First Pitch: Pittsburgh, The Pirates, Major League Baseball, and Misery

I love a good underdog story.

It’s for that reason that I love the city of Pittsburgh.

Most of my attachment these days to this city comes from running this site on the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I was born in central PA, living in the Altoona area for the first 12 years of my life. My Dad is from Pittsburgh and my mom is from Baltimore, and they got married a year after the 1979 World Series. I grew up an Orioles and Cal Ripken Jr. fan. However, Pittsburgh was always “the city” to me, and we went often. Especially for baseball.

I was there in the upper deck of Three Rivers Stadium when Ken Griffey Jr. was launching bombs in the Home Run Derby.

I can’t tell you how many Pirates games I went to as a kid, but I can tell you that my favorite games were in the first years of what would eventually become the losing streak. I didn’t care as a kid if they won. I liked going to games, and eventually moving down to seats by the field, because no one was at the stadium.

The Pirates have never really been good for an extended stretch during my lifetime. I was too young to appreciate the 1990-92 seasons. By the time I was in college, Ripken had retired, I didn’t like the way Peter Angelos ran the Orioles, and I became more of a fan of small market teams.

Read that again, because you are allowed to just stop liking a team if you hate the owner so much.

I loved what was happening with the Oakland Athletics at the time, during the Moneyball era. I also fell in love with PNC Park.

The Pirates were at their worst when I was in college. However, they had the brand new, nicest stadium in the game. By the 2004-05 seasons, I would make routine drives from my college in VA up to Pittsburgh — six hours each way in the car with my roommates — just to take in a game.

I made a lot of trips to see Oliver Perez during that time. There’s something about seeing a dynamic player playing for the Pirates that just gives PNC Park a purpose. An amazing stadium is only a selling point for so long. Without exciting players, the Pirates are just selling tours to PNC Park.

Eventually, Pirates fans would want to see meaningful baseball in that cathedral to the game.

Pittsburgh’s Sports Identity

I love a good underdog story.

That’s what I see in the city of Pittsburgh.

I’m not talking about the Pirates anymore, or the sports teams. I’m talking about the city itself.

Pittsburgh proudly adopted the title “City of Champions” after the success of their teams in the 1970s. That included four Super Bowls by the Steelers, and believe it or not, the Pirates won multiple World Serii during this decade.

At the same time, Pittsburgh was going through an economic transition. The steel industry was starting to collapse, and would leave the city in the 80s. Between 1980 and today, the population of the city has declined by 100,000 people, with so many moving elsewhere to areas where there were jobs.

This wasn’t the only mass exodus from Pittsburgh in the last century. The population of the city was well over half a million people in the 1930s, before the coal mills closed.

Pittsburgh used to be about industry, and what their citizens produced. They were the “Steel City”. As the steel mills closed in the 80s, and another population exodus was taking place, the city adopted a “City of Champions” identity.

That’s an unfortunate transition, though it does make Pittsburgh unique in how they follow their teams like no other city.

It was easy to embrace the teams.

The Penguins won two Stanley Cups in the 90s.

The Steelers remained competitive through the 90s, and won two Super Bowls in the aughts.

The Penguins followed that with three championships of their own in the last decade-plus.

The Pirates, on the other hand…

The Same Old Pirates

I love a good underdog story.

That’s why I’m still here covering the Pirates. I wrote about what I see changing in this organization in detail two weeks ago in this feature. I honestly believe that the Pirates are heading in the right direction to be serious contenders in the not-too-distant future.

When I started this site, I noticed early that Neal Huntington wasn’t just the “same old Pirates GM” with the “same old Pirates” approach. I was called an apologist for years by a segment of jaded Pirates fans, all for saying that he had the organization heading in the right direction.

He did.

For the final few years of Huntington’s tenure, I was on the other side of things, realizing that the Pirates no longer had the approach necessary to maintain a long-term winner. They also weren’t adjusting to the changing league. I called their situation “No-Man’s Land” back in 2017.

Unfortunately, they remained in No-Man’s Land for two more years.

To this date, most Pirates fans have a misguided view of what happened in that downturn. It was easy to chalk it up as “same old Pirates” and then limit your analysis to “Nutting won’t spend” or “they’ve only made the playoffs three times in 30 years”.

A lot of fans actually believe the Pirates decreased their payroll after 2015, but that’s not true. Their payrolls in the years after 2015 were the highest in franchise history. They spent money, but they spent it poorly.

The problem the Pirates had was their approach. They were aiming for 82 wins each year, with a hope to make the playoffs. They also didn’t have an organization built for that.

After the 2015 season, where the Pirates made the Wild Card game for the third year in a row, the organization was raided of a lot of front office members and scouts who played an impact in the success. The system didn’t have ready replacements.

The team was about to see an influx of talent from the minors. That didn’t work, due to development issues that have never really been clear.

