Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Just say 'no!'

By Brant Newman

I've been a Pirates fan since the 1960s. I went to sleep at nights with a transistor radio under my pillow, listening to the Gunner and Nellie King. When
the Pirates won the World Series in 1971, I ran through the streets of Claysville as if it were V-E Day. I've remained a faithful fan through the decades,in good times and, for the past 16 years, bad.

But at age 50, I have my doubts about whether I'll ever see another Pirates game in person again. The reason: I refuse to be played for a dupe, and that's what anyone who goes to PNC Park these days is. The Pirates' current ownership, led by the Nutting family, is charging major-league prices for Triple-A baseball.

They talk a good game about a new era, new leadership and prosperity being right around the corner, but they're sure not putting their money where their
mouths are. The Pirates are consistently among Major League Baseball's bottom feeders in terms of payroll. They have based draft picks on whether they could sign them on the cheap, and when they have signed veteran free agents, they've spent unwisely, for the most part.

The MLB business model, which allows teams like the Yankees to spend as much on two players (A-Rod and Derek Jeter) as the Pirates do on an entire roster, is part of the problem. But the Nuttings' refusal to spend money on quality free agents who could help the team is another.

Fans are growing tired of watching rebuilding plan after rebuilding plan. With the exception of a handful of players, the minor-league system is not exactly brimming with talent, and we've seen what the current roster of major-leaguers has accomplished the past couple of years.

I'll continue to watch as many Buccos games as I can, but until team owners show a true commitment to the fans, I'll be doing so from my easy chair, saving a lot of money by eating my own hot dogs and drinking my own beer.

Trivia #3: From which other team's farm system did the Pirates draft Roberto Clemente?

Tale of two rookies

With the start of another baseball season, fans wonder which newcomers will shine and which will fade.

In 2001, two rookies made the St. Louis Cardinals' roster coming out of spring training, one a left-handed relief pitcher who was talked about as a potential closer, the other a multi-position player who was targeted to perhaps fill a hole at third base.

Neither impressed as the Cardinals were swept three straight in the season-opening series in Colorado. The hitter went 1-for-9, and the pitcher gave up two earned runs in 2 1/3 innings in a relief appearance.

The team traveled to Arizona, where the rookie hitter started opening eyes by putting a hurt on the Diamondbacks: 7-for-14 with 8 RBI in three games. That began a 13-game hitting streak, by the end of which he was hitting .393.

The pitcher, meanwhile, sat on the bench and watched. Finally, 10 days after his first appearance, he entered a game in the seventh inning with the Cardinals trailing Houston, 4-2. The lefty proceeded to walk Jeff Bagwell, hit Richard Hidalgo, walk Lance Berkman and walk Chris Truby. Manager Tony La Russa had seen enough.

Three days later, La Russa brought the pitcher in to relieve Dustin Hermanson, who was getting strafed, with the Cardinals trailing 8-1. The rookie prevented further damage by retiring Armando Reynoso and Tony Womack to end the inning.

But Arizona scored five runs in the fourth, capped by a David Dellucci home run. Tony Womack tripled to open the fifth, and another ex-Pirate, Jay Bell, followed with a homer.

La Russa walked out to the mound to take the ball, and that was it for Chad Hutchinson's Major League Baseball career. His numbers: 3 games, 4 innings, 9 hits, 11 earned runs, 6 walks, 2 strikeouts.

His rookie counterpart, meanwhile, went on to a .329-37-130 season, Rookie of the Year honors and what looks already to be a Hall of Fame career.

His name, of course, is Albert Pujols.

Trivia #2: Who was the last Pittsburgh Pirate to come to bat in the postseason (Oct. 14, 1992)?

It's time for fantasy baseball, too

Fantasy baseball has its detractors, but considering it's been around for three decades now, it's safe to say that it has some appeal.

Here are some players without high-profile names who drew some interest in our National League-only Whiners Rotisserie League, which is embarking on its 21st season:

Jordan Schafer, OF, Atlanta. The Braves' starting outfield was a little murky, but with the trade of Josh Anderson to Detroit, Schafer looks like the favorite to start in center. Schafer, who has not played in the majors yet, posted double digits in both home runs and steals in the minors in 2007 and 2008.

Jason Motte, RP, St. Louis. With the departure of longtime closer Jason Isringhausen, the anchor spot in the Cardinals bullpen was up for grabs. It looks as if Motte goes into the season as the first choice for saves. He's a converted catcher, but he had an unreal strikeout ratio (15.1 per 9 innings) in the minors last season.

Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis. A finger injury cost Wainwright a substantial amount of time last season, but he put up some brilliant numbers when he was able to pitch. Plus, he's making his first regular-season start against the Pirates, so he should pay immediate dividends!

Matt Cain, SP, San Francisco. Cain has pitched well during his major-league career but has relatively few wins to show for it, as the Giants have struggled to score runs since Barry Bonds departed. A pitcher-friendly home park helps Cain in other categories.

Clint Barmes, 2B, Colorado. Coors Field isn't the pitcher's nightmare it once was, but batters still seem to have an advantage. Barmes put up double digits in homers and steals last year, a combination that always plays well in fantasy leagues.

Chris Dickerson, OF, Cincinnati. They call the Red's home park "Great American Bandbox," meaning hitters have tended to thrive there. Dickerson, who's about to turn 27, hit very well in a 102-at-bat audition in Cincinnati last year, and he's another who's shown the ability to hit the long ball while running well on the basepaths.

Trivia #1: Who is the only Pittsburgh Pirate to be voted National League Rookie of the Year?