First Pitch: I Wrote An Article About the Pirates

I hate writing headlines.

You come up with an article topic. Then you figure out what you’re going to say. Then you write it all out, using anywhere from 500-1000 words or more. At the end of all of that, you have to figure out how to sum it all up in about a dozen words. That short headline is supposed to describe what your entire article is about, while also being catchy enough to get people to click the link and read the actual article.

Some headlines are easy and just write themselves. “Pirates Trade Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks” would be a perfect recent example.

Then you’ve got the nuanced opinion articles, where it gets a bit more difficult to explain the entire article in one sentence. I’ve had many articles like that where I’ll get a response from someone locked in on a specific definition of the headline. They’ll debate that definition, while missing that the article answered their questions.

It would be easy if, in those situations, the reader just ignored the headline and only focused on the article. The headline is a summary. The article is the argument, or plan, or explanation. Once you have the article, you can forget about the definition of the headline. You’ve got the full explanation by that point, so there’s no need for a less descriptive summary.

I write all of this out to say that I kind of understand Ben Cherington’s hesitancy to use the word “rebuild.”

Jason Mackey has the latest article where Cherington explains why “rebuild” isn’t the right word to describe what the Pirates are doing right now. The bulk of the comments from Cherington surround the idea that the team needs to “build,” and not “rebuild.”

Make no mistake. Both are headlines, and Cherington is just debating which headline he prefers for his plan.

The plan to build, or rebuild, is what we don’t know. That’s the article, with all of the details. We might get some of those details in the next few weeks as Spring Training begins. Others might take a year or longer to start seeing results and trends.

It doesn’t really matter what you call the plan. Rebuild, build, or anything else. It doesn’t change what the Pirates have to do.

They’re a team that finished with 93 losses last year, and they’ve been projected as one of the worst teams in baseball this year, with a shot at 100 losses. They’ve got young talent in the majors (Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Newman, Mitch Keller), young talent about to arrive in the next year or two (Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, Cody Bolton), and a growing group of young upside prospects in the lower levels.

The challenge is figuring out how to win with that group. Do you aim to win sooner with guys like Reynolds, Newman, and Keller? Do you wait to win a bit later, when those guys are established, and when other prospects arrive to join them?

Cherington is right. The Pirates need to build. That’s literally the same thing as rebuild, with one minor distinction that a “rebuild” suggests you’re building something up that was previously built up before. The “build” is the key for the future in both words. When we debate “rebuild vs build” all we’re doing is debating whether the team was built up in the past. The “build” action for both is going to be the same.

I realize that I’m complaining about Cherington’s choice of a headline for his plan, in an article where I talk about how I hate focusing on headlines over the full plan. The problem is that we haven’t seen Cherington’s article yet. We haven’t seen the full plan, which makes the headline irrelevant. Thus, all we have is a debate over the headline.

My problem with this headline is that it doesn’t tell what the article is about. “Rebuild” might work if you want to cite the 2013-15 seasons, and say the Pirates need to get back to that point. No one wants to get back to that point, though. They want to get beyond that point, to be better than the previous teams.

In that sense, “rebuild” wouldn’t be a proper word to describe the plan. The word “build” also wouldn’t be a good choice, as it’s literally what every team is doing. Every single team in baseball is building toward their next goal, whether it’s competing now, tearing it all down and starting over, or building up toward a specific window in the future.

Saying that the Pirates plan is to “build” is like me writing an article with the headline “I wrote an article about the Pirates.” Yeah, Tim, that’s nice. It’s kind of what you do. But what is the article about?

What is the article about? What is the Pirates plan? They’re building, but to what? How are they building to that mystery goal? What can we look at to measure their progress along the way?

These are the things we don’t know. We’re not supposed to know all of it at this point. No MLB General Manager is going to lay out his full, detailed plan to the public on day one.

The downside in this situation is that Pittsburgh is a town that has run out of trust with the Pirates. The Pirates aren’t building that trust back up with the lack of specifics for their plan, while using vague headlines to describe their plan.

SONG OF THE DAY

DAILY QUIZ


RANDOM STUFF OF THE DAY

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

By John Dreker

Nine former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

Adrian Brown, outfielder for the 1997-2002 Pirates. As a low draft pick (48th round, 1992) he moved slowly through the minors, not making it to Double-A until the middle of his fifth season in pro ball. He hit .306 with 45 stolen bases that year, then followed in up with a season split between Double-A and Triple-A in which he hit .313 in 99 games. The Pirates called him up briefly in late May, but he struggled and was returned to the minors until September. In 1998 he returned to Triple-A until August, then hit .283 in 41 games after being recalled, earning a job for 1999. He was on the Opening Day roster, but began the year slow hitting .178 through 24 games, then spent a month down in Triple-A before coming back to finish the year batting .270.

In 2000, Brown had his best season in the majors, hitting .315 in 104 games with 64 runs scored and 13 stolen bases. He seemed primed to have a big season in 2001, but an injured shoulder cause him to miss all but eight MLB games and 15 rehab games in the minors. He would hit .337 in 51 Triple-A games in 2002, but just .216 in 91 games with the Pirates, who released him at the end of the season. He was in pro ball until 2006, playing another 40 big league games spread out over three different teams. Brown spent a total of 15 years in pro ball and played in the minors during every seasons, a total of 1,141 minor league games and 447 in the majors.

