If you were anything like me growing up there was always a few days throughout the year that we looked forward to most. Christmas, Birthdays and Opening Day go without saying, but there was always a time, usually in mid-January, when Youngstown, OH would get a little nutty. The world famous Harlem Globetrotters would pay a visit to YSU’s Beeghly for their famous act.
From the 2010 season.
Andy LaRoche popped out in the top of the 9th to conclude one of the worst seasons in the Bucs storied 124 year history.
It’s hard to say there was much promise to be held in 2010, but no one expected it to be this bad.
General Manager Neil Huntington told Jennifer Langosch that “We are moving forward. And 2010 will be a much better year,” back in January.
In fact it was a gargantuan step back, six more losses than in 2009. I can’t help but feel cheated and lied to, but as sad as it is, I’m used to it.
There were dissapointments.
Aki Iwamura was expected to be a solid advancement as an everyday second baseman. That was an experiment gone wrong as Iwamura failed to sniff the Mendoza Line forcing a demotion to AAA eventually leading to an outright release.
The pitching was horrible, to say the least.
Losing 84 games the starting pitchers failed to put the team in a position to win a game. But its not like the offense was much better either.
Garret Jones led the team with 21 homers and 86 RBI, still very much lacking in the power department. The BUcs scored 587 runs and had a .242 batting average and .304 on-base percentage, 2nd lowest in the majors across those catergories.
Fingers can be pointed in many directions but I say it starts at the top.
John Russell is a disgrace as a manger. Tabulating a 186-299 record over three seasons he honest to goodness ranks in the top-ten worst managers of all time. Statistical evidence was provided by sports writer Joe Starkey. The face you see on the right side is indicative to his mood throughout the year. He is stone cold and provides little if any backbone to an already defalted team.
Rumors have circulated throughout the weekend that this is the end of Russell’s tenure in Pittsburgh.
The sooner the better.
Now Russell has not had much to work with in his three years as manager including a lineup that was never set in stone. Also with an influx of youngsters and an always changing roster it was hard to find stability. Actually, it wasn’t. Under Russell’s watch the only stability founded was in the L column.
There were so many negatives in 2010 but believe it or not there were positives.
Here are teh top three.
1. The calvary.
Established by post game show host Rocco DeMaro, the calvary describes the young Pirates that made their way into the big league lineup in 2010. The core includes Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata. This trio really has been something to give Pirate fans some sort of hope. All three are crowd favorites and for right reasons.
Alvarez has had a series of ups and downs. He has a potent bat, but also a high strikeout tendency. He did smack 16 homers but the real kicker is his astronomical OPS. He has a strong glove and striking arm. Fellas, he’s just 23.
Walker and Tabata are carbon copies of each other. Each with speed and a strong bat they have staying power. Flirting with a .300 batting average throughout the course of their half-a-big league season the kids have a knack for getting on base. Walker is easily the new “Jack Wilson” of the team. Clubhouse leader and good guy. He is actually from Pittsburgh making the hometown hero legend a reality.
2. James McDonald
Consider the fact that no Pirate starter had double digit wins but McDonald provided a little spark, even with his 4-6 record. McDonald went deep into games and actually put the offense in charge of coming through with something. He really was in charge and control of the mound. Barring an offseason addition to the rotation McDonald really does have ace potential.
3. The Fans
When I visited Washington D.C. this past weekend I met up with my friend Marc who is currently in the nation’s capital on an internship. Being a Cubs fan he and I talked about the NL Central and how far out our respective teams are in terms of games back from the Cardinals and surging Reds. We also talked baseball in general. I had told him
“With Pedro Alvarez up we should be a better team with better run production.” He responds with a “Who is Pedro Alvarez?”
Well, I guess to those outside of Pittsburgh the legend of Pedro Alvarez has not been regularly relayed. So it is my civil duty to tell his tale. A tale of a shaky past, current talent and simply the future. The future for himself and an entire franchise.
Alavrez hails from the street of New York City. An area mostly billed for producing basketball
greats, Alvarez is a rare gem to step from the baseball diamond. His talent allowed him to go to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Turning down an offer to be drafted right out of high school Alvarez went on to set records for VU and helped the Commadores win an SEC Championship. Alvarez continued his stories undergraduate career on the USA national baseball team. His power and handiness with the glove at third base allowed him to always be the target of scouts and high draft classification.
He would be picked up after his sophomore season. The Pirates jumped on him at pick number two, but getting him in a black and gold uniform would not be easy. Even getting him through the system would not be easy. Heck getting him INTO the system would be one of the hardest things the Pirate’s management had ever done.