In all actuality, the Pirates have never really been good at developing players in my lifetime. Look at their drafts after Barry Bonds. Look at their endless list of busted prospects.

The Pirates ruled Major League Baseball in the 1970s, on the back of a strong farm system.

The economic changes to the game in the 1990s made it more imperative for small market teams to rely on their farm system, and this was a time when the Pirates were horribly mismanaged.

The farm system is what they’ll need for Ben Cherington’s plan to work.

The Same Old Pirates?

What I saw from Neal Huntington’s tenure was the start of finally building a modern-day farm system.

The Pirates built a Dominican Academy. They gradually upgraded the facilities at Pirate City. The scouting department was overhauled in the first few seasons of Huntington’s tenure. They also added innovation to the development process in a way that allowed them to at least catch up to other organizations.

Bob Nutting took over as the principal owner in 2007. At the time, this was not a Major League organization. It didn’t even have a functioning farm system. They had minor league teams who operated independent of each other, no system internationally, and I’m not convinced that they even cared to develop their own players, or invest in prospects, up to this point.

Again, I casually followed this team until 2007. I didn’t start this site until 2009. Every story I heard about those former years just sounds like there was no organization throughout the organization.

I don’t talk about Nutting much on this site.

It’s not that he doesn’t deserve to be discussed. It’s just that there’s not much point to identifying his role on the team.

Nutting hires the people who run this organization. He does not have the knowledge needed on this game to have any further say in how the on-field product is built. When he’s made GM hiring/firing decisions, he has always sought the guidance of people around the game. I believe this to be a weakness, though it can be mitigated by good hires below him.

As a former Orioles fan, who stopped following them because of the owner’s involvement in player moves, I can tell you that Nutting’s only role should be hiring the right people, and setting the budget.

Nutting hired Travis Williams, formerly with the Penguins, to be the team’s President. Williams replaced Frank Coonelly, though the job shifted.

Coonelly had way too much oversight over baseball operations. Coonelly also wasn’t qualified to evaluate such moves, and essentially gave the Pirates the “Angelos” effect, where the GM was partially handcuffed by a higher ranking executive in the organization.

Ben Cherington was hired as Huntington’s replacement, and Cherington has more autonomy than any previous GM. Williams handles the business, and Cherington handles the baseball.

I wrote a few weeks ago how Cherington has passed that autonomy down through the development system. Just like Cherington has more autonomy as the GM, John Baker has more autonomy as the farm director than Stark or Larry Broadway ever did under Huntington. That continues down to coordinators and coaches.

The biggest change in the system is how they’re treating the players, giving them their own independence, and empowering them to take control of their careers. This is a big difference from the old organization, where players were treated like kids, and weren’t built up with self-confidence in the minors.

You can imagine how that might have led to so many busts in the majors. I believe the biggest factor to MLB success is mindset — not being overwhelmed by the stage, and just executing your skills. The old system treated the majors more like a mythical dragon to slay.

Huntington and Stark essentially built a farm system for the Pirates. They had a system before, but it was more a token system, rather than an actual baseball development system.

Cherington and Baker are working to patch up any holes in that system, while upgrading the framework to a modern-day system.

The biggest thing that I think the Pirates are doing right now is building up the mindset of their younger players in a more positive way. We will eventually see if this translates to better MLB results. I can tell you that this is a focus around the league. Cherington’s old organization, the Toronto Blue Jays, were big on mindset.

Thus far, while the system has been patched and built up, the MLB team has been the worst team in baseball.

I was calling for the Pirates to rebuild in tanking fashion for years. I know that Pirates fans are desperate for a winner, and instead the Pirates have lost more games during Cherington’s tenure than any other MLB team.

The Pirates have been obviously tanking, so the losses in these seasons don’t matter in my eyes. This was necessary. The fault here is that Nutting didn’t make this organization shift earlier.

I can say that, because I questioned him on this approach, pointing out how it was wrong compared to modern-day successful orgs, back before the 2018 season.

Nutting eventually made this change, and I think Cherington is following a more modern-day approach to contending in a small market.

What matters is that the Pirates eventually switch gears and start competing in the majors.

What matters more is that Bob Nutting properly funds the eventual winner they are building.

The 30-Year Fan

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the opportunity to call a city “miserable”, but if you ever get the chance, I can tell you it’s a wild experience.

I got a lot of responses to that tweet. In all actuality, Twitter isn’t the best place for those types of nuanced thoughts — kicked off by an anything-but-nuanced grenade to kick things off. The responses were expected.

Anger. Pittsburgh writers and radio hosts educating me on why Pirates fans deserved to be upset. A lot of justification for why Pittsburgh was miserable based on the Pirates. A lot of “No, you’re miserable!” comebacks. People making fun of my Calvin Klein suit and limited edition Ken Griffey Air Force Ones — not the traditional blue collar look you find in the city.

There was also a lot of agreement with what I said.

