpose to acquiring Casey and Burnitz seemed to be to ensure that Wilson would have no place to play
The way the Pirates handled Wilson also neatly encapsulates many of the erroneous beliefs that lie at the root of the team's consistent inability to judge both its own talent and the talent of other organizations:
  • overvaluation of speed and defense
  • undervaluation of offense (specifically power)
  • belief in the influence of defense behind the plate on pitching success (which is statistically unverifiable)
  • preference for "aggressive hitters" who "go up there hacking" instead of hitters who show patience and selectivity at the plate
  • underappreciation of the contribution that the ability to get on base makes to scoring runs and winning ballgames
  • preference for "productive outs" over strikeouts
  • belief that a hitter who frequently strikes out, especially by taking called third strikes, is somehow morally inferior to a hitter who swings at a pitch outside the strike zone and bounces to the second baseman
Craig Wilson was my favorite Pirate for many years, and at the ballpark last night, I realized how much I'm going to miss him. As people say at funerals when they can't think of anything else to say, he's in a better place now.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Prodigal son

Duffy is back and, the bizarre report from Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus notwithstanding, everyone is making nice now.

Batting Duffy leadoff is still a bad idea, especially when Wilson stops hitting, which should happen soon (it pains me that I can now write "Wilson" without a first name, but that's another topic). However, I'm prepared to accept the argument that defensive improvement could help pitchers like Duke and Maholm who rely more on the defense than pitchers who strike a lot of guys out. Bay-Duffy-Bautista will make more plays in the outfield than Bay-Bautista-Burnitz. There is no available solution, though, to the decreasing range around second base from Wilson and Castillo, which affects pitching success at least as much as outfield defense does.

Pirates bloggers on Oliver Perez

Here are some thoughts from me, Pat/Van Slyke, and Charlie/Bucs Dugout on Oliver Perez over at Mets Daily.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Rosenthal: Pirates = trade deadline losers

Ken Rosenthal:
So much for the talk that Pirates GM Dave Littlefield was too unrealistic in his asking prices to complete a deal. Littlefield made four trades on Monday. Two of them, unfortunately, were horrible.

None of Littlefield's veterans was anything more than a complementary part, but there's simply no way to defend trading outfielder Craig Wilson to the Yankees for right-hander Shawn Chacon.

Littlefield almost certainly could have gotten more for Wilson, a potential free agent, last off-season. Obtaining a mid-level prospect from another club would have made more sense.

Outfielder Xavier Nady, acquired from the Mets for pitchers Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez, is Wilson with less service time. As one rival executive notes, the Pirates could have obtained three or four prospects for those pitchers.

One more quibble: Littlefield failed to deal from strength with his surplus of left-handed relievers, any of whom might have brought a decent prospect in return.
Not only is Littlefield incompetent; he also is stubborn to a fault, never learns from his mistakes, and never changes what has proven to be a failed approach. And so the failure will continue until the day that he is no longer in the job.

Oh, by the way, there's also this little bomb in the Post-Gazette:
One potentially ominous footnote: He is playing through a cracked bone in his right wrist.
Jody Gerut. Armando Rios. Welcome to the club, Mr. Nady.