Being picked second demands and deserves big money. After a back and forth volleyball match between Neil Huntington and Frank Coonelly with Alvarez’s agent Scott Boras both sides reportedly came to an agreement just minutes before the August 15th signing deadline. But it still took until September to make both sides happy with a $6 million dollar deal. It was a messy situation that really made the Pittsburgh organization and Alvarez look bad and downright slimey. However inking Alavrez prompted Pirates owner Bob Nutting to claim Huntington and Coonelly as the “best management team in all of sports.” Take that in for a moment. It’s a wonder that the “best management team in allllll of sports” cannot put together a competitive club or show the comptence to do so. However, that is a whole other argument.
Alvarez was watched under a tight microscope throughout his short time in the minor leagues. He helped the Lynchburg Hillcats win their League title and rose through to the AA and AAA levels with his resounding bat, most notably being a strong power prescence.
He was brought up to the majors on June 16th to an adoring PNC Park crowd of 15,000. He did recieve a standing ovation as he walked to the plate just to strike out at the hands of John Danks. He finished that game going 0-for-2. It would take three more games to cross that proverbial threshold where he would collect his first big league hit. From there he would collect a sac fly to cap off a victory over the Indians last Sunday.
He still only has three major league hits but will always be regarded as the best Pirates prospect since Barry Bonds. I’m no scout but at the age of 23 I still think Alavrez needs a tune up and some extra time in the minors would not hurt him. He is playing along a host of other first time big leaguers like Jose Tabata and Neil Walker. The 2010 season is already a wash why not groom him for a month or two more then bring him up when he is ready?
It seems as if Alvarez is over swinging at pitches and not locating them off the pitchers hand. He definitely needs work in the batting cage to develop a keener eye at the plate. He has warning track power that will slowly come more and more with more repitions. He will strikeout; alot. But that is what power hitters do. I will gladly take 95 strikeouts from a guy that is going to flirt with 45 homeruns each season.
It is going to be alot of trial and error with Pedro Alvarez (he already has one in the field) but if he even comes close to living up to his hype he will have a prosperous career and the Pirates will gladly reap the benefits.
photo credits: ducksonthepondkid.com, straybaseball.com, reclinergm.com, facebook.com
These past few days have been pretty busy for myself. I hate makng excuses for not blogging especially in the summer when school is out, but I have been bogged down by work and other summer activities.
While you all have read about these three stories I am about to report on from many media outlets. I just want to give my two cents.
There is not a soul that does not like Ken Griffey Jr. He is often hailed as a favorite players and the face of baseball. In the 90’s and 2000’s Griffey made the game of baseball accessible to a new audience. Inner city kids who would much rather pick up a basketball than a glove noticed “The Kid” dominate a sport with superb athletic ability at the plate and in the field. His image will forever be tied to greatness as an amazing ballplayer but maybe an even better role model.
Griffey’s career should have ended last year as a 39 year old. He wore out his welcome this year as he flirted with the Mendoza Line and failed to add to his 650 homerun total. He was carted off the field in last year’s season finale in Seatle, that epic ending should have been the perfect way to shut the door on a nearly perfect career.
It is sad when athletes wear out their welcome. Michael Jordan should have retired right there after that classic NBA Finals shot in Utah. Brett Favre is the rare excpetion to this retirement rule. I guess Griffey made the right decison to end his horrid play of 2010 to help out his struggling Mariners.
Point two may just be the hot button issue of the 2010 sports world.
There are so many opinions on what to make out of this Armando Galarraga not-so perfect game. So I will make mine short and sweet. Jim Joyce should have called Jason Donald out regardless. On a play like that you have to know what was at stake whether Joyce thought he was safe. It was a bang bang play and the tie, even though it was not, should have went to not the runner, but Galarraga.
That all being said, it was not a perfect game! What makes baseball so unique is that human judgement that controls the game. For almost 150 years the game has been played naturally under the control of umpires. It is how it has always been the controversy and discussions add to make the game of baseball what it is. Replay should not be brought in. I do not want to see robots over seeing the basepaths or managers in the dugout throwing out challenge flags. Keep the game traditional and pure. However, in that situation other umpires, especially the homeplate umpire, should have been able to over rule or at least meet up with Joyce to decide that the right call was made.
Finally, the least important topic has to do with a Pittsburgh hometown hero, Neil Walker.
The former 1st round draft pick has been milling around in the minors for quite some time. He struggled a bit for the past few years but since being called up he has been blazing a trail and surpassing expectations.