That tweet wasn’t about Pirates fans. It was about Pittsburgh, and specifically how they follow their teams to an unhealthy level.

For example, I used to follow the Steelers and Penguins. I find it difficult to be a casual fan of those teams, because I honestly never know when they’re winning, due to the urgency from the fans to always win. If you go by the vibe of fans, the Steelers have been horrible for a decade, and I actually thought the Penguins were having a losing season this year until checking over the weekend.

The way Pittsburgh fans follow their teams is unique. I’ve been to almost every major city in America, and I’ve lived in a few of them. Pittsburgh is different.

You get to the city, and there is black and gold everywhere. It’s like it’s always gameday.

The city itself is beautiful. This summer, I spent two weeks in downtown Pittsburgh, evaluating whether I would want to live there.

I ate a lot of Primanti Brothers to survive in downtown, thinking about how this meal used to feed the miners who were in a more difficult situation than I was. They were working in mines all day, and relied on this sandwich to easily rebuild their strength and provide their nutritional needs. I was writing articles about Endy Rodriguez and skipped lunch. However, Primanti Brothers revives all.

I had a chance to walk through the streets of downtown, interacting with the people. One of the most common responses I got to my Tweet was that the people were nice and friendly. I’ve never experienced otherwise. A lot of the sports fans are objectively miserable, though, and that’s more an observation than a condemnation.

I made a few stops to the DK Pittsburgh Sports headquarters to talk with Dali and Dejan Kovacevic. Talk about people who love this city. When I told Dejan that I considered downtown Pittsburgh to be a poor man’s Manhattan, his eyes lit up with so much pride.

Pride is what Pittsburgh has. Pride in their city. Pride in their community. And pride in the sports teams that they use to identify their city and community.

The last pride can be toxic. Especially when following Major League Baseball — a league now set up in favor of large market teams, and financially secure enough to ensure every team makes a profit without selling tickets.

Pirates fans are jaded everywhere, but the angriest fans seem to be in the Pittsburgh area. That’s why most complaints are centered around tax dollars paying for PNC Park, or about how the city of Pittsburgh deserves a winner.

Pirates fans have a right to complain, regardless of where they live. This hasn’t been a good organization, and it hasn’t been run well, regardless of the owner.

The ownership group in the 90s almost went insolvent. I believe that played a role in the lack of a farm system until 2007, as that’s a lofty expense.

The most common complaint comes from what I like to call “The 30-Year Fan.”

The complaint is simple. Look through that Twitter thread above and you’ll see many examples.

“This team has made the playoffs three times in 30 years.”

It’s a valid complaint, aimed at justifying anger that has built up over time.

If we’re talking about the Pirates today, that complaint is irrelevant. It’s pointing out the past, and expecting the future to be the same.

I think “30 years” isn’t reflective of the Pirates right now. I think a lot of Pirates fans silently agree with me. That wouldn’t be an issue, except a lot of the 30-Year Fans attack anyone who says that things are different.

There isn’t one type of Pirates fan. It wasn’t a good move of me to generalize the city in my Tweet, and I don’t want to do the same by saying that all Pirates fans are the same. The 30-Year Fans are just a segment of the fanbase. They just happen to be the ones with the loudest voice.

This society tends to cater to the ones who claim the aggrieved status, simply over the fact that someone claims to be aggreived.

That doesn’t mean the 30-Year Fans are correct about the current state of the team matching the past. Even if they are justifiably upset from years of losing.

A Revival in Pittsburgh

I love a good underdog story.

I think the Pirates are heading in the right direction to be contenders, and I think they’re setting up for a more sustainable run this time.

They’re spending in a way that suggests they’re saving their money for when they’re competitive. This is the approach I pointed out to Nutting a few years ago, which other teams around the league were implementing. At the time, Nutting said that the Pirates had a different approach.

The last three years have featured losing and rock bottom payrolls. They’ve also included a few interesting financial moves, like a front-loaded Ke’Bryan Hayes extension, which will make it easier to build a team around him long-term.

My belief is that Nutting will spend in a better way this time around. I think that long-term budgeting has already started. I don’t have any proof of this. I’m just reading their moves.

My concern is that Nutting doesn’t have the risk profile needed to support a small market team. Nutting is a billionaire because the Pirates are worth a billion dollars. By comparison, Steve Cohen is a billionaire who used his billions to buy the Mets, and then fund ridiculous payrolls.

The disparity in MLB is like never before, but small market teams can still win. Nutting’s main priority is keeping the team in his family. There will be a time when the Pirates need to take a risk, and I think that long-term goal of Nutting’s will make him more financially conservative than he needs to be to give the Pirates the best possible shot.

This is a few years in the future, so it’s not something to worry about now. Right now, we need to see if the Pirates can get back to contending. I think they will win north of 75 games in 2023, with an exciting second half led by the farm system arrivals. This time next year, it should be more obvious to The 30-Year Fan that things have already changed for the better.

