I’m pleased to present a guest column from Joe Guzzardi, a Wednesday and Saturday contributor here. Today, he looks at the famous struggles of his hometown team.
Here’s the problem for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team I’ve supported for more than half a century.
The Bucs, who once inspired, are closing in on their 18th consecutive losing season, and no one’s surprised anymore.
Preseason forecasts are always grim—last place. In April, its cold and kids are still in school. No one wants to freeze to death watching bad baseball.
The Pirates‘ dilemma is compounded since the successful NHL Penguins hit their stride in April on the way to its annual Stanley Cup run.
Why go to PNC Park to watch the Pirates get hammered in a meaningless game when you can stay home to watch the Penguins on your flat screen in the warmth of your living room?
As baseball begins, the Pirates drift toward the cellar fulfilling the gloomy predictions.
By May, the Pirates are the tenth story on the sport page after two or three about the Pens, a couple of items about the Steelers, the latest major golf tournament news, the Kentucky Derby and the most recent sport scandal (Tiger Woods, Lebron James, Ben Roethlisberger, or Rick Pittino—where did he go anyway?)
Early season Pirate newspaper stories heap scorn on the Bucs for their continued futility, thus further diminishing any possible fan interest.
During what should be the baseball season’s height, local fans turn their attention to the Steelers and Pitt football and basketball, both projected as national Top Ten teams. Save for Pirate games that offer fireworks or concerts, no one goes.
Since .500 is at least two years away, my question is how to save the Pirates from total irrelevance while regenerating a modicum interest among the few remaining fans.
I have three suggestions:
Debate swirls around Russell. Should he or shouldn’t he be fired? Some say Russell’s laid back personality isn’t right for the young Pirates while his defenders wonder what he could do with the team’s limited talent.
By trading Russell, the Pirates could see if the players respond better to other leadership. At the same time, the broadcasting booth would get Russell’s experience, i.e. “With Garrett Jones at the plate, I always…”
2) Take another page from the Cubs and rotate Pirate coaches monthly into the manager’s seat
After the 1960 “broadcaster for manager” move landed the Cubs in the second-division for the 14th straight year, the North Siders employed the “college of coaches” during 1961 and 1962 that switched managers on a irregular schedule.
“Managers are expendable,” Cubs owner Phil Wrigley said. “I believe there should be relief managers just like relief pitchers.”
Here’s how it could work for the Pirates: In April, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan takes the helm; in May, third base coach Tony Beasley; in June, bench coach, Gary Varsho, and so on.
3) Make a late season acquisition
Normally only contenders add a crucial veteran to their roster. But the questions facing the lowly Pirates are whether it will edge out the Houston Astros for fifth place in the NL Central or if it will fall below the Baltimore Orioles as 2010’s statistically worst team.
I’m thinking Pedro Martinez would give Corsair fans a rare opportunity to see a future Hall of Famer in Bucco black and gold. I’d expect Martinez could do double duty, namely start and serve as pitching coach to the young Pirates.
My wrinkle is that Martinez should pitch only on Sunday. In 1942, Chicago White Sox Ted Lyons became “Sunday Ted” and pitched on that day alone. Once, Lyons reeled off seven complete games in a row to the delight of his fans who packed Comiskey Park to watch the crafty Hall of Fame veteran.
Full disclosure: Only the Lyons experiment worked.
During three years of manager experimentation, the Cubs finished close to the cellar every year. Boudreau was no better than Grimm and five Cub managers couldn’t produce more wins than one.
Still, I like the idea of buzz about the Pirates during August and September. Once again, fans would be talking about baseball.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.