Humberto Cota, catcher for the 2001-07 Pirates. He was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Braves in 1995 then released by them two years later. The Devil Rays picked him up then eventually traded him to the Pirates on July 23, 1999 in the Joe Oliver/Jose Guillen deal. Cota was a September call-up each of his first two seasons in the majors and in 2003 he played with the team from late July until mid-August. He had a total of 24 games played between his first three seasons in the majors with just 44 plate appearances. He spent the 2004 season as the backup to Jason Kendall, receiving very little playing time throughout the season, but it was his first full season in the majors. When Kendall was traded in the off-season, Cota took over and had his best year in the majors, playing 93 games, hitting .242 with seven homers and 43 RBIs. In 2006, rookie Ronny Paulino emerged, hitting .310 in 129 games and taking over the regular catcher spot. Cota played briefly for the Pirates in 2007 before being granted free agency. He played pro ball until 2016 without making the majors again.

Spike Shannon, outfielder for the 1908 Pirates. He was a native of Pittsburgh, who spent his first six seasons of pro ball in the minors, starting at age 20. Spike was a September 1903 Rule 5 draft by the Cardinals. He became their starting right fielder and hit .280 in 134 games that rookie season while playing outstanding defense, leading all NL outfielders in fielding percentage. In 1906 the Cardinals traded him mid-season to the Giants. Shannon would lead the league in both games played and plate appearances that year. In 1907 he led the league in plate appearances, runs scored (104) and times on base, so his drop-off in 1908 was unexpected. With the Giants he hit .224 in 77 games before being picked up by the Pirates on July 22nd off waivers. In 32 games for Pittsburgh he hit .197 in what would be his last time in the majors. He spent four seasons in the minors, one as a player/manager before becoming an umpire.

Juan Pizarro, pitcher for the 1967-68 and 1974 Pirates. He played 18 years in the majors, compiling a 131-105, 3.43 record in 488 games, 245 as a starter. In his three seasons with the Pirates, Pizarro went 10-12, 3.55 in 69 games, 11 as a starter. Most of those stats came during the 1967 season, when he pitched 107 innings over 50 games. He was 8-10, 3.95 and picked up a career high nine saves. The Pirates picked Pizarro up as part of the ill-fated Wilbur Wood deal in November of 1966. He was sold to the Red Sox during the 1968 season. In 1974, he was signed as a free agent to help with a pennant push. After signing in late August, he went 1-1, 1.88 in 24 innings and pitched shutout ball in his only playoff appearance. From 1961 until 1964, Pizarro was selected to two All-Star teams and won 61 games for the White Sox, picking up at least 12 wins each season.

Felipe Montemayor, outfielder for the 1953 and 1955 Pirates. The Pirates purchased him in 1951 for $20,000 from a team in the Sunset League in Mexico. Montemayor spent parts of two seasons in the majors with the Pirates and five seasons with their New Orleans affiliate in the Southern Association. For Pittsburgh, he started 36 of the 64 games he played, seeing time at all three outfield positions and he pinch-hit often. Montemayor batted .173 with two homers and ten RBIs in 150 at-bats. He actually played much better during his second stint, posting a .689 OPS in 36 games, compared to .391 in 28 games during the 1953 season. Prior to the 1956 season, the Pirates returned him to the Mexican League in a deal with the Mexico City Tigers. He played a total of 21 seasons in the minors.

Bill Steinecke, catcher for the 1931 Pirates. His entire big league career consisted of four mid-September games off the bench for the 1931 Pirates. He came in to catch his first game and pinch-hit in the other three contests, going 0-for-4 at the plate. That 1931 season, he hit .361 with 41 doubles for Binghamton of the New York Penn League.While his big league career was extremely brief, his pro baseball career was not. Steinecke played 23 seasons in the minors, getting into 1,886 games total and he fell just short of a .300 career average. He nearly matched his playing days as a manager, spending 22 years at the helm of various minor league teams between 1937 and 1964. His first season as a manager was for Savannah of the South Atlantic League, which was considered a Pirates affiliate at the time.

Charlie Jackson, outfielder for the 1917 Pirates. Jackson’s only other big league experience besides his one season with the Pirates, was a pinch-hit at-bat for the 1915 White Sox, which ended in a strikeout. With the Pirates, he played 41 games, splitting his time between left field and right field. Jackson hit .240 in 41 games and managed to collect just one RBI in 134 plate appearances. The 1917 Pirates were a bad group, going 51-103 and they scored only 464 runs. Jackson got on base 41 times, yet he scored just seven times. He played eight seasons in the minors, hitting .268 in 2,601 at-bats. Prior to joining the Pirates in early August of 1917, Jackson hit .313 in 297 at-bats during the first four months of the season for Spokane of the Northwestern League.

John Fox, pitcher for the 1884 Alleghenys. He came to the majors in 1881, playing pitcher, first base and outfield for the Boston Red Stockings of the National League. He went 6-8, 3.33 in 124.1 innings and hit .178 in 30 games total. He had 21 singles and no walks, giving him an identical .178 mark in slugging and on base as well. After not playing in the majors in 1882, Fox played for the Baltimore Orioles of the American Association the following year. He went 6-13, 4.03 and hit .152 in 23 games. He joined the Alleghenys in 1884 and was the Opening Day starter. His time with the team didn’t last long. Fox started seven of the first 28 games and went 1-6, 5.64 in 59 innings. After playing in the minor leagues in 1885, he finished his big league career with one start for the 1886 Washington Nationals.

Mike Jordan, outfielder for the 1890 Alleghenys. He signed with the Alleghenys in late August 1890 and mostly played left field (occasional center field) for the last 37 games of the season. While he played strong defense, his offense set a franchise futility record. No other position player in Pirates history had more plate appearances with a lower average. In fact no other position player came to the plate more than 53 times with a worse average. He hit .096 in 143 plate appearances, collecting 11 singles and a double. The Alleghenys record during his time with the team was just 4-35. That was the only Major League experience for Jordan, who played in the minors until 1893.

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