When I went to Pittsburgh this summer, my goal was to scout out an area to live and run this site.

I can run this site from anywhere. Typically, I’m traveling during the season, so it doesn’t matter where I call home — I’m never there anyway.

Living in downtown Pittsburgh is appealing to me. What I see in the city now is the potential for a revival.

The mills are closed, but the medical and technology industries are taking hold. That said, I believe it will be the art community that brings the future Pittsburgh revival, and that’s where my interest lies.

My current plan is to turn this site into an outlet that has at least four full-time media jobs in Pittsburgh. That won’t eventually include me. I’ve written before, but my long-term focus is more on the artistic side, where I want to take my shot writing novels. We only live one life. Do what makes you happy. Don’t worry about money.

Pittsburgh is cheap, and it’s beautiful. Yes, the weather sucks this time of year, and it’s often overcast and raining. But, if you’re someone like me who works online and can live anywhere — that’s more and more people these days — then Pittsburgh seems like the perfect place to go.

The only downside for me is the obligatory bitterness that is expressed over the Pirates.

It’s not that The 30-Year Fans don’t have a right to be bitter.

It’s just that it feels impossible to talk about this team in any other way.

The conversation in the city is driven by the radio, and Pittsburgh sports radio tends to cater to angry callers. It brings in ratings. 30-Year Fans want to hear an angry yinzer screaming about the team. They don’t want someone calmly breaking down mechanical adjustments of a pitcher at 11 PM on a post-game show. Most of the discussion surrounding the Pirates caters to The 30-Year Fan.

I believe The 30-Year Fan is wrong.

I believe the 30-Year analysis from those fans is a deterrent to any discussion that shows what’s actually happening today.

Those fans don’t need to dig deep into this team. We all know the team has given them the opposite reason to do so over the years.

However, there are a lot of Pirates fans who don’t want to be miserable. They just want to watch baseball. They see signs that things are changing. They don’t want to perpetually forecast doom. And not many places cater to those fans.

I believe that is the main reason of the success of this site — the fact that we focus on the present year, rather than the last 30. It’s an objective approach that is understandably lost in Pittsburgh.

This is a frustrating situation, because there are a lot of 30-Year Fans in Pittsburgh who are nice people that are simply frustrated by the historical ineptitude of their baseball team — in a city that has rallied their identity around sports.

Someone sent me this video during all of this discussion, and I think it encapsulates the typical 30-Year Fan in Pittsburgh.

A heavy yinzer accent, wearing Steelers and Penguins gear, complaining about the negative impact to his community over a controlled burn by a local organization.

I can’t think of a better metaphor for Pirates fans in Pittsburgh.

After the complaints, he finishes on a positive note:

“Pittsburgh’s the best place to live, I don’t care what anybody says. If you gotta do some cleanup, hey, it is what it is. But we’re still number one out here.”

That’s what I love about Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh today isn’t your Grandfather’s Pittsburgh, or my Grandfather’s Pittsburgh — having to recover from the loss of the coal industry.

Pittsburgh today isn’t your Father’s Pittsburgh, or my Father’s Pittsburgh — having to recover from the loss of the steel industry.

This city has seen decline over generations, which has led to an understandable cynicism. Yet, beneath that is a warmth and joy in the residents that, in my travels, makes Pittsburgh unlike any northern city.

It’s for that reason that I want to see a winner for Pirates fans.

Sports aren’t supposed to matter this much in life, but in Pittsburgh, they matter more than other places. This is a city that has used sports as a catalyst for massive economic declines. And despite all of the downturns — whether economically, or with the baseball team — there’s still an underlying optimism that can be noticed and admired from those of us who are more on the outside.

The reality is that anyone reading this (and I appreciate you reading this far) has an attachment to the Pirates, and probably to Pittsburgh. No one owns the rights to this fan base, or the sentiment of the fans. Every fan is different. But we all want to see a winner in Pittsburgh.

Until then, there will be miserable fans, and their misery will be justified by years of losing.

In my opinion, the misery won’t be accurate in assessing the state of the current organization, which looks more optimistic than the 30-Year Fan is willing to acknowledge.

It’s hard to express that optimism when The 30-Year Fan is so aggressively loud to dissenting opinions — and when every discussion surrounding the team is meant to placate those fans.

My belief is that we aren’t far from every Pirates fan seeing that this team is heading back to contending in the next few years.

At that point, we can all share our own consternations over whether Nutting will do what’s necessary to allow Pirates fans to see a winner for as long as possible.

LAST WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Here is a recap of everything on the site over the last week.

**In our article drop on Tuesday, we looked at the status of the bullpen, the recent addition of LHP Jose Hernandez, and the departure of minor league reliever Domingo Gonzalez.

**The Pirates have made a lot of moves to address the pitching staff. We looked at where they still need to add in last week’s Roundtable.