Walker won the game for the Pirates on Tuesday with an 8th inning 2-run homerun to beat the Cubs 3-2. Walker is maintaining a .321 batting average while switching between third base and second base. If he keeps this up he will definitely be a cornerstone on the Bucs for years to come.
photo credits: AP/Gene Puskar, mlive.com, vivalavidro.files.wordpress.com,
Last weekend I spent some hard earned cash on a few packs of cards. Getting razzed by my buddies for wasting my beer money on baseball cards, I feel I made the right decision.
Topps 2010 were the first I flocked to.
The base cards are striking with bold pictures and the team name prominently displayed. However, they seem like minature posters rather than baseball cards. Don’t get me wrong I do like them, I just don’t feel we need to “Mickey Mouse” these American traditions any more than they already.
Being a loyal topps customer I also wanted to dip into what the 2010 Upper Decks had to offer.
The Upper Deck Company has always played second fiddle to Topps it seems. The pictures are always better with UD, but the classic feel is lacking. They definitely showed why they are runners up with this year’s set.
The set up of the cards are nice, for the most part. The player’s pictures are nice and centralized. Their poses are natural and easily to be deciphered. The mug shot of the player in the lower right hand corner is a nice touch. The only drawback, and it is a very big drawback, is the very bottom of the cars. It’s green! For every team, even if they are not the A’s. It is rather annoying. Also, the player’s names and team name is written in like a Times New Roman style. It doesn’t mesh well with the other natures of the cards.
Of course when opening a pack of cards I get most excited when I draw a Pirate. In the four packs I bought (2 Topps and 2 Upper Decks) I grabbed a Neil Walker and Andy LaRoche. Even though the initial thrill of baseball cards is originally opening the package, I still do not get distraught if I pull some players I could care less about. My favorite part of a card is the back where you can see stats and fun facts. The education you can get about a player from their baseball card is really underrated and something more fans should enjoy.
photo credits: beckettblog.wordpress.com, ebay.com
Sunday was one of the greatest days of 2010. After an enjoyable night of enjoying the college lifestyle on Saturday, the action continued Sunday morning. A few buddies of mine hopped in my Nissan Versa and trekked up I-79 for the hour long journey to Pittsburgh.
The cost of admission was originally $12 bucks, however we caught a break. A father with a son had four extra “VIP” passes (which literally meant nothing) he sold them to us for $5 dollars. Scalping tickets to Pirate Fest? Heck yeah!
We rushed to the autograph line where we first hit former Pirate El Roy Face, pitcher Charlie Morton and catcher Ryan Doumit.
Later in the day we came back for another round of autographs.
Firstbaseman/right fielder Garrett Jones and third baseman Neil Walker signed along side another former Pirate in Jim Rooker. It looks like Penguin Sergei Gonchar joined in on the festivities. The Pens were actually playing across town, hosting the Red Wings. Many fans adorning Penguins gear were at the fest and the Penguins won in an epic shootout. The game was playing on an HDTV at a booth.
Although the lines were fairly long, we waited in the lines for nearly an hour each time, it was a fun time. We talked to some cool people around us and I got major flack from an elderly man for wearing my Barry Bonds jersey.
One of my favorite parts of Pirate Fest are the memorabilla tables.
This table was filled with just Roberto Clemente stuff. From cereal boxes to buttons to an autographed baseball with a 10,000 dollar price tag. I cam away with a cool Pirates poster from the 90’s, a 1989 game program and some packs of 2010 Topps baseball cards.
Pirate Fest is also a great time to meet some very cool people associated with the team.
I did meet him on Tuesday but seeing Andrew McCutchen rocking out on Guitar Hero was pretty cool. The guy in the black Cutch shirt was getting owned by the star centerfielder. I think this is a cool picture, considering their both rockin’ the 22.
One of the most bubbly, entergetic and fun people associated with the Pirates is Joe Klimchak. He is famous for his commercials for the Pirates where he mimmicks the “Shamwow” guy. They are very funny and do the job. He is also the in-game host at PNC Park. He hosts the between inning shin digs and brings a good vibe to the ballpark.
The best moment of the day and perhaps my entire life around baseball was meeting General Manager Neil Huntington.
It was a very personal time with Jared and I speaking to the GM for a good five minutes. He was standing in the concession stand area just mingling with some fans. He was very genuine and came across like a strong minded individual. After getting a cool snapshot I gave an ill attempt at a joke saying “We just made a deal and I’m the new fifth starter.” Neil really didn’t laugh and Jared just thought I was stupid. It was a good segway into a discussion regarding who the fifth starter for the Bucs. It is a race between Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen-he talked highly of both and really believes the competition will bring out the best in the two young guns.
