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.


Blogger Rory said...

It seems doubley erroneous that a team so concerned with marketing and appeasing fans would try so hard to destroy someone so popular and try to paint nasty pictures of him.

I'll miss Craig too.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Billy said...

I'd agree with you, Rory, if I were sure that Craig was as popular with the average fan as he is with the kind of dedicated fan who reads blogs and contributes to sites like onlybucs.

I don't have the sense that Craig was all that popular with the average fan, but in an alternate Pirates universe, he could have been--nice guy, good sense of humor, hard worker, team player, home run hitter--what was there not to like?

Something, evidently.

9:29 PM  
Anonymous bucdaddy said...

He's on a better TEAM now, certainly, but the Bronx a better place than Pittsburgh? I think not.

12:34 AM  
Blogger Rory said...

You mean the average fan that shows up to games and only knows that homeruns are good, and laughs at the batter introductions, and drink tons of Pepsi while sitting underneath gigantic Pepsi lights in right field, and trys to get autographs while most peoples ego just plumps them back in the clubhouse away from the fans...

I don't know for a fact, since I don't know a lot of people who don't know a lot about the Pirates, but the only reason anyone would have to not like this guy would be because Pirates management is saying, "Hey don't like this guy." And if after nearly fourteen years we still have people listening and believing Pirates management, then we've got plenty of problems.

And all the talk like Craig Wilson is now dead is insanely depressing.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Billy said...

Fredo, you're nothing to me now. You're not a brother, you're not a friend. I don't want to know you or what you do. I don't want to see you at the hotels, I don't want you near my house. When you see our mother, I want to know a day in advance, so I won't be there. You understand?

I know lots of people who don't work for the Pirates who think Craig Wilson is a mediocre or bad ballplayer, and I think that the reason they don't think much of him is the manner in which he makes outs. Fans who aren't like us--98% of the people who walk through the turnstiles at PNC Park--don't spend time poring over statistics like OBP an OPS. When a guy strikes out in a key situation by taking a called third strike or by swinging at an outside sinker in the dirt, something in the mind says, "That guy stinks," and that something persists.

When you analyze it, though, you realize that the way someone makes outs doesn't matter so much, and Craig makes fewer of them, gets on base more frequently, and consistently hits with more power than all of the bums that have been brought in to replace him during the past five years.

Also working against Craig's reputation are the calm and almost passive manner in which he goes about his business, and the fact that he doesn't look like a good fielder even though he has worked hard to make himself at least adequate at both first base and right field.

The casual fan can be forgiven for not appreciating Wilson's subtle virtues. But when the team's management shows no more sophistication or understanding of what it takes to win baseball games than the casual fan, you get the kind of resullts on the field that we have had for the past 14 years.

9:19 PM  
Blogger roger odisio said...

Beautiful post, Billy, that last one. One of your best.

One other thing about CW. To this day people who should know better are still repeating the disinformation the Pirates put out on Craig, for their own reasons that we can only guess at: that he's "merely an extra piece, a part-timer". Ignoring what he did the only year they let him play full time, in '04: .853 OPs, .839 against RHers. That season, if memory serves, he faced a lot of RHers, disproportinoately so, something close to 480 of his 611 PAs.

Now, I see, the Yankees have been playing full time at 1B, the last two games against RHers. If they're really smart they'll catch him too, backing up Posada, to get his bat in their some more.

12:41 AM  
Blogger az said...

I think you might be right Billy. I was busting friend of mine who's a big Yankee fan for not thanking me for Craig Wilson. The first thing he said was, "is he any good, I know he strikes out a lot."

Some of the problem (if it was ever a problem) is that the people that like Wilson's abilities were vocal about it. And his playing time never matched what we felt his production warranted. So the casual fan hears us talking about Craig, and a rubberband-type of reaction happens. They don't see superstar numbers, but they hear us talking (a lot) and they think we're overrating Wilson.

They say, "what's so great about Craig Wilson?" It's all or nothing with the casual fan. He's either great or a bum.

You've probably seen the phenomenom before. I saw it in Buffalo with Doug Flutie. I'm not a Bills fan, so I was comfortable saying, "Flutie's good, and should play. He has limitations, but he's better than Rob Johnson and a lot of other stiffs playing QB in the NFL." But Flutie was galvanizing. In the eyes of most fans, you loved or hated him. Anyone that preferred Flutie over Johnson was a "Flutie Fanatic."

To the casual fan, there are no "good" or "useful" players (generally). They're great, or terrible.

10:36 AM  

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