**Wilbur Miller thinks the Pirates might be sending a wrong message to their young players with how they’re handling some messaging for the upcoming season.

**Jeff Reed says it’s time to take a deep breath, and points out how this was always going to be a long build for Cherington.

**John Dreker talked with Andres Alvarez about his work in winter ball, featuring him in this week’s Pirates Winter Report.

**Ethan Hullihen estimated the Pirates’ 2023 draft pool, now that they have the first overall pick.

**Vince Velasquez will join the starting pitching group.

**The Pirates signed Austin Hedges to be their starting catcher. They also are re-signing Tyler Heineman.

**The Pirates wrapped up the week by trading minor league RHP Nick Garcia for outfielder and former Pirates prospect Connor Joe.

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FUQUAY VINYL PLAYLIST

I was under the weather this past week, so this First Pitch ended up being a combination of a few articles I was working on — plus the Tweets over the weekend.

I didn’t get a chance to throw together a playlist this week. So, I’m leaving you with my favorite Christmas album, by The Dan Band.

WEEKLY PIRATES QUIZ

That 2001 pick is still one of my low-key favorites over the years. I was at the game he hit his first MLB home run. True Pirates fans won’t be thrown off by this hint.

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Scrappy2499

Real nice article Tim and seems pretty spot on. I was born in the mid 70’s, moved away from Penn Hills in the mid 80’s. Watched a lot of tough seasons. Still, will pull for the Pirates until the end.

piratemike

I wonder if fans in all small market cities equate how their teams perform to how they perceive the Country views their city. (Like the Pirates stink, so the city as a whole must be pretty rotten. Just wondering.

david_lewis

Nice article. Except that Primanti’s sandwiches weren’t for miners, they were for the truck drivers who brought food into the Strip District to sell at the wholesale markets and didn’t have time to sit down and eat before heading back out for their next trip – so Primanti’s would pile the fries and slaw on the sandwich, allowing the truckers to eat while they were driving.

I’ve found, now that I’m spending more time in Pittsburgh, that the best way to sustain a healthy relationship with Pittsburgh sports is to ignore 98% of Pittsburgh sports media.

zebug

Really good read, thanks for taking the time to write it all out. I’m more upset that the Pirates seemed to punt on last year’s season, I thought that could have been the first steps I’m hoping to now see this year…some sort of competitiveness playing guys that matter to the future. They didn’t have to go into 2022 with a black hole at first base and just crap RPs. They could have started to build a winning culture and I’m fearful this season will be the same (though the offseason, although not spectacular, does have the feel of a slight change in the wind).

That all said, less than 2 months until pitchers and catchers report!!!!

tmcgowan

Every team I have ever followed has only had a flash at glory (Pirates with Cutch, WVU with White and Slaton and the Rich Rod disaster, WVU basketball with some sweet 16 rides (I don’t talk about that 2nd half against Louisville in the tourney still etc.) I’m not a Steelers fan so I’ve never had the experience to celebrate a championship.

It honestly has zapped the gusto I had 15 years ago. I WANT to get enthralled. I WANT so badly to experience the highs of success. I fantasize about moves we could make where maybe we could actually be a winner since I only gravitate towards underdogs. (Is it even fun to root for Alabama football???

I might not be a 30 year fan, but I do want to start getting more joy out of my fandom overall, and be it old NH, or now BC, or in general ownership, I have to try really hard to find the Joy in fandom.

tstrader448

Bravo! After reading the negative responses on Twitter, I thought I might read an article with this tone. Hopefully, some of the grumpy radio guys read the article thoughtfully. But again, that isn’t what gives them listeners.

Sidenote: I love that you stopped by DK Sports.

capirate

I lived in Pittsburgh for several years between stops in Washington DC and the Bay Area in California. One thing that always stood out to me is the sense of community in Pittsburgh. I have come to love living in the Bay Area, but the sense of community is much less present.

Decades ago I stopped listening to talk radio for either sports or politics. A lot of the commentary was just bad and I doubt that has changed. My summary of people who call into talk radio (and some of the hosts also) is “big mouth, small brain.”

bianco599

Random side note: My late grandpap had season tickets to the Steelers and the Pirates back in to good old days. He was at both the Immaculate Reception and Maz’s game winning HR.

TP

‘The “30 Year Fan” is more about the fan who reduces every single discussion to anger about 30 years’

seems like you could have saved yourself a lot of keystrokes.

I appreciate your site and the work you and the writers do. But there is a lot of your article that I don’t agree with.

