Two steps forward, one step back. It sometimes seems that's what the Pirates are constantly doing, on and off the field. During last Tuesday's game against the Cardinals, rookie Jose Tabata came to the plate in the seventh inning against Adam Wainwright with the score tied at two. The rookie drew a two-out, eight pitch walk. He stole second uncontested, and then Neil Walker ripped a single into center field, scoring two runs. Two important young players making plays against one of the best pitchers in the game … two steps forward.
Then in the ninth, the Pirates found themselves in a jam. Evan Meek tried to make a play on a slow grounder instead of letting Ronny Cedeno make the play. Meek misplayed the ball, and before you knew it, Albert Pujols was at the plate with runners on first and second, down one run. Pujols ripped a ball right at Pedro Alvarez, who failed to turn what would have been a game-ending double play. One step back.
Perhaps the players are just following the lead of the organization. In the last two weeks, the Pirates signed Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, the top two picks in their draft, then followed that up by signing a prized pitching prospect from Mexico, 16-year-old Luis Heredia. All this good news was followed by the (apparently shocking) revelations that the Pirates make money. Even if, like me, you think the financial disclosures are no big deal, the news coming less than a week after clinching an 18th consecutive losing season doesn't help public relations.
With all the mixed signals and confusion, it's no wonder that when Pedro Feliz came to the plate with two outs, the crowd couldn't even keep its chanting in rhythm. "Wait, what's the count for 'Let's Go Bucs'?" Heck, the Pirates can't even take steps forward when it comes to broadcasting games. As I was checking the guide during a commercial break, I noticed a movie playing on Versus:
Yup, one day after the press publishes a news article about the financial documents with the title "Pirates win by losing" blared across the title bar, Versus schedules Major League, a movie about an owner who deliberately tries to assemble a team so bad she can move to more profitable Florida ... a state that is now home to the Marlins, who have drawn more ire than the Pirates. The team can't even be number one when it comes to excessive profiting, and then a network trying to make its mark by broadcasting hockey rubs it in our face! Gah!
Of course, how you view all these recent developments probably depends on your view of the team. It appears that a number of media portrayals of these stories reflect not any consistent and independent view of the team, but rather an attempt to jam each and every story into a preset narrative: The Pirates are terrible. It's incredibly easy to simply point to the Bucs' current record and to a streak of losing seasons that stretches nearly two decades, and conclude that the profits (even if the owners themselves aren't seeing any of the money) are further evidence that the Pirates will continue their losing ways. It all reminds me of a passage from my favorite book, Catch-22:
"Chaplain, we accuse you also of of the commission of crimes and infractions we don't even know about yet. Guilty or innocent?"
"I don't know, sir. How can I say if you don't tell me what they are?"
"How can we tell you if we don't know?"
"Guilty," decided the colonel.
"Sure he's guilty," agreed the major. "If they're his crimes and infractions, he must have committed them."
On Thursday, the Post-Gazette decided to provide a perfect example of this phenomenon. It admits the story about the finances is important and complex, but ... well, see for yourself:
While these figures are important and tell their own story, they link up with other numbers that are foremost in the minds of fans -- numbers that are more stark and fundamental.
Eighteen straight losing seasons. The worst record in baseball, which this year will include 100 losses.
The Associated Press article, previously linked, is in the same vein. It hilariously includes this quote: "Teams have a choice. They can seek to maximize winning, what the Yankees do, or you can be the Pirates and make as much money as you can in your market. The Pirates aren't trying to win." I'm sure the Steinbrenners are losing money hand over fist, just like Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle would if they owned the Yankees!
None of this is to say that the Pirates are above criticism or skepticism, as I wrote two weeks ago. But the good criticisms and arguments get lost when everyone just focuses on the last 18 years, as if everything in that time span can be attributed all to the current ownership and management. It feels like nothing will convince the national media or the Post-Gazette - or at least those who contribute to the unsigned editorials - that there is a good reason to believe things are truly changing. They've already made up their minds: The Pirates are guilty. Like the quoted characters fromCatch-22, of what is irrelevant. They're the Pirates' crimes, and they must have committed them.