Before the ball drops and “Auld Lang Syne” is blared over the speakers it is only right to reflect on what this past year has held. Not to mention just this year, but a whole decade of memories that have played out right before us. These ten years have been special and and happy. The same can not be said for this last decades Pittsburgh Pirates team. Lets just say the 60’s and 70’s will forever remained untouched in terms of Pirate supremacy. These past ten years have been below dismal and hard to bear, but if there was to be a Most Valuable Player throughout the decade, I give it to the fans of Pittsburgh. Yes we remain near dead last in terms of overall attendance year in and year out, but can you blame ’em? With two championship sports team playing in the same city the Pirates have steadily declined in popularity, however the loyal fans remain. Whether they’re enjoying a $4 bleacher seat on a Sunday afternoon, listening to Bob Walk and Greg Brown on the radio while riding in the car, or raising the jolly roger in their own front yard after a Pirates win, the fans are here, anticipating the next 60’s and 70’s-esque decade. Until then I implore you to reflect on what was the 2000’s in Pittsburgh baseball lore. These fine players made us proud and actually gave us something to cheer about.
STARTING PITCHER: Zach Duke
As the lone representative from the current Pirate squad, Zach Duke stumbles into the Ace role of the 2000’s. The hype surrounding Duke back around 2003 was unparalled with nearly every publication ranking him as the Pirates best pitching prospect in quite sometime. He arrived in 2005 and was everything the doctor ordered. Duke went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA. It looked like his reign was just beginning. However, since then Duke has not had a winning season and has been a mediocre pitcher compared to most in the league. Last year he went 11-16 with an ERA just over 4. Sad to say but it really was his best year since his rookie campaign. He has shown signs of improvements with his fastball and can really be a reliable starter. At just 26, he is still a major part of the Pirates future. There was talks of shopping him around this winter but expect to see him back
Honorable Menions: 1) Kip Wells, 2) Oliver Perez
CATCHER: Jason Kendall
His trademark scowl and unique batting stance, Kendall was a staple of leadership for the Pirates. He had an image Pittsburghers ate up as he became an all time favorite in the hearts of fans. He hustled and bustled his way around the basepaths and was a brick wall behind the plate. He lacked power but always flirted around and above a .300 batting average. He was one of the longets tenured Pirates having been drafted in 1993 before being traded in 2004. He helped usher in PNC Park and lead hope for the future-a future that never came.
Honorable Mentions: 1) Ryan Doumit, 2) Cody Ross
FIRST BASEMAN: Craig Wilson
Probably more famous for his long golden locks of hair than his play on the field, Wilson was a hard-nosed reliable players. Yeah he struck out a lot, 427 times in five seasons in Pittsburgh, but he was a power threat in the lineup (a rarity for the black and gold). Wilson had a monster year at the plate in 2004. The California Crusher belted a career high 29 homers and drove in 82 RBI. He also had 148 hits in that year. He always hit around 15 home runs a year and was versitile having played the outfield and 1B as well.
Honorable Mentions: 1) Adam LaRoche, 2) Sean Casey
SECOND BASEMAN: Freddy Sanchez
One of the most likeable guys to ever don a Pirates jersey, Sanchez played his heart out everytime he stepped on the field. He is a talented fielder and a star at the plate. He very well could be one of the most well rounded second basemen of the decade in the whole league. Coming over from Boston via trade in 2004, he was a relatively unknown prospect but said to have decent potential. He surely exceeded expectations in 2005 when he stepped right in and batted .291 in his first full season in the league. From there Sanchez took Pirates fan on the ride of their lives. The very next year Sanchez took home the National League batting crown hitting .344. He struggle din his last year as a Pirate but he still has some good years left in San Fran.
Honorable Mentions: 1) Jose Castillo, 2) Pokey Reese
THIRD BASEMAN: Aramis Ramirez
Often times criticized, often times praised, Ramirez never could quite find his niche in Pittsburgh. It never did stop him from putting up good numbers. Coming into the league as a scrappy 19 year old in 1998, he was a major performer christening PNC Park in 2001. A-Ram went off batting .300 with 34 HRs and 100 RBI. It looked like the Pirates finally found an uprising star to build around. However he went through slumps the following year with just a 2.34 BA. His trade in 2003 to the Cubs was the first of many “salary dumps” fans would have to endure throughout the decade.