PiratePrimate

Pittsburgh is where it’s at, where it was and where it will always be. Grounded in history since the beginning of time and on the front pages of the world before it was even Pittsburgh, the Three Rivers area is the heart of the country. Great place, great people. I only wish they were better served by the people who make their fortunes there. The Pirates and their fans deserve a better stewardship of the franchise and if Pirates ownership is going to continue their parsimonious ways, the fans and the city should receive an honest answer to only one question: where has over a billion dollars in revenues gone over the last 4-5 years?

bianco599

Great article. Left 15 years ago and moved to Charleston SC. Now live on a farm in the middle of the state. I seem to run into someone from Pittsburgh all the time. Can pick up on the accent and then conversation ensues. Miss that great city. One year I tried to eat every Primanti bros sandwich on the menu. Didn’t succeed. I swear they had a sardine one at one time.

emjayinTN

I enjoyed the stroll down memory lane, and agree with you that Pittsburgh is a very special place. And, if not for the 30 year fan, they may not get 5,000 people to come to a game (Fireworks nights excluded).

When the steel industry died, we left to find economic stability elsewhere. But, we followed all of the Black and Gold, and even came to watch Pirate games each Summer. We are 8 hours away, but the excitement of the city in 2013, 2014, and 2015 and the obvious commitment made to win by Pirate Management was well worth the expense of lodging and catching about 4 games each trip.

That was less than a decade ago, and nothing about this present Management Team is even in the same ballpark. Right now, this franchise is in the “terlit” as Archie Bunker would say. We have a Buffoon masquerading as the Manager – 3 years of sub-.400 winning percentages, and he is still here?

We have a GM who has done well with the Amateur Draft, and in re-building the Farm System, but has not quite wrapped his arms around what actually could make this franchise a perennial attendance draw – talented young players who want to stay in Pittsburgh! These kids we drafted are looking at what is happening with a star like Reynolds and viewing this team as just a jump off point for better MLB locations if they succeed. Drafted by the Giants, but developed by the Pirates and already a 12.5 fWAR player for the Pirates in just 3+ years in MLB.

It’s time to change that outlook and do what it takes to provide leadership for the kids we are drafting, and IFA’s being signed.

Zack

There’s a camaraderie that exists in rooting for a perennial loser. I love the Pirates. I want them to win so bad, and I am filled with optimist for each and every prospect that displays a few tools or has a great stretch.

I appreciate you, Tim, and everyone that contributes to this site. For years, it has scratched the itch I have for Pirates and Prospect content either on a daily or weekly basis. You provide news and incredible insight into a baseball club I enjoy following, even when they lose.

Thank you all, and GO BUCS!

bscat

Baseball, primarily Pirate baseball, is a major part of the fabric of my life. Personally, I can’t wait for spring training. Hope springs eternal.

jfs

Thanks Tim, from a 60 year Pirates fan, for a refreshingly thoughtful piece. I am beyond weary of the Nutting obsession. The elephant in the room is that while the business of MLB appears to be thriving, the sport of MLB is mortally wounded, with little hope for recovery. The entire MLB establishment, including the players, is is quite okay with the markedly slanted playing field. The biggest market teams are the gooses that lay the golden eggs, and no one wants to kill that goose. If I was feeding at the same trough, I would probably make the same choice.

phieralph

I just sold my home out here in South Jersey. And I’ve been playing around with the idea of moving back out to Pittsburgh ; catch some baseball, watch some Pitt football, little bit of hockey. This article made me want to come back.

I think I’m gonna spend some time traveling for awhile though.

One day.

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

Tim, long time supporter but “what?”. The 30 year fan is wrong? I was born in 1982. I was ten in 1992. I grew up watching Pirates baseball with my dad who moved from Pittsburgh when he was in 6th grade to somewhere in between Cubs and Cardinals territory. I’m 40 now and was—like I said—10 in ’92. I’m the prototypical “30 year fan” you’re talking about, I think. It’s natural to just take it all in as a fan, invest yourself in front office regimes, deal with the ups and downs of farm systems and watch the one constant (Nutting) for the last 15 years.

What should Pirates fans be happy about?

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

Well, I’m not *that* angry about the Pirates because only a fool would be in my lifespan and also because I understand MLB/media markets have created the incentive structures to make a Bob Nutting possible. It does still suck. I never felt like I could walk away like you did with the Orioles and you—as in you, Tim—have to consider that anyone who felt they could, would have in this hellscape of a run of fandom.

bianco599

Had to stop at the moving down seats due to no fans at 3 rivers. Reminded me of my entire little league wearing our uniforms to games on a school bus. Once my tears dry I will read the rest. It may be tomorrow.

AdministrativeSky236

Too many things to highlight in this article, so easier to just say very well done Tim. Another great read. I will be in line as soon as your first novel is ready to be read

Aurorus

Very nice article, Tim. I was born in rural PA and grew up in Pittsburgh with all the ups and downs of Pittsburgh sports over the past 40 years. I left the city 12 years ago for my new home.