Jared brought up his former affiliation with the Cleveland Indians, Jared’s favorite team. He is excited for manager Manny Acta to take over and think he deserved the job. He made a point that Terry Francona and Joe Torre were not successful in their first two managerial positions and that the change of scenery will be good for a younger manager with potential.
Talk around Pittsburgh has been heated with Pirates debate. It was reported that Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle have made an offer to Pirates owner Bob Nutting in an attempt to buy the team. It is a hot button issue that probably won’t go anywhere but it has given Pittsburghers false hope. I’m torn on the matter, obviously the Pens are a better run franchise and Mario may perhaps be the face of Pittsburgh sports history. However, because of the market size and baseball regulations, not much would change. It would be cool to have a Pittsburgh cable sports channel broadcasting the Pens/Pirates and other local teams to bring in more revenue than FSN Pittsburgh does already.
While I did not want to bring this up when talking to Mr. Huntington he did cite a similiar position. He said the key for small market teams is too avoid injuries as well as big, bad contracts. While it is easy to say with Lemieux/Burkle the Pirates could spend more money, will they spend it wisely? I don’t just want millions thrown at top free agents to lock them in for multiple years. Currently, Neil is allocating the money properly stocking up with high level prospects who the Pirates have control over for many years at a small cost. It is a risk, but will prove to be rewarded just a few years down the road.
Now that the ownership tangent is over, we made two more stops in the ‘Burgh. Here are pictures from our Steel City travels.
Readers, you know my disdain for the University of Pittsburgh, it is well-documented. We rode into the Oakland section of Pitsburgh and had a self guided tour of the campus. We walked through the basketball arena and stopped by the famous Cathedral of Learning. I hate to say it, but Pitt is a very nice campus. However, it is my civic duty as a Mountaineer to hate everything regarding our bitter rivals. On Wednesday the Panthers come to Morgantown for a battle of top ten college basketball game.
Before departing back to the Mountain State one final stop had to be made, PNC Park. I honored Willie Stargell the only way I knew how, bowing down. Pops would have been a great player to watch back in the day. He is one of three Pirates honored with statues, with a fourth on the way. It was announced at Pirate Fest that a Bill Mazeroski statue will be erected later this season.
The field was just feet in front of me but the dang metal bars were seperating me from happiness. It was still a cool moment enjoying PNC Park at its calmest. It truly is the most beautiful park in baseball and to be able to regularly attend games here is an awesome feeling. I am spoiled that this is my home park and I can watch a major league baseball games at a great price in a beautiful setting.
With February upon us and winter nearly over, actually its not but hey, we can hope, that could mean just one thing.
I wasn’t the only proud Bucco mlblogger enjoying the fest, check out these blogs for more about the weekend event.
The Pirates are reportedly close to signing infielder Bobby Crosby to a one year deal on Thursday. The 29 year old shortstop is a former Oakland A with an aresenal of talent hiding within him and six years of big league experience.
As the winter meetings come to a close and the biggest blockbuster officially landing on Wednesday (the 3-way trade of the Yankees, D-Backs and Tigers), it is safe to say this free agent pick up by Pittsburgh will be overlooked, not only by the baseball world, but in the Pittsburgh area as well.
The Pirates will be a better team. Maybe not in 2010 but by 2011 they should have a developing young core of guys that will make a push for the playoffs. Once the girls of the metropolitan area catch on, Pirates fever will begin to rank right up there with the recent surge of the Pens. Call me a wishful thinker but if the Pirates flirt with .500 this year and maybe, just maybe make a run at the playoffs Bobby Crosby will be reason for that overdue change of pace.
He will only be signed for one year at 1.5 million dollars. In no way will he be a starter, but a relaible option of the bench and an ideal utility infielder. Last year he made a majority of his starts at first base surprisingly but he is a natural shortstop. He adds to the expanding depth in the infield as he joins Delwyn Young, Neil Walker and Ramon Vazquez on the bench filling in for Andy LaRoche, Ronny Cedeno and Akinori Iwamura.
Personally I like this signing. It is low risk and worth the 1.5 million for a solid utility guy. For some reason I get a good vibe from he, though just a backup I feel he will give the team a different kind of spark and catch the attention of ladies if, and thats a big, IF, the Pirates catch fire in 2010.