Baseball’s Most Fortunate Player: Matt Capps

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here. Today’s post centers on a notoriously terrible ball club. To any members of the Pittsburgh Pirates reading, Joe offers a prayer on how to get to another team and what happens when prayers are seemingly answered.

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Exactly a year ago, Matt Capps was a reviled relief pitcher on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Capps, along with the rest of the Bucs, had suffered through a miserable season that ended with 99 losses. But since Capps was the closer and underperformed with a 4-8, 5.80 ERA, he was subjected to more than his share of fan abuse and media scorn.

Then, in the off season, a miracle befell Capps. When the Pirates didn’t tender Capps, he signed with the Washington Nationals.

Capps, whether revitalized because he was lifted from the heavy burden of playing for the Pirates, overjoyed to be reunited with former Pirate refugees Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett or whether he simply regained his earlier skills (2006: 9-1; 3.78, 2007: 4-7; 2.28, 2008: 2-3; 3.02) isn’t clear.

Whatever the reason, Capps (3-3; 2.74 with 26 saves) was the only Nat named to the All-Star Game. Then, just as Capps must have been thinking that he was the luckiest player alive to have escaped Pittsburgh and suddenly become a member of the baseball elite, an even bigger miracle took place.

The cellar dwelling Nats traded Capps to the then-pennant contending and now American League Central champion Minnesota Twins, an odds-on favorite to reach and possibly win the World Series.

Capps has proved his worth. Since arriving in Minnesota, he’s 1-0, 2.25 ERA with 15 saves.

Imagine: in less than a year, Capps went from the 18-consecutive losing seasons Pirates to a post-season World Series contender!

I’m happy for Capps. During the baseball season, I’m a PNC Park tour guide for the Pirates. Capps tirelessly signed autographs for the school kids when they visited the park. He graciously signed their shirts, shoes, baseball cards, backpacks. In fact, all the Pirates are great with the fans.

But imagine the impact on the less lucky, remaining Pirates when they see their teammates like Capps, former National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez, Javier Lopez, Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Jason Bay and others land on first division teams.

I imagine them every night on bended knees praying to be traded before their productive playing days end.

Anywhere they might land is a step up.

The Baltimore Orioles, for example, were the American League East’s punching bag for the season’s first months. Under Buck Showalter, the Orioles are reborn.

Consider the Astros. They spent April, May and the first week of June looking up at the Pirates and the rest of the National League Central Division. Since June 4, the Astros have won almost as many games–54– as the Pirates have all season (55).

The Cincinnati Reds trailed the Pirates for a large part of 2009 before pulling away at the end of the season to finish 78-84. On the final game of the year, the Reds shut out the Pirates, 6-0.

The Pirates and Reds picked up in 2010 exactly where they left off: the Reds climbed all the way to first place and division champion and the Pirates plunged down to the worst team in baseball.

Only five games remain in the 2010 season until the Pirates go their separate ways.

They’ll head home, possibly with a detour to their local church, where they’ll offer this plea: “Please, Lord, I promise a lifetime of good works if you get me out of Pittsburgh.”

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com

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