Honorable Mentions: 1) Jose Hernandez, 2) Andy LaRoche
SHORTSTOP: Jack Wilson
Jumpin’ Jack Flash. A name forever synonoumous with the Pittsburgh baseball club. Words simply cannot describe Wilson’s effort, desire and heart. Game in-game out it always was expected to see his uniform dirty. Wilson had tremedous range at SS. Turn on Baseball Tonight and Wilson is seen on Web Gems with his tremendous glove work. Kendall may have been a clubhouse leader at the beginning of the decade but this was Wilson’s team during the waning years. His production is underrated amongst the entire league. He wasn’t the best at the plate with a career .269 but he could do everything asked of him. His presecence was always missed in the lineup when he was injured and now no longer part of the Pirates, he simply can never be replaced. Honorable Mentions: NONE
LEFT FIELDER: Brian Giles
Named to the All-Decade MLB team for a reason, Giles patrols LF for the Pirate’s decade team as well. A dead heat between him and Jason Bay, Giles gets the upper hand due to statistical better seasons with the Pirates. Bay is surely the better player-post Pittsburgh and may have been in the black and gold as well. However, numbers don’t lie and Giles had some of the best out of any Pirates player ever. Four straight seasons of 30+ home runs, three straight .300 batting average season-unheard of numbers for a Pirate. But the best decision the Pirates made during the decade was trading Giles for Bay and Oliver Perez.
Honorable Mentions: 1) Jason Bay, 2) Nyjer Morgan
CENTER FIELDER: Nate McLouth
An all star and a gold glover, Nate truly was Great during his four and a half year tenure in Pittsburgh. McLouth was used as a bench player primarily in his first two seasons, he just needed a bit of playing time to show he truly belonged. He was a speedy center fielder who played impeccable defense and was rewarded with the gold glove following the 2008 season. 2008 was really his attention grabbing campaign. McLouth knocked 21 home runs and batted a solid .276. The power shown surprised many fans and notched him a spot on the National League All Star team. In the game he threw out Dioneer Navarro at the plate and his arm surprised the baseball world. He ended up racking up good numbers for the year finishing up in Atlanta in 2009 after hitting nine homeruns in 45 games in Pittsburgh.
Honorable Mention: 1) Andrew McCutchen, 2) Tike Redman
RIGHT FIELDER: Reggie Sanders
Though he played just one season in Pittsburgh, Sanders patrolled the gaping hole that is RF for the Pirates masterfully. It has been tough to find a solid player to be a right fielder for the Pirates, but Sanders brought fanfare in 2003. He was an off season acquisition along with Kenny Lofton. These two aging vets breathed a new life into the club and brought greater attention to the team. Playing 130 games Sanders hit 31 home runs and hit for a .281 batting average. He had quite the high OPS at .912 and was a threat at the plate at any given time. What really sets Sanders in a class of his own is his own poise. He was a great guy off the field. Having only been in Pittsburgh one season, you would have assumed he was a local citizen all his life.
Honorable Mentions: 1) Xavier Nady, 2) John Vander Wal
RELIEF PITCHER: Mike Williams
The “Cardiac Kid” played with fan’s emotions for five years as a Pirate. He was a reliable closer, but seemed to take forever in mowing down the last three outs of a ball game. It wa sthe way he worked giving up doubles, walking batters, loading the bases. It all came together as a whole mismatch, but he eventually would get the job done. He had two tenures as a Pirate, 1998-2000 and 2002-2003. In 2002 he went down in the Pittsburgh record books with 46 saves in a season, a team record. The flamboyant Virginia Tech grad was infamous for snubbing West Virgnia fans hunting for autographs.
Honorable Mentions: 1) Matt Capps, 2) Mike Fetters
Yep, there ya have it. Some players you have heard of, some you have not. They all do have one thing in common, none of them ever gave the Pirates a winning season. A few of them played together but still couldn’t get the job done. It is hard to tell whether or not this starting lineup would compile a competitve team with a shot at the playoffs, let alone a .500 season. I wouldn’t bet on it.