Pittsburgh – Leave it to the Pirates owner Bob Nutting to take a horrible Pittsburgh sports weekend and made it 10 times worse. Who says that sorry, sad-sack franchise can’t be counted on for anything?
You know the worst part of the Steelers season crashing and burning, right? It isn’t that there won’t be a seventh Super Bowl this year. It’s not that Mike Mitchell and Le’Veon Bell are a national joke after doing nothing to back up their foolish talk before the game Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s not even that there’s a really good chance we’ll have to watch Brady, Belichick and the New England Patriots match the Steelers with a sixth Super Bowl win in a couple of weeks.
It’s that we have to start paying attention to the Pirates.
The pain and suffering are almost unbearable.
I feel sorry for Pirates fans, who, if the television ratings and attendance drops are any indication, are diminishing by the minute. You are following the worst franchise in baseball, maybe in all of sports. Steelers fans have a team that tries to win every year even if it often comes up short of its ultimate goal. Penguins fans have the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. But you poor Pirates fans? What do you have? Next year? The year after? The year after that?
But I really feel sorry for the young players the Pirates got back in the Andrew McCutchen salary dump Monday to the San Francisco Giants and the Gerrit Cole salary dump Saturday to the Houston Astros. They’re eager to get a fresh start with a new big-league organization, but they’ll quickly find out the two things that we know to be absolutely true: One, the Pirates aren’t really a big-league organization, and two, Nutting is a four-letter word around here.
I also feel sorry for the veteran Pirates left behind. It has to be tough for Josh Harrison — a good player and a terrific person — to see his pals go with him stuck in purgatory. His time is coming, though. He’s due to make $10 million this season. Of course, he’ll be traded soon, almost certainly for second-line prospects. The same is true for Josh Bell and Felipe Rivero. They need to hang in there. They will be moved to a better place as soon as they start to make real money.
That’s why I’m so happy for Cole and especially McCutchen. They got out. No one deserves to be with a team that actually tries to win more than McCutchen. We were lucky to have him for as long as we did. He was a wonderful player here, leading a brief, three-year Pirates resurgence that I thought was impossible under Bob Nutting’s ownership. The team had a chance to build something special after its 98-win season in 2015, but that would have involved adding payroll, something Nutting will never do. Instead of bringing in a quality pitcher, the Pirates went with a rotation of Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, Juan Nicasio, Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong. Instead of bringing in a quality bat, they traded Pittsburgh Kid Neil Walker to the New York Mets for the forgettable Niese in yet another salary dump. They lost 83 games in 2016 and 87 in 2017. They will lose a lot more this season.
McCutchen deserved better. He didn’t just win baseball’s ultimate on-field prize — the 2013 National League MVP award. He also won its top off-field honor — the 2015 Roberto Clemente Award for humanitarian service. He always represented his family, his team and Pittsburgh well, with class and integrity. It is the rare, extraordinary athlete who will be missed as much for what he did in his community as for what he did for his team. Marc-Andre Fleury is the only other former Pittsburgh athlete who immediately comes to mind.
Nutting has been lucky. A baseball game remains a nice, relatively inexpensive night out, especially at PNC Park, which could be one of the happiest places in the sport if it weren’t wasted by cheap ownership. But Nutting’s luck might be about to run out. It’s easy to imagine the attendance numbers taking another big hit this season after falling from 2,498,000 in 2015 to 2,249,000 in 2016 to 1,919,000 in 2017. Why would any clear-thinking sports fan continue to support the Pirates organization?
I know what you diehards are saying or at least what Nutting and his minions want you to say: Give the young players coming in a chance. Maybe they’ll turn out to be great. Maybe they’ll be better than McCutchen and Cole.
I believe in that the way I believe in next year.
With the Pirates, next year never comes.
By Ron Cook