If you think Pittsburghers have a pathological (or passionate, depending upon perspective) relationship to sports, you need to come down here to Argentina. Pittsburghers have nothing on Argentines and their relationship to futbol (soccer). You would think that they hadn’t won anything… ever… instead of winning the South American Cup last year and 7 times prior, and 2 World Cups prior to this one. The national team always sucks (right up until the moment they win the World Cup)… Messi will never be as good as Maradona (which is absurd… as Maradona was a good player for 6 or 7 years before blowing his career on cocaine whereas Messi might be the best player in history… like comparing Will Meyers to Ted Williams)… the local team always sucks and will never be as good as Boca… etc… . The point is that it is not just a Pittsburgh thing.

It is a modern phenomenon that when the economy turns bad, people look for distractions and become absorbed in them: especially sports. This is what happened to Pittsburgh when the steel industry collapsed. To give you some idea of what happened and how quickly everyone’s lives fell apart in Pittsburgh, in 1979, a little over 100,000 people were employed directly in making steel in the Pittsburgh area. By 1983, that number was less than 14,000.

The Steelers had just won 4 Super Bowls, the Pirates had just won a World Series, and the Penguins drafted Mario Lemieux first overall in 1983. So… in the midst of misery, sports was the only bright point and the people of the region have focused on it since. So that is how the pathological, if you want to call it that (as opposed to passionate), relationship was born.

leefieux

Tim, I know you’re trying to generate money with ads, but it is very annoying to try to read while watching an AdChoice video play without am X available to close it. I even clicked on it but it still played.

I don’t mind static ads too much.

I gave up trying to read the Article.

leefieux

Thx. Good idea. Actually, I ended up doing just that. Good article.

SouthernBuc

While I am not as optimistic as you on the viability of maintaining a winning team, I am onboard with how they are trying to build things. I stated in a ‘debate’ yesterday that I don’t think winning now was ever a priority, that Ben is like a corporate executive who has turning around a company as the priority and the end result (playoffs) is the final measuring stick and losses until then just don’t matter. That stinks in the day to day. However, I would not be shocked if he succeeds he will end up with a job with a more financially capable franchise. Let’s be honest.. in today’s financial model winning in Pittsburgh will never be easy.

As I participate in debates here and elsewhere, your words I am listing below are probably the ones that cause me the most angst (and the most reality checks).

It’s not that The 30-Year Fans don’t have a right to be bitter.
It’s just that it feels impossible to talk about this team in any other way.

As a note.. I was a child of the best decade in Pirate history (70s) and while that is no more relevant to the current team than most of the last 30 years, it does give me some nostalgia that helps during the dark days.

Baseball makes me smile… but it has only caused me to lose any significant sleep once. Bream safe at home.

Last edited 1 month ago by SouthernBuc
Randy

Nice article! I am from western PA and my paternal ancestors all immigrated to Pittsburgh from Germany in the late 1800s, so I have roots. I started paying attention to baseball and the Pirates around 1969 when I was eight years old. So, I had an awesome time from the outset rooting for the team. I often scan right past the radio shows on the dial and there are commenters here whose posts I don’t read as there is only so often I can stomach the same repetitive vents. I was a good high school player, my sons both played through college, and I coached up through Legion and high school baseball. So, there is a part of me that always remembers that every one of these players worked hard to get there and that they are the sons of some parents that likely supported them. So, I am not interested in running down any of them and I don’t really enjoy reading opinions that denigrate them from people that I doubt made it much past youth baseball. I enjoy discussing what is, objectively, and not so much the venting even if some case can be made for it. Thanks for keeping the articles on the site objective and informative. I plan to keep supporting each year at least at the old subscription level as long as the quality stays and I can afford to do so. We are out here, even if we are quiet!

phieralph

My mom’s side of the family is also a German immigrant to Pittsburgh.

steve_zielinski

I wince and feel ill every time I read someone calling a player garbage or crap or….

DanInNC

Tim-appreciate the article and perspective. It is difficult to persist in optimism in the face of the 30 year fans among us. I have been hurt, too, over the years as my beloved Pirates have often been self-inflicted laughingstocks, but enough is enough. I want those 30 year fans to embrace what might just be blooming here; otherwise they will miss the beauty of seeing it as it’s built!

Cape Cod Sean

Tim you can write your butt off. Well done. Chase that dream. Thanks for this site and all your contributions.

As for the pirates. Love them. I haven’t lived in Pittsburgh in over a decade plus. I live in New England now surrounded by winning teams who are not the teams I root for. I do want them (pirates) to do well. Obviously, I don’t need them to win. I am bummed when the pro-team is a laughingstock like it has been for awhile. That being said I repeat I love ‘em. In the meantime I can’t wait till they do well again and hope baseball puts in place a salary floor or cap. One can dream.

RAS TN

The City and surrounding areas deserve better, I lived there nearly half my life and it will always be HOME to me, but unlike the other major sports teams, the Pirates are just embarrassing with no end in sight. Baseball is passing them by and unless there are some drastic happenings the Pirates will not be able to compete at all or at best 1 or 2 years every 10 years…

It just makes me mad as hell and the same time very sad…

tventimiglio

Why do they deserve better? It can’t be attendance. They don’t buy tickets and never have? It can’t be demographics. The greater PGH area is losing population, earnings are rather weak. Pittsburgh is the 90th ranked US Metro area for median income with 23 of the MLB cities ranking above PGH. What statistic do you see that would encourage a business owner to invest in a MLB team in PGH

Sec.143RowMSeat24

I can’t see the Sporkle Quiz, is it just me? I mean I can see the Start Quiz button, but can’t see any of the answers.

John Dreker

I just tried it, got all 28 with 23 seconds to spare. I almost ruined my chances because I typed in a name, then tried to type it in again like a minute later (obviously it didn’t work) and then I sat there and thought about it for a good 30 seconds before I looked at the list and saw the name already there. I am not good at moving on in these games when I get stuck on a name

ricramer

Great article and insight on the Pirates, Pittsburgh and life. Keep up the great work Tim. Thanks for what you do.

Ethan Hullihen

I watched this play out on Twitter, but gave up because was done with the stupidity. So, I’ll use this to respond, where I have more characters.
I hope it’s evident how I feel about what I like (numbers, rules, etc)–I truly love it, and it’s a great hobby. But that’s all, a hobby.
I care about my daughters, my wife, my family, and making sure they are okay.
I don’t care about the Pirates.
It makes me mad that racism exists, or my daughters will face difficulties some won’t.
It doesn’t make me mad when the Pirates lose.
I feel defeated that the I can’t control any number of horrible things (the climate, policy, what have you).
I don’t feel defeated when a reliever blows a late lead.
This (I think) is what Tim was saying. There are so many more important things to worry about that aren’t spots. They are supposed to be fun, a hobby. If they make you mad, sad, defeated, whatever, that’s probably not healthy. Save those feelings for things that matter. Not sports.
That’s my take

1979andCounting

I’ve commented about this before to Ethan. I think it’s sad that you really don’t care about being a fan. Same goes for Tim, but I understand it’s Tim’s business and it’s his desire to write that drives him. Really, being a fan is the fun of the game for those of us who can’t or no longer play or coach the game. I think it is how some of us are wired…….you either have a competitive drive on a field of competition, or you don’t. Not criticizing you for your brutally honest post. But felt a passionate fan’s response was definitely due here.

Ethan Hullihen

I am a fan of the Pirates, a huge fan.
I have a closet full of Pirates clothes
I rabidly consume content (articles, columns, podcasts) committed to the team. I’d put my intake up there with anyone.
I listen, follow, watch, games when I can (even try to get to one once or twice a year)
I probably know more about the team and it’s recent history than many others that consider themselves fans, because I spend most of my free time thinking about the team in one way or another
The thing is, I’m just a fan with his head on straight. A loss doesn’t make me sad, a win doesn’t make me happy, a roster move doesn’t make me mad, and I couldn’t care less they’ve had however many losing seasons over however many years.
It’s sports, it’s doesn’t matter. It’s a hobby, something I enjoy. But if it were somehow a toxic element of my life, that’s when it would be bad, and I see far too many fans that appear, at least from the outside, to have a toxic relationship with their team or sport of choice.

1979andCounting

Ok great, I understand better now. It was the “I don’t care about the Pirates” statement that threw me.

TP

‘There are so many more important things to worry about that aren’t sports.’. Of course…but
I have never seen or heard any Pirates fans say “I’m so upset at the team, I’m going to jump off a bridge!” Sports fans can be hyperbolic. But it seems like Pirates fans are painted with the broad brush of the worst.

I think it’s OK to be mad or sad if the team loses. Just like how you can be happy and elated when they win. It’s part of sports and being a fan a team.

Ethan Hullihen

It’s meant to be a hobby, something one enjoys. If it makes you sad or mad, it’s probably not much of a hobby, and how one spends their free time should be reassessed to something that would make them happier. Life’s too short to be mad about sports.

JimEastTennessee

“There are so many more important things to worry about that aren’t sports. They are supposed to be fun, a hobby. If they make you mad, sad, defeated, whatever, that’s probably not healthy. Save those feelings for things that matter. Not sports.”
EXACTLY
I

tventimiglio

Well stated. As far as I’m concerned Pittsburgh has always been that way. I thought negativity was normal when growing up and living there as a young adult. I noticed it after moving away. For years after moving away I was excited to visit, for about 3 days. Then I couldn’t get back to my new home fast enough. It seems like folks are always waiting for something bad to happen or make things more problematic than they are. I haven’t been back for quite some time and have no plans to. I still have close friends in PGH and they sometimes visit me here in CA. That’s just great as far as I’m concerned.

steve_zielinski

Some just like to be miserable. A baseball team is not worth the pain.

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